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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February 26, 2019 DK

The Liberty Gazette
February 26, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Although David Daniel Kaminsky was the class clown, important things mattered. Since he quit school, he had to find another venue for his love of entertaining. He held a few misfit jobs on his way to the stage, like watching over a dentist’s office during the lunch hour. He was fired when his employer returned to find him using his drill on office woodwork.

But the real calling he felt ever since he was just a boy was to make people laugh, to calm their fears, to give them an escape to happiness, if only for a little while. He would change his Jewish name to Danny Kaye, but he refused to get the nose job the studio asked him to have.

The success of Danny Kaye is too long a list for this space. Besides being an Academy Award winner, he was a chef, a spokesman for UNICEF, a huge baseball fan, and an avid golfer. That is, until he learned to fly. From that moment on, golf didn’t rank. You can see what made the cut by the carvings on the bench at his grave: a baseball and bat, a piano, a flower pot, musical notes, a chef’s hat, and an airplane.

Bill Lear, maker of the infamous Learjet, gave Danny the honorary title of Vice President of Learjet, but told him not to worry about any job responsibilities, like building jets or anything. Maybe Danny’s wife had warned him about what happened to the dentist’s office in Danny’s younger days. She knew. That dentist was her dad.

Danny had become a millionaire making people laugh. To calm a nervous, captive crowd after a typhoon hit the hotel he was staying at in Osaka, Japan, he went on stage with a flashlight lighting his face and sang every song he could recall.

He gave his best and expected the same out of others—especially his fellow pilots.

An old friend of mine was flying for TWA as a first officer on the Boeing 727. On a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the plane was no sooner airborne, gear pulled up into the gear wells, when the captain picked up the mic, and proceeded to give a “tour” of San Francisco from the air. The captain didn’t put the plane on autopilot but was hand-flying it as he pointed out the sights. My old friend kept asking, “Do you want me to fly while you’re doing this?” No, the captain replied. After they arrived in Los Angeles, taxied in and parked at gate, as soon as parking brake on, the captain hopped out of his seat, opened the door and stood at the exit, expecting accolades from his passengers.

Instead, Danny Kaye walked up and chewed him out. “That was the most unprofessional thing I have ever heard! You weren’t even barely off the ground when you started talking. You should have been flying, not talking!”

Good job, Danny. Bloated egos make people do stupid things.

February 19, 2019 TWA Hotel

The Liberty Gazette
February 19, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: In the mid 1950’s, my Dad worked for Trans World Airlines as a ticket agent in Los Angeles. His favorite airplane was the Lockheed Constellation, and it was one of the airplanes TWA flew. Naturally, TWA was his favorite airline. Following deregulation in 1978, many airlines, TWA included, fell on bad times. All airlines cut services to be competitive, reducing the look-forward-to-travel experience to that of riding in a cattle car.

When American Airlines acquired bankrupt TWA’s assets in 2001, my dad had already passed, so, thankfully, he missed that heartache. Much of the airline’s unique classiness was lost as it became homogenized with American.

But one piece of its history was left to languish: the TWA Flight Center at New York’s JFK airport. This mid-century terminal building with its saucer-shaped wings, looked every bit like a space travel machine. Through expansive glass windows, patrons were offered panoramic views of the expansive ramp with jets coming from and going to far-off lands. It was the creation of Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen, whom also engineered the arch in St. Louis. Sadly, Mr. Saarinen never saw his futuristic design centerpiece completed, having passed away in 1961, the year before it opened.

For nearly forty years, the Flight Center was the most noticeable jewel in TWA’s crown. When people referred to the terminal at JFK, without a doubt they envisioned the TWA landmark with its sweeping stairways and full-length curving balcony. But the building was dumped when TWA was purchased.

When the flight center was abandoned, members of the New York Port Authority proposed building new terminal expansions around it. This raised plenty of objections, likening their plan to placing the building in a sarcophagus. Renowned architect Phillip Johnson was outspoken. Their plan, he said, would make the building invisible. “If you're going to strangle a building to death, you might as well tear it down.” Preservationists staved off the wrecking ball until 2005 when the National Park Service listed the iconic structure on the National Register of Historic Places. Some demolition did take place, but the main structure was saved.

Behind Jet Blue’s Terminal 5, the old TWA building now has a new lease on life, its two hundred thousand square feet is the foundation of a brand-new hotel.

The TWA Flight Center Hotel will open this year with over five hundred modern-but-retro-influenced rooms with amenities reminiscent of the 1960s international traveler style. The front desk and service personnel will wear uniforms that are classic TWA. Eight restaurants and lounges will grace the establishment with every fine detail, including TWA’s logo on menus and room card envelopes. Hotel guests will be welcomed by a restored 1958 Lockheed Super Constellation. Inside, they’ll find a lounge affectionately named, “The Connie.” The generous observation deck and spacious meeting center will evoke the luxury travel style created by TWA during the heyday of the Golden Age of Flying. My dad would have loved it.

February 12, 2019 White Noise

The Liberty Gazette
February 12, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Forty-five years of flying, sitting only a few feet from thundering engines and propellers, or in noisy jet cockpits where the air blasted by, has left me with a buzzing in my ears that sounds like cicadas. I have tinnitus. I’m not deaf; it’s a low-volume hum in the background. Soaring soothes my tinnitus. Quiet flight in sailplanes is not silent, as often believed. There is a soft airflow whooshing by the canopy creating a static-like resonance. It masks the little critters chirping in my ears and gives me relief.

The whoosh is “white noise.” The full scientific definition of white noise won’t fit here—the length and vocabulary involved remind me of the Youtube video of the guy in the lab coat comically hawking the fictitious “Turbo Encabulator.” He’s trying to sell it to the government, touting its “swerthing bearings” and “use in the manufacture of novatrunions.” Sounds like mumbo-jumbo, just like reading about white noise. My eyes glaze over as I try to understand harmonics. But simply put, white noise is like a radio tuned to an unused frequency. And, it is helpful in treating what I live with—like therapy—it’s relaxing, as it quiets the ringing.

Because of its effectiveness on tinnitus, there are many sleep aids that produce white noise. By the way, if you think your house is bugged—possibly by that flat-screen TV—you can purchase a white noise privacy enhancer or a smart phone app that sings white noise.

Linda: Speaking of smart phones, wasn’t life a lot quieter without them? Companies are sometimes forced to have their employees leave them outside of meetings to minimize interruptions, so everyone can focus. One popular gas station/convenience store upholds the employee policy to leave their cell phones in their cars. Employees are there to work, not chat. We were recently in a meeting when one person got a phone call and kept the phone on speaker while carrying on a conversation, interrupting the presentation.

How many people want to listen to a stranger’s phone conversation? Consider that conversation inside an airliner passenger cabin. Once the aircraft door is closed, they should have that thing on airplane mode, so it won’t interfere with the airplane’s electronics.

Many older airplanes lack modern shielding to prevent electron interruptions. That technology wasn’t around twenty years ago. Today’s cell phone conversations can intrude on pilot operations. As airplanes climb, getting further from cell towers, the phone works harder trying to link to the network. The greater power output forces voices to radiate through the shielding. The conversation can pierce into the pilots’ headphones. This interference may happen at a most inopportune time, like when receiving important instructions from air traffic control. The best way to prevent this is to put the phone on airplane mode or turn it off entirely.

Mike: That’s good advice that helps pilots. Meanwhile, I’ll keep soaring. The whooshing white noise helps keep the cicadas treed for a while.

February 5, 2019 Flight Computers and Pigeons

The Liberty Gazette
February 5, 2019
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: When we were discussing what to share with you this week, I thought about the history of the E6B. It was the first flight computer. Not a Mac or PC. More like a slide rule. In fact, that’s where Philip Dalton got the idea for it. Dalton’s first E6B was a circular slide rule that provided the means for calculating true airspeed and altitude. The items necessary for those computations are a clock, a compass and an altimeter. You need to know the temperature, too, because that affects air density, which affects speed and altitude.

A later model of Dalton’s gizmo included a wind arc slide. This was printed on an endless cloth belt which moved inside a square box by turning a knob. Fortunately, this is a collector’s item and not the version of E6B used today.

The Germans improved on the gadget with what looks more like today’s E6B, a dial and a slide rule together. Line up the numbers right to figure direction, time, distance, speed, altitude, fuel burn, and more.

To be honest, what prompted me to tell you about the E6B was something that seems to be turning into a game (and by way of this article, I’m putting the other party on notice). At last months’ Chamber luncheon, Bruce Campbell pulled me aside and said he had something to show me that no one else in the room would understand. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a mini-E6B keychain. I gasped, because that’s what a pilot does when presented with an E6B keychain. “Where did you get that?!”

It was his uncle’s and it is now a prize possession of Bruce’s. I was impressed. I went on eBay. You can buy them today, new ones, but there’s nothing like the historical family heirloom that Bruce has.

Then we thought an E6B keychain might be difficult to explain, so I did an internet search for a different topic. I entered the word, “flying.” Top result was Flying Magazine. But way down at the bottom was an entry that got my curiosity: “NY Flying Flights.”

Now if you’re Stuart Marcus, or an ornithologist, you probably already know this is a bird. And maybe you know the story behind it. But we didn’t. It has nothing to do with aviation, really, other than perhaps the story of Icarus or the fact that man builds airplanes so he can fly like a bird.

The fad started in the late nineteenth century. People in New York and New Jersey captured these pigeons called Tumblers (they call them “Flights”) and raised them on rooftops. They fly in flocks of a few hundred. Flight flyers have a game, the object of which is to lure and capture one from another gamer’s flock. Flights love being with their kind, so if one strays, it easily attaches to another flock. Sometimes the game became violent, turning into “pigeon wars.”

Conclusion: the E6B was the better choice for this week.