formerly "The View From Up Here"

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

Be sure to read your weekly Liberty Gazette newspaper, free to Liberty area residents!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Oct 20, 2015 Sometimes Wrong is Right

The Liberty Gazette
Oct 20, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Johnny Keown dons his cowboy hat enjoying the gorgeous fall weather as he shares stories about his airline days. We are sitting around a table under the hangar awning at Critters Lodge, a private grass strip in Centerville, Texas, as he chats about another of our friends, A. J. High, who passed away a couple of years ago. They both flew for Texas International Airlines before it became part of Continental Airlines.

One day, Johnny was co-piloting for A.J. on a Convair 600 turbo prop, which is what the airline was flying then, a few decades ago. This airplane is powered by two Rolls-Royce Dart engines, with two big four-bladed props. On this particular trip, en route from Mexico to the United States, as they flew north past Tampico a red light on their instrument panel illuminated. The light’s job was to relay an important message: an impending gearbox failure on one of the engines.

Impending failure. Let that settle in as you imagine the immediate attention and focus required of the flight crew, Johnny and A.J., as they prepared their minds, organized their thoughts, read through emergency checklists, and used their training and years of experience so that the loss of one of the two engines would be handled safely and professionally, without incident.

As the pair were trouble-shooting and discussing shutting down the bad engine, the flight attendant entered the flight deck, informing them that a passenger was having a heart attack.

Johnny and A.J. knew that if they stopped the engine then, their speed to the closest airport – Harlingen – would be greatly reduced and the passenger might not survive all the way to landing. However, if they did not shut down the engine it could, and likely would, fail during flight. The weather and visibility at Harlingen weren’t the best, which would make having the power of both engines that much more important.

Standard procedure dictates shutting down the inoperative engine and relying on the remaining engine for the remainder of the flight. But is standard procedure the best choice in every circumstance? In this circumstance?

Linda: A.J. pressed the radio mic, reported the medical emergency to the Harlingen control tower, and requested an ambulance. Then, he made the difficult decision to keep the faulty engine running. The two pilots hoped both engines would stay healthy and allow them to reach their unplanned diversion swiftly.

The seconds ticked by. The light still illuminated impending failure. But both engines were still running.

Crossing the border they were cleared for the approach and landed at Harlingen, with full operation of both engines.

An ambulance crew picked up the passenger and whisked him off to the hospital. The other passengers deplaned and were put up in a local hotel as repairs were made to the aircraft. The flight attendant took advantage of the maintenance downtime and dashed off to the hospital to check on the sick passenger, whose only hope may have been that choice that was made that went against standard procedure.

"Passengers judge flights and pilots by the landing, not what goes on behind closed cockpit doors. It was a tough decision to make at the time and looking back on it, sometimes what seems to be the wrong thing to do is the right decision," says Johnny. "We did the right thing."

Oct 13, 2015 More FAQs

The Liberty Gazette
Oct 13, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
This week we’ll continue with answering a few more frequently asked questions about flying.
Question: How do you know when you can land at a non-towered (uncontrolled) airport?
​No permission required, but for safety and common courtesy we let other pilots know where we are. We’ll use our Liberty airport as the example again. Think of a rectangle, with the runway being one of the long sides. That’s the "upwind" side of the rectangle. If we take off and want to stay in the airport traffic pattern, we will turn left to fly the "crosswind" leg about half a mile, then left again to the "downwind" leg, being parallel to the runway, then when we look out at the left wing and see we’re at a 45-degree angle to the end of the runway we’ll turn left again onto the "base" leg for a short distance until we make our last turn to "final", and land. During this time we would announce on the airport’s designated radio frequency, our airplane’s N-number and our location and intentions, like this: "Liberty traffic, Grumman 26958, Left Downwind, One-Six. Liberty." One-Six means we’ll be landing in the direction of 160 degrees. Anyone tuned in to the frequency would know where to look for us. We’d be at the expected traffic pattern altitude of 1,000 feet above the ground, flying northbound, about half a mile to the east of the runway.
Question: Do pilots have to go through regular testing?
Yes. Pilots must have a flight review with a certificated flight instructor every two years, or every year if they have a low experience level. They also must have regular medical examinations and maintain health standards set forth by the FAA. Airline and commercial charter pilots must train and take a check ride every six months. Pilots flying jets for corporations must train and pass a check every year in at least one of the jets they fly and every two years in all the jets they fly in order to keep flying them. Flight instructors must get re-qualified every two years in order to maintain their instructor qualifications.
Question: How fast can you go?
The speeds of planes range from the very slow, some not even as fast as a car, to military aircraft that fly supersonic. The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane flew from Los Angeles to New York in 68 minutes and 17 seconds, slowing down at least once to air-refuel. In 1976 the Blackbird flew at 2,193.2 mph over Edwards Air Force Base, more than three times the speed of sound. Our four-seat, single-
engine, piston-powered Grumman Cheetah flies at about 140 mph when we’re not racing, just cruising. Airliners see speeds of 500-560 mph.
Question: How high can you fly?
Like speeds, altitude capabilities vary. Small, single-engine planes generally are able to climb to 12,000 to 16,000 feet. Some go higher because they have turbochargers on their engines. There are also turboprops, sometimes referred to as jet props and they can climb 25,000 feet to 35,000 feet. Some airliners can climb to 41,000 feet and some corporate jets fly as high as 51,000 feet. The U-2 Dragon Lady and SR-71 have altitudes that are classified but are believed to be above 100,000 feet. The SR-71 normally operated around 80,000 feet and the crew members donned spacesuits, as do U-2 pilots.
If you have a question, feel free to email us at

Oct 6, 2015 Ask Away

The Liberty Gazette
Oct 6, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

We thought we’d share our answers to questions we’re often asked about flying, so for the next couple of weeks we’ll pick a few of the most common ones. If you have a question, feel free to email us at

Question 1: Do you need permission to land? This question is usually accompanied by do you have to pay to land?

In the United States an aircraft can legally land anywhere it needs to in the event of an emergency, but there are some rules about non-emergency landing. Of the approximately 30,000 designated landing facilities in this country, only about 5,000 are publicly owned. Many privately owned airports are provided by their owners for public use. For most aircraft, most public use airports are fair game for landing. Reagan National in Washington D.C. requires extra-special permission, and only since 9/11. Military airstrips are, for the most part, off limits to civilian pilots. At other larger airports with control towers such as Bush Intercontinental, Hobby, Ellington and Conroe’s Lone Star Executive, a pilot must radio the tower and receive a clearance to land from the controller. Unless there is a really good reason not to, such as a power outage at the tower (think Chicago last year), a stranded aircraft on the runway, or some other hazard, landing is not going to be denied. If the runway is private-use only, the pilot needs permission from the property owner, just as would be needed before entering your own private property.

The above is only part of the answer however. Non-towered airports such as ours here in Liberty are called "uncontrolled". Technically, landing here does not require even a radio announcement on the local airport frequency. However, it is customary, safe, and best practice to use the radio to announce position and intentions when near an uncontrolled airport.

Fees for landing vary from one airport to another. Large airports and airports in more liberal cities and states tend to be heavier on government-imposed fees. No surprise there. The more business-friendly conservative areas tend to have fewer or no fees attached to landings, however, we do pay excise taxes on fuel. Those tax dollars received are required to be kept separate and used only for airports. Overnight fees are sometimes charged at the biggest airports if an airplane remains more than a few days or a week. For smaller venues though, there is no reason to charge fees, as this would have a negative effect on the business brought in by the utility of an airport. That business just goes elsewhere.

Question 2: What’s that big witch’s hat thing on top of the parking garage at Hobby Airport?

The mysterious and colossal white cone-shaped object that looks like a witch’s hat is a navigation beacon called a Very high frequency – Omnidirectional – Radio beacon, or in pilot lingo – VOR. Sometimes co-located with a VOR is a military beacon called a TACAN. Then the acronyms are combined, making VORTAC. You may have noticed the one atop the parking garage at Hobby, but there is another in a field just north of Daisetta. These beacons pepper the landscape and were the primary means of navigation before GPS. They are still a vital part of the national airspace system, providing a backup in the event GPS signals are blocked or turned off.

We’ll have a few more for you next week. Till then, blue skies.

September 28, 2015 Look Better, Live Longer - Buy Our Products

The Liberty Gazette
September 29, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: In the days of the old Wild West, when only birds, bats, insects, and tempers flew, advertising was accomplished by means of handbills, posters, and dramatic presentations. When hady ad agents learned how easy the money came, honesty and trust were not their motivators, as the nation’s spending on advertising went from $3.5 million during the Civil War era to $75 million by the turn of the century.

But because all dark motives come to light, the trust that was lacking in those early days finally came out clean when the agency for Pear’s soap began creating ads that sold trust, more so than soap. The popular Reverend Henry Ward Beecher spoke on the virtues of Pear’s, and sales really bubbled. A few decades later Woodbury’s soap jumped in with a new idea: imply that customers would be sexier and live better lives when bathing with their product.

Printing, though, gave advertising a big boost; print was a life-changer. Before printing, people would buy from local shopkeepers who lived in their communities. With printing came opportunities to advertise and sell longer distances. With these opportunities came the problems of inventory, shipping, and other challenges, not the least of which was literacy.

By the early 20th century General Mills made a desperate attempt to save one of its products from extinction when, on Christmas Eve, 1926, on a radio station in Minneapolis, the first ad with song was aired. Sales of their cereal, Wheaties, skyrocketed, and so did the use of jingles.

The history of advertising has some notables, such as the nephew of Dr. Sigmund Freud, and "the father of spin", Ed Bernays, who convinced women to light their "torches of freedom" (and later claimed he did not know that smoking was dangerous); and Michael Levine, among whose 1,500-plus jingles was the longest-running ever - for Kit-Kat candy. He wrote that one while going up in an elevator just two floors.

When Werner Von Bron and Walt Disney teamed up to promote space exploration, consumer goods found new life by associating with NASA nd soon we all drank to be like astronauts and ate Trix cereal promoted by an astro-bunny.

Mike: By the time aviation was ready for advertising, the trend was on focusing on consumer experience rather than the product itself. Airlines began promoting comfort, exotic destinations and speed. In the 1930s Braniff International Airlines advertised its Lockheed Vegas in New York as "The fastest way to the Gulf Coast, only one day." Braniff stayed with this theme as they were the only U.S. carrier to offer trips on the Concorde, albeit for a short time. Airlines advertised heavily on TV with all those sweeping shots of winged steel tubes cruising effortlessly into sunsets. Those advertisements were filmed from a specially outfitted Learjet.

When I was a kid, my cousin would drive me to Santa Ana airport to look at the airplanes on "the lot" where I would dream of one day walking up and buying one. They even had some in a showroom. Brochures for Piper Aircraft showed smiling people waiing at friends as they landed at airports in the Bahamas. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s current campaign, "You Can Fly" has sponsored television shows. and documentaries One of the most successful General Aviation airplane ad campaigns has been that of Cirrus Aircraft, whose message to nervous middle-aged non-pilot wives builds trust in safety via their ballistic parachute. The plane with a chute, "just in case," has certainly done more for sales than convincing buyers they'll look good in a Cirrus.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

September 22, 2015 Airport Camp-Outs

The Liberty Gazette
September 22, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: We’ve collected ideas over the years that would make Liberty’s airport stand out "on the charts" for pilots seeking unique places to fly and things to do, and have shared those ideas with the city. Mike, the artist in the family, made several pictures of what Google Earth(R) images of our airport might look like in years to come if the recommendations were followed. Some of those ideas have begun to take shape, while others are waiting in the wings. One of them is an airport campground; camping is popular both in and out of the aviation community.

Mike: I did a lot of camping as a kid. When I started flying I found airports that allowed camping, such as Kern Valley Airport in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains and Payson Municipal in Arizona’s Zane Grey country under the Mogollon Rim, both of which still have their much loved, much used campgrounds.

Linda: Some smart folks in Arcadia, Florida had a similar idea and have been working to bring it to fruition. To attract more pilots and planes to their little airport, which is about the same size as ours here in Liberty, as a destination in itself rather than just a fuel stop, the Friends of Arcadia Airport have formed a 501(c)(3) corporation and both the city and county have agreed to their plans to develop a three-acre campsite on airport property.

Mike: Grass and weeds are being cleared, places that haven’t been mown in years are receiving a manicure, and the new building permit is making way for a 31’x20’ shade building under which picnic tables will welcome visitors. Trees around the site provide a perfect setting for pitching tents and enjoying the outdoors. The large community fire pit draws guests together for fellowship before retiring to for the evening.

Friends of Arcadia Airport hosted pancake breakfasts and held other fundraising activities. With the help of the local rodeo organization, which has supported them all long, enough money has been raised to get the project started. Each year at rodeo time a big camp-out brings people to the airport, and with shuttle service to the rodeo grounds the entire community benefits. Attendance each of the past three years has increased by 100 percent.

We love a win-win-win. Our thought has always been that campgrounds at the Liberty Airport would be a great draw more for more pilots to not just stop and buy fuel, but come into town and support local businesses. With TVE and Jubilee as attractions, something similar to Arcadia’s success could be accomplished right here in Liberty. The vision is an easy one to see: the city invites guests to land, taxi to a camping spot, and join in the community for a spell. Who knows, with the additional contributions to the local economy we may even see new record auction prices at TVE.

The Friends of Arcadia Airport is willing to share their model plan. With plenty of aviators within reasonable flying distance to support this same idea here, one would have to fumble badly to make it fail. Just ask the people who arrive in the 600 or so airplanes visiting Reklaw in October every year, or those who fly in and camp out at Critters Lodge near Centerville, and you’ll discover this family-friendly activity to be quite popular among aviators.

September 15, 2015 Riding the Thermals

The Liberty Gazette
September 15, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Turning the motor-less plane slowly we searched the rugged desert terrain below, looking for something sometimes difficult to detect by human eye alone. An instrument on the panel helps indicate when we’ve found it – air rising from a sunbaked spot on the ground. We call it a thermal. As we enter this column of air our gradual descent now is transformed to a climb.

Strong thermals are easier to spot as they tend to vacuum up dust, dirt and debris and send it up into the air. During late spring through fall in the southwestern United States these dust devils can extend skyward several hundred feet looking like dust tornados. They are signposts for gliders saying, "Here is lift, come and get it." But sometimes they are almost imperceptible and the pilot relies on experience and training to find suitable locations for thermals that will generate enough lift to stay aloft.

On this day nearly twenty years ago I was in the front seat and Jason Stephens, my instructor, rode in the rear seat. Flying professionally, pilots will often seek new challenges in the form of different types of flying to hone their skills and keep fresh perspectives. Soaring in gliders is one way of increasing awareness of energy management and developing a keener sense of meteorology, which we use in our everyday work life. And, it is just plain fun.

We entered a shallow turn, keeping our sailplane as much in the middle of this thermal as possible. We are always on the lookout for other gliders because the lift one discovers may be all there is for miles around and if it is strong, everybody wants some. This day, there were not that many other gliders riding the air waves there in Maricopa, Arizona, but that did not mean we wouldn’t have company. Ours came in the form of a red-tailed hawk that decided not only to share our lift but liked the shady spot it found under our much larger and longer wing. Normally, I find myself dodging birds, not flying formation with them.

A magnificent hawk, with broad round wings and short, wide tail, flying alongside us, not ten feet away. As I banked in for a turn to keep circling in the updraft, the hawk’s wings deflected and changed shape, the feathers around it’s trailing claws flittering in the air disturbed by our passing through it. The awesome bird stayed almost precisely the same distance from our wing at all times. I wish Go-Pro cameras existed then, but the vivid image is burned into my memory.

After a few minutes of this Jason suggested that we gently turn away from the thermal, warning, "It would be bad karma to hit a hawk." So as carefully as possible I raised the wing away from the magnificent bird and for a moment it followed, then broke in the other direction back toward the lift to resume its post over the wide, open terrain.

No words were uttered as we returned to the airport. The sound of air swirling about the canopy and fuselage afforded us space, insulation from human noise, as we marveled in reverent awe having soared in formation with this mighty bird of prey, as though it had welcomed us as comrades.

I picked my touchdown spot and placed the single tire right on it, making one of my best landings in a glider to date.

September 8, 2015 Tweeting 1903

The Liberty Gazette
September 8, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Imagine if there was social media on December 17, 1903.

Anchor: Breaking news this morning from the Outer Banks, an attempt at flying a machine has been successful. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all exploding with the news. Orville Wright, the man who made this first flight has tweeted, "First flight 20 ft up, 120 ft across ground, 12 secs!" We take you now to the scene where reporter Erin Kelly of WVBT has the story. Erin, this is the hottest topic on social media, first flight in an aeroplane, and it’s been accomplished by two bicycle repairmen from Ohio. Can you fill us in on what’s happening there in the sand dunes near Kitty Hawk?

Erin: Good morning. It’s been an exciting day so far, with the first engine-powered manned flight already in the history books. We’re here at Big Kill Devil Hill, just south of Kitty Hawk.

I’m actually surprised at the small crowd here, because this is big news. Now, they definitely had some problems with this first flight, but I did hear them talking just before we went on the air, they’re going to make some repairs and try again… hold on, I think we can get Orville over here for an interview –

Orville, congratulations on this first powered flight! Tell us about it, how did it feel? Was it great sport?

Orville: The exhilaration of flying is too keen, the pleasure too great, for it to be neglected as a sport. This is something my brother and I have been focused on for several years now, this isn’t just a whim, you know. This is a great feeling. We chose the right place and we have ideal conditions today with this wind – it’s perfect!

Erin: You said that the conditions are ideal today, tell us about that, the wind. Is that what makes the aeroplane stay up in the air?

Orville: The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall. No, in all seriousness, the wind is blowing about 20, 25 miles an hour. Soon as we slipped the rope the flying machine started moving, probably seven or eight miles an hour, then it just lifted from the track at about the fourth rail. We laid these rails here in the sand dunes so we’d have something firm to guide us along the ground.

Erin: Was it what you thought it would be?

Orville: I had a hard time controlling the front rudder. I think it’s balanced too near the center, so the machine turned and I tried to correct for it but it darted for the ground. We have some repairs to make and then Will is going to take the next flight. I think I was up there about 12 seconds, a little longer, actually, but they didn’t start the watch right away. Hey, I’ve got to go – thanks!

Erin: Well, you heard it, straight from the first man to fly an aircraft with engine power. There’s going to be some amazing news in the days to come, and who knows where this discovery may take us?

Anchor: Thanks, Erin. Exciting times. We’ve got a picture up now from Instagram, from a JTDaniels and folks, you can see it right there, this flying ship is above the ground. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and we’ll have more for you as this story develops. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.