10 Seconds To Disaster Page : Fighter Pilots War Story
‘I could have used that clue,’ he thought bitterly. ‘But now they’ve dropped me tossed me away like a broken toy.’
The pilot’s dazed, stumbling steps had taken him to the door of the locker room. Bill Maitland was struggling into his pressure suit as Mitch walked in. The young pilot looked up sheepishly. ‘Hello! Mitch. I guess you’ve heard that-that .’
‘that you’re flying the Skystreak?’ Mitch forced a grin. ‘sure, Bill – I heard. And the ship couldn’t be in better hands. I just dropped by to wish you luck.’
Maitland gestured hopelessly. I’m sorry, Mitch – really sorry. In my book, you’re still the man for this job.’
Mitch shrugged. ‘I wish they all felt the same as you, Bill. But that’s the way it goes.’ He moved closer to the younger man. ‘Here, let me help you with those zips.’
Burn-out and After
By now, the engineers and the technicians – the men who had developed the Skystreak – were assembled in the control tower. Soon, they would know if their gleaming brainchild was a brilliant, aeronautical milestone, or just a streamlined death-trap for anyone who tried flying her. Ten minutes before take-off, they saw the helmeted, white-clad figure plod out to the waiting aircraft.
‘there goes Maitland.’ Henry Norton was standing tensely at the long glass window. ‘It’s up to Bill now.’
The Skystreak’s jets caught with a sudden, whining blast of sound, rattling the windows of the control tower. The aircraft was rolling sleekly down the runway when the door of the control room crashed open behind Henry Norton.
Bill Maitland staggered across the room, nursing the angry red weal on his jaw. ‘Mitch ’ he began hoarsely. ‘He he was helping me get dressed. I just didn’t see the punch coming. When I came round, he’s gone, and my flying gear with him. He-he must have taken my place in the Skystreak.’
‘Good grief!’ Henry Norton looked back towards the runway, in time to see the Skystreak lunge smoothly into the air. The designer strode quickly to the control desk, snatched the microphone from the hands of the open-mouthed controller.
‘Rawson. This Henry Norton. I’ll give you just ten minutes to pancake that aircraft. That’s an order, Rawson!’
Huddled in the skystreak’s cockpit, Mitch grinned tautly and glanced at his altimeter. Already, the needle was flicking one thousand feet. Speed, five hundred.
Mitch opened his throttles. The Skystreak surged with new power, climbing a twin pillar of air, lancing at the cloud layer. He spoke flatly through the howl of the jets.
It’s too late, Norton, I’m halfway there. And as I told you-I’ve just got to make this flight.’ He paused, then added, “Tell Bill I’m sorry about that sock on the jaw. But I think he’ll understand.’
Mitch was through the cloud layer now. Ten seconds ago, the men in the control tower would have heard the shattering thunderclap as the Skystreak went through the sound barrier.
Sixty thousand feet. His head-set crackled. ‘Mitch’ That was Doc Flavell’s voice. ‘this is crazy. You’re in no condition for this test. You’ll kill yourself – perhaps ruin the work of years. Besides, what can you do? You don’t even know the flight plan.’
Mitch glanced at the altimeter. Seventy thousand feet. He began to level out, turning on the wide sweep that would take him back aross the airfield. He spoke breathlessly against the pressure of oxygen cramming into his lungs. I don’t need to know Doc. I’m going to follow the same flight plan as operated by Pete Tracey. I’ve got to find out what happened to Pete.’
Dry-mouthed, Mitch cut the jet engines. For ten seconds of free flight, the Skystreak hurtled silently through the void. Then, automatically, he reached for the rocket switches. He flicked the stud of number one engine, flinching as the giant shoves began.
It was like the dream all over again. As he flicked two, three and four, the sudden blasting surge of the boosters enclosed him in a brutal cocoon sound. The accelerations built frighteningly, cramming him back in his seat with three times the force of gravity.