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10 Seconds To Disaster: Fighter Pilots War Story

10 Seconds To Disaster: Fighter Pilots War Story

10 Seconds To Disaster Page [3]: Fighter Pilots War Story

Mitch hadn’t missed the note of admiration in the younger man’s voice. But it gave him no pleasure. Just lately, he had been finding it hard to live up to the legend of Mitch Rawson – the greatest test pilot of them all. For some reason, he couldn’t forget the death of Pete Tracey. Then there was the dream, night after night, vivid and inescapable. And by day, the lurking fear. He wished suddenly that he had never agreed to fly the Skystreak, even though they were paying him a nice fat fee, enough to buy that garage, to sit back and take it easy for the rest of his life. He turned slowly from the window.

‘Yes, Bill – this flight means a lot to me. But if I hadn’t got in the way, then you, as replacement pilot, would be testing the Skystreak. Yet it doesn’t seem to worry you.’

Maitland’s easy grin widened. ‘Call it a case of hero worship. It’s almost a pleasure to play second fiddle to Mitch Rawson.’

‘But you know what some of those boffins are saying.’ Mitch persisted, ‘that I should never have been brought into the project that I’m too old to fly again.’

‘It’s baloney, Mitch. You’re still on the top shelf.’

Something stirred in Mitch Rawson’s breast the old, deep-rooted pride in the legend he had created. He knew then why he was determined to go through with the flight. He wanted to show them that the legend hadn’t died that Mitch Rawson was the man to tame the Skystreak.

‘What the time, Bill?’

‘Six am. The flight’s scheduled for eight o’clock.’

‘Right.’ Mitch was smiling as he stripped off his dressing gown. ‘Better not keep the egg-heads waiting.’

Unfit to Fly

MitchA crisp wind was blowing in from the sea as Mitch and Bill drove through the gates of Norton Airframes Ltd. The rays of the morning sun bounced off the glass roof of control tower as Mitch drove around the apron, braked outside the big, operational hangar.

Inside the hangar, engineers were already swarming over the slim, silver pencil of the Skystreak, pumping fuel into the conventional jet engines that would lift the aircraft to its maximum operational height of eighty thousand feet, where the rocket boosters would take over.

As Mitch and Bill got out of the car, two men detached themselves from the group of scientists near the rocket plane.

Mitch recognized the lean, businesslike figure of Henry Norton, and the friendly, wholesome bulk of John Flavell, the company’s medical adviser.

Norton greeted the pilots in the hard voice that was typical of the man. “Morning, Bill – Mitch. You’re early.’

‘thought I’d take a quick look at the ship before we got to grips, Mister Norton.’ Mitch glanced at John Flavell. ‘Nothing wrong with that, eh, doc?’ he grinned warmly.

The doctor laughed. ‘they say it’s unlucky to see the bride before the happy event. But then, you were never the superstitious kind were you, Mitch?’

Mitch was about to reply when he noticed that Henry Norton was regarding him keenly.

‘You look a bit pale, Mitch. Feel all right? Get good night’s sleep?’

Mitch glanced quickly at Bill Maitland before forcing a smile. ‘slept like a log, Mister Norton. Don’t worry. I feel fine.’

Mitch nodded towards the Skystreak. Did you find anything?’

Norton shook his head. We’ve been over her with a fine toothcomb, but there’s nothing to indicate that there may have been structural failure in the first prototype. I still think that Tracey had a blackout, probably caused by an oxygen blockage. But we’ve allowed for that….’

Mitch thought again of his dream, the blinding flash, and the slow horrible disintegration. What had happened to Pete Tracey?

Norton glanced at his watch? ‘time’s getting on, Mitch. Soon as you’re through with your medical, I’ll see you in the briefing room. I want to make a slight alteration in the flight plan.’

‘Okay, Mister Norton.’ Mitch threw a parting grin at John Flavell. I’m bit worried about Rawson, John. He looks restless-on edge, somehow.’

‘that’s normal, Henry,’ Flavell said. He’s probably keyed-up for the test.’

Norton glanced sharply at the doctor. ‘I might have expected that from you, John. Rawson’s an old friend of yours. It was you who persuaded me to contract him to fly Skystreak. I hope I don’t regret the decision.’

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