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!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November 18, 2014 From an Enterprising Generation

The Liberty Gazette
November 18, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Jack left business college at Washington University in St. Louis to join the Navy in 1940. By the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. officially entered WWII, Jack had become a fighter pilot. He heroically flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat from the decks of the USS Essex and the USS Enterprise. The young aviator earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Navy Air Medal. That in itself says enough, but there’s more, which shouldn’t be a surprise because most of the guys who made it that far didn’t stop there.

After the war Jack sold cars – Cadillacs, to be specific. Of course, being a pilot and living in St. Louis, naturally he sold cars for the dealership that carried the Lindberg name.

Listening to customers and analyzing how to best meet their needs, Jack believed that the dealership should be able to rent cars to them when theirs were in the shop for repairs. This was a novel idea at the time and the Lindberg dealership was interested in Jack’s proposal. By then he had worked his way up to Sales Manager, and had been working long enough to have saved some money. He agreed to a 50% pay cut and made a cash investment of $25,000 to own 25% of the new business. To him, it was worth the risk, and thus began the Executive Leasing Company, with an inventory of eight cars.

After more than a decade of success the company expanded beyond St. Louis and as always happens when an idea works, competition began to enter the marketplace. It was that same time when Jack decided to change the name of his company to pay homage to the aircraft carrier upon which he had served, which was his landing strip for the Hellcat.

While his competitors preferred to rent cars at airports to business travelers, Jack concentrated on the hometown market offering home pickup services which led to Enterprise’s now famous slogan, "We’ll Pick You Up".

Mike: Of course we know that Enterprise now offers rentals at airport locations as well, but it seems the company has not forgotten its roots. Often, they are the only game in small towns. People using private aviation often opt for a closer, small airport such as Liberty’s as opposed to the complexity and distance of the larger airports, and it is here where Enterprise reigns.

According to the company, by 1980 the rental fleet that began with eight had grown to 6,000 cars, and to 50,000 by 1989. In 2007, Enterprise purchased National Car Rental and Alamo Rent-A-Car.

Today the company is run by Jack’s son, Andy, a business aviation advocate who often speaks to groups about how corporate aircraft have helped the family business become the world’s largest rental car company. They have two long range Gulfstream aircraft which fly teams of sales and management personnel directly to cities throughout their world-wide network, allowing employees to conduct business in several cities in a single day and return home to be with their families.

Enterprise is an American tale of capitalism that began with a great idea, backed by the hard work and ingenuity of a veteran of the Greatest Generation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November 11, 2014 Zoning in on safe airspace

The Liberty Gazette
November 11, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A few years ago as the City of Liberty was struggling with how best to develop our airport one of the first things that had to be done was bring up to date the zoning around the airport before any more grants would be given. This zoning is known as height hazard zoning and is not what you think of when you think of land zoning. This is regulated by the FAA and is a requirement for any airport that accepts federal money, as Liberty does.

Liberty County and the cities of Liberty and Ames created a height hazard zoning board in order to comply with these regulations and to be eligible to receive further federal grant money. TxDOT, under authority of the FAA, performed a height hazard study and the board accepted the study. Then each of the governmental entities voted to accept those zoning regulations. This effectively keeps someone from placing a cell tower or windmill so close to the airport as to create a hazard to aircraft.

Under these rules, on an airport the size of Liberty’s no structure may be built within 250 of the outer edges of the runway. At large airports such as Bush Intercontinental, the required distance expands to 400 feet. There are exceptions for structures in existence prior to the ordinance, however those structures must be lighted so pilots can see them. You can imagine the danger to a pilot and to people on the ground if a structure violates safety zoned air space and isn’t even lighted. Once on notice both the owner of the structure and the city may be held liable.

Mike: And what if a pilot is flying in soupy weather? Flying "on instruments" is the kind of flying necessary when visibility is so poor that a pilot can’t see through the clouds or fog. An approach to land at an airport may be either visual or instrument. If it’s an instrument approach, meaning published procedures are used that safely get an airplane to the runway in poor conditions, you can bet that hazardous structures need to be even farther away, just in case a plane is a little bit off course. For that reason, in order for an airport to increase safety with instrument approaches there must be a larger safety zone. Approval of safety enhancing instrument approaches are dramatically affected by the existence of hazardous structures.

From the 250’ (or 400’) point the protected area extends outward and upward at a specific angle for several miles. Buildings, antennas, windmills, cannot be built to encroach on this protected air space. The angle off each end of the runway is even more restrictive because that’s where airplanes are closer to the ground – taking off and landing.

As Liberty proceeds through the process of extending the runway, height hazard zoning will be revisited under the leadership of the helpful people from TxDOT.

The FAA has reviewed its criteria for height hazards and will tighten up restrictions, making protected zones larger, setting stricter height limitations for structures near airports.

This move, applauded by pilots and the managers and owners of airports, means increased safety zones for the people who use airports as well as people on the ground.

Why would anyone build a house under the approach path to an airport anyway? Local ordinances and height hazard zoning help prevent this from happening and promote safety.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November 4, 2014 Parade of Planes

The Liberty Gazette
November 4, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: It isn’t every day you can walk out to the main street in town and watch airplanes taxi by, not being towed, but under their own power, propellers spinning. Not just one, but a whole parade.

Over the years the city of Palm Springs, California has hosted such an event where locals and visitors alike line the sidewalks to watch the parade of planes come through town.

Everyone loves a parade, and in Palm Springs folks find a bit of shade from a palm tree, sit back and enjoy the view as a great variety of airplanes taxi the route that follows main thoroughfares through downtown and to the city’s convention center where they park, on display for all to see and ask questions during the week of Aviation Summit.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association created and sponsored the event biannually for many years but now that the AOPA’s focus has shifted to regional events held in several places throughout the country – and finding great success drawing huge crowds – the very popular Flying Magazine, published continuously since 1927, is behind the prop-wash, stepping up as sponsor to keep the tradition alive.

Mike: We recently made a trip west that included a brief stop-over in Palm Springs to visit with one of my childhood friends. Tim and I grew up on the same street along with 40 other kids, and as kids do we had many adventures hiking, biking, climbing trees, going to the beach, hunting up frogs and even making trips in airplanes when I first became a pilot. Tim, now a middle school teacher, was one of my first passengers.

Tim’s home in Palm Springs basks in the silhouettes of the San Jacinto Mountains to the west, San Bernardino Mountains to the north, Joshua Tree National Monument to the east and the Salton Sea to the south. Temperatures in the summer months exceed 100 degrees regularly and it rarely gets close to freezing at the city elevations. It’s a popular place for vacationing in the winter months as it’s moderate temperatures at that time of year are offset by close proximity to recreational activities in the mountains such as hiking, backpacking, rock climbing and skiing. One thing on my list of things to do "someday" is to scale the peak of San Jacinto via the snow creek route. This is the longest and most vertical climb in the lower 48 states, over 9,600 feet up in less than four miles horizontal distance.

This is also part of the area where the Sky King serial drama was filmed in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. It’s full of rugged backdrops and dry lake beds for Sky’s Cessna 310 named "The Songbird" to land.

Flying through the passes and over the deserts and ranges of Sky King country triggered memories created during the thousands of hours I spent flying here.

Maybe some of the pilots flying to the Aviation Summit earlier this month found themselves looking for landmarks from the Sky King series. Spectators lining the boulevards may have had their imaginations spurred to think about the Golden Age of Aviation as the magnificent flying machines paraded by.

October 28, 2014 Chasing the Lark

The Liberty Gazette
October 28, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I recently met a former Army Air Corps/Air Force pilot who flew in WWII and Korea. He is approaching 90 years young and still flies. Like so many others of his generation he was flying high performance fighters like the P-51 in life and death aerial slugfests at the ripe old age of 19 or 20 years old.

Our encounter was brief and I hope to have more conversations with him but it reminded me of the great documentary film, Runway 16 Right, which covers the history of the Van Nuys Airport in California. If you have never seen it, it’s a must-see. Even if you’re not an aviation nut, it’s history well-presented and time well spent.

The Van Nuys airport started as a cow pasture, pretty much like the one here in Liberty before Benny Rusk and Earl Atkins turned the Liberty Airport into Liberty Airport.

Van Nuys has since developed into the largest supplier of jobs in the San Fernando Valley (that’s just north of Los Angeles). Now, there’s an economic engine if I’ve ever seen one!

The years before WWII saw the airport producing pilots, many who would go on and do the same thing that the gentleman I recently met did. But what stuck in my mind was some of the antics of these young daredevils.

To the west of Van Nuys airport lay farm fields where the young pilots would land and pick up anything that might be lying around, such as old boots, and use them for target practice pelting things on the ground as they played "bomber pilot". Or, they’d throw out a roll of toilet paper and see just how many times they could sweep back and forth in their airplanes and cut it before it got too close to the ground.

Today the FAA and the TSA would have conniption fits over these proceedings but in those footloose and fancy-free bygone years it was just plain fun, and darn good practice for young pilots. People just worry about too much stuff these days, and then you have the worthless TSA, but don’t get me started.

Another favorite unofficial "attack" practice maneuver for those young Air Force pilots in Van Nuys was swooping down on the Lark, an all-night train from San Francisco that arrived in the valley a little after ten o’clock every morning.

Picture this: The planes would fly low over the top of the train as they approached the engine from behind, startling the engineers with their noisy engines right above the engineers’ heads. The pilots then peeled off, headed for another caper.

It didn’t take long for the engineers to return the favor. As a plane approached, the engineer was waiting for them and as soon as they were overhead he pulled the whistle and scared the beejeebers out of the pilots. Then it became a game of who-could-surprise-who first. This game has been repeated many times and in many places over the years and I can only guess that, much to the FAA’s chagrin, it is probably still being played someplace today.

All the fun these pilots had was good training, developing their skills for their future as wartime pilots, and for many flying careers. The 20 year olds in 90-year old bodies today like to tell the stories of those happy-go-lucky days.

October 21, 2014 I'm a Lauda fan

The Liberty Gazette
October 21, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Our recent trip westward brought new experiences and new friends. Landing in Chino, California, the place where all this flying business began for Mike, as we were marshaled into a parking spot we learned a bit too late that the area was not cleared as three small wooden chocks caught up in prop wash began a dance that would make Simon Cowell grant a perfect score. Unfortunately, a few chunks of paint departed the airplane during the chock dance. Fortunately, the FBO graciously had the area repainted for us during our stay in the Golden State.

Several days later we returned and met Eveline who, along with her husband, owns Century Aircraft. They had repainted the nose wheel cover.

Her Austrian accent was thick enough to be lovely, thin enough that her words were easily understood. We talked about our rescue dogs, the Berlin Wall, the weather, and of course, airplanes. Consider this, because it came up in our conversation: if you just learned you were chatting with an Austrian, what would be your first association? Would it be Arnold Schwarzenegger? Adolf Hitler?

As it turned out, mine was Niki Lauda, the Formula One champion race driver of my youth, more recently the subject of the movie "Rush". I was a huge Niki Lauda fan as a kid. Growing up in an auto racing family how could I not be? I loved Lauda. I rooted for him every race and wrote him a get-well letter when he had that horrific crash. I used to do that a lot when I was little, and some time I’ll share the story of taping a nickel to a get well card when I was five – but on with the story.

Eveline, herself a mega Formula One fan who watches every race on TV and then calls her dad for a post-race analysis, beamed as my association question sunk in:

"Oh, Austria, as in Niki Lauda?"

It was refreshing to her that for once she was not faced with another Schwarzenegger association, or worse, being asked about the days of Hitler. The lady is a generation after Hitler; not that she doesn’t know the evil that happened, but it can’t be enjoyable to be assumed to be a generation older than one is. But back to the story.

She phoned her husband, Mike, who was down the way in a hangar, and asked him to bring their lovely rescue dog so we could swap dog stories as we loved on him – the dog, that is – and we visited way too long and it made us late leaving and we didn’t make our planned destination that night, but we did make new friends. And, I learned that Niki Lauda is a commercial pilot and founded two airlines, Lauda Air and Niki.

According to Eveline, back home Niki is known for being a spendthrift. So much so that he is often called to advertise low cost goods to emphasize, "even Niki Lauda would buy this".

I liked Niki because he was a formidable competitor, admiring him because he never backed down. My new friend Eveline admires him too.

If it weren’t for cluttered parking spaces and dancing chocks, and nice people who help, I might never have known Niki Lauda founded two airlines, and I would not know my new friend Eveline. Things just seem to turn out okay sometimes.

October 14, 2014 Some change is good

The Liberty Gazette
October 14, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: There was good conversation over lunch with a friend last week at a little eatery in Pasadena, California as we shared stories about our Moms, both of whom recently moved to heaven, which is what brought Linda and I back to California.

"Email, Facebook, and other social media are all wonderful tools for communicating with friends and relatives and even making new acquaintances," says my friend John Brinkmann, "but we’re missing the human contact, the sitting face to face and sharing similar interests. I want to see excitement and life in the eyes of those I’m talking with."

John’s magazine, American Bungalow, a rather prominent publication that shares the love of craft homes, in which many of the Greatest Generation were raised, is appreciated by people with taste. John, to be sure, pours his heart into it. He is my former mountain climbing partner with whom I shared many days and nights on wind-driven and snowy slopes and peaks. This is catching up time with an old friend.

John bursts with energy as he regales with tales of a German pilot, "Hans," who he met thanks to their mutual affection for MG motorcars, especially the pre-war models, of which there were not many made. Someday there will be a book about one of those pre-war MGs with a fascinating history, whenever John gets around to putting it all down on paper.

Hans is now in his 90’s and still very full of life. He was an instructor pilot for the Luftwaffe during WWII and flew about everything the Germans had. Toward the end of the war they had him flying the Messerschmitt ME-262 because it was the only thing the Germans had that could catch the British Mosquito, a twin-engine ground attack bomber. At the end of the war seven ME-262s were under his command based in a little town in the northern part of Germany.

John chuckles, "I’ve been to that town. I told him I once paid two Marks a night for a little cot in the attic of an inn there because the innkeeper was the only person I knew who spoke English. Then Hans says to me, ‘Back then I had a cot in the attic of a farmhouse in that same town.’"

Even though the ME-262 was a "wunderwaffe," John says Hans still prefers the ME-109E. According to Hans, "you don’t fly the 109E, you wear it like a tailored suit of clothes."

Linda: John just happened into the magazine business when he had to move his graphic arts business to another location, and happened to move into an old house – an American Bungalow. What began as a newsletter has become a treasure. 84 quarterly issues have been published so far.

We reminisced the days when the American culture had unity and kids were raised differently than they are today, when babysitters were human, not electronic.

However, today the Germans and Japanese are not our enemies, and there is no animosity between those who savagely fought each other in the skies. They had their duty and somehow, being locked in that conflict where lives hang in the balance, there was a kinship like no other born. And that’s a positive change.

October 7, 2014 Grandma learns to fly - and saves the day

The Liberty Gazette
October 7, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Eight years after by-pass surgery Roger Peterson returned to flying. With the advent of the Sport Pilot license and the lighter medical restrictions he is able to fly in the U.S. under certain conditions. But this meant someone else would have to be the pilot in command when the Petersons went to their summer home in Canada.

Alverna Peterson had some flying lessons years before, but raising a family took priority. Now that they were empty nesters she had time to finish her training. A couple of months before her 65th
birthday, "Al" earned her private pilot license and became the pilot in command for every summer trip north of the border, whether in the couple’s Cessna 172, their Piper J-3 Cub, or Piper PA-11.

"If this old lady can do it, anyone can," she chuckles. We like to call her our modern day "Sky Queen".

Linda: A few years ago the fire chief of Old Ocean got a call from the Texas Department of Public Safety. They needed help and they needed it fast. Four or five barges had gotten loose and were missing somewhere on the Brazos River. They had to be found and stopped before they hit a bridge.

It was Thanksgiving Day when Chief Craig Peterson got the call: "No," he replied, "I don’t own an airplane, but my parents do."

"He called and asked for his dad," Al recalls. "I told him his dad had gone fishing and wouldn’t be back for awhile. That’s when he asked if I’d fly the plane to help him find these barges!"

She loves telling the story.

Craig rushed over to his parents’ home and he and his mom hopped into the J-3 Cub and took off. Flying over the Brazos River they searched for the missing barges for an hour, in constant communication with authorities until the U.S. Coast Guard helicopters arrived to take over.

"While I was out fish-fishing, she was out barge-fishing," laughs Roger, who has been a pilot for more than 50 years.

We became acquainted with Roger and Al at the Reklaw fly-in. They are typical of the retired couples we’ve met who enjoy their time traveling by air. While general aviation attracts all ages, it’s especially encouraging to meet someone who has the courage and snap to learn to fly as a senior citizen.

Mike: That reminds me of a man I met in Nogales, Arizona years ago, a retiree flying with his dog in his Piper Cherokee. Lots of retirees travel the country in motor homes, but this man was flying to all the places he and his wife had wanted to visit but didn’t make it to before she passed away. So the widower and his faithful dog were seeing North America by light plane.

With the FAA’s Light Sport Aircraft classification and the Sport Pilot Certificate it’s now much easier and more affordable to attain a pilot license. For some, it’s the best retirement, for others, the best therapy.