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 5, 2015

August 4, 2015 A dirigible, by any other name

Liberty Gazette
August 4, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike:  We were flying circuits around the traffic pattern on the north side of Long Beach Daugherty Field. My student, Paul, was learning to land his wife’s Piper Cherokee from the right seat; he wasn’t a licensed pilot, but wanted to know how, just in case he might have to land it someday. Suddenly the controller in the tower called out traffic to us, telling us to watch out for two Goodyear blimps. I’d been treated to sightings of a Goodyear blimp in both day and nighttime views, and have childhood memories of it’s moving lights displaying advertisements overhead in the night sky, when I’d listen to whirring, humming engines, such a distinct sound that I knew what it was before I stepped outside and looked up. But now, blimp formation flying, that wasn’t something I’d seen before. This was something special for the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Three Goodyear blimps share the appearance duties throughout North America; one based in Florida, one in California and one at the company’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio – that’s the one that used to be kept in Spring, Texas – covering sporting events and serving as a billboard adrift.

The ground crew doesn’t have much difficulty keeping up with its 50 mph progress. One blimp pilot who was flying cross-county happened upon a Little League game in a small town 1,000 feet below. The pilot stopped the engines right overhead and shouted down at the players asking them the score.

Linda: In my hometown, the rumble of the blimp’s Lycoming engines signaled the coming of auto racing, all month long, at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I, too, knew even before spying it in the sky that it had come to be part of the tradition and heartbeat of Indy in May. Upon moving to this part of the country I felt a little bit of the familiar had been waiting here to greet me when I first saw that blimp tethered at its base along I-45.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has been sailing blimps since 1928, and from the beginning, until 1987 each one has been named after America’s Cup champion yachts. Since then, the company has polled the public for names on new models, the latest of which has been dubbed Wingfoot One. With a top speed of 70 mph it’s a real hotrod.

Mike: During the launch ground crew members wrestle with the ship, pulling it from its mooring mast and turning it into the wind. Then they hoist the pudgy thing shoulder high and slam it back onto the ground. The single over-sized and over-inflated tire works like one of those bouncy balls we hopped along on as kids, springing it back into the air. The pilot pours the coals to its engines and pitches the nose up so high you think it will slide back onto its tail, but gravity is overcome, although ascent seems painfully slow.

Blimps belong to a category of aircraft called Airships, characterized by lighter-than-air gas that keeps them aloft. Some airships have a ridged frame, as did the Hindenburg. Those are called dirigibles. The old blimps of our growing years did not have a framework in them, but the new ones have semi-ridged frames, so technically they are not really blimps. However, it appears Goodyear still wants to call it a blimp, and that’s understandable. Saying "Goodyear Dirigible" sounds like a tire going over small, rattling speed bumps.

July 28, 2015 Who's Minding the Store?

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

Linda: You may remember news reports a few months ago when Houston businessman Edd Hendee made a successful emergency landing in the grass alongside U.S. 59 near Diboll, after taking off from the Angelina County Airport. He had to land suddenly because both engines of his piston twin engine Cessna 421B had quit. Cause of engine failure: jet fuel instead of AvGas, or 100 Low Lead, was pumped into his tanks. Piston engines don’t run on jet fuel.

While Edd had injury to his vertebrae, from the reports it sounds as though he is going to be fine. This brings up a whole host of topics very important to the City of Liberty, owner of airport property and fuel tanks, and seller of fuel here. Two critical items are sumping the fuel tanks daily to test and rid them of contaminants and water (danger), and prohibiting the sale of AvGas for other than aircraft (hefty federal fines).

Mike: Fuel quality is a serious concern for aviators. Hydrocarbon fuels deteriorate over time, but to get the most life out of them frequent tank and fuel inspections are necessary. Fuel tanks are vented and with expansion and contraction air moves in and out of the tank. During our humid days vapors enter the tank, condensing in the evening and settling into the fuel. Since water is heavier than the fuel, it pools at the bottom of the tank.

Whether in a large airport tank or smaller airplane tank, the physics are the same. Pre-flight inspections include sampling fuel from the aircraft. Low points in airplane fuel tanks, called sumps, collect the water which we remove through drains. If not drained regularly water and sludge build up, get into the engine, and eventually cause it to seize. Likewise, if airport fuel tanks are not drained regularly – recommended daily – the same outcome can be expected, and then the seller of that fuel is flirting with disastrous liability for negligence by selling contaminated fuel, which can cause a life threatening situation.

Microbes live in just about all fuels; they love jet fuel. These bugs are attracted to the water at the bottom of the tank where they reproduce incredibly fast. Unchecked, they can quickly damage the filtration system, plug filters, and eat the walls of the tank – even steel airport storage tanks. Fuel additives for airplanes combat microbial growth but those responsible for fuel sold at an airport must practice proper handling of the fuel at delivery, drain and test storage tanks daily to insure tainted fuel does not enter aircraft fuel tanks. Testing begins after water and contaminants settle, and no aircraft should be fueled until testing is done. This is something a professional airport manager knows, and something Jose Doblado performed daily at the Liberty Municipal Airport.

Linda: There are also federal regulations regarding the sale, purchase, and use of AvGas in vehicles other than aircraft. Both the EPA and taxing authorities care who buys AvGas, and where that fuel goes, putting some responsibility on the seller. The EPA is interested because AvGas contains lead; and if purchased in place of auto gas then the highway department is out that tax money.

Penalties for selling, purchasing, or using AvGas in other than an aircraft engine can be as much as $25,000 for every day of violation, plus the amount of economic benefit or savings resulting from the violation. Failing to furnish information or conduct required tests can bring penalties on the same scale.

We hope that even without Jose looking out for our airport’s best interest, that the city has assigned the daily fuel sumping and testing task to someone, and that AvGas isn’t being sold illegally.

July 21, 2015 BD

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

Mike: It’s that time of year again: AirVenture, the world’s largest fly-in, and the world’s largest convention of any kind. Thousands of aircraft are descending on the small city of Oshkosh this week, making the air traffic control tower in the little central Wisconsin town the busiest control tower in the world – for one week.

We didn’t have time to make the trip this year, but there will be other planes similar to ours, the Grumman Cheetah, and its kin. There will be small home-built airplanes and helicopters, timeless warbirds, the Flying Hospital and military and airline planes, and balloons and ultralights, and fast planes and slow planes. There will be the ones that race the AirVenture Cup in excess of 325 mph, and the Piper Cubs with no doors and no radios yet just as at home in the sky as any airplane ever conceived; as at home in the blue yonder as the clouds that dot the canvas.

Every year at AirVenture the Bede Aircraft Company has planes on display, and plans for sale so you can build your own. The little jet that looks like a toy is their most famous model, the BD-5J, one of the stars of a James Bond movie.

Remember a 007 film where a little jet landing on a road takes the next exit and coasts to a gas station?

Corkey Fornof, noted Hollywood action pilot, built and flew the BD-5J in that movie. We met Corkey several years ago, and heard the rest of the story of that 007 scene. Unreal as it seems, the events that took place in the Bond film were written into the script when Corkey shared his own real life adventures with the producers.

Like the lead character, Fornof had faced an emergency landing, the only safe place to land being a highway right below him. He touched down on the road, veered off an exit ramp and coasted right up to a gas station pump.

Linda: Fornof has been a spokesperson for Bede Aircraft and for LoPresti, a company that makes speed modifications, some of which are installed on The Elyiminator. When I ran into Corkey again at AirVenture a couple of years ago I thanked him for painting “Yippee!” across the bottom of his bright yellow Lo Presti Fury, because it had inspired me to convince Mike to paint “STUCK IN TRAFFIC?” across the bottom of our plane, and for that, Corkey kissed my hand.

But there’s much to say about the engineer who designed the celebrity jet. Jim Bede’s designs became the popular airplanes of the Grumman and American Aircraft companies, starting with the Yankee, his original BD-1. They were fast, affordable planes that any private pilot could fly. A few generations of Grumman models later, the Cheetah took over the spotlight. And although Jim Bede wasn’t directly involved in creating the Cheetah, it bears the genealogy of its ancestor, the BD-1.

It’s that time of year again, AirVenture, the world’s largest fly-in, and the world’s largest convention of any kind. But this time Jim Bede isn’t be there. Jim passed away last week. He was 82.

As thousands of aircraft are descending on the small city of Oshkosh this week, Corkey’s famous little jet is up for sale. I think the new buyers should celebrate by landing on a highway (closed to traffic, of course), rolling down an exit ramp, and coasting to a gas station, just for the thrill of it, with a nod to Jim and Corkey.

July 14, 2015 The Key to a Good Landing

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

Mike: I called up Key Tower for landing clearance. After three hours of flying from Greenwood, South Carolina this airport in Meridian, Mississippi would be a good fuel stop. The FBO’s air conditioning is a welcoming relief from the sweltering heat. We guzzled some complimentary bottled water and re-energized with complimentary fresh fruit before continuing our journey home. Key Field lives up to its reputation.

In 1935, as the Great Depression continued, Meridian Municipal Airport faced possible extinction at the hands of city officials who did not recognize its value. But brothers Al and Fred Key relocated their flying business there and began a publicity campaign to bring wide-spread recognition to the community and its airport.

On June 4, 1935 the brothers took off in a Curtiss Robin monoplane named Ole Miss. The plane was modified for long duration flight; 27 days later Ole Miss’ wheels once again touched the pavement at Meridian Municipal. To break an endurance flight record they didn't have to fly very far, they just had to stay aloft, which they did, officially, for 653 hours and 34 minutes, consuming 6,000 gallons of fuel. How, in 1935, they succeeded without sophisticated technology is a testament to ingenuity and the daring aerial feats performed during their flight.

Al would climb the airplane really high, then shut down the engine completely, keeping the nose pitched up to slow the airplane enough to stop the propeller.

With the prop stopped he would gently point the nose back down - just a little bit - in order to let the airplane become a glider. As a glider, air was still moving over the wings, creating lift, so Al could still control it.

Via a catwalk on each side, Fred would then climb out of the cockpit, and up to the engine to change spark plugs and add oil and then refuel. Upon Fred's return to his seat Al would dive the airplane to get enough wind to flow through the propeller to cause it to turn again, reintroduce fuel, and start up the engine, resuming powered flight.

Back then a wing walker would hand five gallon gas cans from one plane to a wing walker on another, which was dangerous enough, but using funnels also made gasoline spill into the airstream. The invention of a flexible probe that automatically shut-off gas flow if it was pulled out of the gas tank made fuel transfers a little easier.

The Flying Keys’ stunt worked. It not only saved the airport but brought about increased public confidence in air travel. Shortly after their flight Meridian Municipal was renamed Key Field in their honor, and Ole Miss was put on permanent display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

In 1949 four intrepid souls flew an airplane they named "The City of Yuma" for 47 days without landing - and for the same reason: to save that city’s airport business. Later in 1959 a pilot remained aloft over Las Vegas for almost 65 days.

Key Field today is the major employer in Meridian. Piper Cubs, military training jets and Lockheed C-130 regularly use the 10,000 and 5,000 foot long runways. There is a wonderful FBO with really nice people who go out of their way to make pilots feel welcome. And they have pretty cheap fuel.

July 7, 2015 Must be Paris

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

Mike: Almost midnight, the clouds glow, illuminated by city lights hidden beneath them. The radio crackles as the air traffic controller issues instructions. His English is clear, though his accent attests that it is not his primary language. Turn right to this heading, then left to another, then right again. We are told to descend into the clouds and soon they envelope us.

Popping out underneath the overcast I behold the city for the first time. Straight ahead, brilliant lights strobe off the Eiffel Tower. The flashing billboard welcomes me to Paris even as I am still airborne.

On final approach I wonder whether Charles Lindberg, as tired as he was at the end of his trans-Atlantic flight, had a chance to tour the city as we are. The controller has us maneuver around the big international airline airport, Charles de Gaulle, and then clears us to land at historic Le Bourget Airport, the same airport at which Lindberg landed. This time however, there are not 300,000 Parisians in riotous celebration of our arrival. The only person meeting our aircraft as we park is our handling agent.

That was ten year ago. I’ve been to Paris a few times since and seen much of the city. I have even called Linda from the top of the Eiffel Tower. My last trip there was to teach at my company’s Paris location right at Le Bourget. Still on my to-do list: attend the Paris Air Show.

Established in 1909, the week-long Paris Air Show is the longest running air show in the world. It is held every other year with an attendance of over 350,000. Billion dollar deals are made at the airshow between aircraft manufactures, airlines, and military from around the world. Most airshows have performers flying aerial demonstration routines but few offer the variety this one does.

This year the airshow lineup included a flight demonstration in the Airbus 380 that showed what the airliner could do in capable hands. The giant airplane launched on takeoff into a near vertical climb, and then maneuvered presenting its graceful lines and agility. At a previous airshow the Boeing Company had shown off their equally new 787 Dreamliner, a demonstration that left Airbus officials red-faced. This was their year to flaunt their stuff. Of course, no passengers were on board any of these flights, only test pilots.

Eccentric flight routines were part of the predecessor to the Paris Air Show when Wilbur and Orville demonstrated their Wright Flyer to an astonished crowd of Frenchmen. They flew around a stadium making controlled turns for 11 minutes. Previous flights were straight line courses that lasted little more than 30 seconds. Spectators had expected to see the French pilots take top honors but instead stood cheering each time the Wright Flyer performed, its last flight there lasting nearly an hour.

Unconventional routines lived on when Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston brought airliners to the aerial stage, setting the standard in 1955. He performed a barrel roll with a Boeing 707 in front of a crowd of airline executives in Washington. The president of Boeing was stunned and fired Tex on the spot, but when purchase orders came in as a result of the demonstration he asked Tex to return. Though he never rolled the 707 again, the crowds at the Paris Air Show would have loved it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June 30, 2015 Mom's Museum

The Liberty Gazette
June 30, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: My mother stepped off the jet way and made her way through the airport maze where I was waiting eagerly to greet her.

"How was your flight?" I asked. Everyone always asks that first.

Mom isn’t a fan of regional airlines. She calls them "small planes". Funny, she’s flown with me in our plane, which is significantly smaller than a regional airliner. I think she is more comfortable in our four-seater simply because she’s with me, or us, however the case may be.

"The whole plane shakes and rattles," she answered with the disgust that would have made the CEO of that airline shrink into nothingness had he or she been Mom’s child. And who could blame her? The overhead bins chattered annoyingly and shuddered the whole trip, she said, and she could feel the plane’s engine vibrations right through her seat, as though she were the gremlin riding outside on the jet’s wings in that 1963 episode of Twilight Zone.

"What were you flying?" I asked, hoping to find a way to explain it to her satisfaction. After all, Mom likes to be curious – she says the cure for boredom is curiosity, and there is no cure for curiosity – and would, I presumed, most certainly have listened to the passenger briefing and looked at the safety card in the seatback on front of her. There on the card she would have seen what kind of plane she was in; during the briefing she would have heard the flight attendant mention the make and model.

She probably did do those things, read and listen, because Mom likes to learn things. What she didn’t do though was remember the alpha-numeric sequence that identified her carriage. She may have heard something like EMB145 that day, or B737-700 on another flight another day. But to her those are just meaningless sets of letters and numbers that are only important for the pilots to know. And probably the mechanics, too.

"It was the kind of plane that has those wings that bend upward at the ends," she replied, pushing her arms slightly outward, bending back at the wrists with her palms faced away from her.

"Winglets," I replied. "Those are winglets, and they are on a lot of different kinds of airplanes." As the words came out I worried that I might have sounded condescending, which would be a horrible way to treat my mom. "They help aerodynamically and the result is fuel conservation," I hurried to add in a soft tone in case she might be thinking my last words were a bit snippy. I smiled. "But most people don’t even notice them."

My mom is smart, and she’s not a pilot or engineer, so these aren’t the kinds of things she would have come across. Nor are the purposeful design of winglets anything she likely remembers today, because like alpha-numeric airplane model codes, none of that is what she’s retaining for that "someday" that might happen, when, if, she ever loses mobility and can no longer go out for adventures of her own.

"My mind is my museum," she told me several years ago, "and I am collecting beautiful memories for my museum so that one day if that is all I have, I will have plenty."

I am certain winglets won’t make the cut in Mom’s museum, and I am just as certain that among the thousands of beautiful things there will be poetry and song, laughter and friends, walks with dogs, sunshine, flowers, pearls, and family. And maybe the closest thing to winglets will be a lovely flowing gown she once wore while standing in a Spring breeze.

June 23, 2015 City of Liberty Airport Manager moving to Panama (Feature article)

The Liberty Gazette
June 23, 2015

by Linda Street-Ely

Two of Liberty’s most gifted community leaders, airport manager Jose Doblado and his wife Debbie Mabery, have said their good-byes and headed south, to their new home in Panama. Jose’s shoes will be big ones to fill, as evidenced by his loyal service to Liberty, and recognized by many for his dedication, including Texas Southern University, College of Science, which awarded Mr. Doblado this year with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

In early 2012, Jose Doblado, then a new graduate from TSU’s Aviation Management degree program, accepted the position as the new airport manager for the Liberty Municipal Airport. His goal was to revitalize and upgrade the 140-acre Liberty Municipal Airport, a goal shared by the Texas Department of Transportation, which holds the purse strings for all aviation grant funding on both the state and federal levels.

A few accomplishments.
As manager, Jose oversaw the $700,000 construction project of twenty T-hangars, several ramp improvements, security fencing, and terminal updates. He also refurbished two 12,000-gallon fuel systems purchased for the airport. Now, as a result of Jose’s work, income from hangar rent and one of the ground leases should be $241,200 per year when all hangars are occupied, plus the income from another land lease on a privately owned hangar. That’s a staggeringly successful jump from the receivable $7,920 of just three years ago. Under Jose’s management, average monthly fuel sales increased from $5,200 to $17,000, another testament to his hard work.

Services available, number and quality of hangars, and the number of take-offs and landings at any given airport in Texas are some of the important measurements used by the TxDOT in awarding grant funding. That’s why the building and renovating, the fuel tanks, the numbers, are all significant. During the past three years, Jose has nearly tripled the number of based aircraft, from nine to thirty-four, and increased airport traffic by providing clean, safe facilities and personal service.

Not all municipal airports can claim the level of expertise which Liberty has received from Mr. Doblado, who minimized airport expenditures by completing most maintenance work on fuel systems, facilities, and equipment himself, and using the services of city employees instead of outside contractors, saving city taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Volunteers have been eager to step in and help, too, thanks, they say, to the friendly and welcoming nature of the man who came to help make things better for everyone.

Building an image.
Visiting pilots and based pilots alike have raved about the level of customer service and attention to the airport since Mr. Doblado came to Liberty – people have come here for a reason, and that reason is Jose. As manager, he has hosted fly-in events and children’s tours and mentored three Texas Southern University seniors who completed their aviation degree program internships at the airport.

Repeat customers have been coming from all over the country to buy fuel here – meaning they spend money in Liberty, contribute to the local economy, and do not require any on-going services such as schools, hospital, or library. They land, hand over money, and then leave. And for the last three years they have received a warm welcome as they entered Liberty’s front door to the world.

National recognition.
His efforts have been recognized across the state, and nationally, as well wishes poured in from all over. William Gunn, who worked with Jose to complete an airspace study for an existing hangar on the airport, commented that, "On a site visit to Liberty, it was a pleasure to meet Jose and his wife. The service I received to fuel my aircraft and use the terminal building for my short visit was excellent; it was obvious Jose was proud of his position and was willing to assist in any way."

As a member of the TxDOT Aviation Division, Mr. Gunn says he is "lucky to visit many of the general aviation airports in Texas. Liberty certainly stands out as one of the excellent ones in the state thanks to Jose’s dedication. Any pilot who looks at the comments placed on the web site will see the exceptional number of positive statements made about Liberty and the service Jose has provided. I am sorry to see the Liberty airport lose his services but wish him and his family well."

Yasmina Platt, of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest aviation organization in the world, offered her thoughts as well. "Jose has done an great job with the Liberty Municipal Airport in such a short period of time, and with relatively few resources. He will be an important asset wherever he goes, and the aviation industry is fortunate to have him as a friend and supporter. We hope Liberty will continue the momentum Jose brought to the airport."

The locals who have found a good friend in Mr. Doblado say that in the relatively short time he’s been in Liberty he developed positive relationships in the aviation community and improved the image of airport on a nationwide scale by promoting safety and providing consistent and friendly customer service to all.

Getting personal.
Jose and Debbie even furnished the city’s airport terminal building at their own expense, so that Liberty could have the best possible facilities to offer visitors to our city. It’s been important to the couple to represent their hometown to visitors and neighbors alike in the most friendly and professional manner. As Debbie reflects, "I have really enjoyed volunteering for the past three years at the airport. You never know what the wind will blow in each day. However, the best part has been the people of Liberty. I have met so many kind, interesting and helpful people. The conversations I have had and the people I have met will always be a part of me. I will miss this special place."

For Jose, each day here in Liberty has been filled with unexpected challenges, interesting people, and rewarding moments, and that, he says, is why he enjoys his work. "The hours have been long and the work has been nonstop, but it is all worth it when I see multiple aircraft operating at the same time safely on the field."

He paused to reflect on the day they first saw the airport, and explained that, "Improving the image of Liberty Municipal Airport has brought me great satisfaction because I knew I was adding value to the City of Liberty and Liberty County."

The couple has moved to Panama, in Central America, but before their good-byes, Debbie expressed their hopes and dreams, not only for themselves, but for Liberty as well. "Jose and I want to be closer to his son and start a new adventure in our life. Jose will probably continue his career in aviation at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. I plan to volunteer and write. As for the Liberty airport, it is like our baby, and we hope and pray the next person has even greater passion for this place, and these people, and continues to make great improvements."