formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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August 22, 2017 But Seriously, Folks

The Liberty Gazette
August 22, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: If you say “cirrus” in the right crowd, any member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, any weather worshiper, will know you’re talking about a non-threatening cloud. Cirrus clouds are those thin wisps you see way up high, but not as high as stars, or even satellites. If we didn’t think Siriusly about it, we might think it sounds like our weather is going to the dogs–like our astronomical humor–but when it comes to cirrus, it’s a good day to be outside.

When strong winds in the troposphere sweep the carefree cirrus, we see long, delicate streamers. Cirrus is a Latin word, meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair. That’s a pretty good description of their appearance from afar, but these fair weather friends are actually made of ice crystals, formed when precipitation falls through colder air, and freezes. To further cloud the issue, although these “mares tails” pose no threat, they sometimes indicate a change in weather is on the horizon.

But what’s in a name? Would that which we call a cirrus, by any other name still draw lines like chalk dust spread by angel wings, or decorate with dainty sky feathers?

What fogs the picture these days is an aircraft company that makes both piston and jet airplanes. The company, Cirrus Aircraft, came up in an internet search ahead of the cloud type when I entered “cirrus.” To say I was blown away is a dramatization of an understatement.

Cirrus Aircraft builds airplanes with ballistic parachutes. These chutes aren’t the kind pilots strap on their backs. These are manufactured into the airplane. While the parachute was engineered into the Cirrus design to meet certain FAA requirements, the marketing opportunity turned out to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Cirrus couldn’t pass FAA tests requiring an airplane to be able to recover from a one-turn spin, so they integrated a parachute and asked the feds to accept it in place of a spin recoverable design.

Orders rained down on happy Cirrus sales representatives when non-pilot spouses agreed to strap the family budget with the perception that their favorite pilot would be safer in an airplane with a parachute.

But cirrusly, folks, it’s true. For almost a century people talked about the whole-airplane parachute idea. But not until 1975 did someone finally do something about it. It was a guy whose hang glider collapsed, who was angry over feeling helpless while in a four hundred-foot plunge. In those falling moments Boris knew, if he’d had a parachute, his odds of surviving would be better. Fortunately, he did survive and what he did in response to that anger was build a product that saves lives.

We’ll have more next week on safety initiatives. I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys the irony that Ballistic Recovery Systems was founded by a man with the last name of Popov.

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