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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January 15, 2019 Herb Kelleher

The Liberty Gazette
January 15, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The skies mourned, but downtown Dallas high rises lighted them in colors of Luv last week, paying respect to Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher. Herb passed away on January 3, leaving a legacy and a ton of friends.

Our own local friend, Kathleen Burnham, worked for Herb for many years. She shared her unfiltered thoughts. “Really don’t even know where to start. My heart is broken over the loss of our fearless leader and the BEST boss a person could ever dream of having. I am beyond blessed that I was hired at SWA in 1979 when SWA was still small and everyone knew everyone. Herb would board an airplane and knew everyone’s name and it always made our day to have him on our flight. Herb iced cups, passed out peanuts and visited with all of our passengers making their day as well. I never once saw Herb without getting a huge hug and a big kiss on the cheek! You will be so missed Herb, loved forever and always be my hero! May God rest your precious soul. You may be gone but you will NEVER be forgotten!”

Herb was unique, and you’ll hear the sense of loss from his large contingent of friends. He brought a refreshing twist to “CEO,” and the tributes to this “brilliant maverick” are still flowing in.

Linda: I remember standing in the jetway with Herb and many others as we waited for Captain Alan Crawford and his family to walk off the plane after Alan’s retirement flight. The jetway was jam-packed, and there was Herb in the midst of it all, celebrating with everyone, ready as ever to encourage and cheer others on.

Maybe his secret was that he didn’t seek the spotlight, but that he sought to be the spotlight for others. One thing’s for sure: he lived his life fully, and it was in his nature to be a people-magnet. He didn’t even have to try. And that was reflected in the fun atmosphere on Southwest Airlines flights.

As one employee put it, “Where else could you wear shorts to work, dress up at Halloween, tell jokes and sing on the PA system?” She’s right. The first time I heard a joke from a flight attendant aboard a Southwest Airlines flight, I thought, how refreshing – a sense of humor!

He certainly blazed a new trail and did things like no one else. He modeled the role of a CEO as a human being, one who didn’t act like he underwent transformation at “CEO school,” where they tend to emerge having learned how to alienate themselves from their minions. Kathleen explained it well. “I don’t believe a Texas company has a founder as compassionate, loving and selfless as Herb Kelleher! The love you give, is the love you keep!”

Here’s to Herbert David Kelleher, who said, “It is my practice to try to understand how valuable something is by trying to imagine myself without it.” He was a valuable man.

January 8, 2019 Splashdown!

The Liberty Gazette
January 8, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: At the end of 2017, I found myself facing a deadline. My employer offers a flying stipend we can use for flight training, but it’s a use-it-or-lose-it deal by the end of the year. I hadn’t used it, so we dashed up to Seattle for Thanksgiving week, hoping I could get a seaplane rating.

What was I thinking?! Seattle, in the late fall?

The ceiling wasn’t high, but it was high enough. The visibility was good enough. But the wind gusted, making waves too strong, beyond the limitations of smaller aircraft. No seaplane flying occurred that week, and I came back home and spent the money refreshing my tailwheel and aerobatic skills. First in a Super Decathlon, then in an Extra 300. Fun, of course, but I still didn’t have a seaplane rating.

Then came December 1, 2018 and I found myself in the same position, not having done any new training. This time, however, I wised up and chose Southern Seaplane in New Orleans, where the weather might be better than in Seattle.

I lucked out and started my training with Nate, a young man the older guys referred to as "the prodigy." I understood why right away. Great instructor. He followed all the rules of good, sound teaching.

The minimum requirements are two hours of training with the same instructor followed by a one-hour proficiency flight with a different instructor. I flew with Michael for the proficiency flight. Of course, you can take longer if needed, but I found the instruction to be of such high quality that I didn’t need more than the minimum required.

After three hours in the Cessna 172 on floats, I met with the FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, Lyle Panepinto. We sat down for the oral exam I had studied for, then went out to the plane for the check ride. I was required to show him I knew how to perform various types of taxiing in water, then off we flew, following a channel away from New Orleans, then over the Intercoastal Waterway for some splash-and-go’s.

Part of the test required that I prove I can land the floatplane in a specific spot, then under different conditions. The spot landing went well, so I went on to show Lyle my landings and take-offs in glassy water, rough water, confined space. Because the way water behaves has a significant effect on a float plane, each of these requires a different method to accomplish.

I returned to the base a happy new commercial seaplane pilot.

As we secured the airplane to the dock, Lyle informed me that those who fly in Alaska don’t consider pilots flying in the Gulf to be seaplane pilots. "You’re now officially a Louisiana Ditch Pilot," he affirmed. He didn’t even charge me extra for the pure enjoyment of listening to his thick Cajun accent.

I already miss landing on water. It’s a different skill, not necessarily harder, just loads of fun.

January 1, 2019 Thoughts from Jan Oreck

The Liberty Gazette
January 1, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Trend-setting vacuum cleaner king, David Oreck, and his wife Jan were the subject of our stories the past couple of weeks. We’re sharing just a bit more on this aviation-loving couple, because Jan had more she wanted you to know.

For starters, she advises that, "If you make your local airport a destination, people will come. People of all ages look for things to do close to home – but especially older folks – where they feel welcome and included."

We and all others who have experienced the unique world of flying know this, that the health of an airport is directly tied to the health of a community. For instance, the Louisiana Regional airport hosts a "Second Saturday Fly-in" fish fry, and people from the area come, too.

And as Jan and others have pointed out, we need more young people in aviation. One thing that helps is when airports look and feel inviting. Barbed wire fences and signs that wreak of unwelcome don’t further the healthy goal. What if you were interested in a new adventure and were met with such a sight? So, take it from a remarkably self-made successful business man and the woman who has been at his side – airports are vital to a community’s well-being.

Jan was chatting with me from their Mississippi home on six hundred acres, with a one hundred-acre lake, where their hospitality is well known. David still has his fleet of airplanes, and he still goes to work every day in a building they own which used to be a federal reserve bank, built in 1923. David says it was built in honor of the year of his birth. That’s when Jan gives him "that look." Perhaps, it was forecasting his success.

She also shared this thought to ponder.

David had been in the military during World War II, serving as a navigator on B-29s. Many years later the Orecks received a call from a man named Mark who wanted to know more about his own father. He had learned his dad served with David, so he hoped for stories that would fill in the gaps about things he didn’t know. As Jan sat and listened, she considered the irony, the unknown, and all the twists and turns life takes. She heard David tell Mark of the dangers he faced navigating bombers in war.

There were many casualties aboard B-29s shot down. Survivors have wondered why them – when the odds are uncomfortably high, why did one guy make it home, and not another? "What if," as Jan has often contemplated, "their plane had gone down – the one David and Mark’s dad were on?"

The world would have been a different place. Thankfully, both survived the war so that today we have Oreck vacuums and we all enjoyed cheering for Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Mark Spitz fifty years ago, because his dad and David made it through on a B-29.

One second can make a difference. So can one life. Here’s to a happy, prosperous 2019.

December 25, 2018 Jan Oreck

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

Pilot, veteran, entrepreneur, lecturer, and philanthropist David Oreck made an appearance in this space last week. Now you’ll meet his lovely pilot wife, Jan.

They met on a blind date forty-two years ago. David had a Cessna 421 and when Jan flew with him, she often asked questions. After they married, he brought home an airplane for her – a Super Decathlon. She was a bit overwhelmed at first.

"I appreciated the gift, I mean, what a surprise, an airplane! But I told David there was just one problem: I didn’t know how to fly. He immediately answered, ‘You’ll learn.’ Then I had that fleeting thought of self-doubt and I asked him, what if I can’t do it? What if I can’t fly this plane? When he said, ‘Then I will,’ that took all the pressure off me, and I was ready to give it a try."

Jan trained every day during the week out of Lakefront airport in New Orleans. When it was time to solo, her instructor, Al, hopped out of the plane and said, "Take it up, three times around, a full stop landing each time."

Many, if not most students don’t feel ready to solo when the instructor knows they can do it. Jan started to say, "Wait!" but it was no use. Al was out, portable aviation radio in hand, waving her on.

All her training had been done on Runway 18-36, which is oriented north-south, so when the tower controller sent her to Runway 9, the east runway, she had to do a mental reboot and figure out where to taxi.

"The first time around," she says, "I was nowhere near landing in first third of the runway. I heard Al’s voice in my head: ‘If you can’t land in the first third, go around.’ The second time, I landed."

Then the controller told her to land on a different runway, which she suspects was Al’s idea. "I handled it. But that took a lot of moxie," she laughed.

Jan loved the early challenges of learning flight planning, finding an airport, and flying. She earned her private pilot certificate within a few months.

"These days," she says, "I’ll go from our farm in Mississippi to lunch in Gulf Shores because I can. I’m happy putting around in my girl."

The Orecks have hosted fly-ins at their farm the first weekend of November to commemorate the founding of the women’s pilot organization, the Ninety-Nines. "We have a ‘Top Gun’ theme and everyone wears flight suits. We’ve turned it into our own version of ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ We sing and have a wacky time."

But she’s quick to point out that flying is so much more than going somewhere. Many of her friends flew supplies into Houston and Beaumont after Harvey. After Katrina, Jan was able to take off from her grass runway to see if there was a way out for people who were trapped.

"Flying is very serious, but when we’re done, we jump out and shout ‘Wahoo!’"