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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March 26, 2019 Women in Aviation

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

Linda: Networking was in the conceptual spotlight at the annual Women in Aviation International conference in Long Beach, California this month. I was honored to be invited as a panelist on the Careers in Business Aviation panel, which I shared with five other female aviation professionals.

It really does boil down to who you know. However, success in that assumes one will work hard, be dependable, honest, and passionate.

That passion and dedication could be seen in the keynote speakers. One was Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX. According to Forbes, she is one of the most powerful women in the world. Yes, she wants to go to Mars (and come back), but more important, she wants her vision and that of her boss Elon Musk to be fulfilled—to Mars and beyond.

The other keynote speaker was Captain Tammie Jo Schults, the pilot who landed her Southwest Airlines 737, flight 1380, safely in Philadelphia after violently losing an engine.

Captain Schults grew up on a ranch in New Mexico and dreamed of flying. Her family’s hay barn was a ground reference point for pilots from nearby Holloman Air Force base practicing aerial dogfights.

If you heard the tape of the radio transmission, you may recall how calm she was during the crisis. She had been a naval aviator, flying F-18s. She’d been under pressure at altitude before.

As she walked us through the tense moments that occurred April 17, 2018, the audience of 4,500 held its collective breath, even though we knew the outcome.

From 32,500 feet, they felt like they’d been hit by a truck. The airplane began skidding, rolling to the left, and pitching down. Their eyes couldn’t focus due to the severe shuddering of the airframe. Smoke came into the cockpit through the air conditioning system, making it hard to breathe or see. A window broke and this caused rapid decompression of air pressure which caused piercing pain in their ears. They began an emergency descent. The noise of wind while traveling 500 miles an hour was deafening.  Through it all, Captain Schults and First Officer Darren Ellisor flew the plane. The captain relayed to flight attendants that they were not going down, they were going to Philly.
Captain Schults, Southwest Airlines

Captain Schults is quick to state that aircraft are flown by crews, and crews have names. She named each one, as well as passengers who helped each other during the frightening time. But for the crew, the survival of most will never eclipse the loss of one.

Here were our take-aways: habits are formed from practice. When an emergency happens, our habits kick in. Hope does not change circumstances, but it does change us. And heroes. Every day, we have a chance to be a hero to someone.

When the crew later listened to the cockpit voice recorder, First Officer Ellisor’s ears perked up when they heard, “Heavenly Father.” He turned to his captain and said, “I knew you were praying!”

March 19, 2019 There's More to Jerry Phan

The Liberty Gazette
March 19, 2019

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Last week we told you about Jerry Phan’s training in formation flying, which he bravely used to save a pilot and passengers one night when the worried pilot wasn’t sure whether his landing gear was working. That’s not all. Jerry lives for the opportunity to help.

He flies Angel Flights, using his own airplane to take people for medical care when the drive is too far, and flying on an airliner poses too much risk of infection.

He also works with FEMA. After Hurricane Harvey, he was the team leader for a language team and flew here to help Vietnamese Houstonians tread the murky waters of rescue and shelter. He engineered a plan for private flights and trucks to deliver supplies and created staging areas.

While he was here, he wrote, “Through rain, hail, and storms, regardless the task, we did what was asked of us and more. A cop, a construction manager, a teacher, a mechanic, a phone tech, a psychologist, and me, a pilot, intended two things: help as many as we can, and no matter how hard things got, it ain’t about us. One of the most valuable things on this mission was the ability to listen. To listen to a survivor as they cry their heart out. Who would have ever thought a screwball slacker pilot like me actually made a bit of difference. 45 days almost completed with FEMA. 8 days until home. Wish I could do more. Serving fellow Americans one hurricane at a time. Jerry Phan, Hurricane Harvey.”

Jerry loves to make people smile and laugh in their toughest times. But he clarified something for me. He doesn’t actually work for FEMA. He takes time off work to volunteer. Jerry designs and builds characters for TV and movies. I wondered, did he mean real live humans, or anime? No, he explained. Jim Henson Muppets.

Chewbacca is one of his designs, but he works on all of them. The Sesame Street Muppets are serviced regularly. Extra body parts are salvaged so new Muppets can be made quickly. Many Kermits and several Miss Piggys are built for any given scene. “Because,” Jerry explained, “you can’t stop filming to clean a Muppet.” They do get dirty, like when Oscar the Grouch surprises his co-stars with slime.
Jerry Phan and Kermit the Frog, Jim Henson Muppets.

Grover was my favorite, so Jerry shared this trivia: his eyes used to be yogurt spoons. He said, “Go to Pinkberry and look at a spoon. Cut off the handle. Then paint it white.”

With a love for humanity and a sense of humor, Jerry naturally wants to make someone’s day better. In those rough days after Harvey, he posted, “Tomorrow, I'm going home. I got to serve with some of the best people. We came from all over the United States. We boarded a bus to an Army base in the middle of nowhere, were processed, tagged and shipped out across the country. Who are we? Just ordinary Americans who proudly stood up and said two words: ‘Send me.’”

March 12, 2019 Jerry Phan, Formation Pilot

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

On his way home from a fly-in, a pilot encountered another aircraft in trouble. It was full of passengers, circling, and low on fuel. Here is their story.

On July 9, 2016 at 9:38 pm, from the skies above Los Angeles came a distress call to SoCal Approach, the air traffic controllers who manage that busy airspace.

A pilot flying a Diamond Twin Star had declared an emergency. Gear lights in the cockpit indicated the landing gear had failed to come down. The pilot circled above the El Monte airport considering his options. Had the extension system failed, or were the indicators malfunctioning?

The controller noticed nearby traffic on her radar but assumed it was too dark for anyone in the passing aircraft to see whether the gear was down.

Out of the darkness came a voice. “El Monte area traffic, this is Katana, I am about three miles north of the airport. I can take a look at that aircraft. I am formation trained.” The pilot of the single-engine Katana had special training in flying close to other aircraft.

He instructed the Twin Star pilot. “Circle over the airport. Try to stay at pattern altitude and I’ll join on you.” He’d stay 300’ above the distressed aircraft until he could see it. Once in sight, he verified its airspeed before closing in—80 knots. “Slow down and make a fifteen-degree bank to the left.” The Twin Star slowed to 73.

“You’re off my nine o’clock now. I’m gonna begin my join, okay?” Katana advised him to continue the shallow turn. Unexpected variations in speed, altitude and turning could be disastrous.

It was so dark, he needed to get a few feet closer, but the Twin Star was now at 82. From the unstable flying, he sensed the other pilot’s nervousness. “What’s your name, bud?” he asked.

“Anthony. What’s yours?”


Anthony was happy for the help. “Thank you, Jerry,” he said. Meanwhile, his daughters were on the ground, worried, as they listened through hand-held radios.

Jerry repeated, “Slow down and keep turning.” Several minutes passed. Then finally, he delivered the good news. “Both mains are down, nose gear is down. You’re good.”

“I don’t know how to thank you!” exclaimed a very relieved Anthony.

The gear was down, but they didn’t know if it was locked into position. As Jerry moved behind Anthony’s plane to follow him in, another voice came over the radio. “Rescue One. We are gonna be staged at midfield.”

On final approach, Jerry offered encouragement. “Looking good, Anthony.”

Rescue One chimed in. “You’re looking good.”

As he landed, Anthony’s gratitude shone through radio. “Thank you all for being with me!”

The approach controller was happy, too. “Glad to hear you’re down and safe.”

And Jerry Phan, who you’ll meet again next week, says he’s just a regular American who loves to help others, and admits, “I’ve never been so grateful to have learned to become a formation pilot. This is about the fellowship of aviators.”

March 5, 2019 Pancho

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

Linda: What a fun name for a dude ranch—Happy Bottom Riding Club. You might have seen the popular guest ranch featured in the movie (and the book), The Right Stuff. The ranch owner, Pancho Barnes, was an accomplished equestrian and good buds with Chuck Yeager, the World War II flying Ace. He became famous, and chance smiled upon him. Yeager seemed to be in the right place at the right time to be given the opportunity in 1947 to be the first to break the sound barrier. Pancho served him a free steak dinner for his efforts, and as other pilots eventually broke the sound barrier, they also received a free steak dinner at the Happy Bottom Riding Club. It became a thing, beef-for-speed.

That was way out there on the left coast, near Muroc (now Edwards) Air Force base in the Mojave Desert. Test pilots and Hollywood celebrities used to hang out there at Pancho’s club, which also had a swimming pool and airstrip. Of course, an airstrip. Pancho was a pilot, too. That happened one day while driving her cousin Dean to his flying lessons—this was in 1928—and she decided she wanted to try it too. Ben Caitlin was the World War I veteran who taught both Pancho and Dean. After only six hours of formal instruction, our heroine took off for her first solo flight.

In fact, she was one of the first women to race airplanes because, what could an outdoorsy-type of gal with a hefty inheritance do with her time and talent? Well, she could compete—after all, she had the right stuff. That is, the skill.

That four-day-long, all-female air race I have competed in several times, the Air Race Classic, commemorates the women who went against the grain in 1929. When they were denied entry to the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio, they made their own race, starting in Santa Monica, California, with the finish line being—you guessed it, at the start of the National Air Races in Cleveland. Pancho was one of twenty women who loved flying so much that they vowed the Women’s Air Derby, as the race was originally called, would begin to change attitudes toward female flyers. It did. She won the race in 1930, smashing Amelia Earhart’s record with a speed of 196.19 miles an hour.

The following year, she became a Hollywood stunt pilot and formed the union, Associated Motion Picture Pilots. She promoted flying safety and standardized pay for aerial stunt work. She also flew in several films, including Howard Hughes’ Hells Angels.

By the way, her nickname came from her time in Mexico. She disguised herself as a man so as not to be caught by authorities during the revolution there. Her real name was Florence, but the name Pancho really fit her appearance and her personality better. Especially as the CEO of the Happy Bottom Riding Club.