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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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 26, 2014 A walk in Space

The Liberty Gazette
August 26, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: It’s a surreal feeling, floating in space around the International Space Station. There is no air and there are no contaminants so everything seems stark, sharp to my eyes. Up here white is incredibly white and black is blacker than anything we’ve seen on earth. One side of my body faces the sun and bakes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. On my other side, pointed away from the sun, the temperature drops to negative 400. I raise my hands and look at my white gloves and rotate them about as if I’ve never seen them before. I turn my body to the left and looking through the visor in my helmet I see Linda in her spacesuit floating next to me.

We drift and move around the Space Station; sometimes we tilt in a different direction to look at something because it’s hard to move about with so much bulkiness covering our bodies.

There really is no up or down in Space but when I tried to look down at my feet and wiggle my toes I could not see past my chest pack which contains my environmental regulating equipment and oxygen. Protruding from my chest pack is a "T" shaped thing that looks sort of like a handlebar with loops for gripping at the T-ends. Onto these loops we can hook our tools as we carry them out to work on the station.

Past the long solar panel arrays, wing-like structures extend from the station to catch sunlight and provide power. I watch the earth and the clouds slide by faster than I would see even in a fast jet. The Space Station and us along with it are traveling at over 17,000 miles an hour. It takes us little more than an hour and a half to make a full track around the world which means we get to see about 15 and a half brilliant sunrises a day. Our temporary home is suspended in a low orbit, somewhere between 205 and 270 miles above the earth. Gravity still has a pull that far away, and as the station orbits it gradually descends, its orbit decaying. We rely on the Russian Zvezda rocket engine to push the ISS back out to the higher orbital altitude.

When the sun goes below the horizon, the brilliant solar panels become dim. In order to see we use powerful headlights attached our helmets which illuminate the areas on which we came out to work.

We drift down to the lower side of the station and peer into one of the cupola’s seven perfect distortion-free windows. From inside it is like a miniature Omnimax theater view of the earth, but for now we are outside. We move over to the airlock, our Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) is almost finished. I look over at Linda again and wave. She waves back. Funny, she only has partial arms. Only her gloves are waving about.

Linda: No, it wasn’t a dream. It was reality - the Virtual Reality Lab at NASA, that is. In a small room in one of the more obscure buildings at Johnson Space Center is the lab that has been training astronauts and movie makers for 15 years. Everything about the Space Station and space walking is recreated in the greatest detail by the most highly skilled engineers. The only thing that seems to be missing is elbows.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 19, 2014 Beryl Markham

The Liberty Gazette
August 19, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Impressionable during the Roaring Twenties, a horse trainer born English but raised in Africa, who had scandalous affairs, went into the history books as a pioneering aviator. Despite being a failure in personal relationships, this flyer’s childhood offered a world without walls. Developing great skill with the spear and the rifle, our subject this week was as comfortable with animals as with men. Although English by birth and ancestry, Swahili became the would-be aviator’s primary language. A couple of years of formal schooling in Nairobi were all the school could handle of this wild child, who, being a "bad influence", was denied a return to school.

Learning how to repair an engine, read aeronautical charts without the help of GPS, and fly "blind" relying on instruments when meteorological conditions prevented visual flying, the sky-bound adventurer logged thousands of flight hours flying people to distant farms, delivering mail, rescuing downed pilots, helping hunters find big game in big Africa, and at times flying as an air ambulance pilot, when the need arose.

Who was this dare-devil person of the 1930’s, the first to fly from London to New York nonstop? Her name was Beryl Markham and she was the first woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license. People who knew her say that she lived what she believed, that "Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday."

Mike: She flew east to west across the Atlantic in 1936, the first woman to do so, in her plane she named The Messenger, a monoplane called a Percival Vega Gull. From this famous flight came her book, "West with the Night". The plane was a four-seat, single engine British-built aircraft made of wood and fabric, with folding wings.

In the Gold Age of aviation the Vega Gull, piloted by Beryl and other then-famous aviators won races and broke records around the world.

The Percival Vega Gull stayed in production as a civil airplane until WWII broke out. Then, as with most other aircraft manufacturing plants, the factory built them for military use. It was a solid airplane. Sure, the wooden frame made for some weather restrictions, but even today the Vega Gull is admired for its ability to haul the weight of four adult sized people, plus baggage and full fuel tanks, and it could do so at a decent cruise speed and distance range. Since the engine was only 200 horsepower it only burned about nine gallons an hour. Even with all the weight it could carry, it could still land and take off out of a small grass airfield, and those folding wings sure helped when it was time to find a parking spot in a crowded hangar.

It is true, what Wilbur Wright said of flying, that "More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination" and equally true, too, are the words of Alejandro Jodorowski, "Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness." If it be so, then we, Linda and I, are incurable.

August 12, 2014 Reimagined Airplane

The Liberty Gazette
August 12, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Proudly displayed outside the AOPA booth at this year’s Experimental Aircraft Association’s National Convention – AirVenture, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin – was the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s little yellow and black Cessna 152. This, a symbol of one of the major efforts by AOPA, is an airplane that can make flying more affordable.

The day before the AirVenture Cup race Linda and I visited with AOPA’s president Mark Baker in Mitchell, South Dakota. The most down-to-earth, real guy had a sparkle in his eye as he talked about the employee who was flying the display airplane from their home office in Fredrick, Maryland to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the show. The trip would take her 14 hours and, he said, she was having a blast.

Linda: General Aviation has long needed a shot in the arm. Or the buttocks, or maybe both. Why? Because it’s so dern expensive. That’s thanks to lawyers and other greedy people.

Mike: We think Mark is the right person to put some smart moves into play and change the game. He explained some of AOPA’s strategies for rejuvenating flying activity. The two-seat Cessna 152, along with its older brother the 150, has been an airplane of choice for teaching thousands of pilots to fly. Mark calls it the Piper Cub of his (and our) generation. Unfortunately, rampant litigation by people not willing to take responsibility for their own actions made producing the popular airplane uneconomical and the last one rolled off the assembly line nearly three decades ago.

AOPA would like to bring the little trainer back as it makes for an inexpensive aircraft in which to take to the skies. Flying clubs, flight schools, multiple owner partnerships all find this affordable plane attractive. But even with tort reform, if Cessna were to produce the 152 today a full third of the purchasing price of the airplane would go to paying liability insurance premiums.

Linda: That’s disgusting!

Mike: So, carefully refurbishing and overhauling them is what AOPA sees as a starting point. Teaming up with Wyoming-based aircraft manufacturer Aviat to update these machines, they’re calling them Reimagined Aircraft. The price tag will be about half what it would be new.

Mark believes it’s more likely someone would pull out a small airplane for an afternoon sojourn around the local pea patch burning five gallons of fuel per hour than doing the same thing with an airplane that consumes three to six times as much. The Cessna 150 and 152 are a joy to fly, light on the controls and while they don’t perform like a rocket, each is quite capable. In fact, at the time of this writing there are two 150’s registered to challenge each other in the Indy Air Race.

Linda: Mike, brave man that he is, is going to let me have the last word. Putting aside my love of lawyer and politician bashing, what I want to leave you with this week is that this is huge. This news about the Reimagined Aircraft, central to AOPA’s campaign, "You Can Fly", and the leadership of Mark Baker has already begun to light up the future for a segment of the industry that supplies more economic support to this country than any other. Oh those wonderful flying machines!

August 5, 2014 Camp!

The Liberty Gazette
August 5, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Up to Mitchell, South Dakota we flew, in pursuit of another AirVenture Cup Race trophy and more points on the board for the national championship in the Sport Air Racing League. Post race plans were the typical – land at the finish line just outside of Oshkosh, fill the tanks, and fly in for another exciting week-long aviation celebration with a million other people.

But this one would be different for me. This year I would commit the week to Women Soar- You Soar, a program of the Experimental Aviation Association aimed at encouraging young women, ages 13-18, to follow their dreams and learn about careers available in aviation. Even today I know of women who have experienced that belittling attitude that says women should not fly airplanes or become engineers or be interested in math or science.

Now in its twelfth year, Women Soar – You Soar’s Chairperson, renown aerobatic Hall-of-Famer, and Southwest Airlines captain Debby Rihn-Harvey, asked me to join her group of mentors for the girls coming to camp at AirVenture this year.

First, the invitation alone is an honor, but now having spent a week with 87 teenage girls, each making plans for an exciting future, mentoring is as encouraging to a mentor as camp is to the campers.

In small groups the girls had mentoring sessions, seminars, and workshops that included welding, fabric aircraft repair, and woodwork. They went up into the World’s Busiest Control Tower (busiest one week out of the year) and climbed into vintage airplanes for an up-close feel of the cockpit. They watched a daytime airshow and a nighttime airshow, and spent a couple of hours with seven of the remaining WASP – the Women Air Force Service Pilots of WWII. Two of our campers were interviewed for a television show about the program, chosen for the interview because they had already soloed an airplane before camp started.

These amazing young women brought enthusiasm, creativity, skills and manners and enriched every one of us who came as mentors.

I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with one of the two who had already soloed in an airplane, as she was in my group. A couple of years ago she was shy and unsure of herself. Then she joined the Civil Air Patrol and her experiences there have completely changed her, giving her confidence in who she is and what she wants to do.

For these girls being in school and around their peers but having very different goals than most of their friends can bring feelings of isolation. Coming to an all-girl aviation camp lets them share their passion for aviation with others like them.

Not all of our campers want to be pilots. Some are interested in biomedical engineering, some want to be photographers, some aren’t sure yet what they want, but they know they like aviation. For this reason, mentors with varying backgrounds, all touching on aviation, were chosen so that the girls could be exposed to the variety of opportunities available, and to begin networking for their future.

A state director in math education who aspires to be an astronaut, a flight surgeon, an airline pilot, an aerospace engineer, an air traffic controller, a member of the NTSB, along with myself and others have spent a week with a group of girls who will someday lead, invent, and make the world a better place.

July 29, 2014 A family G.I.F.T.

The Liberty Gazette
July 29, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: It’s been a few years since we shared a post-race banquet table with Mary and Lawrence Latimer, but I’m honored to be working with Mary in the upcoming Pinch Hitter course August 16 at the West Houston Airport. Designed to teach non-pilot flying companions how to land an airplane in case of emergency, the course will last the full day and only cost the price of lunch, thanks to many gifted and generous volunteers, such as Mary Latimer.

Mary is an amazing woman. She is even amazing among all the amazing women I know. Her non-traditional flight school in Vernon, Texas provides just a peek into the lady who doesn’t believe in "can’t".

Mary uses her experience to encourage and to teach, and who better qualified than one person who has done it all. Not only is she a corporate pilot and a certified flight instructor, she is also one of few FAA designated examiners, meaning she gives the practical tests in the airplane (and decides whether a pilot gets a license); she is also not only a licensed airframe and power plant mechanic, but also a level above that, an FAA authorized Inspector, meaning she is the person who can sign airplane logbooks for any type of work done. Not only is she all that, but she was also an air traffic controller, and a 2013 Flight Instructor of the Year.

Nothing’s changed much over the last 100 years. Women still comprise only 6% of the pilot population. But Mary wanted to find out if she could identify what causes women to start flight training and then stop, not realizing their dreams. Then she could attack the causes and find a way to overcome the obstacles to flight training that are unique to women.

So began Girls In Flight Training, or G.I.F.T., a week-long camp held each July in Vernon for women to start on their dream, or finish the training they abandoned, totally free.

And lest you think husband Lawrence is a stand-by, try this on: commercial pilot, flight instructor, helicopter instructor, airframe and power plant mechanic, corporate pilot, and Vietnam Veteran serving in the Army as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, "Screaming Eagles". Mary calls him the biggest supporter of women in aviation.

The Latimers’ daughter Tamara Griffith, a former corporate and freight pilot, joins them as one of the instructors for G.I.F.T. week, as she takes time off from her own business of flight instructing and airplane mechanic-ing in the Dallas area. She and her mom are likely the only mother-daughter pair with FAA Inspector Authorizations, let alone all their other credentials.

And are you ready for this? Granddaughter Amanda has joined the family’s focused venture. Not only is she one of the youngest female certified flight instructors, she is likely the youngest Gold Seal instructor, fulfilling more stringent requirements to achieve that recognition. Let’s not let it stop there. Amanda is one of a small handful of female crop dusters, too.

The accomplishments of the Latimer – Griffith family are amazing, and one could accept if they were full of themselves, but they’re not looking for the spotlight. This is a family of humble givers who just wants to encourage others to make use of the life God gave them.

I’ll meet you at the well in Vernon, Texas. I want some of that water too.

July 22, 2014 Pinch Hitter

The Liberty Gazette
July 22, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Pilot and aviation writer Doug Ritter desperately wanted his wife Sue to know how to land the plane in case he became incapacitated. He relates a story as an example of why this was so important to him. The true story is about a couple flying over Fairbanks, Alaska when the pilot husband suddenly suffered a brain hemorrhage. Just the day before this happened the wife had attended a flying companion course, often called "Pinch Hitter", which she credits for saving her life. She had learned how and where to call for help on the radio, how to get control of the airplane, find the nearest airport, and land safely.

Doug writes for Avweb and shared his thoughts in the hugely popular aviation digital publication. It doesn't seem very responsible to leave someone you care about with no backup when there is a very viable alternative available. 

He had tried for years to convince Sue to take the course. When she did, she realized she should have done it years before. Her appreciation, enjoyment, and comfort level with flying all found a new high, so much so that she shared her experience with her husband’s audience this way:

I did what I came to do. I learned how to safely take control of the plane and land it if I needed to in an emergency. I learned to not feel shy about asking for help if I need it. I have … no qualms about asking for help to get to a major airport and bigger runway if I have the fuel. I feel in control.
The Pinch-Hitter course gave me the knowledge and confidence to handle an emergency situation. … I can also be an even bigger help to him and I now enjoy our flights much more. It's fun.
It took me over ten years to be "convinced" to take this course. It doesn't hurt, it isn't fattening, and I should have done it years ago. Earning my Pinch-Hitter wings was one of my proudest moments. – Just Do It! — A Reluctant Participant's View of the Pinch-Hitter Course, Avweb, Jan. 5, 1998

Next month non-pilot flying companions will have an opportunity to take a Pinch Hitter course in Houston. They will learn fundamentals of flying, talking with air traffic controllers, and basic emergency procedures.

If you or someone you know could benefit from this course, please share. We will be holding it at the West Houston Airport, 18000 Groschke Rd; Houston, TX 77084 on Saturday, August 16, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

The cost will be minimal (lunch) and flights can be arranged individually following the ground school.

With an all-star line-up of some of the best female flight instructors in the nation we’ll cover safety, basics of aerodynamics, aircraft instruments and parts, basic navigation and chart reading, checklists, radio usage and communications, GPS usage, traffic patterns and landing, and emergency procedures.

We love to share our passion for flight, but this offers more – this could save a life. Here’s the web address, pass it on:

To register, RSVP by August 10, 2014 to Yasmina Platt at 

Anyone interested may contact me with questions:

July 15, 2014 Strange cargo - freight on a plane

The Liberty Gazette
July 15, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike and Linda Ely

Mike: Remember in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones comes running over a hill, dust flying from his clothes, waving his arms and shouting, "Get going, get going"?

His pilot is fishing off the wing of the float-equipped biplane when his serenity ends. The commotion gets his attention when he sees Indy running down the hill waving at him as dozens of natives charge over the ridge after him with spears and blowguns. Startled, the pilot tosses the fishing pole, jumps into the cockpit and starts up the plane.

Indy swims out just in time to grab the float, holding on as the plane becomes airborne. Sliding in to the cockpit he is surprised by the other "passenger" and screams to the pilot, "There’s a snake up here!"

The fact that it was a pet named Reggie didn’t dilute Indiana Jones’ hatred of snakes. Makes me think of other strange cargo I’ve known.

In a recent lively discussion with fellow former freight pilots the question arose, "What is the strangest cargo you have carried?"

After nearly 15 years of flying freight at all hours of the night, I’ve flown some strange cargo. I have carried dogs, cats and frozen bull semen, which is considered hazardous material due to special shipping requirements.

I offloaded 10 to 15 boxes of live Maine lobsters in Santa Barbara every morning for a couple years. Once while sliding a box of lobsters to the UPS driver, it missed him, flipped from the plane and split open on the ground; half a dozen dazed and not-so-happy red creepy things lethargically moving about. We corralled them without injury, their huge claws were banded. Seemed strange, shipping lobsters across the country since there are thousands in the Pacific Ocean.   

We flew a multi-million dollar missile guidance system from San Diego to Titusville, Florida by Learjet. A ten-man team took over an hour to carefully load it and set up monitoring equipment. The retrieval team ripped it out of the airplane in fewer than five minutes. So much for care in handling.

The pilots in the aforementioned discussion recalled similar cargo and some even more exotic - ostriches, penguins, sharks, komodo dragons, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and race horses. One of them even flew Willie the killer whale. Others said:

  "A big box of hamsters. Some got out!"

  "Baby crocodiles, loose, in an Brittan-Norman Islander. I figured if the croc hunter was prepared to sit down in the back with them it was OK, although some of them wound up under my feet a couple of times. I was younger then."

  "A case of live bees. Of course, half of them escaped and took their anger out on the loaders."

  "More boxes than you could shake a stick at on DC3. Full of WORMS. When my hearing came back after we shutdown (the noisy engines) you could hear a kind of slime noise. You think slime doesn't have a noise? Fly a million worms and say that."

Ah, my freight dog days. Stop it you guys...I'm getting all misty!