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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Thursday, May 7, 2015

May 5, 2015 Skyway Gypsies - Part I

The Liberty Gazette
May 5, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: What do you get when you mix two pilots with a couple of unexpected days off work in the middle of the week that are not contaminated by rain and thunderstorms? Airway trip!

After making a quick assessment of where to go we chose west and tossed a few things into bags. Soon the Elyminator’s wheels were up and we turned the nose to 290 degrees on the compass. The flat lands below began to change shape and character, first becoming low rolling hills, then a few breaks, then large rugged slopes off plateaus, and even bigger breaks and canyons in a volcanic landscape. West of Plainview where we stopped for fuel, stockyards with covered silage mounds dotted the landscape. As though the land were taking steps, it’s elevation gradually increased, bringing us closer to the ground until higher we climbed. From our lofty perch we could see well ahead as we crossed the plains. This is an area I know from the westerns I read by Louis L’Amour and Luke Short. I could picture story characters Orin and Tyrel Sackett somewhere below riding herd or hunting up trouble. How would it have been for those adventuresome souls as they inched across that ground?

If one flies through the mountain passes the polite and neighborly way to fly over the Indian reservations is to climb to 12,500’, but with the wind howling through those passes we elected to hug the mountains and take the longer way around. As we crossed the lower ridges of the Rockies heading into the valley near Santa Fe I pointed out the Pecos River and all the lands in Lincoln County. That’s where Billy the Kid rode and the Lincoln County wars took place. We had climbed to over ten thousand feet and were looking up at the still snow-capped thirteen thousand foot peaks as we turned the corner and headed up the west side of the eastern most range, crossing the reservations Tony Hillerman depicted in his Jim Chee novels. Destination: Taos.

Linda: Sometimes the best adventures are the unplanned ones. Last week’s impromptu trip goes down as a win.

An airport is a community’s front door, and an airport manager is often a transient pilot’s first impression of a town; Taos didn’t disappoint. We called Taos’s airport manager Kino before departing and he said he’d see to it we had transportation and a place to stay, and looked forward to meeting us. As we taxied toward the ramp Kino came over the radio with a warm, friendly welcome to Taos, while Mike, the Hertz agent on site, brought a car over to our plane and had it open and ready before we even shut down the engine. Kino and Mike enjoy good rivalry bantering as former Air Force and Navy pilots, respectively.

Into town we ventured, first to check in at the Don Fernando hotel. The crew there served us well with a clean and modern spacious room, at the "pilots’ special rate". There wouldn’t be much time to check out the galleries and shops in the Plaza so we hurried to find a quick bite to eat before they rolled up the streets. We found the area to be cute and quaintly New Mexico, but with some of the shops too commercialized for our taste. Then we stepped in to a place to find extraordinary artwork by an inimitable artist. We can’t wait to share what happened next, so tune in to this space next week for more on the amazing Taos adventure.

April 28, 2015 Better Branding

The Liberty Gazette
April 28, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Thanks to Andrea’s involvement in her community as an assistant superintendent of a school district in Southern California and the president of her local Rotary club, a small group of U.S. military veterans dressed in smiles earlier this month when her club sponsored a special day at the local airport to honor the WWII vets with free rides in a Stearman biplane. The Stearman is an open cockpit airplane, but I’m willing to bet not a one of the men minded if they had to pick bugs off their teeth – just more proof of a good time.

Something like that could be done here, just maybe not during love bug season.

Goodness does good for everyone, and in this case doing something nice for people who have served our country, and using our local airport in the way it was meant to be used – to give back to the community – would be a fabulous use of the Liberty Municipal Airport.

Airports are for people who don’t fly.

Small community airports are a door for products and services, including emergency services, and for business people to travel, and maybe even to invest in a forward-thinking community. Overseers of any airport, big or small, can launch a progressive campaign to advance its purpose, increase revenue, and further branding, both of the community and of the airport.

Mike: Branding is something Cutter Aviation does well. A small family owned company that offers fueling services, maintenance, hangars, and aircraft sales, Cutter stands out in the industry with impressively low turnover for key positions. What one sees in Cutter, what can be learned, can be applied to any airport or aviation company.

Take for instance, how their transparency turns the face of a stranger into a friend, and how careful attention to detail means in every space where they have a presence their logo and colors are easily spotted.

Think of the Buccee’s character. That’s successful branding. They have developed a following of loyal customers, and even non-customers associate the friendly chipmunk in the ball cap with clean restrooms, good fuel prices, and fun shopping.

When a pilot visits the Cutter Aviation website he or she is treated to the faces of real people who work for Cutter, along with all their contact information and a bit about them. It’s personal, and it gives the customer a feeling that they will receive personalized, not automated service. People like that.

Cutter creates an enjoyable experience and everywhere they are, there’s their brand – the red color and the arrow that has been in their logo since the beginning – and customers see that and it triggers the emotions formed from positive experiences and personal service.

Recently, Cutter employees have been dressing in Western garb for industry trade shows and events. Since the company got its start in the Southwest, Albuquerque to be precise, the Cutter folks began showing up with boots, hats, and Western wear, and now the Cutter Cowboys are becoming as much a part of the company’s branding as the 85-year logo.

Linda: Some municipal airports use their city’s logo, while others create their own identity, understanding that they are reaching a unique market – one full of people drawn to images that exude aviation friendliness. Combining an airplane with parts of the current City of Liberty logo image, something inviting, saying this community welcomes aviators, could be the beginning of better branding for the Liberty Municipal Airport.

April 21, 2015 Busting myths one Pat answer at a time

The Liberty Gazette
April 21, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: As one who entered aviation mid-life I envy my wonderful husband and others who, like him, knew at an early age they wanted to fly. They were smitten with airplanes and flying; nothing else would satisfy, and they seemed to be born knowing that. But not I. Oh, aviation was around me, and I had opportunities, even occasional small bits of encouragement to learn to fly, but neither props nor jets could seduce me in my youth.

Until recently I’ve thought that there were basically these two groups of pilots – those who played airplane at recess instead of tag, and those who received a great awakening after years in the cave of unknowing. Then I considered Patrick Smith. He’s an airline pilot and writer who was attracted to a life of flying because he wanted to travel. That seems strange to me. I have never thought of people who fly for any other reason than that they become engulfed in this love for being in the air, and what it takes to be there – the knowledge, the machines, the glorious machines; the act of piloting, to any place or no place, just out and back, the where doesn’t matter.

Travel? Well, Patrick Smith is probably very different from Mike and me in a lot of ways. Neither flying a Piper Cub nor watching the Blue Angels perform impressed Smith as a kid – he’s even said those things bored him. But he liked maps, and geography, and different cultures, and so that’s what drove him to fly, and to write. He writes, he says, because he senses a mission to unite the means and ends, essentially, to inspire people who just want to get somewhere to appreciate the journey.

Patrick has written books and magazine columns, runs a blog,, and has offered his expertise on radio and television programs.

In one of his articles Patrick set out to debunk myths people believe about airline travel. Mike offers his own comments to a couple of the illusions aviators hear often.

Mike: This: "A co-pilot is less qualified than a captain to fly the airliner." First, I think what’s meant here is First Officer – by definition both pilots are co-pilots. Regardless, all pilots are trained to fly the aircraft and must pass standard testing. Both pilots can take over for each other and either is fully capable of landing the airplane safely without help from the other. However, with two, or three pilots the workload is distributed. A captain holds that rank by virtue of a seniority system within that particular airline. A co-pilot may have been a captain with another airline and just changed employers. Pilots at every level are always learning and refining their skills and knowledge.

And this: "Modern airliners have become so sophisticated they can fly themselves." Automation has become more complex but it is still just a tool to get the job done. Pilots spend an enormous amount of time training and retraining on these systems because as nifty as they are electronics still go haywire and anything mechanical can break. Yes, there are some aircraft that can auto-land but that only happens at specific airports, on specific runways, controlled by pilots with special qualification, and under specific conditions. While redundancy is available for almost everything on an airliner the ultimate safety device in any aircraft is a well-trained, onboard crew, whether that’s the Patrick Smiths of the air whose love of travel brought them there, or those whose passion is purely flying the plane.

April 14, 2015 For daring men

The Liberty Gazette
April 14, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The ad blared with dark, bold, large letters around a drawing of an airplane. Sweeping lines to make readers think of wind seemed to whisk the words across the page to keep up with the plane, giving special effect to the message:

                       "Step Into Aviation"

                                    "Adventure… Thrills… Big Money!"

                                                  "The Game for Daring Young Men"

The year was 1928, just one year before 20 women pilots would show those daring men that quite frankly, the airplane doesn’t know whether the person in the seat is male or female. The ad’s first paragraph taunted men by suggesting that a "regular" job (anything other than aviation) is a dull grind, and that they should "Break into one of the most fascinating, most thrilling occupations since time began – Aviation – the virile, exciting, romantic game for men of sporting blood."

Yes, it really said that. You can read it for yourself in the very first bound issue of Popular Aviation, March 1928. I wonder what they thought about all those aviatrixes who flew in dresses and wore make-up and piloted their planes at full race speed across the country from California to Cleveland, Ohio the following year in the First Women’s Air Derby, the finish line being at the National Air Races – which were "for men only."

About that same time a pilot instructor by the name of Clevenger who lived in Denver turned to the modern marvel of radio to promote flying. This was only the eighth year commercial radio had existed, and the Golden Age of Aviation, when we celebrated U.S. Air Mail Week every January and the list of all the mail routes and passenger schedules took up fewer than three full pages, and for fifteen minutes every Friday evening for ten weeks any guy who fancied himself to be of sporting blood could listen to flying lessons on the radio.

Mike: Cloyd Clevenger worked for Alexander Aircraft Company and in his weekly fifteen minutes of fame he acted out a flying lesson with another fellow, a regionally famous humorist named Gene Lindberg (no "h" on the end but the similarity is amusing). Sound effects were typical of the era: find what you can use to make a particular sound believable. In this case, electric fans were pointed straight into the microphone to sound like a plane taking off, and blowing away from the mic once the plane was in quieter cruise flight. The show’s main competition was appealing jazz orchestra broadcasts, the music of the time.

In living rooms, dens, kitchens all over America self-assessed daring men probably followed the advice of Captain Clevenger and listened intently to the predecessor of the podcast while seated firmly in a chair, broomstick handle in hand, "chair flying".

That advice has not gone away. Today’s instructors still recommend chair flying to enhance skills by helping the mind focus while imagining flying.

Even though they were eavesdropping on the sometimes comical dialogue which was meant to convey the lessons at hand, results showed success by an increase in customers at the flight school, and in sales of Clevenger’s book, "Modern Flight". Alexander Aircraft was, after all, just doing its part by sponsoring the radio lessons to educate the public in air-mindedness, albeit while playing a game for daring men.

April 7, 2015 In the Age of Airplanes

The Liberty Gazette
April 7, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Since the early ages Man has yearned to take flight. Philosophers pondered anti-gravity, artists painted winged images, writers penned humanity’s desire to break free from the ground. For them it was still a dream.

Greek mythological figure Daedalus fashioned wings for he and his son Icarus to escape the isle of Crete. Leonardo da Vinci rendered drawings of aircraft, and even of a helicopter, and inscribed, "Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." Jules Verne wrote such tomes as From the Earth to the Moon and Around the World in Eighty Days and actually lived in the days of manned flight, though mostly by balloons. He died a couple years after the Wright Brothers made their historic flight.

In the 20th century Man not only took flight, but after making that initial jump of 120 feet, a little over a third the length of a football field, began trips to the moon and back. Now, nearly 100,000 commercial airline flights depart (and land) daily. Hundreds of people board a single flight to travel in relative comfort for 14 hours to a land nearly halfway around the world, although we grumble about false-sense-of-security lines and being sardinized. Has flying lost its luster, its sense of adventure, become ordinary?

Linda: Brian Terwilleger hopes to reacquaint us all with airplanes. A few years ago he produced the spectacular, romance-of-flight, award-winning movie, One-Six Right. The title is the number designation for one of the runways at Van Nuys Airport, and the movie celebrates the unsung hero of aviation – the local airport. Now Brian has teamed up with National Geographic Studios for his latest project and once again, the results are inspiring to say the least. Living in the Age of Airplanes will take you on a visual journey of past decades of incredible advances of flight, arousing your inner pilot.

Filmed in 95 locations around the world, on all seven continents including the South Pole, detailed stunning images dance with a beautiful score. Narrated by Harrison Ford, the movie premieres at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. on April 8, with general release beginning April 10th. Unfortunately, this much anticipated film is not yet scheduled for theaters in the Houston Museum of Natural Science or Space Center Houston; the closest locations scheduled for showings at this time are in Austin, Dallas and Lubbock. The site for more info – and a peek at the trailer – is, but fair warning: prepare to be entranced. Living in the Age of Airplanes will eventually be released on video and possibly cable, however, if you have the opportunity to see it on an IMAX screen, do that – that’s where it was meant to be seen.

Mike: Harrison Ford asks that you "leave behind everything you know about airplanes; anything you’ve heard about their history; every conclusion you’ve drawn from your own experience and prepare to see them again, for the first time."

Linda: Oh be still, my heart!

March 31, 2015 More than a calling card

The Liberty Gazette
March 31, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: As a kid I, like many, built models. Model cars, trains, boats and of course, airplanes. While they were never masterpieces my model airplanes fueled my imagination and took me on many adventures to other places in the world. When I was about eight someone gave me a control-line gas powered airplane. It really flew, for a few minutes anyway, because my dad, thinking it might be a bit much for me, tried it out first in the circle of our cul-de-sac and crashed it. It never flew again. I still have to laugh about that.

When I was studying aerospace engineering we strapped down specially constructed models in the wind tunnel to gather data and learn how the air flowed around them. This helped us make designs with less drag and thus more efficient. We tested models in both subsonic and supersonic wind tunnels, some reached as much as four times the speed of sound as we photographed the shock-wave of air splitting off of them.

Though not as much so as was when I was a kid, the airplane model kit industry is still going strong. There is even a whole specialty industry that has developed around high quality model airplanes used as calling cards for business deals. When airlines are courted by aircraft manufacturers, or when airlines begin serving a particular city executives often come bearing gifts – models of their planes, painted in the airline’s paint scheme. During conferences the model planes serve as centerpieces.

These models are typically one to two feet in length, mounted on stands and are not the lightweight plastic types found in hobby shops. I see them on desks, in trophy cases and in museums. Aircraft manufacturers order a lot of them. Last year Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, took in 1,456 orders for new airliners purchased by 67 different airlines. They bought over 30,000 models of their airliners to give away as gifts – that’s just over 20 models per customer. Boeing Aircraft Company here in the U.S. and Embraer Aircraft in Brazil have made similar purchases. And while manufacturers of airliners by far buy the most, business aircraft manufacturers hold the same tradition. These are far more effective marketing tools than a business card as they are always out where the recipient can see them, not in a drawer or a contacts file, but a constant reminder of the company who gave it.

Some people just like to collect model airplanes and there are companies that oblige them. If you want a model of an Airbus 320 in Alaska Airlines livery, it’s available in sizes from six inches to several feet in length. I prefer older airliners, and I have my favorites. Many younger people would never know they ever existed without the presence of models. With airlines merging and legacy lines fading into memories, it’s nice to look at a model and remember when the airline flew that airplane or had that paint scheme.

When I look at a Lockheed Super Constellation painted in TWA colors it takes me away, back to when I was a kid when I was flying to the Orient or some other exotic location in the world, if only in my mind.

March 24, 2015 Olives, airplanes, and your fifth sense of taste

The Liberty Gazette
March 24, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: While hospital food is commonly despised, it has nothing on the reputation of airline food, which has not only been reduced in meal size, but quality as well. Keeping ticket costs down while keeping stock prices up continues to challenge financial wizards who take their sharpened pencils to task to increase airline profits. Of course, there’s that pesky retirement package pilots and other employees have worked for years to earn; now there’s another area that could be reduced or even eliminated. And then there’s the feeding of all you hungry seat-fillers, which has proved to be such a burden that bean counting has been overtaken by olive counting for one airline, and peanuts for another. A few decades ago American Airlines removed one olive out of each salad they served and cheered at the bottom line, an annual savings of $40,000. Don’t scoff, that’s nearly twice what a first-year regional airline pilot makes these days.

Not all changes made to the food served at 40,000 feet are for the almighty dollar. Some are for safety, and some are simply to make you, the passenger, like them better. To reduce the risk of both pilots being stricken with food poisoning, the captain and first officer of any flight do not eat the same meals. If one type of pre-packaged meal is contaminated it is unlikely the other is also.

Mike: But are airline meals really that bad, or could it be our perceptions are affected by air pressure? Have you ever wondered why the popularity of the Bloody Mary in flight? Turns out, says a German physics research institute hired by Lufthansa, that our sensory perceptions are affected by altitude and humidity – and also by noise. End result is that we add salt to foods that should taste salty, and more sugar for treats that should be sweet, because those taste perceptions are reduced at altitude. Our receptors for sour and bitter don’t seem to be affected, but did you know there is a fifth taste?

Look for an increase in the use of spinach, mushrooms, and soy sauce in airline food, and don’t be surprised if you crave tomato juice, because the flight you take will enhance your taste of umami, an amino acid, L-glutamate, found in those foods.

Michel Lotito was not too finicky about pleasing his taste buds in the air or on the ground. God rest his soul, the man passed a few years ago, but he still holds the record for the largest airplane eaten, as well as the only airplane eaten. Lotito cut up, chewed, and swallowed such non-food items as light bulbs, razor blades, and glass bottles, eventually grinding his teeth to little stumps. He spent two years eating a Cessna 150. They say he used a sledgehammer, acetylene torch, and bottle cutter to make those tasty morsels bite-sized, but that he did bite most of the glass parts directly off the plane, and even ate the leather seats and the tires. The Frenchman’s bizarre eating made him an "entertainer" of sorts, earning the title Monsieur Mangetout, translated, "Mister Eats All".

Linda: I wonder if he added olives to that.