10 Seconds To Disaster Page : Fighter Pilots War Story
It came without warning, a terrible, searing flash, almost scorching his eyes. Instinctively, his hands jerked away from the controls, shielding his face from the blinding light. His mouth opened in a great, soundless scream as the Skystreak yawed sharply with the sudden loss of control. Rawson’s hands jerked back to the stick. But it was too late. The tortured screech of cracking metal flooded his ears.
‘Good grief! She’s breaking up!’
Rawson’s eyes cleared. He saw nose probe, swinging in ever increasing circles. Slowly, horribly, the probe began disintegrate. Something whirled past the windscreen, a tattered fragment of mainplane. The earth smashed up at Mitch, reeling and pinning in the clear sunlight. He was crashing.
He was crashing – he was going to die!
‘You won’t Crack, Mitch’
It was Bill Maitland who first heard the screaming. He raced along the corridor, threw open the door of the hotel room.
Mitch Rawson was tossing on his bed, his eyes closed, his dark spiky hair plastered to his forehead.
‘No!’ he was shouting. “She’s breaking up! I can’t get out – I can’t get out.’
Maitland moved quickly to the bed, gripped the test-pilot’s shuddering shoulder. ‘Wakeup, Mitch! Wakeup. It’s all right. Wake up, do you hear?’
The screaming stopped as Mitch Rawson’s eyes flicked open, roved widely round the room, fastened on Bill Maitland anxious face.
‘Take it easy, Mitch,’ Maitland said soothingly. ‘You must have been dreaming.’
Mitch groaned and shook his head. ‘A dream’ He leaned up on the bed, mopped limply at his face. ‘It was more like a nightmare. Did – did anyone hear me, Bill?’
Maitland paused, gazing sympathetically at the sweating face of the older man. ‘How could they Mitch? The airfield’s six miles from here.’
‘Yes – of course.’ Rawson swung his legs to the floor. The sardonic ghost of a smile plucked at his lips. ‘It’s just as well they didn’t hear me. They might have thought that Mitch Rawson was cracking up.”
A shadow crossed Bill Maitland’s clean, square-cut feature.
‘You’ll never crack up, Mitch. Not you.’
Mitch Rawson smiled bitterly.
‘Thanks for the kind words, Bill. But I’m not so sure. I can’t forget that first test flight – when Pete Tracey was killed. I keep dreaming that I’m up there, in his place, with the Skystreak shaking to pieces around me.’
Rawson’s voice trailed. He could remember it vividly, the day that young Pete Tracey had first flown the prototype of the Skystreak. Mitch could see it now, the slim rocket plane harrowing from the cloud layer, the sudden, disastrous yaw as the aircraft went out of control. The long terrible dive from, which it never pulled out.
‘But you mustn’t think of it Mitch.’ Maitland’s voice cut across the other’s uneasy thoughts. ‘What happened to Pete was nothing to do with the aircraft. We all know that.’
‘Yes.’ Mitch got up slowly, walked over to the window. ‘the experts are pretty convinced that Tracey must have blacked out. But no-one can really sure what happened up there.’
Bill Maitland smiled. That’s why they’ve handed the job to you, Mitch. That’s why they pulled you out of retirement at the age of 48
to tame the Skystreak.’