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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December 18, 2018 David's Gifts

The Liberty Gazette
December 18, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: It was the ice landing on Lake Superior when young David was bitten and smitten. This was some time in the 1930s, and that pivotal flight was in a Ford Trimotor on skis, a special surprise his dad arranged near their home in Duluth, Minnesota.

The aviation bug and all things mechanical would never cease to excite him. When David was old enough, he signed up for the Civilian Pilot Training program in North Dakota so he could ferry airplanes to Europe before the U.S. entered Second World War.  But when Pearl Harbor was attacked, David joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. During his time in the Pacific Theater he served as navigator, including bombing missions over Japan in B-29s.

After the war, David got a job in sales with RCA. He didn’t stop flying completely, but he was dedicated to his job and worked his way up to General Sales Manager. As a result of his energy and drive, that job taught him much about how to build a business. During his last years at RCA, he worked on a project for a central antenna system in New York City. Apartment buildings would be wired for television use, similar to what we know today as cable television. He got involved in many other things, and even started a charter aircraft service on the side and did much of the flying.

Linda: Then one day, this very busy man got the idea that vacuum cleaners did not need to be as heavy as they were. With his mechanical knowledge, he could have them built better, and lighter. When his eight-pound wonder wasn’t an immediate success door-to-door, he reconsidered who the best customers might be. Perhaps the cleaning staff in the hotel industry. After all, if you were pushing a vacuum all day, how thrilled would you be to lighten the load?

You may remember his commercials where he demonstrated the strength of his vacuum by using it to pick up and hold a bowling ball. Or the commercials where he said, “Call this number to make me stop singing.” After twenty years of persistence, and the belief that Winston Churchill was right – “Never, never, never give up,” – David Oreck’s vacuum cleaners became an “overnight success.”

More recently, the Oreck family has been selling candles. Mike just got one in a gift exchange at one of our aviation parties.

David has also had a collection of airplanes that are so cool, you’ll drool. Among them are a Stinson Reliant, a Waco, and a Staggerwing. Just one of those would be something to brag about. But don’t get the idea David is that type. He and his sweet wife, Jan, who is also a pilot, are quite generous. Their philanthropic missions range from the Jewish community in New Orleans, to several science museums in Colorado, to scholarships for Women in Aviation International. Not bad for a guy whose only “silver spoons” were his tenacity, and the wonderful gift of flight from his dad.

December 11, 2018 Aunt Bee's Big Moment

The Liberty Gazette
December 11, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Season 8, Episode 23. And…action!

After a bowling game, Andy Griffith and friends gathered in the living room reminiscing their best shots, when Opie interrupted. He wanted to know how to spell “renaissance.” Helen, his teacher, who it seems was sweet on Andy, recited the word and spelled it like a contender in a spelling contest. After all, she had won the Kansas state spelling bee in eighth grade.

This started a buzz of bragging that turned into a wasp nest—at least for Aunt Bee. Goober claimed his fame was winning the county fair’s pancake eating contest. He gobbled fifty-seven of them. Andy’s big moments were scoring a winning touchdown in high school and being elected sheriff. Howard was proud of his courage when he moved to the Caribbean for a time. As they shared their stories of adventure and accomplishment, poor Aunt Bee felt left out.

Later that night while washing dishes, she lamented to Andy she’d never done anything important. She longed to say she had done something not many other people had. Opie jokingly offered a magazine ad for learning to fly.

The next morning, Aunt Bee shocked everyone when she announced she was going to visit the flight school in that ad. Andy objected, saying she might not like it, but Aunt Bee fought back, because maybe she wouldn’t, but she’d never find out standing there.

She took a demonstration flight and was so excited she decided to start flying lessons right away. She would finally make her own big moment in life. Despite Andy’s discouragement, she let him know in no uncertain terms that it didn’t matter whether she succeeded or failed at her goal to solo an airplane. It was the challenge she was accepting.

Lesson one introduced Aunt Bee to the pre-flight walk-around and gauges on the instrument panel, which seemed overwhelming at first. Soon, back home in Mayberry, the guys heard a plane overhead. Camera cut to inside the cockpit to learn that Aunt Bee didn’t purposely wag her wings at them. She was just trying to control the airplane.

Back on the ground, her apron on and serving Andy coffee, she fretted about all there was to learn when the only instrument she recognized was the clock.

Her first landings were a bit rough, but improved with practice. She studied her sweet heart out, “chair flying,” and even read Aviation Journal while under the beauty salon hair dryer.

On the day of her solo flight, Aunt Bee carefully made the circuit and a decent landing, to the cheers of everyone watching. Afterward, Howard reflected on his “big moment,” arguing there’s nothing like the beauty of the deep blue sea. But Aunt Bee’s line trumped them all. “Well yes, the ocean is beautiful, but if you ask me, the sky is the prettiest. Especially when you’re up there all by yourself, like a bird, with the whole world at your feet.”

Cue the whistling theme song.

December 4, 2018 Roy Clark

The Liberty Gazette
December 4, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

“I have never been to a memorial service where there’s a full band playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ but this was one to get up and boogie to,” said our friend Lisa Jewett of the memorial service of music legend, Roy Clark.

Lisa manages the airport in Grove, Oklahoma where Roy and Barbara Clark had a home and spent half the year. “He’d come to the airport just to talk. I knew him not as Roy the superstar, but as Roy the person. Every time he and Barbara stopped in, I knew we’d be a while because he just wanted to chat. He talked about the set of Hee! Haw! and traveling tales and flying, and he had friends all over the world.”

As a kid, Roy longed to fly. Growing up poor in Meherin, Virginia, he collected cereal box tops to send away for a cardboard cockpit. But his magic on banjo and guitar earned him the name, “Superpicker,” and the money that followed allowed him to reach his dreams. He bought a Piper Tri-Pacer, learned to fly, and took his father, who had always wanted to be a pilot, for his first airplane ride in it. Later, Roy flew a sleek Beechcraft Debonair to gigs far away and returned home when the last autograph was signed.

But he worried about fatigue after long evenings on stage. Smartly, he invested in a high-performance Mitsubishi MU-2J turboprop and a professional pilot to be his sidekick. In the cockpit, this picking pilot took flying seriously. Life was precious—everyone’s.

At his concerts, Roy would say, “Do something nice for somebody. And don’t expect a thank-you in return.” He lived his advice. Lisa’s father had been a big fan. When her mom died, she took her dad’s guitar and asked Roy to sign it. “He signed really big all over the front of that guitar, and now it’s just priceless. Dad was grieving and here was something that would make him smile, from a man who lived his life wanting to make people happy.”

Lisa found opportunities to give back to Roy. Ever since he was young he wanted to be in a helicopter. When money was no longer an obstacle, time was. One day when he was visiting Lisa, the DEA landed in a Blackhawk. He wasn’t getting around too easily by then, so she drove him in her car to the helicopter. DEA agents helped him climb inside and spent time showing him the aircraft. “He said that was the best time of his life. He did something he’d always wanted to do. He even had tears.” That’s one of Lisa’s favorite stories.
When the Saints Go Marching In!

“Roy was a simple, loving, giving man, a family man. He cared more about his family than anything else in the world. He was down-to-earth and humble, the kind of guy who would always say, ‘I love you,’ whenever he left. I like to think he spent his last days telling everyone how much he loved them.”

November 27, 2018 Jessica Cox

The Liberty Gazette
November 27, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Anyone who achieves a black belt in a martial art gets my attention. A person who earns certified scuba diver credentials is pretty impressive. People who master surfing I find quite admirable. A person who has done all three is in another league. And if that same person had accomplished all that and then earned a pilot certificate, I’d be blown away. When I met that person, I was not just blown away like catching my breath from a gust of wind. More like being blown away by a typhoon. Because this person, Jessica Cox, was born with no arms. And she has done all that.

Jessica blessed a large crowd the first weekend in November, celebrating the 25th year of Challenge Air. She came to demonstrate how she has adapted to life and is fully self-sufficient, and to encourage and inspire.

From the stage built inside the hangar of a flight school in Conroe, Jessica told the story of learning how to tie her shoes at age six. Her toes work like fingers and she has remarkable dexterity.

Figuring out how to tie the laces and get the shoes on required some thinking. She realized she would have to tie the shoes before slipping them on her feet, but it took hundreds of attempts to get it right. They had to be loose enough to wiggle her feet in, but tight enough to stay on. As she told the story she demonstrated tying over and over.

Linda: For those of us with all four limbs who tend to box ourselves in with ruts and routines, and expectations that life should be easy, Jessica has this message: Think outside the shoe!

One day after speaking to a group, a fighter pilot approached her and asked if she’d ever considered flying. At that time, leaving the ground was her greatest fear. A person with no arms has a different center of gravity and balances differently than those with four full limbs. Leaving the security of balancing on the ground was unnerving. And that’s exactly why Jessica decided she should learn to fly.

We watched as she went through the motions, talking us through how she gets her seat belt and headset on in the airplane. The first time it took some thoughtful analysis, but she thought back to when she was six because she was motivated to conquer her fear.

We won’t ruin the story by telling any more than that, because if you ever have the chance to hear her speak, don’t miss it. And, you can subscribe to her YouTube channel.

Jessica Cox is an inspiration not only because of all she has done, without arms, but also because of her genuine compassion. She is the most gracious inspirational speaker I have ever met. Be sure to see her website and buy her books. Her gift of encouragement awaits you there.

November 20, 2018 Challenge Air - The Pilot's Perspective

The Liberty Gazette
November 20, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I am sometimes confronted by unwelcome situations. But there are those who challenge life daily. To be given an opportunity to share flight with children like “Isabel” is a gift. With an autism spectrum disorder, she has a tendency to grab things. But, she’s sixty pounds soaking wet. She wasn’t going to overpower me. Since she responded well to instructions, we had her sit on her hands for take-off and landing. But while in flight, she grasped the Elyminator’s right-side control wheel to help me fly the plane.

Most of the time Isabel looked down into her lap, her hair blocking the view of her face. So I ducked down to peek. This imp’s grin nearly stretched from ear to ear. She didn’t talk much and getting her to look out the window as we flew over Lake Conroe took some coaxing, but that smile stayed the entire flight.

After we landed, I thanked her for her help and to show how much it meant to me, I took off my pilot wings and pinned them on her. Still looking down, she bobbed up and down and ricocheted about like a pinball stuck in a high-scoring bumper. I signed her Challenge Air co-pilot certificate and she ran through the throng of cheering supporters as she waved her certificate above her head. This was enough to make my day, yet it was only starting.

When we put the headphones on another young girl, she chattered into the microphone repeating phrases and sounds she learned from Star Wars. Her little hands held onto the yoke as she beeped and zapped into the intercom and pointed to boats on the lake she claimed were radioing for support. I did not let her touch the push-to-talk button as the Conroe tower controllers might have thought they were under attack.

Being the pilot was a wonderful experience and while it is the most visible role, I had one of the easiest jobs. For every pilot there are dozens of others who have contributed time, energy, and sweat to make it happen. The dedication of each of those who did not sit in the pilot seat is not lost on us who did.

I was fortunate to do eight flights at Challenge Air, the last one ending as the sun set. The beauty of its reflection off the lake could not outshine the excitement and wonder of the two brothers who were my last little co-pilots.

One of them had begged his mother for a year to go flying, but when he got in the plane he said he didn’t want to be a pilot anymore. Over Lake Conroe he gazed down at the boats. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking. But when we were preparing to land, he looked up at me and asked, “Can we go again?” I told him he would have to come back next year. He turned to the back seat. “Can we, Mom? Pleeease?”

My thoughts exactly.

November 13, 2018 Challenge Air

The Liberty Gazette
November 13, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: He walked through the gate looking handsome in full astronaut uniform. I wanted to take his picture, but I knew I should ask permission. It was a good thing I saw him first, because when the media realized he was in the crowded hangar they swarmed for photos.

Max is six, or maybe seven. He was quick to tell me the suit was “fake,” but that didn’t matter to me because the young man in it was as real as sunshine. And oh what sunshine he added to the day!

Challenge Air held its annual flying event at the airport in Conroe the first weekend in November. Challenge Air is where pilots and other volunteers get to make dreams come true for special needs kids, sharing the gift of flight.

Staff and volunteers work hard all year to perfect logistics. Then it all comes down to the moment the first family arrives. Each child is welcomed with enthusiasm as they wander the hangar to see clowns and balloons, play games, and join in face painting. The adults who bring them fill out the paper work which includes weight of all passengers who will be taking the flight and whether this child follows instructions or has uncontrollable outbursts. Total passenger weight figures in to what airplane they’ll be assigned, while the other information helps volunteer pilots know whether the child will be best served riding in the back with their parent or having a seat up front. Either way, a Challenge Air kid becomes a co-pilot, and that’s a big deal.

Parents attend ground school to know what to expect, then the pilot’s loading team leads them out to the airplane. This year, as a lead loader I walked eight families down the red carpet where a cheering crowd lined both sides, blew kazoos, slapped plastic clappy-hands, and whooped and hollered in encouragement. Of course, for noise-sensitive kids we waved our hands in silent applause.

The airport ramp was busy with planes arriving and departing all day and families being escorted to and from their rides.

Once I had a family buckled in to our plane, Mike took over. You’ll get to read his perspective next week.

Flight after flight, ninety-five in all, they took off with their volunteer pilots for a scenic trip over Lake Conroe for about twenty minutes. When they returned, each Challenge Air kid received special recognition from their pilot and we, the loaders, got to escort them back across the red carpet lined with cheering fans. Shouts of “Hooray!” “You did it!” “Great job, co-pilot!” welcomed them back.

Many of our co-pilots were kids with an autism spectrum disorder. Whatever their challenges are, Challenge Air comes every year to provide a unique experience. The rewards for us are priceless. Like when Astronaut Max leapt with every step down the red carpet, high-fiving everyone he could reach. And like one astonished dad overcome with emotion who said, “She never smiles, but look at her now! She’s smiling!”

November 6, 2018 The Boy from Latvia

The Liberty Gazette
November 6, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: In 1944 the Soviets bore down on Riga, Latvia and people fled their homes. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Mikelsons and their seven-year old son George. For fifteen years they moved in search of a better life. First to Poland, then northern Germany in the British-controlled part, on to Australia, and finally to the U.S. Young George had spent his childhood peering out of bomb shelters to get a glimpse of those planes while he dreamed of flying.

The family survived the war and in 1959, George’s dad earned a position playing violin with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Not far from their new home was an airport with a sign that read $10 for an airplane ride.

George learned to fly and went on to become a commercial pilot and flight instructor. By 1973 he was flying jets. He had another personal asset, too: a keen business mind.

After flying for an air travel club for a brief time he had an idea. Mortgaging his house and taking a loan for $25,000, he acquired a used Boeing 720, like the one that sits on a pedestal at the main entrance to Ellington Airport in Houston. His grand plan was to create his own air travel club, Ambassadair, and eventually an airline.

Linda: Somewhere in the Indy business scene, my dad met George. Before the air travel club spawned the airline American Trans Air, George asked Dad to handle Ambassadair’s publicity.
Members of Ambassadair Air Travel Club took privileged flights to exotic destinations, and hopped on board for Friday night mystery flights for dinner somewhere untold.

I’ve heard that first generation immigrants to our country are often the most successful in business. George Mikelsons is a good example. He took that one airplane and made a business. He hired a co-pilot, and his wife worked as flight attendant. They schlepped baggage, took tickets, and did pretty much everything. They were not strangers to hard work, and in less than twenty years George had built an empire worth over $350 million.

I met Mr. Mikelsons when I joined Dad on trips and tagged along at promotional events, but I wasn’t old enough to understand what my father’s friend had been through. My mom remembers three things. “George’s family moved to the U.S. with their belongings in one cardboard box, and a violin case; his father played first chair violin in the symphony; and George was the first to land a jet in Belize, which had a very short runway. He told us he was amused at a Belize newspaper’s front page headlines: ‘Jet Age Arrives at Belize.’”

The charter and airline businesses are not for the weak. But neither is fleeing the Soviets or surviving in bomb shelters. The financial success is one thing, but somewhere inside there was still a seven-year old boy who one day secured charter service to Eastern Europe with flights into Riga, Latvia to fly people home where there were no more bombs.

October 30, 2018 Fun Tech Stuff

The Liberty Gazette
October 30, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Last Wednesday I saw Bruce Campbell at the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. That’s no surprise since he helps the Chamber with tech stuff. He was chatting with Cynthia Smith, the owner of this newspaper, so I thought I’d be a smart-aleck and ask Bruce if he had an idea for our column this week. He pulled out his phone and showed me an app he uses to spot planes overhead when he’s at home. We thought Gazette readers might enjoy knowing about it, just for fun.

The app is appropriately named PlaneFinder, and you can download it from the App Store. Of course, there are similar apps, but we’ll talk about this one. If you go to their website and click on “About,” you’ll be presented with a ton of technical information about how their app works. It’s not something you have to know in order to enjoy the benefits of satisfying your curiosity about planes flying overhead. Bush Intercontinental Airport has runways oriented east-west, and we are right under approach paths for traffic landing to the west.

Bruce stood there in the city hall room and held up his phone. Through the app, we watched a signal transmitted by an airliner flying somewhere within range and saw what kind of airplane, where it had departed, and the destination. I’m sure there was more information available as well, but that’s all I saw in that brief moment.

We are well acquainted of course with the way that system works. We have the equipment on our plane too. The government (actually, we the taxpayers) put up towers all over the U.S. and planes have these broadcast units installed that send out encoded signals to those towers. The codes are picked up by compatible receiver units and then translated. Tap on a plane icon on the PlaneFinder map and see aircraft type, altitude, heading, speed, and lots more. I don’t think PlaneFinder does as much as well-known FlightAware (a Houston-based company), but I believe FlightAware has been in business longer.

Mike: Another fun snooping activity is listening to Go to their website and listen in on all the air traffic conversations between controllers and pilots. You can select frequencies for arrivals, departures, ground, and en route for airports and airspace all over this great country.

Busy airports such as New York’s JFK or Los Angeles International offer plenty of entertainment but you have to keep up with the rapid-fire transmissions. is a good resource for students in flight training to have playing in the background, just to get used to hearing the exchanges. You’ll probably either love or hate the thick accents of controllers in the northeast, such as Newark, New Jersey, where ground controllers can be especially interesting during peak traffic times. They spout instructions so fast I wonder when they take a breath.

Whether app-tracking or eavesdropping, there are ways to indulge in aviation without leaving home.

October 23, 2018 Flying Solo

The Liberty Gazette
October 23, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: There are such things as wine flights and wine tasting flying tours. Wine flights have nothing to do with aviation. It’s just what they call a few samples one can order instead of a regular glass, if one wants to taste a small amount of different wines.

Wine tasting flying tours on the other hand do indeed involve aviation. One could either hire a company to take them on a tour or, if one is a pilot, one may soar above the vineyards, the boss of one’s own schedule. Helicopter companies offer charter flights around popular vineyards in Napa Valley and the Pacific Northwest.

In the summer of 2015 several friends took off from their home airports and met on the west coast to fly their own airplanes on a wine flying tour. Of course, flying and alcohol don’t mix, so when they sampled a vineyard, they stayed the night.

While we didn’t stop for a tour, I remember flying over Napa Valley, finding the landscape to be a lovely wave of green carpet.

Reminds me of the island of Vis in the Adriatic, off the coast of Croatia. We toured a beautiful vineyard and winery there after trudging through underground bunkers used during World War II. There are grape fields everywhere, but there is no longer an airport on Vis. The land was vineyard first, and to the vine it has returned. Yet their young generation seems uninterested in inheriting family farms. Many of those once-fruitful fields are now overgrown terraced weeds.

Back at home, as I rounded the corner to the last aisle in the grocery store I entered the wine and cheese area. This was the kind of store that has a bar inside. Among the shelves filled with drink, and right at reading level, was a bottle that caught my eye.

“Flying Solo” had a beautiful label in the style of a vintage postage stamp with a drawing that looks like a Ryan, except that it doesn’t have that big round engine. Charles Lindbergh flew his Ryan, “Spirit of St. Louis,” across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. If you can picture that, you have an idea of what was drawn on this label. I have no idea how the wine tastes, but I was interested in the story behind the name.

Turns out the company, Domaine Gayda, is in France and their Flying Solo “celebrates the intrepid ‘Aéropostale’ pilots who risked life and limb to ensure postal deliveries in the 1920s.”

Flying the mail in the 1920s was daring. Lindbergh had been a mail pilot and on his trans-Atlantic flight he fought against fatigue and nasty weather. He landed safely in Paris after flying over 3,600 miles in thirty-three and a half hours, the first to go solo over the ocean.

Becoming an aviator had changed him. “In flying,” he said, “I tasted a wine of the gods of which people on the ground could know nothing.” Now there’s a “wine” we give five stars.

October 16, 2018 Lt. Logan

The Liberty Gazette
October 16, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I stood in quiet survey of the scene, cold water crashed on the shore before me. A faint murmur accented the air, emerging quickly into a crackling roar. In seconds, a French Mirage fighter jet screamed past, a hundred feet above the churning English Channel. The pilot banked hard north and disappeared in the distance. Silence returned.

From the overlook, a lush green carpet of grass spotted by immaculately maintained trees unfolded behind me. There, in perfect symmetry, ten thousand white marble crosses declared the war was over. Nothing competed with my contemplation except for that jet paying respects to the soldiers buried here.

To be present in the American Military Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, the realization sinks much deeper. Touching the sand of Omaha Beach, one cannot fathom the terror and dedication of those who took part in this colossal undertaking. I stepped with humble reverence around the headstones, reading names; three hundred and seven are Known But to God. Over fifteen hundred names of sons who were never recovered or identified are etched in a circular stone wall. If they could, they’d speak of family, of going home.

Linda: It began on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when these brave souls spilled their blood for freedom. A relative of mine was one who joined those ranks less than a month later, on July 2, 1944 when the 487th Bomb Group dispatched two squadrons of B-24s to bomb the German V-weapon site. Cousin James A. Logan and his crew were among them. Returning from their mission they were shot down near Bethune-St. Pol, France. He was 23.

March 14, 1949 Logan was awarded posthumously the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart. The dedication states that he:
“Distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement as pilot of a B-24 type aircraft on an operational mission to Belloy-Sur-Somme, France. Near the target his aircraft was severely damaged and set on fire by anti-aircraft fire, causing it to veer sharply toward other aircraft in the formation, in a moment of great peril to himself and his crew, Lieutenant Logan remained at the controls and skillfully maneuvered the burning aircraft out of formation in order to prevent damage to other aircraft and injury to his fellow airmen. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow and increase its blessings. Freedom lives and through it, lives in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”
Cousin Logan and his co-pilot, Second Lt. Bruno Matika rode the aircraft to the ground, along with the radio operator, and three gunners. The navigator, engineer, and the tail turret gunner parachuted out but were captured, prisoners of war. Logan’s remains were brought home to Massachusetts but most of the others were buried at Normandy.

Mike: At sunset, life in the cemetery paused as two American flags were lowered from half-mast, and all who were breathing saluted or placed their hand over their heart for Taps. I whispered, “Thank you.”

October 9, 2018 Art Lacey's Bomber Gas Station

The Liberty Gazette
October 9, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: At the end of the Second World War there were many surplus military aircraft, and Art Lacey determined one of those B17G’s that had served our country would make a good awning over his gas station near Portland, Oregon. At his birthday party in 1947 he wagered a friend five dollars he could make it happen. After the hand shake, Art turned to another friend and asked to borrow money to win the bet. The man handed him $15,000 and Art ventured out to Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where he would pick out his bomber.

He could choose any one he wanted from the lot. He just had to get it to Oregon. Only problem was, Art didn’t know how to fly a four-engine airplane. So he read the manual and taxied it around until he felt comfortable enough to take it up. But the folks handing it over to him weren’t so comfortable. They told him he had to have a co-pilot. I’m guessing they may not have explained why.

He put a mannequin in the right seat and took off to fly around the airport to get used to the B17. That’s likely when he figured out why they told him he needed a co-pilot…to help with stuck landing gear.

Mike: The story goes that he survived a “crash-landing,” although his B17 and another plane he hit did not. They told him to go find another one, writing up the accident as “wind damage.”

Some of Art’s more experienced pilot friends came to the rescue to help him ferry the airplane home. When they stopped in Palm Springs for fuel, Art wrote a check. He didn’t bother to mention there were no funds in the account to cover it.

Off they went and flew right into a snow storm, and had to descend below a thousand feet to see where they were. Things like street signs and water towers help in such a situation. At least there were no cell towers, but it’s hard to imagine living through a careless flight like that.

Photo of Art Lacey's Bomber Gas Station from the
When he got home, Art made good on the hot check, then turned his attention to the permits he needed to move that bomber down the highway.

Unfortunately, the highway department didn’t want him to truck a plane on the roads and repeatedly denied his requests. He got tired of arguing and late one Saturday night he had the aircraft loaded onto a truck and told the driver not to stop. The ten dollar ticket he got the next day for a wide load was much less than the permit would have cost.

In 1991 the gas station became a restaurant. By 2014 the bomber was so valuable it was removed for restoration to flying condition.

What remains as a memory of the Texaco station in Milwaukie, Oregon is a postcard boasting, “Art Lacey’s Bomber Station. The only one in the world---6 mi. so. of Portland, Ore., on 99E.”

October 2, 2018 Hi-Ho Stipa!

The Liberty Gazette
October 2, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Luigi Stipa isn’t exactly a household name. Not even in Italy. But airplane manufacturer Caproni di Milano-Taliedo knew him and thought he had a great idea. In fact, the Caproni company liked Luigi’s airplane design so well, they committed to build it (with government funding, of course).

This was the 1930’s. Jet-powered aircraft wouldn’t be flying until the next decade. The Stipa-Caproni airplane would be a gateway to the future.

As significant as this airplane’s place in history is, first, it didn’t last long, and second, its importance isn’t really what prompted me to want to tell you about it. I am admittedly more motivated by its humorous appearance than its place in history.

When I first saw a photo of it, I thought it was a joke. Surely there was no flyable aircraft shaped like that! If you’ve ever seen the Super Guppy around Houston skies as it arrives or departs Ellington Airport, start with that image—a blimp morphing into an airplane. Just scale it down a bit. A Smallish Guppy. A cross between the old Gee Bee racer and the Guppy.

But those airplanes have propellers outside the fuselage, either out on the wings, or one in the front. The Stipa’s propeller isn’t on the outside. From the profile view, it looks like the airplane’s nose was sawed off, leaving a gaping hole. But look closer and that’s where you’ll find the engine and propeller—inside that ballooned-out tube.

Mike: With his slide rule, pencil and paper, Luigi studied Bernoulli’s principles of fluid dynamics. He aimed to prove a better aerodynamic ship with the propeller directing its thrust into a tapered venturi tube.

Since the engine and prop were hidden inside the barrel-shaped fuselage, the air that was thrust into it by the prop blades made the propulsion system more aerodynamically efficient.

The pilots reported it flew well, too. Hard to turn, but very stable. Granted, this was an experiment...a brave one.

But the fact is that Luigi’s design was the forerunner to jet aircraft. This was an airplane with a ducted fan, the concept that led to jet engines.

Today’s Boeing 777 and the Airbus A-380 have engines with high bypass fans which follow Stipa’s ideas. Those wide turbine fans you see hanging from the wings are the grandbabies of Luigi’s propeller in the center of the bloated tube.

His design was meant only as a prototype to prove his theories, and then he would go on to work those theories into passenger and cargo planes. But the Italian government dropped its funding.

There was another funny thing about this airplane. It only had two seats and they were up high. Of course they were, because that engine was inside the plane, just below them. The effect was a totally cartoon-looking contraption. Like a couple cowboys riding a whale whose head was cut off. It would make a perfect caricature: Linda and me, the wind in our faces, and our speech bubble, “Hi-ho, Stipa!”

September 25, 2018 The PanAm Experience

The Liberty Gazette
September 25, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Regular readers of Ely Air Lines know that we often highlight the benefits of experience over souvenirs; of having stories over having things. Just last week I was chatting with a group of friends about interesting places around the world. We got to talking about all the enriching reasons we love to travel. I turned to the former army helicopter pilot and with a wink and an agreeable point of the finger, I said, “Stories.” He nodded and smiled wide. “Yes! Stories! That’s what we get!”

Experiences give us stories, and one man who was eager to create—or recreate—an exquisite experience is Anthony Toth.

Anthony was fascinated, some may say obsessed, with airplanes when he was a kid. At first, he just took hundreds of pictures of the planes he rode on from his home in Ohio to visit his grandparents in Germany. But his interest grew and soon he collected things—parts, supplies, anything left over the airline didn’t want, or things he found discarded.

Years of research brought Anthony to the conclusion that Pan Am was the best airline in the world. Ever. His collections grew and years later, he had an aircraft cabin, interior parts, and amazing array of collectible goodies from the now-gone company.

People who flew on Pan Am often expressed delight over the experience, and that was exactly what Anthony wanted to bring back. He couldn’t build a functioning airline, but he had enough genuine parts for something useful…as a restaurant, that is. But not just any restaurant. This would be the Pan Am Experience.

Mike: At first, he operated out of his garage, and only for friends. But when Talaat Captan, founder of Air Hollywood, discovered Anthony’s unique gig, he offered a great partnership deal. Air Hollywood is a set of studios where aviation scenes are created for movies. They are fully in tune with the combination of aviation and entertainment, the perfect partner for Anthony’s business. Today you can go to Los Angeles and dine in Pan Am’s first Boeing 747-200 now housed in a movie studio.

First, fork up $875 per person. Then when you check in, you’ll receive a 1970’s style boarding pass, ticket jacket, and first-class carry-on tag. You’ll be greeted as you board the aircraft by a “stewardess” (in uniform) who will hand you the drink of your choice and welcome you to explore First Class, Clipper Class, and the Upper Deck dining room.

You won’t escape the safety briefing, but you will get a gourmet six-course meal served on fine china, with real glass and silverware, just as it used to be. You can stay for a movie if you like, but they’ll probably be showing Airplane!

On you will find more information, including their grateful bid for you to come see for yourself: “We know you have many choices of retro-airline themed dinner parties, but we appreciate you’ve chosen to dine with us…”

September 18, 2018 Uncle Bob

The Liberty Gazette
September 18, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Robert Freeman was a brilliant fellow. “Uncle Bob” to his nieces and nephews, he was a downright delightful human being who lived his life with impeccable ethics. So whether you want to talk about high moral standards or creative genius, you could do both talking about Uncle Bob.

Of course it goes without saying Uncle Bob was a pilot (insert winking emoji here). One of the most brow–raising stories has to do with what he did to make flying safer.

When Uncle Bob lent his engineering skills to Boeing Air Transport, he came up with a way for their airplanes to land in fog and other low–visibility conditions. It’s a system we still use today called Instrument Landing System, or ILS. There’s a high likelihood that if you rode on an airline landing in Houston sometime since we’ve been writing this column, your flight crew brought you home via an ILS approach to the runway. At either airport. Unfortunately, however, Uncle Bob’s system didn’t start out here. Not in Houston. Not in Texas. Not even in the U.S. But that wasn’t his fault.

When Bob Freeman took his design and plans for safer landings to the Civil Aeronautics Authority (predecessor to the FAA), the little government workers were afraid it might not be safe for use on passenger planes.

If you had such a stellar invention you knew could save lives but were faced with such ignorance, what would you do? If you had the fortitude of Uncle Bob, you wouldn’t give up. When government representatives told you to hawk your wares elsewhere you’d say fine. And had you been Bob Freeman on that day when the U.S. government said that, you would have been handed a letter that said something to the effect of, Go sell it anywhere in the world you want to. We don’t care. And of course, if you were Bob Freeman, you would do exactly that. And you’d hold on tight to that letter.

Rejected by his own country, Uncle Bob went to Japan and showed them his invention. This was 1935, seven years before they attacked us at Pearl Harbor. While Uncle Bob was an amazingly talented guy, he didn’t have a Magic 8 Ball, just an invention to sell.

Not long after returning home from installing his system at Japanese airports, the U.S. government charged him with treason. Friends, that’s heavy. But Uncle Bob had a clear conscience—and a letter.

When the prosecution finally rested after two days of describing what an awful person Bob Freeman was, our defendant confidently approached the bench (without a lawyer) and handed that letter to the judge.

There was no need to put on a defense. The judge gaveled, “Case dismissed.”

If you look up the inventor of the Instrument Landing System you will see a different name credited. But now you know more than Google.

Thanks to the lovely artist and Dayton resident Helene Noyer for this great story about her Uncle Bob.

September 11, 2018 Travel

The Liberty Gazette
September 11, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Apart from war-related flying, weather research, search and rescue, mercy flights, and such, when we consider travel by air it brings us thoughts of adventure waiting on the horizon. But travel does more than jet us away from home. When we go to faraway places we learn about other cultures. If we are open to it, we also learn about ourselves, outside our comfort zone.

We re-evaluate values; experiences versus things. For example:

- Climbing to the top of Sniper Tower in Mostar, Bosnia and witnessing the messages of peace and remembrance in street art;

- Finding the Pittman Apartment building in Saigon—the one in the iconic photo of a helicopter lifting some of the last few people out of the country as the enemy rolled down the streets in tanks;

- Our souls soaking in beautiful Cambodia and her lovely people who have suffered immensely, yet their art is healing a wounded nation.

We’ve seen firsthand how God uses art to heal in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. It’s powerful. We’ve met survivors and descendants of those who suffered. We’ve heard their stories and they have moved us. Experience versus things? There is no souvenir of that worth.

Mike: There’s so much more to the universe than the little space we take up. Most people who travel report a significantly deeper sense of connection to the rest of the humanity. But to get this benefit, we must be immersed in the culture we visit. Cruises, resorts, and shopping don’t show us the real world. To be in the neighborhoods and visit people in their homes, to discover their customs, traditions, daily life, is to gain appreciation for our differences and similarities.

I flew a trip to the Dominican Republic for the wedding of the French Prince Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou to the daughter of a friend of my boss. My co-pilot and I did not attend the wedding but remained in the country for a week, put up at an exclusive resort. Resort life did not give much of a window into the lives of the people in the D.R. All around the outside of the compound were ramshackle homes, most only half built. These people worked behind the scenes at the resort but were not allowed to interact with guests. We were discouraged from leaving the compound except in one of the resort vehicles to and from the airport.

I contrast this with Alex, our enterprising tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He took us to his village and his home. We tasted local herbs and learned about how a neighbor extracts sap from a tree, rising early to boil it carefully for hours in a wide ten-gallon cast iron bowl hung crudely over a fire to make sweet syrup, which he sells in the afternoon. Cambodian children warmed our hearts as they walked dirt roads with their arms around each other—buddies, like kids everywhere.

We are enriched as we travel beyond our borders to truly live in God's creation.

September 4, 2018 GAMA Challenge

The Liberty Gazette
September 4, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

When some people see insurmountable problems, others see opportunity. We find examples in inventors of yesteryear and today, in everything from the wheel to gaming software. Wilbur and Orville Wright were two inventors who welcomed the challenges involved in building a flying machine.

Think about the fact that before the airplane was invented, nobody knew what a propeller was, much less how it worked, or how to make one. Understand that not just any engine would work for an airplane. They needed the right power-to-weight ratio to make their invention fly. No engine like that had been made, so they built their own. And no one knew beans about aerodynamics. The Wrights saved their skin probably many times over by inventing the wind tunnel where they could first test their flight control theories before boarding the Wright Flyer and risking their necks.

Before the whole airplane could be a reality, all the details had to be figured out.

So all this to say: teachers, students, ISDs, heads-up, here’s your opportunity to soar with ground-breaking challenges.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is sponsoring the Aviation Design Challenge to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education through aviation curriculum and a virtual fly-off in high schools across the United States.

Registration is limited to the first 150 U.S. high schools (all types) that complete the online registration form. That includes Liberty, Dayton, Hardin, and all the other schools around here. The deadline to enter is in April next year. Teams, which can be either high school classes or after-school programs, must include at least, but not limited to, four students, including at least one male student and one female student, with the exception of single-sex schools. Only one team per school may enter.

Schools registered for the competition will receive complimentary “Fly to Learn” curricula, which comes with flight simulation software powered by X-Plane.

In the competition, teachers guide students through the science of flight and airplane design, completing the curricula in approximately six weeks in the classroom or in four weeks through an accelerated program. Each team will apply what they have learned by modifying the design of an airplane. The schools will then compete in a virtual fly-off, scored on aerodynamic and performance parameters while flying a specific mission profile. Judges from GAMA will select the winning school based on that score and other factors.

The prize is an all-expenses-paid trip for up to four high school students, one teacher and one chaperone from the winning team to experience general aviation manufacturing firsthand.

For more information about the Aviation Design Challenge, including registration dates for future competitions, those interested should subscribe to the Aviation Design Challenge mailing list.

Click here for links to everything you need. Get your thinking cap on and channel your inner Wilbur or Orville. The 2015 winners were a group of homeschoolers in Wisconsin. Last year’s winning team is from Olney High School. No reason the next winners couldn’t be from Liberty County.

August 28, 2018 A Story of Bill and Lou

The Liberty Gazette
August 28, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

This is a story of Bill and Lou.

Bill was American, born in Detroit in 1881. Bill’s dad had migrated from Germany in search of wealth and found it in timber and mineral rights. He could afford the best schools for his young Bill, who was educated in Switzerland and at Yale. Unfortunately, Bill’s dad died of influenza when the youngster was only eight, but his father’s influence was strong enough to carry the boy on to his own career.

Lou was French, born in 1883. He grew up to be one of the most celebrated aviators of his time. Lou set and broke records for altitude, speed, distance, and time. He also built airplanes.

There was in those days great competition between France and the United States for claims of aviation firsts, but Lou was so revered that when the first air meet was planned in this country, in 1910, the organizers paid a handsome sum to convince him to attend. Thousands would come to Los Angeles see Lou fly.

Lots of other highly skilled pilots came for the meet too. And so did Bill. He wasn’t a pilot, but he had left the lumber business to make boats, and the first time he saw an aeroplane, he was fascinated. He had made his home and boat-building business in Seattle but determined to make the trip south to Los Angeles.

As he walked the airfield, he couldn’t help but ask for a ride from every pilot he saw. Perhaps the competitive culture of those pioneers of aviation wasn’t as community–minded as aviators today. This was back when the Wright brothers were aggressively trying to protect their patents from infringement and everyone wanted to grab a piece of the future without sharing. All the pilots turned him down. No one was willing to let him taste the air.

Then Bill came upon Lou. The meet was to last for several days, and Lou promised that when he was finished competing, he’d take Bill flying. After three days’ wait, Bill looked for Lou, eager for his first flight. Sadly, Lou had already left town.

But Bill wouldn’t be deterred. He would find a way to experience flight.

In 1914, a friend took Bill flying. Finally, he could drink from the cup of aerial addiction. He would discover the aviator’s soul that lived within him.

Boating was nice, but flying was better, so Bill began building airplanes.

As his business grew, he added flight services. Air mail was a new thing, and Bill’s company won government contracts to deliver mail.

These days, you can visit the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Houston’s Hobby Airport and see photos, memorabilia, and read more about Louis Paulhan, the first to fly in Texas.

But you can go just about anywhere to see what Bill left behind. William Boeing’s airplanes and his flying service that eventually became United Airlines are the legacy of Bill.

August 21, 2018 Glaisher, Mathematician

The Liberty Gazette
August 21, 2018
Ely Air Lines By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: To introduce our story last week about William Rankin, the man who rode thunder, I began with a tip of the hat to Charles Peirce, an ancestor of mine who wrote a book chronicling his 57 years of meteorological research.

I get excited when my family’s genealogy intersects with aviation or weather. Now, in a very strange and fascinating turn of events, I have discovered some old facts that lead to one of those intersections in an odd way.

Superstar mathematician and astronomer James Glaisher (senior) was the Superintendent of the Magnetical and Meteorological Department at the Royal Observatory in England. He was the first to recognize the existence of the stratosphere. This is a humongous achievement.

He had a son named after him whom the family called Lee. The elder Glaisher made balloon ascents, sometimes with Lee aboard. Here’s a description from the Report of the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society of 1862:

“One of the main objects of [Glaisher’s] ascents was to extend and improve our knowledge of the relation which exists between increase of elevation and the corresponding variations of temperature and moisture, these variations in their turn having an intimate bearing on the theoretic determination of atmospheric refraction. The results of Mr. Glaisher's observations indicate that the [current] hypothesis ... must be abandoned ...”

Game changer!

The junior Glaisher also showed signs of mathematic genius and graduated from Trinity University in Cambridge (UK), second in his class of 1871. Well-known among his classmates for flying balloons with his dad, as the eventual Dr. Glaisher crossed the stage to receive his undergraduate degree, all the students sang a tune, “Up in a balloon, boys,” in honor of the work of his dad.

I descend from none of the above. However, years later, 1917, the younger Dr. Glaisher attended a Sotheby’s auction and found some items of interest, namely, personal papers of John Napier, the inventor of logarithms.

Among those papers was a contract between Napier and Sir Robert Logan, the 7th and Last Baron of Restalrig (Scotland). Cousin Robert hired his buddy Napier to figure out if there was any buried treasure inside his castle.

Thanks to Dr. Glaisher for donating the contract to Trinity University, and thanks to them for sending me a photo of the actual handwritten contract as well as the typed version, I set about to translate Scottish Gaelic into modern-day English.

The contract is clear that if treasure was found, Napier would get one-third and the signed paper would be destroyed. Since it still exists, we presume poor Cousin Robert didn’t have any buried treasure in that castle.

We’re planning to visit the castle ruins next year. Not much remains more than a rock, but its strategic location on the shore not far from Edinburgh made it ripe for some historical events in the life of Scotland. So even if I only get to see a rock on a cliff and there’s no treasure left to me in a will, it will be a fun trip.

August 14, 2018 Ride the Thunder

The Liberty Gazette
August 14, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: When you were a kid, did you wonder if you could stand on a cloud? Perhaps jump from cloud to cloud, playing tag with your friends. It’s probably not an uncommon thing for kids to imagine, and the childhood fantasy is harmless. Once we understand the science of cloud formations, thunderstorms, and the lift that is part of their existence, we know the real thing isn’t so harmless.

Now this may seem unrelated, but hang with me.

Charles Peirce is ancestor on my dad’s mom’s side of the family. He lived in Philadelphia and published his extensive research of 57 years, called “A Meteorological Account of the Weather in Philadelphia, from January 1, 1790 to January 1, 1847.” I have a copy and though I’ve not read every single entry, I don’t think there’s any mention of “cloud suck.”

Cloud suck is a condition inside towering cumulus clouds when, due to the physics of heat exchange, columns of saturated air rise with such force they vacuum up whatever is right below the cloud. This phenomenon affects mostly paragliders and hang gliders that get too close to the cumulus base. They don’t have enough power to get away.

Seventy-four years after Uncle Charles finished his book, William Henry Rankin was born in nearby Pittsburgh. He would grow up to be Lieutenant Colonel Rankin, and he would discover firsthand what “cloud suck” is like.

Mike: Normally, jets can manage going around or over (but well above) thunderstorms. Unfortunately, on July 26, 1959 Rankin’s F-8 Crusader fighter jet had an engine failure right as he crossed above one of those cumulonimbus clouds. Even more unfortunately, he had no choice but to eject and parachute right into the violent storm.

Rankin was a Marine, a veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War. No doubt his experience taught him not to give up. The loud bang from the engine while at 47,000 feet didn’t stop him from doing what he needed to do next. When a fire warning light flashed he pulled the lever for auxiliary power. The fact that the lever broke off in his hand didn’t deter him. Neither did the fact that he had to eject into minus 58 degrees. In spite of the physical trauma to his body, he didn’t panic. He donned emergency oxygen. But the bad luck didn’t stop.

After flailing for five minutes in freezing air, his parachute not deployed, the low atmospheric pressure inside the storm triggered a barometric switch and his chute opened at 10,000 feet. Keep in mind, inside the storm he couldn’t see a thing. But he could feel the brutal roller coaster ride, the pelting hailstones and drowning rain.

Spewed out of the storm, Rankin landed in a forest forty minutes after he ejected. Of course, he wrote a book about it, and you may want to read it—The Man Who Rode the Thunder.

August 7, 2018 Post-Harvey Rockport

The Liberty Gazette
August 7, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Gracing the cover of this quarter’s Wingtips magazine, a publication of the Texas Department of Transportation, Aviation Division, is an aerial view of the Aransas County airport in Rockport. You remember, the place where Harvey’s eye plucked out a town.

Many of the planes there belong to out-of-towners. Airport manager Mike Geer decided to ride out the storm in the terminal building to keep an eye on guests’ airplanes and secure them the best he could.

Two hours before the storm officially arrived in Rockport, the strength of pre-storm powerful winds collapsed the historic 1943 hangar. Official reports said winds reached 130 miles an hour. But Geer and those who huddled with him inside the terminal watched the airport’s weather reporting system display 143, with gusts of 160 miles an hour. They saw more proof as one of the walls flexed in and out.

Harvey’s violent attack on Rockport lasted all night. In the morning as they assessed the damage, Geer and his employees knew they’d have to get to work fast to ensure the airport could be used by first- responders arriving in helicopters. The fuel system had to be operational, so getting that running and verifying clean fuel became a top priority.

TxDOT is well equipped and has rehearsed the scenarios of getting on scene in catastrophe aftermath. A large contingent of highly trained specialists waited at a safe distance in San Antonio, and in the morning set out for Rockport in a nearly mile-long convoy.

The teams arrived to total devastation, in the town and at the airport. Hangars were blown apart, and airplanes were scattered about the field. The fuel truck was trapped in one of the collapsed hangars. Together, Geer, his staff, and the guys from TxDOT cleared debris from Runway 18-36, the north-south runway, so that airplanes could land, bringing more people to help with recovery.

In yet another victorious story of an airport saving lives, Geer said he’s proud his airport was used as a staging area to help his neighbors. At one time over 1,200 people were at the airport. They were emergency responders, utility workers, and others who came to the rescue. The entire community of Rockport was in good hands because of the airport.

Linda: In another article, Wingtips published the most recent list of grants awarded to Texas airports. They range from $400,000 given to Castroville Municipal Airport, up to $1,786,000 awarded to Eagle Lake Regional Airport. Castroville will install a new Jet-A fuel system. Eagle Lake will use their money for rehabilitation and repairs to runway, taxiway, lighting, and more. This will improve safety and increase economic benefits to all of Eagle Lake.

NOTICE: There’s a very limited time for rural airports to apply for free money. No match is required for this grant offering of one billion dollars, authorized by Congress. The City of Liberty needs to apply quickly. Deadlines are August 8 and October 31. Please ask city council to support application.

July 31, 2018 The Flying Nun

The Liberty Gazette
July 31, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: I loved my first lunchbox. Sally Field as The Flying Nun was all over it. In the cafeteria, I would be absorbed by the square metal pail, dreaming of flying. It didn’t matter whether I was downing a PBJ, the best kids’ lunch ever, or the horrid pimento cheese sandwich Mom sometimes fixed in spite of our protests. How I wanted to fly.

Ms. Field’s acting did much to invite me to that different world. She encouraged my imagination and wonder at the possibilities. But she would not have had a part to play had it not been for Marie Teresa Rios Versace, an Irish-Puerto Rican-American born in Brooklyn in 1917.

“Tere,” as her friends called her, met the dashing “Mr. Right,” Humbert Roque Versace, a West Point grad who eventually made Colonel. She became an army wife and bore five children.

Tere had been a prolific writer since her youth. As an adult, she was in high demand to write for publications around the world, including the Armed Forces’ Stars & Stripes. She taught creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and at some point in all the moves army families make, she was crowned “Wisconsin Writer of the Year.”

During the Second World War, the strong, patriotic Catholic supported the troops, volunteering as a truck and bus driver for the army. And it didn’t stop there. She learned to fly and joined the Civil Air Patrol, serving her country as a volunteer pilot.

Tere’s eldest son, the incredibly handsome Humbert Roque (Jr.), or “Rocky,” as they called him, followed in his father’s footsteps to West Point. He went to Korea as an M-48 tank platoon leader and then volunteered for duty in Vietnam. When Captain Versace began his second tour in Vietnam, his post-service vision was to go to seminary, become a priest and return to Vietnam as a missionary. Vietnamese orphans had touched his heart and he wanted to come back to serve them.

In the fall of 1965, less than two weeks before he was to come home, Captain Versace was ambushed, taken deep into the jungle, tortured for two years, then executed. Fellow prisoners last heard his voice singing “God Bless America.” His remains have never been found.

The Colonel and Mrs. Versace didn’t know right away their son had been killed. As Tere was finishing her third book, The Fifteenth Pelican, she penned the dedication, “FOR THE ROCK and the children and sugar people of NamCan.”

The Fifteenth Pelican was Tere’s last book. It was the story that was the basis for the TV show, The Flying Nun.

Tere had been presented with a Special Forces patch and unit membership certificate. When she passed away in 1999, representatives of the Special Operations Command from Fort Bragg were present. Her ashes are buried with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

My lunchbox was something to be proud of. More than either Sally Field or I knew.

July 24, 2018 Vintage

The Liberty Gazette
July 24, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A couple years ago my mom and I perused a spacious antique store in the Midwest, just for the fun of it. Oddities of bygone days can kick up laughter, spark intrigue, and sometimes leave us in awe. Old familiars can trigger memories, like old sayings from our parents: “Don’t run with a stick, you’ll poke your eye out,” or “Don’t stretch your face like that, it will stay that way.” And remember “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt”? That one can apply to perusing these yesteryear-filled malls, too. Let’s face it. These days when you enter an antique shop, you’re just as likely to find not-yet-antiques that only qualify as vintage.

I say that to try to soften the blow to my ego when I enter a musty-smelling former warehouse or cottage and find toys and games just like the ones I used to have. C’mon! I’m not that old, yet!

As Mom and I strolled I was astonished to find a metal dollhouse exactly like the one we had as kids. Maybe it was ours. It was actually half a dollhouse, open so you could play with little people and furniture inside the rooms. Today, it wouldn’t pass any safety tests. At the top of the chimney, the metal was folded inward. I know this well because when I was three I dropped a white plastic doll chair, about the size my thumb at the time, into the chimney. While fishing it out, my right thumb tangled with the sharp edges of the folded-over metal. Metal doesn’t give, so the dollhouse won, and Mom had a screaming child to console and blood all over the place. At least it was easy to wipe off.

I stood there and stared at that dollhouse with mixed feelings. My sisters and I had good times playing…but then, that vicious chimney. The scar is still visible, yet playtime memories are happy.

There was plenty more to see in the ego-killing vintage shop. Spinning tops, toy cars, and model airplanes. Yay for model airplanes!

Another hot item in vintage collections is school lunchboxes. Interestingly, this is another place we can find a satisfying assortment of aviation-themed items. Not just Space Explorer, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Did you know there was a lunchbox of airlines? Gracing the front was a photo of a National Airlines B727, its crew in the foreground. Along the sides are logos of United, American, Lufthansa, and others. There was also a lunch pail covered with characters that look like hot dogs, and an airplane above towing a banner that read, “Meat Parade.” Weird.

Rosie the Riveter and Snoopy and the Red Baron made the lunch tote cut, too. But my favorite, honoring the one who first sparked my desire to fly, was The Flying Nun. While Sally Field’s acting led me to imagine myself flying, this was made possible by the story written by an amazing woman. I can’t wait to tell you about her next week.

July 17, 2018 Naco-Naco

The Liberty Gazette
July 17, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Let’s take a trip down to the border, and back in time.

When Mexico’s civil war ended in 1920, several revolutions followed. One of the guys most celebrated for putting down some of those revolutions was Jose Gonzalo Escobar. Trouble was, he was planning his own. But don’t think the Mexican government didn’t suspect it. They never did trust that scoundrel. No matter that he’d had a significant role in defeating Pancho Villa. They knew he wanted to oust President Emilio Portes Gil. So the Mexican government asked the U.S. government to seal off the border from trade to rebels and bought materials and supplies to beef up their side, ready for Escobar’s attacks.

Among the supplies were combat aircraft and U.S. veteran pilots to fly them. The federales attacked by air first, bombing a couple of rebel locations. This prompted Escobar to holler across the border for help from like-minded souls. Actually, they didn’t have to be so like-minded as much as just want to do the job. There were, in those days, a few “revolution-hoppers,” men who made it their profession to join revolutions…at $1,000 a week.

Escobar’s army wasn’t as well equipped as the government’s, but he scraped along as best and for as long as he could. However, when one rebels with a lesser budget, one likely has troops of lesser commitment. Such was the case for Escobar.

An Irishman named Patrick Murphy offered his services. He had been working in the U.S. as a crop duster, which made his flying skills for this sort of job pretty sharp. So they thought.

His good buddy Jon Gorre also got a job. Only his employer happened to be on the other side – the Mexican government. The story goes that the two would meet at a bar each night, compare their statistics on bomb dropping for the day, and then agree to who got to go next. Because they were friends, they politely took turns. They even bought their bombs from the same guy. Turns out, Murphy could handle the flying part okay, but maybe not navigation.

Linda: In Sonora, Mexico is a town named Naco. Across the border in Arizona is an unincorporated village also named Naco. There’s less than a mile between them. Even in the lumbering Stearman, which was used by both sides, the two Nacos are only about 24 seconds’ flight time apart.

On April 2, 1929, Murphy either miscalculated his route or misjudged the wind, if there was any. He hit a mercantile, a pharmacy, and the post office in Naco, Arizona. His bombs left craters in the streets and one blew up a Dodge touring car owned by a Mexican army officer who had left it there for safekeeping.

Since he’d been hired by the Mexican rebels, this made his attacks the first aerial bombardment of the contiguous United States by a foreign power.

He certainly had no “luck o’ the Irish,” but perhaps it was Murphy’s Law.

July 10, 2018 Dubrovnik

The Liberty Gazette
July 10, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Last year we received a full refund from everyone we had paid for our Croatia vacation when Hurricane Harvey came to maul South Texas. Air France, Airbnb, even the ferry services and the Dubrovnik Symphony were sympathetic and helpful. Whenever you’re ready, we look forward to welcoming you, they all said.

I’d been so excited about the Dubrovnik Symphony that I vowed our future trip would be planned around it. And so it was.

When we decided to take the trip in May, the first place we consulted was the Dubrovnik Symphony calendar. Often, they perform in the atrium of Rector’s Palace, an intimate setting with, we’re told, amazing sound. But on Friday, May 11, the musicians would gather at the Museum of Modern Art and offer their beautiful sound in the open air patio. This would be youth night, where four outstanding high school students would perform solo pieces, with the symphony backing them up. We had second-row seats.

With a gentle, fatherly kind of smile, Maestro Noam Zur, an Israeli, stretched out his arms to welcome each of the teens in turn up to the front to play their piece. I thought of our Fine Arts Society of Liberty Texas and the scholarships we would soon be sending out. These Croatian kids, like the ones here in our area, are incredibly talented and I fell in love with the city and their symphony as I knew I would.

My sister, too, fell in love with Dubrovnik when she visited 30-some years ago, when the country was part of Yugoslavia. She told us about the old wall and the sheer beauty of the city. She was right.

Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic, is a medieval city with a medieval infrastructure and street network. Fortresses, canons, and 13-foot-wide limestone walls have protected citizens inside since the 12th century. The walls have never been breached by an enemy and were about all that was left standing after the 1667 earthquake. We climbed the steps 80 feet to the top to join others from around the world on a leisurely 1.2 mile walk above the city

What a beautiful view! Red roofs on ancient stone architecture in varied shades of white, all built at different times after the earthquake, reflect the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Massive monasteries and elaborate cathedrals attract. Shops and restaurants flank the wide main street of polished stone and are tucked into romantic, narrow alleyways. The gardens here would make any master gardener jealous. And the steps—oh, the steps! Dubrovnik is built on steps in an intricate and complex system of forts, bastions, casemates, and towers. We’re not TV-watchers, but they say a show called Game of Thrones is or was filmed here.

Lovrijenac Fortress, just outside the city walls, rises from a 121-foot-high cliff. Adriatic waves rippled in the harbor. Kayaks and sailboats dotted the seascape for a postcard view at any angle. Croatia has captured my heart.

July 3, 2018 Zadar's Sea Organ

The Liberty Gazette
July 3, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: One of the Croatian cities high on my list for a visit was Zadar, and for only one reason: a musical, engineering, architectural wonder.

After the Cold War and Yugoslavia’s meltdown and break-up into seven countries, city leaders in Zadar worked to rebuild. They wanted to make their city a place that would draw travelers; something for the tourists, but not your typical tourist trap.

Nikola Bašić hit the jackpot when he proposed his idea: a sea organ. His project won the European Prize for Urban Public Space as the best among hundreds of candidate projects from across Europe.

On the western end of Zadar’s peninsula for about 230 feet of shoreline, broad marble steps rise from the Adriatic Sea. Under the surface of the lower steps are 35 pipes of varying length, diameter, and tilt. Water and air flow in and funnel into resonant chambers. From the pressure, air is pushed out through channels on the upper steps. The labiums (whistles) on the pipes play seven chords of five tones, creating organ-like sounds, random, yet harmonic. Along the vertical part of the steps are perforations, square holes about the size of your hand. The sea’s pressure pushes the air through these holes, releasing sound. From the ever-changing sea notes, the song is never the duplicated.

Nikola had help from a sea hydraulics consultant and a few other experts. The pipes were made by Goran Ježina from a famous organ art workshop called Murter. Heferer is a Croatian company which has been making organs since the mid-17th century. They made the 35 whistles for every pipe. The unique instrument was tuned by Professor Ivica Stamać. This small ensemble built a marvelous attraction that protects the shore while luring millions of locals and globetrotters alike for a peaceful experience.
From a coastline devastated by war to architectural sound art, this extraordinary instrument croons visitors; each note of the on-going symphony born of chance by wind and waves.

Sunset is the most popular time to sit on a step and listen to the music of the sea, the pink and orange sky bowing before us from across the water. Sunrise is less dramatic only because it’s not right across the water, its way back behind the city. But the organ shore is hardly populated at that hour, which is a plus.

Mike: The sun sank low, and lapping waves tickled the steps in splashes to accompany the organ. Wake from passing boats kissed the shore in crescendo.

Memories from a recent trip to another place recovering from war washed through my mind. The song of the Sea Organ fits well with video I took when we gently drifted down the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, rocked by swells and enchanted by a similar sunset.

Like a mother rocking her babe, singing softly, the waves and the Sea Organ symbolize hope for tomorrow in a land that has known so much pain.

June 26, 2018 To Unlock Zagreb

The Liberty Gazette
June 26, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The ten-hour flight from Houston to Munich in a United Airlines Boeing 767 was relatively comfortable. However, I really prefer the front seat to anything in the back. Stuck as passengers, we passed the time through changes in daylight by reading, napping, and wandering about the cabin. Long flights offer opportunities to chat with flight attendants in the aft galley when we get up to stretch. But I’d still rather be at the controls of this aluminum tube.

After an hour in Munich, we boarded a Q-400, a twin-engine turbo-prop made by the DeHavilland aircraft company of Canada. They used to call this airplane a “Dash-8,” dash being how one would pronounce the three-letter identifier of the company, “DHC.” They numbered their aircraft models, this one being an 8. Years later, DeHavilland redesigned the airplane. They replaced the propellers with ones that have more blades, turn slower, and make less noise. Emphasizing the quietness, the airplane was re-named Q-400 (Q for quiet, 400 being the series number).

Aboard Croatian Airlines’ hushed Q-400, we flew from Munich to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb. This is one of very few cities in the world I would return to (there’s still so much I haven’t seen). Zagreb is fascinating, as is all of Croatia and the other countries that came out of the former Yugoslavia.

In lovely Zagreb we took advantage of two walking tours, one of general history and one of military history. We had our first escape room experience too. It was an outdoor version more like a treasure hunt, learning local folklore and culture.

In the game, “Unlock Zagreb,” we wandered the streets of the old town, solving riddles and puzzles to discover tales of the city. Our mission: Save Duchess Ruzica. We promised not to divulge secrets of their super fun game, so we’ll just share what’s on their website: Bloody Bridge was named after the fierce battles fought between two neighboring settlements of centuries past, the diocesan Kaptol, and the free royal settlement of Gradec. The bridge (which is no longer there) is also linked to the legend of Duchess Ruzica Gising and the Knight Pavo Slavinic.

Daring as it was, we were appointed to undergo six tests of chivalry to show whether we “have what it takes to be a knight.” Good thing I had Mike with me.

The evil Duke Grdun wanted beautiful Ruzica for himself, and the game master warned, Grdun was on his way, so we must be quick! (The game was only one hour long.)

Turns out, we’re not that good at games with clues, so the very gracious game master left her office in the historic building that was once a brothel to help us figure it out. What a great time we had exploring Zagreb! I wish I could tell you the whole story, but you’ll have to board that 767 and the Q-400 and meet up with Sonya at Enigmarium in Zagreb to find out who won Ruzic's hand in marriage.

I’d love to go back there some day.

June 19, 2018 Who's Boss?

The Liberty Gazette
June 19, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Carlos was hurrying through his sandwich so he could make his reserved time slot to fly a glider at the Soaring Club of Houston. He asked about our latest trip to Eastern Europe—which countries we visited, how we liked it, etc. I had noticed his t-shirt when he first walked in the clubhouse. I wondered if he knew much about the person whose name he sported: clothing designer, Hugo Boss. So I responded, “Interesting that you’re wearing that shirt. It’s relevant to our trip.”

Having taken the private military history tour on the island of Vis, off the Adriatic coast of Croatia, I knew who Hugo Boss was. So I told Carlos about how we crept inside the dark tunnels used by the Yugoslav People’s Army. Amid the billions of mosquito-looking bugs that didn’t bite but were thick as grease in the air, and the bats chasing them for a feast; amid the dank underground maze were remnants of the Cold War. A pair of shoes, left just as they were when Yugoslavia collapsed and everyone abandoned the nuclear hide-out. Also left, still resting on a hanger in an officer’s quarters, is a molding army uniform jacket.

Nano, our guide, pointed his flashlight toward the uniform and quizzed us. “What do you think that is? Doesn’t it look like a Nazi uniform?”

It did.

“But it’s not. It’s the uniform of the Yugoslavian army. Made by Hugo Boss. He made the Nazi uniforms too, so they look really similar.”

Carlos was immediately skeptical of my information and retrieved his phone from his pocket for quick research. “Yep. You’re right. Hugo Boss, designer of the Nazi military uniforms.” While he didn’t tell me his thoughts at that moment, his expression seemed to convey a bit of discomfort at the realization of the history represented on his shirt.

Mike: Hugo joined the Nazi party in 1931. After WWII he was stripped of his voting rights and could not own or operate a business in Germany. Years later, that decision was commuted when officials believed he was just a follower rather than an activist and beneficiary. But that probably meant little to Hugo, who had died in 1948. The Boss company ownership was passed to Hugo’s son-in-law and later taken over by grandsons who commissioned a study into the company’s past.

In 2010 the company issued a statement of regret and apologized for participating in the production of military uniforms for the Schutzstaffel, Hitler’s army of killers. But they also argued that their grandfather was not the designer. Rather, his company was one of fifteen thousand small manufacturers supplying the German army, possibly by force or threat.

Regardless who designed it, the tattered glob of fabric hanging in the dingy bunker on the island of Vis, a hundred and eighty feet below ground, does look similar to a Nazi uniform coat.

It is not for us to say what was in Hugo Boss’s heart and mind, but it’s a reminder to consider how we spend our money.

June 12, 2018 Vis, an Important Island

The Liberty Gazette
June 12, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: “Whoever controls the island of Vis controls the Adriatic,” explained Nano, our private military tour guide.

My eyes were still adjusting to the bright sun as we emerged from a tunnel into a rubble-strewn area that overlooked the gently rolling sea. I was careful not to trip on the corroded circular metal pad bolted to the cement floor and its rusting metal sleeve that protruded upward, the remains of a mount for heavy artillery. I’d seen similar bunkers at Pointe du Hoc near Omaha Beach in Normandy. But those didn’t require navigation through hundreds of yards of dank-smelling tunnels.

“This island never was occupied by Germany like the rest of Yugoslavia,” Nano pointed out. “Italy held it, but gave it up.”

Linda: The remains of over thirty separate military installations are still on the island. Nano, a native of Vis, drove his Land Rover along rugged roads to show us bunkers, barracks, and a sunset from the second highest point on the island. The highest point is still military-occupied. Some centuries-old ruins are crumbling. Others, built during WWII and the Cold War, we explored by flashlight. We dodged bats and bugs through the dungeon-like maze.

Italy abandoned the island when they surrendered in September, 1943. This allowed the Yugoslav Partisan resistance to move their headquarters here, where they added a hospital and an airstrip.

 Mike: In 1944, the RAF stationed two squadrons of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters at the newly-built air base. The United States Army Air Force also placed a group of mechanics on the island to repair war-damaged bombers. The hospital was busy treating wounded crew members.

“The air base here was one of the most important in the Adriatic. When bombers, damaged while attacking German targets in the Balkans, couldn’t make it back home to Italy, they came here.” Nano slowed his vehicle to show us a marker. The inscription reads: "In Proud Memory of the Men of the Royal Air Force who lost their lives while operating over Yugoslavia 1944 through 1945," except someone has scratched out “Yugoslavia” and replaced it with “Croatia,” a sign of continued internal struggle.

One day in 1944, thirty-seven B-24 Liberators either landed at or crashed on the short runway. To clear the overtaxed field for more landings, crashed airplanes were chopped up with axes. Several aircraft crews bailed out nearby or had to ditch in the blue waters surrounding the island.

As Germany retreated farther north in 1945, the mechanics and squadrons of fighters were moved to an airfield in Zadar on the Yugoslav coast. At the end of the war, the island air base was closed and the land returned to use as vineyards. But buildings still have signs that say “Aerodrome,” and old pilots have returned to remember friends both saved and lost.

At war’s end, 218 aircraft were saved and over 1,000 airmen owe their lives to the little airfield and its hospital in the middle of the Adriatic.

June 5, 2018 Mostar's Tower of Hope

The Liberty Gazette
June 5, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Toys came from weapons for children of the basements. After each round of bloodshed, exploded artillery created pieces in interesting shapes. Rubble from bombed or shot-up buildings added variety to the newly-fallen toy box.

Rockets and grenades came from the top of the hill, blowing up neighborhoods.

Formerly a very nice hotel.

“We’d wait fifteen seconds and then we’d all run outside and grab as much as we could. We used our imagination, playing with shrapnel and debris. Our games were collecting as many different pieces as we could, then comparing, and trading for more cool-looking pieces. But we all grew up together doing that—we were Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox. Although we were of different religions, we got along just fine. Together, living in our basements, we faced attacks by Serbs and Croats.”

Those are the words of Admir, who served as our guide through Mostar, Bosnia. The closest he came to identifying himself with any particular religion was when he said, “My mother gave me a Muslim name.”

I knew the integrated city of Mostar, the most heavily bombed in the Bosnian war, would be an interesting study in humanity. What I came to see was a building that the government “discourages” people from visiting. It’s fenced off pretty well, stories of people falling and dying are spread probably to create fear, but access is only a slight challenge if you know where to get in.

Near the front lines—a four-lane boulevard—the National Bank of Yugoslavia had been hit by mortars and rockets shot by the invaders who surrounded the city from the mountain tops all around. The 1990’s war in Bosnia was complicated. In Mostar, the Neretva River divides the city; Muslims on the east side, Croats west. The ten-story bank, only its concrete structure remaining, became the ideal location for Croat and Serb snipers to shoot citizens. They picked off ordinary residents walking along the sidewalk below or perhaps stepping out on their patio to hang the laundry to dry. The building became known as Sniper Tower.
Neretva River, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovenia

Former National Bank of Yugoslavia, a/k/a "Sniper Tower".

Art on the walls of Sniper Tower

Messages in Sniper Tower

Wall on the way to Sniper Tower

Wall on the way to Sniper Tower

It wasn’t the evil of men’s hearts that drew me here. It was the display of art—how people survive and try to heal from atrocities—that made me need to be in this ruin.
Half-way up Sniper Tower
From our research we had learned of the paintings that now cover most of the concrete on every floor. Painted over bullet-ridden walls are portraits of loved ones, messages of peace, statements of pain and searching for hope. A blue painting with white stars declares we all live under the same sky. A painting of several pairs of sunglasses says point-blank that we choose how to see the world, “Pick your glasses.”


Elevator shaft

We explored every floor of the bank-turned-weapon on the way to the roof, considering the art that expresses the depths of human searching. Alongside us, Admir added context with his childhood memories, his family among the targets.

I am not convinced that Admir’s dream of peace will come true in this life as we know it, but the yearning for it captures my heart.
The Old Bridge, Stari Most

Stari Most


At the Crooked Bridge

Powerful Reminder; Notice shrapnel on top of the rock

This boulevard was the front lines of the war.

At the front lines here you can see two monuments. The one on the right is for "Yugoslavians."
Someone has tried to destroy it.

Side by side: a lovely dignitary's house and the former city library, still bombed out rubble. Read on...
The former city library is a mess. They do not wish to rebuild it, according to Admir, our guide, because this is where the intellectuals meet - and it is they who cause all the trouble.
Inside the former city library.

Beautiful old stone buildings at the base of the Old Bridge, Stari Most.

Lovely flowers on someone's balcony in town.

The beautiful riverfront restaurant, Divan.

The view from Divan, where we had dinner one evening.

Yas's wonderful coffee shop.

Yas's wonderful coffee shop.

Yas preparing coffee for us.