formerly "The View From Up Here"

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

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November 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.

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