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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November 28, 2017 Joshua Knowlton

The Liberty Gazette
November 28, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Joshua Knowlton is a helicopter mechanic in Oregon. More than that, he’s a dad to a ten-year old girl.

It’s been an active fire season in the west, and Joshua’s services have been critical for keeping firefighting helicopters flying. All summer he’s supported a Bell 407 for the Bureau of Land Management Helitack crew from Moab, Utah. In the long hours away from home, he promised his daughter a trip to Disneyland when dry season was over.

And a friend? Sure, a friend, too. While this upped the costs, Joshua was happy to have the friend along. But then he got to thinking. The friend has twin twelve-year old sisters. He couldn’t leave them behind—their family is homeless.

Joshua reached out to a compassionate world with a GoFundMe campaign for $1,000 to offset the extras. Genuine and unpretentious, he’s just a dad who wanted to do what felt right. The world felt good about his intentions. Swarms of people cheered his efforts, piling $1,800 on him. As a result, four young princesses enjoyed an escape, did whatever they wanted, laughed and played, carefree.

The happy, tired, crew of five returned from Disneyland last week. For the parents who trusted him with their three daughters, and donors who trusted him with their money, Joshua documented a grand vacation on Facebook.

Joshua: They met Anna and Elsa from Frozen, and other characters, and ate about a month’s rent worth of churros and ice cream. I’m not sure if they ever get full.

They rode the “Guardians of the Galaxy” twice, the roller coaster a good half dozen times, the “Grizzly River Run” five straight times, the Ferris wheel, the swings, the metal zeppelins, the “Soarin’ Around the World” ride twice, and I can’t remember everything else.

Seeing their reactions was pure magic. When we exited the “Soarin’” ride they compared goosebumps on their arms. They wanted to fly. I told them that ride was a lot like flying a helicopter and they could do it if they wanted to, that good things take work, and excuses are garbage. You only fail when you stop trying; the world owes you nothing, gives you nothing. Don’t let anyone slow you down, hold you back, trip you up, or clip your wings. Most of all, don’t let anyone waste your time. We are given a finite amount of time on this earth. Use it wisely; do something worthy of those precious minutes.

Linda: Joshua is a member of Women in Aviation, International, and encourages women to explore opportunities in aviation. And for his daughter and everyone else’s, he’s keenly interested in fighting child sex trafficking. Joshua’s humanity-focused stewardship through the amusement park vacation is not the end of his story. He says he’s called to do so much more to help people.

Joshua: This trip was designed to provide magic and wonder for these girls, and a couple days away from life’s hardships. It worked. Serving others makes me feel better than anything.

November 21, 2017 The Toy Cousin

The Liberty Gazette
November 21, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: How many shopping days left? Back to toy land we go! We wrote a here few weeks ago about the interesting personal and aviation history of Ole Kristiansen, the founder of LEGO, and his son, Godtfred, who created what is today the second busiest airport in Denmark, Billund Airport. LEGO also made a few airplane building kits, including a biplane in 1967. What I didn’t recall was that in my ancestry there was also a toy maker.

My sister, Diane, is the family genealogist. While visiting her in Washington recently, we reminisced about childhood toys, like the painted wood blocks packed in an old-time mail-looking bag. On the front was printed “SIFO Mailbag of Blocks.” The letters forming Sifo were drawings of people who bent into the shapes of each letter. I remember trying to figure out how a person could bend in those ways—especially the letter O, the character drawn in a backbend in full circle! The blocks saw a lot of playtime at our house.

When Diane dug into our dad’s side of the family tree, she discovered Silas Morris Ford Jr., who had a toy company in Minneapolis from 1944-1975. Si for Silas, Fo for Ford: Sifo. A second cousin twice removed, Silas was in a part of the family our dad never knew. So the fact that we had those blocks is kind of surprising. Obviously we didn’t get them from Cousin Silas.

Here I’d been curious about LEGO’s toy airplane history and hadn’t realized the existence in my own family history. A quick search—oh, what did we do before the internet—and I came upon the history of Sifo toys. The brand boasted “from the land of Hiawatha, the great teacher.”

As I searched through the 1956 Sifo Toys catalog, I found pictures of that familiar mailbag of blocks along with many other educational toys, puzzles, and building sets. Among the products for children eighteen months to ten years, I came across my pot of gold on page thirty-one. The “DC-28 Construct-A-Plane” was billed as an “immense and challenging twin-engine ‘do-it-yourself’ airplane,” suitable for children four to ten years old.

It would be neat to discover other aviators in my family history, but how unique to find a toy maker. And it’s okay that there is no such thing as a DC-28 in the real world of aviation—just a Dyson upright vacuum cleaner model. In fact, Sifo’s Construct-A-Plane looks more like a Lockheed Hudson with its twin boom tail. I suspect by naming it such, Cousin Silas didn’t have to worry about infringing on the rights of the Douglas Commercial (DC) aircraft company.

Sifo made their buildable airplane about a decade before LEGO made their first one. How cool would it be if it turned out Silas or one of his children built an airport for their community, as did LEGO’s Kristiansen family.

November 14, 2017 Mrs. Douglas

The Liberty Gazette
November 14, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Helen Elizabeth Burgner Douglas Hart was the only child of a newspaper owner. She had a pony and a cart and could be seen trotting about Charleston, Illinois, circa 1900. Helen was educated at Wellesley College, a classmate of Soong Mei-ling, who became Madame Chiang Kai-shek, First Lady of the Republic of China.

But that’s about enough of the things Helen probably wouldn’t care if you never knew. Helen was so full of life and love that her giving meant far more to her than how gifted she was.

She moved to nearby Mattoon and married Clarence Douglas, an attorney and judge, and then Maurice Hart, whose death made her a widow for the second time. Establishing the Douglas-Hart Foundation, Helen built an art gallery, a cultural center, Friendship Park and a nature preserve, all for the benefit of everyone in Mattoon.

Helen supported local businesses, but she was also well traveled. Before their trip to The Hague at the end of WWII, she and Clarence stopped by my grandparents’ house and asked my mother and her sister if they would each like to pick one of their pen pals for the Douglases to visit. My mom chose her pal, Reit Lambrechtse, a Danish girl with five younger siblings. Mom and Aunt Marge’s Girl Scout troop had sent care packages to a Girl Scout troop in war-torn Europe. Each kit assembled was intended for one girl and contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, a washcloth, and soap. But the recipient scout troop had more members than the one Mom was in, and she and her friends learned from the Danish thank-you letter that the gifts were divided among the girls to be sure no one was left out. Reit got the comb my mom sent. Her thank-you note expressed gratitude from all six Lambrechtse children, who were very happy they could now comb their hair. One comb—for six grateful children in a family trying to make it through the tragedies of war.

When Helen and Clarence visited the Lambreschste family, they were so impressed with the children they offered to sponsor every one of them who wanted to come to the U.S. Eventually, five of the six emigrated to start a new life. Reit stayed to take care of her parents.

Helen passed away in 1991, but from her vision flow the peace and beauty of Shakespearean gardens at Friendship Park; from her compassion Lambrechtse descendants enjoy freedom. But that only gives you the tiniest peek into Helen’s life. I wouldn’t want you to get the impression she was too humble and peaceful to be exciting. Helen was a renaissance woman, ready to take on the world and the next adventure right around the corner. She never stuck her nose in the air except when she was flying. The first female aircraft owner and licensed pilot in Coles County, Illinois, just made the world a better place.

November 7, 2017 A Mixed Bag

The Liberty Gazette
November 7, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Last week we brought you a cool story about the toy manufacturer, LEGO®. After press time, I received a reply to my inquiry about whether the biplane kit they created in 1967 was the first LEGO airplane. I learned from the LEGO team there were two planes before the biplane. The first was created in 1964 and was called 303-2 Aeroplane. The following year, they made the 320 Airplane, and then “the amazing 328 Biplane” in 1967.

So in eighty-five years of making toys, it looks like the airplane models are rare. They should be real collectibles! Of course, they’ve made an airport set, jets, Star Wars, and NASA models. But the nostalgic airplanes take us back to an interesting era of flight, when LEGO built a real airport.

As an aside, at the bottom of their company email, below the representative’s signature line, is this: “Did you know? The LEGO Group is one of the world’s largest tyre manufacturers, making more than 675 million tyres in 2015!”

Having stepped on many a LEGO in the dark, I can believe that number!

Mike: Speaking of old airplanes, the showroom-quality Stearman belonging to long time rice sower M & M Air Service is safe in a hangar at the Beaumont Municipal Airport. M & M lost five airplanes in the flooding from Hurricane Harvey, but the Stearman was unscathed. The five that flooded were at the Chambers County airport in Winnie, right along I-10. When the levee was breached, that airport became a basin for four feet of rushing water. Up to eight feet was trapped in the hangars.

Water reached the bottom of the windshields on four crop dusters—Air Tractor 602s—and the top of the windshield of their Cessna 182. They also lost fifteen loader trucks and other equipment, and parts stored in the hangar. On the upside, the company has already replaced those four Air Tractor 602s with three Air Tractor 802s. Now three airplanes can do the job that once required four.

Linda: Reducing the number of airplanes without reducing output should help, given the severe pilot shortage these days. Mike has been busy training pilots to fill vacancies in corporate and charter flight departments. Regional airlines that feed the major airlines are in a hiring binge, competing fiercely for the small pool of prospects. They’re getting creative with incentives so attractive it’s caused a trickle-down shortage of pilots in other flying jobs. Sign-on bonuses are over $30,000 at the regional level.

Mike: Because many pilots at major airlines are reaching mandatory retirement age (sixty-five), there are more openings at the top of the pilot job pyramid. For each pilot moving up, there’s an increase in demand for new blood at the bottom. However, there aren’t enough new ones in the pipeline. This is a major cause of the delays in air travel. The hiring trend shows no sign of slowing down. One could consider this a good time to be a pilot.

October 31, 2017 Godtfred's Airport

The Liberty Gazette
October 31, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

The airport in Billund is Denmark’s second busiest (Copenhagen, the busiest). Its 10,071-foot-long runway serves airlines and private aircraft. Scandinavian Air first provided airline service there in 1964, when the runway was only about half as long.

Billund’s robust economy is thanks in large part to Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, who knew an airport was vital for businesses and communities. He had guaranteed the first five years’ financial needs to turn his little grass landing strip into a community airport. Godtfred had been using his Piper Apache, a four-seat, twin-engine propeller airplane, to travel to his father’s many business locations.

His father was Ole Kirk Kristiansen, the tenth son of an indigent Danish family. Hard times followed when Ole lost his job during the depression. For his family to survive, he put his master carpenter skills to work building stepladders, ironing boards, stools, and wooden toys. But too soon, his lovely wife, Kirstine, passed away, leaving him to raise four boys on his own.

It was 1932 when twelve-year old Godtfred came to work for him. Two years later, Ole had seven employees and decided it was time to brand the business, so he ran a naming contest.

The following year, the company introduced their first construction toy, a wooden duck proven by Ole’s boys to bring joy. They named the duck “Kirk´s Sandgame”.

There were good times, and bad. Ole and his company survived the German occupation of Denmark in 1940, and a fire that destroyed their factory a couple of years later. But his success in the toy business continued and he decided to make wooden toy bricks. Plastic was available, too, so Ole purchased a plastic injection-moulding machine that same year, 1946, and three years later, Ole’s company made their first “Automatic Binding Bricks”–sold exclusively in Denmark. The bricks came in two sizes–with four and eight studs–and four colors.

When Ole ran that company naming contest in 1934, he had declared himself the winner. His entry was a combination of the first two letters of the Danish words for “play well”: leg godt, and in 1953, Automatic Binding Bricks became LEGO Bricks.

A warehouse fire in 1960 ended wooden toy production, but the company was growing, entering the U.S. market in 1961, thanks to a licensing agreement with Samsonite Corp.

From what we could glean from their nicely organized website, it wasn’t until 1967 when they came out with their first airplane kit, a biplane.

LEGO is now sold all over the world, providing jobs for more than 18,000 people, and the company operates its aircraft fleet from the LEGO hangar at Billund Airport, once the grass strip with a wood hangar where Godtfred took off to help sell his father’s toys.

Ole Kirk Kristiansen passed away in 1958, inducted posthumously into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 1989. The man who started with nothing, faced setbacks and heartaches, still brings smiles to millions of children, while his son’s airport brings millions of dollars into their community. 

October 24, 2017 Gorilla Flying

The Liberty Gazette
October, 24, 2017
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Do you remember the movies and television series, Planet of the Apes? In some scenes, the apes wore space suits. I suppose this was so they could visit other planets, with or without other apes. Their spacecraft was undoubtedly more advanced than those of the golden years of aviation, the first half of the twentieth century. On board their spaceship were complex systems run by sophisticated computers. In their time, they didn’t need a flight engineer. But only a couple of decades before those apes went shooting through the galaxy, on real airplanes with complex systems, flight engineers were an essential part of the flight crew.

The flight engineer was like a mechanic, specially trained to monitor and operate the airplane’s systems. These engineers were essential for safety, operating electrical, pneumatic, fuel, and hydraulic systems. Of course, today, that position has been automated out of most cockpits. In modern jets, pilots monitor computers, which manage all the aircraft systems. But there was that one time, that one close call, when the world wondered if the apes, or gorillas, had taken a step back in time, perhaps jealous of those who had the opportunity to serve as flight engineers.

It happened on an airline flight, from somewhere over there to somewhere over here–the place doesn’t matter, really. Some airline companies had installed video cameras inside the cockpits so passengers could watch as the pilots took off and landed the plane. The trouble was no one could see all the important work the flight engineer did, only an occasional appearance of his hand moving controls. Pilots got all the glory. Perhaps that’s what drove the flight engineer on one flight to purchase part of a gorilla costume. Only part–just the left arm. The camera turned on as the plane came in to land and those passengers watching the closed-circuit TV saw a gorilla arm reach in to view and flip switches.

The flight engineer was suspended for his joke and the camera feed from the cockpit was terminated.

Mike: I flew once with an airline captain whose hair was eighteen inches long. He braided it and hid it down the back of his uniform, camouflaging his inner rebel during his day job. But word got out and after completing a flight, as he exited the airplane, the airline’s chief pilot greeted him in the jet way with a smile on his face and a pair of scissors in his hand. The captain kept the braid and had it sewn into a baseball cap. He kept the hair-braid-cap in his flight bag, and when the cockpit door closed, he put on the cap and flipped the braid out, maintaining his individuality, if even in a limited way.

The world is full of characters, and pilots are known to possess personalities prone to practical jokes. Our humor won’t be at the expense of the safety of flight, but it will be amusing.