10 Seconds To Disaster: Fighter Pilots War Story

10 Seconds To Disaster: Fighter Pilots War Story

10 Seconds To Disaster Page [4]: Fighter Pilots War Story

John Flavell smiled gravely. I’ve known Mitch a long time, Henry. I don’t think he’ll let you down.’

Norton nodded, looked thoughtfully back at the Skystreak.

‘Let’s hope not, John. All the same, you’d better give Rawson a thorough check-over. A lot depends on this flight.’

Perhaps John Flavell shared his chief’s misgivings. Later, in the airfield sick quarters, he took long time over Mitch Rawson’s pre-flight medical. At last, Mitch broke the uneasy silence. ‘doc you’ve taken ten minutes to check my heart, blood count, and reflexes. Anything wrong?’

The doctor hesitated, glanced uncomfortably at the veteran pilot. His next words surprised Mitch.

‘Hold out your arms, Mitch – straight in front of you, with your hands close together.’

Mitch obeyed, puzzled and irritated.

‘That’s it – now keep them there.’

After thirty seconds, Mitch felt his fingers beginning to tremble. The trembling grew to a tremor, flowing uncontrollably through his arms.

Mitch dropped his arms as if had been stung. He looked into John Flavell’s eyes, shaken by the concern and sympathy he saw there. ‘Now look, Doc,’ he began harshly, ‘this doesn’t mean a thing. I’m as fit as blazes, I tell you…as fit as any man could be at 48!’

The old doctor was packing his bag, not looking at Mitch. The pilot went on in a desperate rush of words. ‘You know what they’re saying about me, Doc…that I’m finished, too old for this job. But they’re wrong…and I’m going to prove it to them, and to myself. I’ve got to make this flight, Doc. I’ve got to!’

John Flavell looked up, his weathered face betraying nothing. ‘I know, Mitch – I know. Now you’d better get dressed.’

After the medical, Mitch tackled a light breakfast in the airfield canteen. He toyed with the food, disturbed by his encounter with Flavell.

At twenty minutes to take off, he walked out across the tarmac. The Skystreak was already standing on the runway, shimmering sleekly in the sunlight, the crewman fussing with her boosters.

Mitch glanced up, gauging the cloud base through narrowed eyes. ‘About thirty thousand feet,’ he thought. It had been thirty thousand day Pete Tracey died.

His heart was pounding as he entered the glass and aluminum control tower. He was making for the briefing room when a tannoy loudspeaker crackled above his head.

“Will Mitch Rawson please go to the chief designer’s office? Will Mitch Rawson’

Mitch stiffened. What did Henry Norton want to see him about? And why choose his private office? Perhaps he wants to discuss the flight plan in secret,’ the pilot told himself as he retraced his steps, paused outside the door of Norton’s office. He knocked. ‘Come in.’

There were only two men in the room-Henry Norton and John Flavell. The doctor was staring at his shoes as Mitch spoke hesitatingly. ‘You wanted to see me, Mister Norton?’

‘Yes.’ Henry Norton paused, his eye bleak, uncompromising. Then, I’m sorry to have to tell you this Rawson, but I’m taking you off this test. Bill Maitland will be flying the Skystreak.’

Mitch stood there, numbed by the brutal words. His shocked eyes swung to John Flavell. The doctor spoke in an apologetic whisper. I had to tell him, Mitch – for your sake. Your reflexes have slowed up, and you seem to be suffering from some kind of mental stress. You’re in no condition to fly the Skystreak.’

‘But – but you’re wrong doc!’ Mitch struggled for the words. ‘I feel fine. Sure, my fingers shook a little. But what does that prove?’

‘It proves that you’re a big risk, Rawson,’ Henry Norton cut in flatly. ‘After what happened to Tracey, I can’t afford another setback. There are contracts worth millions of pounds hanging on the success of the Skystreak.’

Mitch didn’t speak. The world was crashing around his ears, cruelly, mercilessly.

I’m sorry, Rawson,’ Norton went on. ‘But don’t worry. You’ll be amply compensate for the time you’ve wasted here.’

I’m not worried about money.’ The pilot’s voice was harsh and desperate. ‘Call it what you like-pride-self-respect-but I’ve just got to make this flight!’

It’s no good, Rawson.’

‘You can’t do this Norton!’ Mitch was almost pleading now. I’ve got to fly the Skystreak! Just once – that’s all I ask!’

‘You’re wasting your breath, Rawson.’ The chief of Norton Airframes turned his back, putting an abrupt end to the interview. ‘I just can’t use you.’

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