formerly "The View From Up Here"

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

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August 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.