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‘The Jesus Christ Wire’
By Brian Worth
So far it had gone well, I had completed 3 touch-and-go’s and five traps and was holding in the Delta. The radio crackles in my helmet, ’Signal Charlie!’ Our authority to enter the landing pattern on the carrier.
‘Tail hook down,’ I order as the four aircraft departed the Delta descending to 500 feet flying parallel to the ship, offset slightly to starboard, aircraft clean as the formation slowed to 110 knots. We were number two. Sneaked a quick peek at the ship steaming into wind with 35 knot of wind over the deck. Clear blue sky with a few white caps.
Ideal! Still awfully damn small.
The bow disappears behind my left engine nacelle as ‘Lead’ breaks left, start the timing-15 seconds. ‘Okay, break now,’ prompts Jack.
Forty-five degrees of bank through ninety degrees then ease to thirty, gear and flaps down, mixture rich, emergency hatches open. Descend to 350 feet, speed 95 knots, aircraft trimmed hands-off. Roll out on reverse course. The ship is now steaming towards me on the left. All set up.
“Shit, she’s comin’ fast!’
‘Yup, 35 knots wind up your ass,’ says Jack, ‘you’ll have to start your turn after your wing goes past the island or you’ll be too long on final. Got ‘nother guy on yer ass 15 seconds back. They’ll wave you off if you’re too long in the groove.
‘Start yer turn now!
Twenty degrees of bank, level turn, pitch full fine.
“Landing check complete, “ assures Jack as he turns off the anti-collision lights.
Check speed, coming back to 90 knots. Reference that with Safe Flight Indicator on my glare-shield in front of my eyes.
Crosschecks okay so forget the airspeed, fly the SFI.
Look for ‘The Meatball’.
‘Lookin’ good, little tight maybe, ease up the turn slightly, get across the wake, eh,’ Jack coaches.
I shift my ass in the seat and shake my throttle hand to loosen it. Don’t squeeze the throttles. Nerves!
Speed 93 knots, too high, raise the nose and trim off the pressure. There, a solid 90 knots,
‘Lookin’ good!’ I assured myself, ‘Okay, Boy Wonder, now keep ‘er comin’.’
‘Got the ball, Jack!’ Shows on glide path, speeds good, now look for the line-up.
Jack is on the radio,“ 95, props, ball, Worth, 95”
“Roger Ball,” crackles Paddles.
Good, across the wake, rolling out of the turn right in the groove. Nailed line up, twenty seconds to touchdown.
Ball’s going a little low; add power, not too much, back on glide path. Meatball’s sliding a tad high, ease off the power. Stabilize, stabilize…
Drifting a little left, not much, there, caught it!
Wham! Hit the deck!
Full power! Ahh, the arrester gear shudders us to a halt.
‘Jesus Christ!’ Can’t see anything outside my windscreens but ocean.
I’ve hooked the sixth and last arrestor wire a little to the left of the centre line and now clearly realized why it was called ‘the ‘Jesus Christ’ Wire’!’
‘Power off, power off!’ Jack yells.
Jack brings the flaps up, starts the wings folding. Hook was still down though, have to use it and the arrestor wire to pull us back far enough from the deck edge to allow a turn to clear the landing area.
Pulled back, doesn’t seem far enough!
‘Hook up!’ Hard right brake, full power, look for the marshaller, crossed the safety line.
‘Wham!’ the aircraft behind us thunders onto the deck, engines roar to full power then abruptly back to idle.
Flight Deck Chief directs us up to parking in the bow. Give us the signal to cut the engines. Mixture idle cut-off, magneto switches off, dress number 1 prop.
It’s never silent on a carrier but I enjoy about 5 seconds of solitude as the ship gently pitches and rolls, a hint of salt spray drifts down through the open overhead hatch.
It hadn’t been pretty but now at last I can call myself a carrier pilot.
Jack snaps me out of my reverie,‘C’mon, let’s get our asses to de-briefing.’
We settled at altitude and were suspended, at twilight, as if on glass, with no sense of motion. The brilliant red horizon muted to orange, which melted to soft yellow; then green before darkening overhead through blue to purple and finally to black strewn with glistening points of stars and planets. Venus, strong and brilliant on the western horizon, beckoned us on and a full moon, low to the south, bathed our wings and propeller arcs with a soft white light.
We had emerged from the maelstrom of an Arctic blizzard and the four engines droned in the background. Everyone’s ‘house keeping chores’ were complete. The controllers were satisfied, command had been notified, our navigator was comfortable within his skin and Red, the flight engineer, was assured that all systems aboard were operating within parameters. Our routine was set.
“Some classical music on radio two,” whispered the navigator and the Blue Danube Waltz flooded my headset. For a minute I was transported; in another world, and then a thought. I unplugged the autopilot, applied gentle backpressure on the yolk and let go. The aircraft’s nose rose slowly above the horizon, the speed bled off, lift on the wing decreased, the nose fell gently below the horizon, speed built up, lift increased and the nose arced slowly to the stars. There we were, cradled in a sinuous wave, on a palette of colour, adrift on the sensuous Blue Danube. No one spoke.
A Moment In Time
By Brian Worth
The Old Guy from the West Side
By Lloyd Anderson Brooks
Into my office he walked quite ordinarily, envelope in hand. “I got this letter from Transport,” he said, “and I thought you could help.” He was an old guy from the West-side Hangars, and Transport Canada wanted a practical hearing test. “Not a problem,” I said, “just a quick flight out of the zone and back.” He was different, I thought—he wasn’t nervous, his voice was calm and purposeful, and he had a certain familiarity in his eyes—clearly, he was not a foreigner to a flight school. Normally, guys who walk in are just a little uneasy, appearing somewhat awkward, and hesitant. This guy, perhaps in his seventies, was perfectly comfortable; he clearly knew what a flying school is and what a flight instructor does.
Our conversation was brief and efficient. We discussed the process—the exercises and the report. At one point he asked what airplane we would use. “Well,” I asked, “what do you fly?” “Oh, well, I got a homebuilt on the west side,” he said. “That’ll be fine,” I said. We booked the appointment for the next week, and I told him to just taxi over. He smiled—“That’s good, see you then.”
It was blue in colour, and at first appeared quite plain. It was when we climbed in that I first became aware of the details—a combination of wood and tin, perfect cut and fit, and perfectly varnished to expose the grain. The paint on the panel was detailed, tightly housing the instruments, all polished with dedication and care. Clearly, this aircraft had been the object of love over many, many years.
We sorted out the intercom and he brought the engine to life—she purred for him. We talked as we taxied. He was a flight instructor during the war. His brief description was shrouded with modesty—something that perhaps came naturally with his age. But I knew instantly the real meaning of his achievement—he had led his generation into the air in preparation for the greatest struggle of the 20th Century, trying in suppress terror and instill confidence so as to pass on the skills required to survive in a hostile sky. As the engine roared and the prop pulled the airframe gracefully into the air—above the traffic below, above the trees—he transitioned agelessly into the familiar world that he has known for perhaps fifty-odd years. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his eyes, and the love they expressed for this launch, with the earth falling away as it has so many times in his past. He was a master of the stick and pedals, connected as one by his left hand to the airframe, with gentleness and precision. As he guided the ship up and away, I thought of the thousands of takeoffs he must have done in his life, of the days when he, as a young man, prepared his students for the peril ahead. Surely he must have known that many of his students would not survive the conflict overseas; he must have known that he had precious little time to expose them to the hazardous corners of flight—let alone the more ominous risks of combative flying.
When it was over, he managed to keep his licence—there was never any doubt that he was a master pilot. Later, when I periodically saw him takeoff or land, I would pause and reflect—for me, he was a hero from a whole generation packed with heroic men and women. Then, only two or three years later, he departed the airport for the last time, never to return. He and his beautiful flying machine went missing. His friends did all they could, organizing search flights when the weather cleared, but it was no use. He was gone. When I got the news, I remember gazing out onto the quiet runway shrouded in the soft light of a winter afternoon, pondering his achievements during his lifetime of flying—his leading of his generation into the air, at a time when all had to be brave.
I'm the Co-pilot
by Bill Wickland, Co-pilot
I’m the Co-pilot, I sit on the right
I’m not important, just part of the flight
I never talk back lest I have regrets,
But I have to remember what the Pilot forgets.
I make out flight plans, study the weather,
Pull up the gear and stand by to feather,
Fill out the form and do the reporting,
Fly the old crate when the Pilots are courting.
I take the readings, adjust the power,
Handle the flaps and call the tower,
Find our position on the darkest of nights,
And do all the bookwork without any lights.
I call for my Pilot and buy him cokes,
I always laugh at his corny jokes
And once in a while, when his landings are rusty,
I’m right on the spot with “Gawd, but it’s gusty!”
All in all I’m a general stooge,
As I sit on the right of the man I call “Scrooge.”
I guess you think that it’s past understanding,
But maybe, some day, he’ll give me a landing.
A Christmas Story
By Captain Ken Buchholtz
The weather briefing at the Burley FSS indicates VFR conditions along my route. “If you can get past some low cloud around Twin Falls you will be OK”—so said the weather briefer. I set out on the first leg of the day—Burley Id. to Nampa, leg 2 to Ephrata Wa., then leg 3, home to Vernon BC.
As I fly past Twin Falls the weather isn’t bad at all. I’m relieved as this area is supposedly the only “bottleneck” and I’m looking forward to getting home. The ceiling has lowered a bit but is OK. I continue.
I’m a 19 year old commercial pilot returning from a vacation in Arizona, flying an aircraft a year older than me—a 1947 Cessna 120. It has an 85hp Continental with electrics and a primary panel with a Narco Omnigator. This “modern radio” has 5 transmitting crystals! To receive, you crank the tuning handle to find the correct frequency or you could receive on the VOR frequency!
The ceiling is getting lower and the visibility is reducing. Hmm—the briefer indicated conditions should improve. I continue, expecting the improvement up ahead. I’m following the hi-way toward Boise, watching closely for a railway that heads west toward Nampa. Good, there it is. I turn left and start following the railway. I’m now below 1000’ AGL. I continue, descending as the ceiling lowers and the forward visibility worsens. I’m wondering why the weather isn’t improving like my weather briefing indicated it would. (Ever hear of an upslope condition?) (ICE FOG!) I can’t be that far from Nampa?—What’s a little weather?
Flying in poor weather—isn’t that the bush pilot legacy? I press on.
I continue to monitor the engine for any indications of carb ice, checking and applying carb heat regularly. I’m low now—and the visibility is poor. I slow the Cessna 120 to allow more reaction time. I fly with the railway in sight out my left window, watching ahead for obstacles. Boy, this is getting to be hard work! As cold as it is outside, I seem to be rather warm—must be my layers of winter clothing.
I HAVE to be almost at Nampa!
I’m lower still—The visibility worse—Have to be real careful—Tall trees—I ease the Cessna 120 up a bit for extra clearance—This is not good—I’m in trouble—I’m flying at about 100 ft AGL—have less than 1/2 mile visibility—Can’t turn around now—no place to go—Not very smart!
I remembered someone saying “the only thing worse than being on the ground wishing you were in the air—is being in the air wishing you were on the ground”
I want to land—LAND!—How am I going to find the airport? I’ve only been to Nampa once before and the weather was CAVU.
I know—I’ll fly to the town—then fly ½ mile parallel tracks north and south. The airport is slightly north east of town with the hi-way to the north and the railway to the south.
(Have you ever found yourself remembering things you didn’t think you knew??)
I remembered the railway ran directly into the industrial area of town and there was a factory with a tall smoke stack—Careful—I’m getting close—There—The smoke stack looms out of the ice fog.
I make my 180’ turn around the stack and position myself for the grid pattern I intend to fly.
Just then an “inner voice” says—“go this direction”. Curious—I follow, knowing I can always pickup the railway to the south again. “Now go this direction”. As I peer intently into the ice fog, a metal roofed barn comes dimly into view. I vaguely remember a similar looking building near the airport. I fly toward the barn.
It’s the tarmac turnabout at the runway button.
I turn, throttle back and land.
Relief floods over me.
I made it! Thank you Lord!
I don’t see the airport buildings until I reach the taxiway at midfield. The airport seems deserted as I taxi up to the pumps.
Then the “Gas Jockey”, a fellow a few years younger than me, approaches to help with the refueling.
“You picked up a bit of ice” he says.
“Only a little” I reply: “I kept a close watch and applied carb heat regular” “No—on your wings” I turn and look. WHOA! There is clear ice all along the wing spreading back from the leading edge. I was so concerned about carb ice I never even thought about any other kind of ice!
We finish fuelling and tie the Cessna 120 down. My flying is done for the day. So much for getting home, but I’m thankful I’m down safe.
I only have a gas credit card and $20 cash. (No such things as bank cards back then) I make arrangements with the gas jockey to spend the night in the hangar. It is COLD. I roll out my sleeping bag on the front seat of an old pickup truck parked in the hangar and, removing only my boots and winter coat, I crawl in.
I fall asleep thinking of my family, feeling very much alone.
It’s Christmas Eve—
When I wake I try to drink from my thermos only to find the contents had crystallized overnight from the cold. I make my way to the washroom hoping there would be hot water to wash and shave. There isn’t. Oh well, at least the cold water pipe didn’t freeze.
The weather is no better than the previous day. I won’t be flying any where. At noon I walk (trudge) towards town, feeling sorry for myself. It is my first Christmas alone, away from home and family. Finding a corner store open, I buy a quart of milk, a can of “Klick” sandwich meat, and a loaf of bread. Christmas dinner!
As I plod through the snow toward the airport a vehicle pulls up beside me. It’s the airport gas jockey. “Hi, you’re coming to our place for dinner” “No—Christmas is a Family time—thanks anyway”. I had been traveling a couple of days – slept in my clothes, was disheveled and feeling somewhat grubby, so didn’t’ really want to go with him. Yet—I longed for that family time. “My parents told me I wasn’t to come home without you” he explained. I get in the car. I feel even more uncomfortable when he tells me he has 3 sisters—2 of them around my age. I mean —I’m grubby, embarrassed, feeling out of place.
His family welcomes me into their home, making me feel at ease. The Family is of European descent and the dinner is a fabulous multiple dish spread. They treat me as a Special Guest! Unknown to me, the father has already booked and paid for a motel room for me for the night.
The next morning the weather improves and I am able to continue my flight home.
Over the years, I’ve worked numerous Christmases away from my Family (it’s called “juniority”). I have told this story of warmth and kindness and giving, a countless times, around the world, to fellow crew members.
I would like to once again thank the Hansen Family of Nampa Idaho for sharing their “Spirit of Christmas” with me.
It was an unforgettable “Christmas of 1967”.
To all my Friends I would like to extend “best wishes” this Christmas season.
“I cannot imagine anyone looking at the sky and denying God.”—Abraham Lincoln
"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."—Leonardo da Vinci
by Brian Worth, former Canadian Navy and Airline Pilot.
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Dead wheat stocks, sparse after harvest, bent to the chilling wind above the crusty snow as the old goose struggled up the knoll. Brant had seen better days. Over the years he’d flown close to 60,000 miles fleeing winter with Hilda, his mate, on his wing and had helped her raise twenty-seven goslings to maturity. Oh, they’d lost some too, to foxes, coyotes, disease and the great pike that patrolled the lagoons; that was normal but on the whole he and Hilda had been very successful. They’d lost a few mysteriously during the long flights and he wasn’t sure why or what had happened, just a loud bang and they fluttered down or just fell out of control and were grabbed by a large animal that swam in the water. It had been disturbing to Hilda especially but now she too was gone, some two cycles now, and he missed her; missed her a lot.
He tried, half heartedly, to meet new females but they didn’t share his history and weren’t really interested in an old goose; they were of a different generation and he was past his prime but somehow he was content with his lot.
His left foot was permanently locked, clenched in a ball after he’d been bitten by the coyote while rescuing his son Horace and now sore chest muscles, weakened from a several imbedded pellets, made take-offs painful. In flight it was a struggle to gain the needed altitude for the journey and he could only fly for a fraction of the time of the younger geese so, many weeks ago they’d gone without him. Despite all the years and his frailties, pride shone through even as he hobbled up the hill.
Cresting the knoll Brant pecked at a few grains of wheat on a bare spot then plotted his route. Take-off from the hill top would be easier and he could manage a glide most of the way; down the slope, over that frozen pond, an easy right turn down the valley towards that column of steam where he knew there was open water which meant food and safety. With luck, the tail wind and a half dozen wing beats he would get there with ease.
He gathered himself, took a deep breath and started; a flap of the wings, slap of the good foot, thump of the bad, “flap, slap, thump, “ouch”, flap, slap, thump, “ow-ow! Damn, that’s hard on my foot. Ah, there, we’re airborne. Now, suck up the feet and glide down the hill.” He couldn’t fully retract his knotted left foot and it dangled in the air stream causing some drag. “Stay low, stay low, there’s that cushion of air under my wings; enough speed, couple of more flaps, now gently pull up and set a glide for distance. There, nice and comfy, frozen pond’s coming up, there’s the valley and the steam to the right, looking good, now start your bank……
What was that noise?” He cackled in response then listened, “There, there it is again. Who the heck is out here alone at this time of year?”
He thought, “Okay, I’m high enough, if I do a circle here I’ll still be in good enough shape to make open water. So, here we go; drop the left wing and let’s go around and have a look.” He wheeled around scanning the pond and there, in the dried reeds at the edge was a young goose jumping and flapping and cackling and honking in desperation.
“There goes my easy glide to the open water,” he growled to himself. “But I gotta drop in on this ‘kook’; he must be lonely as well as crazy and besides, it’s been ages since I’ve talked to another goose and he’s clearly in distress.”
He assessed the landing area, “clear, smooth, wind blown ice; wind from the shore so I can land towards the goose, no obstacles on the approach, overshoot area is clear. I’ll try my feet but prepared to bring them up if need be. That’s pretty much everything covered so here we go. Descent is good, glide looks good, speed’s bleeding off, little more nose up, arch wings and spread the feathers; couple of flaps, ah, touchdown. Now ease the pressure and let ‘er slide.” His gnarled left foot dragged too much so he just set down on his chest feathers and slid on the ice; still some drag from that left foot and then he felt the snow crust gently touch his right chest as he slid sideways to the shore. Standing up he spread and refolded his wings and shook his feathers back into place.
Honking happily, the young gander ran, wings spread, and tripped into a somersault, regained his feet and stumbled again into a flurry of feathers, beak and feet.
Brant jumped back and hissed a warning, “Watch out kid, easy does it, calm down.
What’s the ruckus; all this honkin’ and hollerin’; who are you, what’s it about and just what the heck are you doin’ out here at this time of year all alone?”
“My name isch Vipesch, schort for Parvipesch, my friends call me Vipesch, when I had friendsch; only had one really, Moffitt isch hisch name. Good gander, eh; great gander; bescht friend, great cschum. He and I could talk, talked for hoursch and hoursch but he’sch gone now, flew to the food, eh. Left many daysch ago now….I missch him scho musch…..”
Brant cocked his head to the left, “Hold it kid, slow down; yer goin’ waaay too fast for this old bird and you’re slurrin’ yer words so slow down; take breath here! And talk into my right ear here, deef in the left, eh, ever since a near miss.”
The young goose started again, slowly and loud, “My name isch Vipesch, short for Parvipesch….”
Brant cut him short, “Again, t’ my right ear son, t’ my right ear, remember? Now you say your name is Vipes, short for Parvipes; that what yer sayin’?”
Vipesch nodded and continued shouting, “Yesch, that’sch what I schaid.”
“Strange name son…..family name is it?”
“Yesch, wasch my fathersch, grand-father before him, great-grandfather, great-great-grand-father and my great…………”
“Yes, yes, yes, I get the picture. N’ stop yellin’, I’m hard of hearin’, not totally deef.
Hmmm, ‘s nice name, Parvipes; strong; some history in it; family, very important family. Vipes is an okay name too.
So, Vipes, what’s with the speech? Kinda hard to understand when you go too fast so keep it slow; hard for this near deaf old gander.”
“Itsch a lischp; had for asch long asch I can remember. Even in the egg when I talked to my mother; you talked to your mother while you were in the egg didn’t you?”
Brand nodded, “Um, well, don’t we all; it’s natural isn’t it?”
“There’s no ess on that son, just say ‘anyway’.”
Vipes did a double take, “You schure?”
Brant nodded again, “Yes, I’m sure. Hilda always corrected me on that one.”
Vipes wandered as he talked, “Tschank goodnesch for schmall mercschies. Anyway,” he paused looking for approval, “even in the egg I lischped and only my mother could underschtand me. Fruschtrated the heck outta my father; drove him to dischtracschtion. Oh, he’d try alright but then he’d juscht give up in a hissch. I’ve lischped all my life; pain in the ankle really but I manage, schorta. Really hate esschesch though.” He stopped for a bit, poked at a clump of grass hoping for some food and then looked back over his shoulder, “Anyways……, ah, anyway that’sch why I hardly ever hissch; avoid hissching like the plague.”
Brant hobbled over to a dried clump and poked around, “Why are you still here,” he found several seeds and pecked at them making sure not to miss any, “why haven’t you gone with the others; all the signs have come and gone; the leaves turning, cold mornings, the ice,” he nodded to the lake?
Vipes paused; head hung low, “I can’t fly,’ he mumbled.
A couple of seeds dropped from Brant’s beak as his head snapped up, “Eh, what’s that? Say that again. Did I hear you correctly? You can’t fly? Every goose can fly; Geese fly or die; that’s like, the law!”
“I can’t fly.”
Brant gaped, “Now that’s hard to believe, son; n’ weird too; no, not weird, tragic. How the heck did that ever happen?”
“Timing, schir, juscht bad luck, poor timing and a double tragedy. I’d juscht learned to feed mychself; Mom taught me; early in the warm time, eh. Dad tried to defend me and Mom but wasch schnatched by schome schort of animal; big and black; a coyote Mom told me. Killed him and then, daysch later Mom schickened and died too; like to believe from a broken heart but I think it was from the bite.
Scho there wasch nobody to teasch me how to fly and the othersch schunned me; all exschept my friend Moffitt, eh, but he wasch pretty buschy learning himschelf; couldn’t help me very musch until it was too late and he had to fly away. Never got airborne.”
Brant shook his head, “Well, that is some hard grass to pull, son; tough seeds to find; I sympathize.” There was a long pause as he stared over the icy lake, “Hilda went suddenly too.” To the sky he whispered, “I miss you Honey.”
He then cocked his head as if listening to someone, “What, me……instruct this…..,” he pointed at Vipes, “ him? You figure?”
Another pause and then he shrugged, “Yes dear, yer right. Yer always right.”
“Well you know, Sweetie, I’m not the gander I once was but I think I can……., that is if he’s willing to listen.”
He nodded and turned to Vipes, “I’ll teach you to fly.”
“Who are you talking to?’ Then he gaped, a bit of dried grass hung from his bill, “You’ll what………teach me……to fly, I mean, really fly; me; to fly? You’d do that for me…..schir?” Again he gaped.
“No, not for you, Kid; for Hilda; she wants me to. Always do what she says. And by the way, don’t ‘sir’ me;” he said gruffly, “Brant will do just fine. It’ll be hard work, require a lot of sacrifice on your part but if you put in the effort, I’ll teach you to fly.”
Vipes recovered; a little double take, a quizzical look and peering about, “Who’sch Hilda?”
Brant grumbled, “None of yer business Kid,” then paused, listening again, “Yes Dear, yer right as usual.”
He shrugged, “I apologise Kid; it was rude of me.
Well, lemme see; aah, Hilda was my mate; and ummm, she’s…….gone……yes, gone now; bin a long while……too long. Still talks to me; keeps me on the straight and narrow.”
Brant stretched out a wing tip and pushed up, “C’mon, Kid, close yer beak; let’s at least look professional, eh? And another thing, from now on when we’re dealing with aviation your call sign is ‘Viper’, got that?”
His beak snapped shut, “Why ‘Viper; why not my name, Vipesch……….,oh, yesch, I schee, no esch. Yesch schir, Viper it isch, schir. Now when do we schtart…… flying….flying that isch…..schir…….schorry…… schir, er, Brant?”
“In the morning, bright and early,” Brant scratched his head with his crippled foot, “But not here. Can’t teach you here; take far too long and we’d starve to death before we got you airborne so I’m going to fly down that valley yonder to the open water a have a good meal; you’ll hafta walk, eh. So, you, you start walkin’; taint far, should be there by dawn; that’s when your first lesson starts.
Viper, beak open again, gazed down the valley then back at Brant then down the valley again then at Brant, “you scherious?”
“Very serious; no sense both of us bein’ hungry, right?”
Viper’s beak snapped shut, “Uh, okay, I guessch.”
Then something on Brant’s mangled left foot caught his attention, “Whatsch that?”
“None of yer business, kid.”
“Schorry, juscht curiousch.”
Brant turned again, listening and then sighed, nodded, took several paces, stopped and over his shoulder said, “Hilda wants me to apologize again, so, I’m sorry I snapped at you and; if you must know, it’s an old war wound. Coyote was trying to kill my eldest but I fixed him; bit me hard though. I limp and cold affects it but I manage.”
“No, not that,” Vipes pecked at a bright ring around Brant’s left leg, “that ring?”
“Oh that; well, when I was young, just a gosling, some kinda huge ugly beast pulled me, my brothers and sisters out of the nest and put these on each of us; doesn’t bother me; strange, eh?”
Viper touched it with his beak, “and thosch marks on it?”
“Dunno, s’ not important; so enough cacklin’ and honkin’, time to get on with it Kid so, you’d better start walkin’.
I’m getting’ peckish so I’ll be off. Now remember, Kid, crack o’ dawn!”
He turned and straining to get airborne as he started his take-off run; flap, slap, thump, “ow”; flap, slap, thump, “ow”, “I’m getting’ far too old for this,” he complained. “One more flap should do it.” Flap, slap, thump, “ow-ow-ow.” Airborne, he turned his head, “See ya in the mornin’ Viper.”
Viper stared after him until he disappeared down the valley into the gathering gloom.
“Gruff old coot; kinda like him,” he thought, “would have liked to have met his Hilda though. Had t’ave been one schtrong minded goosch to keep him in line.”
The valley shone a blue white as the brilliant full moon almost banished the black from the night sky. To the north, horizon to horizon, the aurora, like a long veil in a breeze, flowed, waved green and yellow. Delicate sheets of red appeared, danced shyly then melted back into the yellow green flow only to creep back in a different place.
With a clear moon shadow behind him Viper waddled his way down the valley atop the crusted snow occasionally settling on his chest to slide down welcome steeper slopes.
He froze. Above the soft moan of the wind he thought he heard something. There it was, again, the crunch of breaking snow and laboured breathing. He hunkered down. Then, to his left, a dark figure, with the easy gait of a practiced hunter, loped directly towards him.
Instinct told Viper he had to make himself a large as possible and just as he was about to rise with wings spread and hissing; the black spectre, tongue hanging over glistening fangs, started a casual turn down the valley. A white eye stared blindly out of a scarred socket.
Viper, senses straining, barely breathing remained frozen, heart pounding, until the crunching and panting faded. It was some time before he felt safe enough to re-start his trek.
Dawn broke on a bitterly clear, cold day, wind calm and thin wisps of arctic sea smoke rose from the water around a mound in the middle of the pond. A nest rested atop the mound.
Viper collapsed, full length, at the water’s edge then let out a weary cry, “Ho-onk-onk-onk, ho-onk-onk-onk, honk, honk!”
“Quiet, you’ll wake the dead!” A neck unfolded from the nest and sea smoke. “Well, see ya made it kid. Good; bin waitin’ for ya.
What’s the matter, Kid; you look terrible; something happen?”
A confused and jumbled account of the close encounter with the spectre erupted.
“Whoa, whoa, Kid, whoa, slow down Kid; and remember, right ear; little deef? Now, take a deep breath and start from the beginning.”
Viper related his story.
“Ah, you met Cy then.” Brant chuckled, “that eye thing was my doin’; the white one I mean. Was attacking my eldest but I fixed ‘im. Layed a good beatin’ on to him; set him straight. Yup, managed to peck out one of his eyes but,” he held up his gnarled foot, “gave me this though. So, now I’ve a gimpy leg but he’s blind to his left. Think he got the short end of that stick.
You know, y’er extremely lucky; musta bin down wind and in his blind spot. Probably never had a clue you were there. Rarely count on that though. Good hunter normally; gotta give old ‘one eye’ some respect and a wide berth.
Well, enough of that. Now I know yer all tuckered out but there’s no time to rest. First you’d better get a good meal. First rule; never fly on an empty stomach; make you sick so, you just drag that sorry body over to the shallows over there,” he pointed with his beak, “and dabble yerself a good meal. You’ll be a while so, give me a call when you’re full,” and with that Brant’s head folded back under his wing.
“HONK, HONK! Hey, wakey, wakey rise and shine, kid! S’good day fer aviatin’!”
Viper, fast asleep, had drifted and was bobbing lightly against a clump of dried reeds. His head snapped up from under his wing as he desperately tried to get his bearings, “Who, whaa…yeah Ma; I’m awake, I’m awa….huh, what? Oh, itsch you Brant, muschta drifted off…..long night; schorry.”
“Understandable Viper but time waits for no goose.”
Viper yawned, as his head folded back towards his wing, “Right Brant, but kin ya juscht let me get a few more winksch, pleasche.”
“No way Viper, that’s no way to approach your first day of ground school! Now what we’ve got to do is work on your strength; toughen those flabby chest muscles of yours,” Brant poked him in the chest. “So, you see that old tree at the end of the pond; roots up in the air? I want you to swim down and back four times and all the while I want to see you beating your wings hard; gotta get those chest muscles in shape; I want noise too; and lots of it; I wanna see strain, effort, desire so git adder,” he pointed down the pond, “And, while yer doin’ that I’m going to have breakfast so, off you go.” With that Brant’s head disappeared below the water.
Viper finished the four and, chest heaving, gasped for breath.
“Okay Kid, pay attention here, this is important! What you don’t know could kill ya. May seem dull, may seem petty and unimportant but you need to know this stuff cold so listen up here!”
Viper struggled to keep his eyes open as Brant laid out the aerodynamics of the wings and tail; the effects of drag from the feet; how to plan a take–off and climb out; what dangers to look for during the approach, landing and, if required, an overshoot.
They broke for a noon dabble then right back at it. As it darkened Brant watched as Viper struggled to stay awake, “Okay, Kid, enough for the first day but tonight I want you to think of what we’ve talked about and I want you to know it cold. There’ll be a quiz at first light, zero dark thirty, and you better know it or there’ll be extra laps before breakfast. By the way, pass marks 85; for every mark below that you owe me four extra laps, got it?”
Wearily Viper bobbed his head.
“Tomorrow we’ll talk about feathers; what they do for us; what signals they give and how to care for them. And then we’ll touch on weather.
Now, more work on those chest muscles, another four times to the tree; and no doggin’ it, then were finished for the day.”
Viper stared blankly.
Brant growled, “So, what’s holdin’ ya up there kid? Am I standin’ on yer foot? Get on with it; off you go and then let’s eat.” With that Brant turned and began to dabble for food as Viper set off flapping and honking.
At dawn, day two; grey, cold and misty. “Kid, you let me down; failed by one answer so, before we start, check out that old tree an extra four more times. And this afternoon you’ll do another eight.
Viper slid in, gasping after eight laps and nodded.
“Good, now a quick breakfast and we start day two of ground school.”
They drifted on the water as Brant, Viper at his side, covered the day’s lesson. They talked feathers; how they make everything work, provide warmth, smooth the airflow over the wings; how to change wing shape for different phases of flight. They covered care and maintenance; how and why to preen; what to do if a feather breaks and then, just before lunch, Brant discussed how the feathers on top of the wings begin to flutter as you approach the stall and thus give you a warning.
They broke for lunch.
“How ya doin’, Buddy?”
Brant, reacting instinctively with wings spread and pumping was almost airborne as a loon burst out of the water a beaks length in front of him. He settled back, “Laurie, cut that out! How many times have I told you, don’t sneak up on me like that! Scared the heck outta me! One of these days you’ll do that and the old pump’ll quit. I’ll be in the bone yard and who’d look out for you then? Geeze!”
The loon rapidly carved tight figure eights in front of Brant, “Sorry, forgot. Yes, I remember, don’t pop up, scares ya, aaaand come from the right, yup, yer deaf, well, left ear, eh; yup, come to the right, from the right, yup, yup; won’t forget again; promise, promise; really, I’ll work on it.”
Composing himself Brant sternly took Laurie to task, “Yeah, right; you do it every time and every time you say you won’t forget. How many times have we talked about this; how long has it been; two…..three years now?”
“Two; but they’ve been two great years, eh? Lotta fun, lotta laughs…great time, yup, yup…great time.”
Brant, beak wide open, was just about to continue his rant when Laurie interrupted, “Who’s the kid, the kid, who’s the kid; come on here, where are your manners Brant, who’s the kid here; who’s the kid; who, who, the kid, the kid….here, the kid? ” He stopped and looked at Viper, “Good lookin’ kid; uh….. goose; well, as geese go, eh.” He chuckled, “Always thought you geese were too big, well…..big’s a relative thing, eh, but you’ve gotta admit, you are pretty big; compared to me.”
Brant’s beak snapped shut and he looked puzzled. “Huh, what………..? Oh yeah, this is Viper, he’s a gander; met him last evening on that frozen pond; you know, the one up the valley? Had a run in, a near miss with old Cy last night.”
Laurie interrupted, “You hear that?” and he disappeared leaving only a slight ripple.
Brant waited patiently, “He’ll be back in a sec; does this all the time.”
A minute later Laurie popped up again, “Was George, you know, the muskrat; down by the pipe; big family? Nice rat, I mean, really, really great rat. Anyway, says he doin’ well; n’ was askin’ about ya.
So, met Cy last night didja,” He poked Viper in the chest. “Gotta watch out for Old Cy ya know. Yup, yup, Old Cy……., short for cyclops…..you know, the one eyed monster thing…..anyway; oh and he’s a gamer…….., can be bested though, it’s hard but it can be done. Brant here……”
Brant had placed a wing tip over Laurie’s beak, “Laurie, slow down old friend and I’ll try and introduce you two. Laurie, meet Viper; Viper, Laurie; my oldest and dearest friend.”
Viper opened his mouth as if to say something when Laurie began again, “Hi Kid, soooo, you met old Cy, eh? And you survived; rare, really rare; good hunter Cy is. ‘S created panic around here several times what with his preying on the young ones. Had a go at me once but I just dived away.
Brant and he got into it once. Cy lost his eye,” he chuckled, “That’s a good one; Cy…eye, heh, heh, good un that; but gave good as he got.” He pointed at Brant’s foot, “Anyway, that’s where he got that gimpy leg.” He pecked at the ring on and looked up at Brant, “Really like that bauble, eh. Can arrange one; for me? Maybe yours, when you…………ah, well, you know.”
He turned to Viper, “Anyway, you be careful of old Cy.
Gotta go. Saw some trout down by that pipe at the end of the pond; feelin’ peckish. Pleased ta meetcha Kid, see ya,” he disappeared barely leaving a ripple. Several minutes later Viper heard a distant haunting loon cry.
“Well, you’ve met Laurie the Loon. Great friend; has problems though. Mostly he’s either high or he’s low; no in between. Think he’s off his meds. That was high and when he’s high it’s best to just stand back and watch in awe; does fantastic things. Talks a blue streak too; sometimes you gotta just grab him by the beak.”
Brant nodded toward his nest, “See that? Hilda mentioned once that I was worried about Cy sneaking up on our nest; next day, there is was; deepest part of the pond and I mean deep; but, he’d gathered all the material, from heaven knows where, and built that nest. In one day! Woulda taken me weeks; that is if I’ even tried.
A year later, about the same time, he’d got it in his head that the pond was untidy; cleaned up every little twig, clump of weed, every bit of algae and had them all neatly in separate piles. Even had the water bugs swimming in formation then closely supervised them when they moulted and started to fly.
Last year’s moulting season he had all the old feathers sorted by species, colour and size. If you weren’t careful, he’d pull out any he thought didn’t look right; woke me up once pullin’ at my tail feathers. Bugged the heck out of the red wings too; they finally organized a complaint committee.” He laughed, “Then there were the herons, they finally just drove him off but that was only after a night of pecking at him.
Gotta give him his due though, determined little guy.”
Brant chuckled, “Oh yeah, equal opportunity loon too; one time he had all the trout all corralled at the far end down by the pipe; just this tight ball of fish with a black streak just a barrelin’; wasn’t hungry; just thought they were in need of some exercise; amazing energy.
Twice he was all set to take on Cy for something or other but I managed to stop him.”
He sighed, “Then there’s his depression ‘n ya gotta keep an eye on him. Beak draggin’ in the water; won’t talk; three times I caught him waddling straight for Cy. Thank goodness he can’t walk worth a darn, really slow, and I was able to get to him before he go to Cy.
Yeah,” Brant chuckled, “he’s almost useless on land but, he didn’t care; was ready to go.
He can keep himself on an even keel by eating some type of water bug but they’re seasonal and he sometimes forgets too. Isn’t fond what he feels like when he’s on ‘em either so if I don’t remind him it sometimes gets away from him.
He’s a little frenetic right now so I’ll keep a close eye on him; probably close to a crash any day now.”
“Why’s he still here?” asked Viper.
“Don’t know why he doesn’t go with the other loons; strong enough but two cycles ago he stayed. Tried to get an answer why but what he said was waay too fast and waay too confusing; something about the local snakes, the possibility of a beaver moving in; not fond of beavers, says they work too hard and don’t allow for fun. And then there’s the snails; they leave slimy trails everywhere and for some reason that really bugs the heck out of him. It’s all very confusing; easier just to go with the flow.
Anyway,” Brant shrugged, “he’s a great friend; couldn’t ask for better. Don’t know what I’d do without him.
So, okay, come on, I know where there’s some prime grass, still green and some seeds still on some stocks of wild rice down the shore a way; good pickings.”
After lunch it was the facets of weather; wind patterns, turbulence, wind speeds, wind shear and down drafts. They covered rain, effects of rain, effects of icing, clouds, fog and thunder storms before the end of the day then Brant said, “Tomorrow, after your quiz, you and I are going to go for our first hop; nothing much, just down the lake and back so tonight, study up on take-off and landing procedures and I’ll see you at dawn. Now, you remember you owe me eight laps to the tree? Better get on with it, eh?”
“Got a queschtion before I go; we talked winter and cold weather; why isch this lake ice free when all the rest are frozen?”
“Not sure, Kid; think it has something to do with that grey structure over there, that cone thing with all the wires and the steam coming out the top and that pipe just shy of the tree there with the warm water pouring out but that’s not important now. What is important is building your strength so, get on with yer laps.”
Dawn, day three; clear blue sky, cold with a stiff breeze rippling the water.
“Good quiz, kid, aced the review but I’m still givin’ ya eight laps just because I love ya so much; so, away you go.”
Brant watched Viper critically; strength was good; wing beat, okay; breathings good, endurance improving; got the direction control down. Quietly he observed, “Hilda, think he’s ready.”
“Okay, now that we’ve had breakfast I want you to brief me on this ‘hop’ we’re going on; tell me how yer going to do it.”
Viper excitedly covered the subject and they paddled out to the start position of the take-off run and turned into the stiff breeze, “Okay, Kid, everything’s a go so lead the way.”
“Yesch, Bossch,” and they started down the lake, Viper nervously in the lead. Brant was airborne in four flaps and he easily flew alongside with his wing tips just brushing the water on the down stroke but Viper struggled.
“Ease the back pressure,” cried Brant, “yer tryin’ too hard. Just ease the pressure and you’ll fly off nice and easy!”
The thrashing and splashing became more organized and then ….he was flying. “Honk-onk-onk honk, thisch isch juscht schimply fabulousch!”
Suddenly there was a ball of feathers, goose and water.
Brant circled around and slid in beside the sputtering Viper, “You okay, Kid?”
Viper, coughing and spitting water, nodded.
“Got too excited there, Kid; forgot how low you were and dug a wing tip. Gotta keep a thing called the ‘air picture’ at all times; know where ya are. Another thing, flying rarely requires big control inputs; just need pressures, sometimes just hints and things will happen so, just loosen up a bit and you’ll be good. As an aviator you’re in systems operator and energy management; use energy properly and things will go smoothly. C’mon, this is supposed ta be fun.
So, let’s try that again shall we only this time, not so much back pressure and be aware of where you are.”
They set off down the lake. The second take-off was better but now they had to land.
“Okay Viper, now tell me how yer gonna land.”
Viper gave a quick briefing.
“You sure, Kid?
“Okay, let’s do it. I’ll follow you through.”
“Uh, oh!” Viper landed way too long, ran out of water as well as ideas at about half speed and tumbled end over end twice before sliding to a halt, beak first in a cloud of snow crystals and feathers.
Brant peeled off in a tight circle and landed lightly beside a dishevelled, struggling Viper as he spat dirt and dry grass.
“Boy, you greased that one on, eh?” He helped Viper up, “Any idea what you did wrong?”
“Too fascht on the landing I guessch and overshot the landing area?”
“Do you know why?”
Viper shook his head.
“You landed out of wind, Kid. You had a heck of a wind up yer butt so you were doin’ roughly twice the speed over the water you shoulda been.” With his right wing tip he forced Viper to look him directly in his eye, “Remember this; file it away, Kid; it’s golden. I’ll never ever question a decision to land into wind; got it?”
“Hey, live and learn, I’m not the smoothest either; my gimpy leg doesn’t help here, too much drag so I think I’ll get Laurie to help you; he’s really good at water landings; landing on the ground, ah… not so great, it’s a semi-controlled crash but, on the water, best there is.”
Viper bobbed his head.
“By the way, you hurt?”
Viper limped for a couple of steps then shook it off, “No!” he honked and jumped then winced, “I’ll be okay. That wasch great; really great, really enjoyed that a lot! What’sch on for tomorrow?”
Brant sceptically looked to the west eying the clouds, “Tomorrow looks to be a ‘weather day’; low’s movin’ in.
Anyway, those were two good lessons, so tomorrow, weather permitting, we’ll do some upper air work; slow flight, steep turns, take you through some stalls then come back fer a couple of landings. That’ll be yer ‘solo check’ and if yer up to it, I’ll let ya go. For now though, gimme eight then preen those feathers; repair the damage you have wrought and then have lunch. This afternoon, ground school covers flying in cloud and long range navigation.”
Day four was cold, grey, not a breath of wind, low overcast and snowing heavily.
Brant shook the snow from his back, “No flying today Kid; weather’s too low so we’ll use it as a review day but first, eight laps to the tree; chest muscles could still use some work and then, breakfast.
Brant could still hear Viper even though he quickly disappeared in the snow.
They spent the day hunkered down on Brant’s nest of reeds along side one another; head to tail and cackled quietly as they reviewed all aspects of the ground school and what had been gained from yesterday’s flying. Periodically one would shake the snow from his head and beak and occasionally both would stand and shoulder the accumulation of snow from wings and back before nestling down again.
There was a lull in the questions; they’d covered most everything three times and Viper thought Brant had dozed off.
“Brant, are you awake?”
“Huh, what’s that Kid,” Brant raised his head from under his wing, “What did you say?”
“Nothing schir, ….Brant,” he shook some icy snow that had slid from his forehead down onto his beak. “Well, I was wonderin’, I just was curious…..what happened to your mate; what happened to Hilda; how long hasch sche bin gone?”
Brant quietly hissed, and then grumbled, “None of yer business, Kid,” and silence was restored.
Just when Viper was starting to nod off he heard the quiet, gravely voice, “Hilda and I…...”
“What did you schay?”
“Hilda and I….we…” There was another long pause, “We‘d been travelling south along the shore for several days and were over one of those strange noisy places with all sorts of grids. We needed a place to set down for food and the leader, a veteran gander, seemed to know where we were going. Anyway, things were normal; we were a little tired; bin flying since dawn and I was chatting with Hilda, not payin’ much attention; just comfortable. She was on my wing, eh, when, out of no where some sorta huge beast screamed up from behind, it was loud; and fast too; didn’t have a chance; blasted right through our whole formation scattering us all over hell’s half acre. I was upside down and outta control and by the time I regained my bearings Hilda and one other goose was gone and the beast, lot quieter by then and streaming smoke, had set on the river.
Never did find Hilda; not a trace.”
“Thatsch terrible, schorry I aschked.”
“It’s alright Kid, part of life I guess.”
Brant shook off more snow. “Hope you never find out just how much, Kid,” and tucked his head under his wing.
Viper thought he heard a very quiet, “Nite, dear.”
Day five; high overcast, cold with a breeze from the north. Viper coasted up to the nest, “Wakey wakey, rise and schine; great day fer aviatin’!” he cackled.
The mound of snow cracked; a head rose, looked around then he stood, stretched and flapped his wings, “You’re up way too early, Kid” yawned Brant.
“Naw, too late, ate breakfast already and did my lapsch, eight, right, and I feel great.”
Brant grumbled, “Eight more laps then Kid, fer waken me up late. I’m off fer breakfast; should be done by then.”
Viper giggled and set off with glee.
Brant grunted and his joints creaked as he stretched and straightened, “Getting too old for this ‘cold’ stuff. Summer can’t get here too soon for me,” he groaned.
There was a slight ripple beside the nest as Laurie slowly surfaced from the depths and murmured; almost inaudibly, “Lo Brant.”
He slowly circled the nest, the tip of his beak dragging in the water trailing a ‘vee’ behind it.
“Rough day, eh, feelin’ low are we?” Brant could see Laurie’s gloom, “What’s the problem? Grey weather gotcha?”
The tip of his beak still in the water Laurie muttered an unheard response.
“Whoa, are you ever down. You gonna be okay old friend? I can cancel today’s lessons with the Kid today and we can just ‘putz’ around together; just you and I; if you want.”
Still not much feed back, “Yesterday saw some of those ‘water bugs’; you know, the ones that help you; down by the pipe. Could spend the day getting some of those for you.”
No response, just the slow circle.
“Or we could just sit.” Brant thought for a bit, “Hey, was just sayin’ to ‘The Kid’ that maybe you could help him out with water landings. This wonky foot of mine drags a bit on water landings and, what with you bein’ such an expert on water landings, perhaps you can give a lesson or two; help me out, kinda.”
More circles but Brant thought they were faster and he saw Laurie’s head nod a bit and was a little higher, “And I could use a little help with a couple of cross-country navigation exercises too; we could spell one another off, eh? You know the local area as well as I do so, if you could take one or two; maybe even three, cross-countries with the Kid; teach him what you know; things I might have missed maybe; would be a great help to me. Get your mind off things too. What do you say?”
Laurie stopped, beak still in the water then nodded.
“Good,” said Brant, “you go, plan some routes; you know the routine, eh? Pick some interesting spots with open water, good food; like that and we’ll talk about when you and he can get airborne. That okay? More importantly, are you okay?”
With no response Laurie slowly, silently sank and was gone.
Brant muttered an after thought, “gotta find him some of those bugs.”
The upper air work with the Kid went well; Brant had shown Viper how to change the shape of his wings to slow down and they’d experienced the feathers on top of the wing fluttering as they approached the stall, how that came into play upon landing. He’d also shown him what it felt when his wings were fully stalled.
Brant first demonstrated then watched as Viper pulled in one wing and plummeted earthward; a manoeuvre used to avoid the talons of a hawk.
They’d wheeled some steep turns; climbed through the clouds and then descended into them just for the experience. Viper had lapped it up.
“Okay Kid, back to the pond and lead me in for a landing; I’ll follow you.”
Viper completed a flawless approach and landing and they swam around reviewing what they’d accomplished, “Good planning there, Kid; great landing, really smooth; proud of ya. See what I mean about the feather’s giving you a warning as you slow down; fluttered a bit, eh; could feel it, eh? They told you when you had to change the shape of your wings.”
Viper nodded enthusiastically.
“Well, that’s yer pre-solo check out of the way so, off you go. Want you to do five take-offs, circuits and landings. Remember, no big movements now, just pressures. Want you to be smooth. I’ll be watching so give me a call if you get into trouble. Shouldn’t happen, yer ready, so get on with it and enjoy; good luck.”
“Honk-onk-onk,honk-honk,” Viper trumpeted with the sheer joy as he climbed out on his first circuit and every one there after; couldn’t contain himself. It was a great day.
Brant couldn’t help but grin, “Hilda, he’s doin’ okay.”
Day six; cold day, low overcast, calm wind with occasional snow flurries.
Instead of the laps to the tree, after breakfast Brant had sent Viper up for five solo circuits and then started the briefing for the day’s exercise.
“Good flying there, Kid; got a little high there once, on the third one, eh. Started to get into that low cloud; gotta watch that, eh; it’s that ‘air picture’ again. Gotta know where that cloud base is. And the last one; ya got a little tight there and you saw you had to compensate with a few flaps. That’s okay though; recovered nicely. Over all I’ll give a well done.
Anyways, aside from flying long distances, what are we known for; what are geese good at; any idea, Kid?”
Viper chuckled quietly, “There’sch no esch in that, schir.”
Brant glared for a moment then turned away with a slight chuckle, “Just answer the darn question, Kid.”
Viper thought for a while before Brant prompted him.
“Okay smart arse, in the days before everyone left, just before it got cold, what did they do?”
Viper looked stumped and then had a thought, “They flew in ‘Veesch’, formaschion, everyone wasch in big Veesch!”
“Right, formation flying, it’s what we’re famous for; what we’re good at; what we do and today we’re going to formate on one another. It requires discipline so pay attention.
What’ll happen is I will take-off, won’t go high, eh, couple of wingspans is all, and start a slow left turn and when you take-off you turn to put me on your right just about there,” he pointed, “ half way between yer beak and yer wing tip, and keep me there until we join up. You should be able to slide in nicely on my left wing just slightly behind;” he placed Viper on the water in the position he wanted; “there, like that, got it?”
Viper’ face showed some concern, “Think scho, you go, then I go, keep you there,” he pointed, “and I join on yer left wing. Okay, think I got it, letsch go.”
Brant started down the pond, lifted off and started the shallow turn. “Okay, start now Kid.”
He came too fast, “Hey, hey, watch it, watch it, watch ooout, too fast!” Brant tried to avoid the collision but there was a compact ball of feathers, feet, wings and geese as they hit the water.
“Kid, are you trying to kill us both!” he sputtered and glared at Viper; he spat; he hissed and he honked then spread his wings, and he hissed again, “When you see me this big, stop comin! Yer there! Yer close enough! Don’t come any closer!”
“Schorry, you hurt?”
Brant shooed him away, “Git, git, git away from me. I’m okay.” He set about putting battered and dishevelled feathers back in place. “Now, let’s try that again shall we; but hit me again and yer fer the high jump; got it. Hittin’ is just too hard on this old gander.”
They cleared the crash site to a safe area, “By the way, you alright, Kid; you’re not hurt?”
Viper was seeing to his feathers as well, “I’m okay, juscht embarrassched; what happened there anyway?”
“Too aggressive, Kid, that’s all; gotta work on it; more finesse, that’s all.”
Brant looked skyward, “Hilda, he’s gonna be the death of me,” he whispered.
There followed two occasions of Brant abruptly pulling up as Viper careened through; more out of control than in; three others Brant chose quickly set down on the water rather than be hit again by twelve pounds of goose. On one occasion Viper neatly formed up some twelve wing spans away but then, finally, a very surprised Viper slid smoothly into the proper echelon left position.
“Ya got it Kid, good one, nice, smooth; now you just sit there for a while. Get comfortable.” They flew for a bit, “Feel the air comin’ off my wing? That’s why we fly in formation. It gives you that little bit of a boost you need on those long flights. Now, break off and let’s try it again.”
Viper had mastered it and they spent the rest of the afternoon wheeling, climbing, diving, breaking formation and rejoining; getting into the discipline of formation.
After they landed Viper started off towards the tree, “What are you doin’, Kid?”
“Lapsch, you know, the tree and back?”
“No need, Son. You’ve done enough today so, if you have any sense you’ll have a quick bite eat and get yer head down. I know I’m beat.
Tomorrow‘s another big day; cross country navigation exercise. We’ll start from here, fly to a grain field up north, have a bite, then south west to the river and, if we’re lucky, find some open water and have a good lunch. Then we fly directly home.
Hopefully we’ll encounter some cloud we can fly above it and then you get to descend through it. You’ll lead the whole way so tonight, just think about how yer going to do it. Nav’s easy; second nature once you get a sense of what yer doin’.”
Just before he tucked his head under his wing he looked skyward and whispered, “Comin’ along dear, comin’ along; nite.”
For the next four days they covered the whole territory in all kinds of weather. They flew in snow; in cloud; they hit icing and once had to over night away from the pond.
Laurie taught two lessons but was getting ‘hyper’ again; long involved briefings; turning points, landmarks and routes all meticulously drawn up in the mud with distances, anticipated wind shifts, weather, any high terrain in case they had to get into cloud, where to get different kinds of food, where to go if the weather closed in and whatever dangerous animals would be at each stop over.
Brant tried to hurry him up but in the end just let him go. The cross countries, though, went off without a hitch and Viper was very appreciative and enjoyed the differences in teaching technique.
It was time; Viper had handled it all well and by the fifth day Brant was ready to send him off on his own.
“Okay, Kid, yer off by yerself; pick a route; tell me where yer goin’; it’s gotta take most of the day, have at least four legs and one stop over for lunch. Then wake me up when you get back, need some shut eye, and we’ll have supper and de-brief. Off you go now.”
Of course Brant couldn’t sleep and nervously swam the whole time.
Laurie popped up startling Brant, “Kid’s of eh; first solo navex? Ya nervous?”
Laurie heard a grumble, “He’ll be okay; did a great job the other day, with me. You’ll see; relax old friend.”
For an hour they quietly paddled until they faintly heard Viper’s lispy honking.
“G’wan Laurie, get lost, go, go, go!” Brant hurried back to his mound and feigned sleep.
Viper nailed his landing and cackled as Brant raised his head from under his wing, “How’d it go Kid?”
“Great,” he could hardly contain himself, “got schome cloud time, ran into schome isch and schet ‘er down to let it pasch. Ate lunsch on the river, good food too, then home; schimple.
What’sch nescht, Bossch?”
“Nothin’ Kid: yer done. You are now a PRO-fessional aviator. Tomorrow we’ll make it O-fficial, tomorrow’s ‘grajiation’ day; can’t teach you nothin’ more.
So, little air show; a ‘beat up’; couple of slow passes in landing config.; couple of high speed passes; you know, flat hattin’ it ‘n then yer done.
Now, lets eat.”
Viper was stunned.
The weather began to warm as spring approached. Puddles appeared on frozen lake and open spots showed here and there. Throughout the winter Viper had flown over his ‘domain’ so much so that he knew it like the feathers of his wings. Often he’d be away for days on end and return to find Brant comfortably feeding or with Laurie or just dozing in the spring sun on top of the nest. It was a good time for Viper.
Then the weather turned. A bitter north wind howled and heavy snow grounded them for three days. At one point, early on that first day Viper thought he’d heard honking and cackling but surely; only fools would be flying in weather like that.
The fourth day it cleared; the sky was a brilliant blue but remained bitterly cold as Viper patrolled over the area. Lakes had re-frozen and deep snow covered the fields; winter had returned with a vengeance.
“Ho-onk, honk honk.”
Viper cranked around in a tight turn. He’d heard a noise. “Ho-honk, honk, honk.” There it was again, to the north he heard a sad chorus of honks and flew to investigate then settled into the snow covered field.
Sitting almost neck deep in snow was his friend Moffit and around, the scattered remains of a large formation of geese.
“Moffit, isch that you? Whoa, you okay, you look mischerable. What happened? Why are you here? When…..wasch that you, the other day, in the schtorm?”
The snow exploded to his left and something, hissing, crashed into his beak sending him reeling.
“It is you Vipes, you little twerp. Thought I recognized that lisp. Remember me; Bruno? I used to beat you silly; you and yer goofy talk; and I’ll do it again, now, just for kicks. Not a real goose anyways; couldn’t talk right, couldn’t even learn to fly.”
“There’sch no esch in that,” Viper recovered his footing and, brushing off the snow he stared at his assailant,
Bruno looked puzzled as Viper said, “No essch, it’sch juscht ‘anyway’ you schilly goosch.”
Bruno regained his bluster and lunged but Moffit swung a wing-fist, sending Bruno tumbling back into the deep snow. “Bruno, stop it! Don’t be stupid! This is no time for bullying. We haven’t eaten for days and here we are in the middle of a frozen wasteland and all you want to do is fight? Get real; we’re starving here. Cut it out!”
Hissing, Bruno, stared then, trying to regain his dignity, turned away, shook off the snow and returned to the nest he’d sprung from, “Twerp”.
Viper brushed off some more snow and turned to Moffit, “That true; you all need food?”
Moffit nodded, “Yeah, we’re desperate, we’re tired and hungry.”
“Well, I’ve got food not far from here; over that hill there and down the valley there’sch open water; more than enough for all of you; even Bruno there.”
They both looked as Bruno continued to hiss, “It’s too cold; we’re all done in here and anyways, he’s an idiot; can’t even talk right.”
“Didn’t I tell ya, no essch on that,” snapped Viper as he and Moffit turned away from Bruno.
“Can you get your geesche up and airborne? If you can I can get you to food.”
Moffit cackled and honked to his flight and then said, “They’re pretty weak but the consensus is they’re willing to try. What’s the alternative anyways…..uh, anyway?” He nudged Viper in a friendly gesture.
“Okay, I’ll lead. I’ll start off ‘n orbit left and all of you can form up on me and I’ll get you there.”
There was a tremendous cackling and honking as a huge cloud of twenty four geese struggle out of the deeps snow, formed up on Viper and headed south.
Brant was sleeping when honking in the distance disturbed his nap. He raised his head and there, streaming out of the valley was Viper leading a ‘Vee’ of twenty-five geese. They circled over head, broke into flights of six and set down neatly on the pond where upon there followed a cacophony of honking, cackling and chuckling as they immediately set about dabbling for food.
“Who are all these geese anyway and where’d pick ‘em up?”
Laurie popped up, “Company? Got guests; ‘bout time. Was getting sick of just you to talk to you old goose; heard all your stories.” Another ripple and he was gone and bobbed up across the pond next to a couple of new comers.
As they swam about Viper told Brant the story.
“Okay, where’s that Bruno character; the one that gave you all the grief? I’ll surely pluck some of his feathers I will!”
“No Brant, no; already dealt with; handled it,” he paused and then added, “but thank you.”
“You sure, Viper?”
Brant swam off a short distance and turned, “Proud of ya, Son.”
It had been a glorious summer but frost’s gentle but deadly kiss had caressed the leaves and they were turning. The gaggle had returned from the fifth morning formation practice of the week and was fed and rested for an afternoon cross country flight just to polish up a little on some of the finer points.
“Hey Kid, you did great out there today; kept them in a nice tight formation for the most part; only two stragglers. Gotta work on that young ‘un, eh? Oh, he’s strong enough; just lacking discipline. Should be ready to set out tomorrow at dawn though.”
“Thank you Brant, couldn’t have done it without you,” Viper, squinting from the low sun behind Brant, gave him a friendly nudge, “how ya doin’ anyway old fella; you ready for tomorrow?”
Brant pecked at a frosty blade of grass then stared at the horizon, “Not goin’ Kid.”
Viper started to protest.
Brant spread his wing and shrugged, “Nope Kid, you had to know I’m not goin’. You know that I was the other straggler today, don’t ‘cha; couldn’t keep up. Old chest muscles aren’t what they used to be; would be a drag on the formation. And you, as the leader, can’t allow that and you know it; right here you know it,” he tapped Viper in the chest, “here in your heart so tomorrow, you and the gaggle will go and I’ll just over winter here; like the last time, eh and I’ll see you next spring. S’no problem; done it before. Besides, who’ll keep Laurie out of trouble? Someone’s gotta look after that loon.
Viper wanted to argue but he knew Brant was right so, after a moment he nodded, “yeah, I know but I had hoped you’ be up to it. You were tucked right in there for most of the flight and anywaysch……”
“There’s no ‘ess’ on……” Viper chuckled and Brant gave him a playful shove, “And, like I said, I’ll be here to greet you in the spring.
Now, you’ve got an afternoon practice flight to organize so you’d better get on with it.”
They took off at dawn and gave Brant noisy pass overhead as a salute before setting course. He and Laurie watched until they faded over the horizon then Brant sighed and paddled over to a patch of still green grass while Laurie disappeared down the pond, he had fish to herd.
The pond was silent; winter had come and gone. It was faint at first; barely audible but soon the air was filled with excited honking as the formation broke overhead into sections and landed.
Brant was excited, glad to see them. He and Laurie swam to meet them. It had been a very hard and very long winter, “Good to see ya, Kid. Good flight? No problems?”
Viper spread his wings in greeting, “None; well, one; had to overnight once for isching but other that than we had a great flight; good weather; good food en-route.
She hung back, nervously swimming from side to side until Viper gestured, beckoned her forward, “There’sch schomeone I’d like you to meet. This is Naomi; well her real name is Scharona but we agreed to her schecond name. Better for all, eh?
Anyway, Brant; Naomi, my mate; Naomi, Brant, my teacher; I’ve told her all about you, and Laurie, and the pond on the flight up.
Shyly Naomi swam closer as Brant lowered his head in order to look up at her face, “Welcome my dear; I hope we will become great friends, you and I.”
“I think we will; pleased to finally meet you, Brant. Viper has told me a great deal about you.” She turned, “and you must be Laurie.”
Laurie just disappeared without saying anything. “It’s one of his stages,” Brant apologized, “gets them every once in a while but you’ll get used to him; fit of shyness maybe. But he grows on you and he’ll become a great friend; takes time is all.”
There was an awkward pause, “Well, you two must be famished so; ah, let’s get something to eat and then we can scout out some nesting sites. Got a few locales; well, now that I think of it, you can have ‘the nest’; I don’t really need it; can sleep anywhere. It’s nice; safe in the middle of the pond and close to good food. Yours if’n ya want it.”
“No sir, we don’t want; I mean, we wouldn’t think of it,” Naomi looked at Viper for agreement and Viper nodded. “No, we’ll settle somewhere else; our place; private and raise our family. It was sweet of you to offer though.”
It was hard for Viper to hide his pride.
“Ho-ho-ho,” teased Brant as he nudged Viper, “family already on the way, Kid?”
Viper nodded and then Naomi injected, “You mentioned food? I’m famished. Don’t know how many I’m eating for but I know I need some grass shoots, iron I expect, and if you know of any kernels of grain I’d appreciated that too.”
Brant pointed, “This way my dear….”
Naomi was already at full swim so Viper and Brant followed and chatted, “Viper, that’s one good goose you got there. Hungry little thing; hormones I’d guess, but she’s polite, sensitive and practical; good looker too; yup, she’s some catch alright so you take good care of her or I’ll come down hard on you.”
“You know I will,” promised Viper.
Only one egg remained un-hatched and nine golden yellow balls of fluff made a great commotion.
Naomi pleaded, “Brant, I’ve got to get these goslings out of the nest. All this energy and kerfuffle is driving me mad and Viper’s away for the day, on a ‘hop’, scouting the area. I need a break. Maybe I can just tire them out with a swim but; I can’t leave her alone. She’ll die if no one sits with her. Would you please?”
“I don’t know, Naomi; it’s been a while; lotta responsibility for an old goose; not as young as I used to be.”
Naomi’s eyes pleaded again.
“Well, okay; but only for a short time, now; time enough to wear ‘em down is all.”
Naomi let out her breath, “Thank you, thank you, thank you; you don’t know how much I appreciate this,” She stroked his neck in gratitude. “Okay, c’mon you darlings, in the water, all of you; that means you Bertha; and Charles, leave you brother alone; he can manage quite well on his own .”
As the ‘flotilla’ bobbed down the pond Brant climbed into the nest and chatted with the egg while turning it and listened with his good ear as it chatted back. He managed to settle and despite his best efforts, was soon napping.
It was the cracking noise that roused him and immediately Brant was out of the nest and honking excitedly for Naomi. By the time she and her gaggle returned a little gosling, still unsteady and struggling to stand, was out of her shell and almost dry.
Naomi’s brood poured excitedly into the nest as she stood on the edge.
“Oh, isn’t she a darling; you did a good job Brant; thank you.
Clio, Bert, be careful now; she’s very fragile. You three, get away from her; let me get the shell out of here and then you can all get to see her. And its nap time for all of you. You all had a good swim; you enjoyed yourself didn’t you Ethel? I know I did.”
Using her beak Naomi pushed the shell out of the nest and then herded all the goslings under her and, with the newest just under her breast feathers, settled down. One attempted a last escape back to the water but a firm wing corralled him. Brant could hear the muffled squeaks as they settled.
“Thanks a lot Brant; again, you did a good job.”
“No problem, I enjoyed it. And she’s the cutest one of the bunch. I mean, there all cute but she and I……”
“I know, its how all mothers feel.” She giggled.
“Well, she is the cutest.”
Viper slid to a smooth stop beside the nest.
“Anything happen while I wasch away?”
Again Naomi giggled, “Nothing much; took the gaggle for a swim. Had to, they were just too energetic; making me crazy. George lead the whole way and even tried diving; never got under but tried; had to rein him in near the end; Bertha, Gilda and Alma were good…..oh, they all were good; wore themselves out thank goodness and they are napping now. Oh, and by the way, Brant became a mother.”
“Scho every….., huh, what did you schay? Brant became a…..what?”
“Yess, a mother; while I was out with the gaggle I asked Brant to sit with the egg and, well, she hatched. It was all over but the cackling by the time I herded everyone back.”
She lifted her breast feathers and showed the hatchling.
As Viper nudged the new one; she opened one eye, stirred and then, head down, right back to sleep.
Viper turned to Brant, “Hey, ya done good old fella. Imagine, you a mother, and at your age, too; thank you” He gave Brant a good natured shove.
“It’s not the first time, son. It’s like landing, once you learn you never forget and, you’re welcome.”
“Any name yet,” Viper asked Naomi?
“Thought I’d wait for you; got any ideas?”
“One, c’mere,” Naomi whispered in Viper’s ear; Viper nodded.
“Brant, what do you think of Hilda; that a good name?”
Brant stared for a long while as he tried to control his emotions and then choked out, “She’d be pleased with that; she surely would. Thanks you two.” He had to swim away.
Hilda was always the smallest; always last to Brant’s nest when they visited; last to get to the food but never too far behind. Brant took over some of the responsibility of her; saw that she always got her share and kept her from danger when she lagged behind. He enjoyed being a grand father. Occasionally when they were up for a long swim and Naomi needed a break he’d lead the gaggle down to the log and back; always returning with Hilda and several others snuggled on his back.
Oh, he enjoyed all the goslings but a true affinity grew between him and Hilda; he kept a special eye out for her whenever she was about.
Brant and Viper were returning from scouting out some ripening grain fields. It had been wonderful to get up and stretch the ‘old wings’, to talk ‘gander’ things with Viper but by the time they were overhead they’d pretty talked everything out and were just gliding along silently enjoying the flight. Viper was in the lead, just about to start his descent when he heard the honking panic.
Below them they saw Naomi standing tall, wings spread, lunging and hissing in fury at a coyote while behind her the gaggle of goslings scrambled pell-mell toward the protection of the water. Off to the left Cy was chasing a lone downy gosling.
“I’ve got Cy,” roared Brant, “you look after Naomi and the rest!”
“Roger!” Viper, honking at the top of his lungs, immediately tucked his right wing, rolled inverted in a fearsome dive and slammed into the back of the coyote sending him tumbling and yelping in surprise and pain. The coyote recovered only to face Viper, now ready for battle; wings spread, chest out, neck arched, wing fists at the ready and hissing loudly.
Half heartedly he renewed his attack but faced an onslaught of solid blows and a vicious beak and so, retreated to re-think his position.
Naomi had managed to get the gaggle into the safety of the water but was screaming, “Hilda, where’s Hilda; help Hilda!”
Brant had swung wide and attacked in a high-G right turn, pulling hard to his Cy’s blind side. Ahead, teeth bared in an evil snarl, Cy closed in for the kill and inches away, Hilda, tiny chest stuck out, wings spread, hissed her defiance at he attacker.
Brant felt nothing as he slammed into Cy’s chest but heard the surprised wheezing yelp as the coyote tumbled away from his target.
Recovered and re-grouped to face his attacker, Cy commenced the attack again.
Brant yelled, “Hilda! Stop!” Oblivious to the danger she’d charged between his legs, again with her wings spread, chest out and hissing, towards the coyote.
“You get yer butt down to the pond! I’ll deal with him. He and I are old ‘friends’ so, you git now!”
Brant gathering himself; was impressive as he towered over the coyote, wings spread, fists ready. Keeping Hilda behind him he lunged and hissed and swung his fists as they moved nearer the pond but now the second coyote joined the attack from the right.
Cy lunged; Brant swung his fists but failed to see the younger coyote as it clamped it’s teeth solidly into his right wing tip and began savagely jerking him off his feet.
The force of the pull set Brant on his back as he slid helplessly over the grass and as Cy moved in for the killing bite to his neck a black blur solidly clipped Cy’s head from his blind side and again, drove him back.
Laurie, a high speed feathered missile howling out his loudest loon call set up a tight left figure eight attack pattern with the old coyote at the center and forced Cy to spin in order to keep his one good eye on this crazed attacker. Each time he commenced his turn in for an attack he let out the loon call. Laurie was loving it.
Hilda streaked past Viper to the safety of the water honking, “Help, help, Grampa Brant needs help; he needs help!”
Viper exploded into the air clawing for altitude when, to his left, he saw Brant, the two coyotes and the loon. Pulling hard in a ninety degree bank he dove, feet extended, caught the young coyote in the chest and sent him tumbling. Then immediately, with fists flailing he charged and caught Cy totally by surprise and sent him into some tall grass. With laurie, howling at the top of his lungs, pulling hard in for another pass at his head and Viper rapidly closing in again, fists flying, he thought, “No way this is gonna work out; it aint worth it. I’m outta here!”
He put his head down and with his tail between his legs he ran.
Brant had stumbled his feet and was gasping, barely able to breathe, “Hilda, where’s Hilda,” he wheezed, “she get away? They didn’t get her did they? Tell me she’s okay!”
“All of them are schafe, over there with Naomi. We’re all okay but, you….your wing.”
Viper put his beak under Brant’ right wing and gently began to lift.
“Aaaaahg!” Brant reeled away from the pain then stopped and looked. His wing dragged on the ground and when he tried to fold it into place, he hissed; the pain was excruciating.”
Viper tried to steady him but Brant grimaced in pain, “No, stay away, stay away; I’ll do it, I’ll do it; just let me do it!”
He sucked in air, hissed and winced as his wing moved in, “Ow, ow, ow, that’s sorer than ‘Billy be Damned’. Ow, ow; that’s about as far as I can get it.” The tip still brushed the grass.
“Might be broken; end of my flying days I guess; if it is.”
Viper didn’t know what to say; finally, “C’mon Bossch, back to the pond; you need to rescht; yourschelf and that wing; c’mon.”
Brant hobbled and wince as they made their way to the pond, “Thanks a lot, Kid. Back there; whew, thought I was a goner there for a minute; you and that crazy loon saved my life; guess we’re even now, eh? By the way, good work Laurie old friend,” he laughed, “We had old Cy going there didn’t we. We make a great team we three. I’m the bait , Lauries the distraction and Viper’s the pain.”
Hilda broke from the gaggle, “Gramps, you okay; you hurt? I’m sorry; I’m so sorry; I should have stayed with Mom. I’m so sorry; so sorry.” She nudged his wing.
He sucked in some more air, “Don’t fret Kid; I’ll live. Little torn up; got a sore wing but I’ll be alright in a while. You’ll see.”
He whispered in her ear, “That ole right wing’s a little sore Sweetie so, for the next little while when you need a lift could you just climb up from the other side?”
She whispered back, “Yes, Grandad; can I get up now?”
“Yes, go ahead, Kid.” He winced.
Brant’s wing was not broken and it did heal but the tip always dragged a bit in the water. He was able to fly and, between he and Laurie giving extra attention to Hilda they managed to get her up to the same level of expertise as her nest mates and ready for the flight south.
Viper and Brant watched as each of the brood, no longer goslings, easily slid to a halt and then, excitedly chattered and dabbled a quick meal. “There’re ready; we’ve taught them all the tricks, should have a smooth flight south.”
They swam in silence for a while with Brant’s right wing tip leaving a trail on the surface, “When do you think you’ll be setting off? Gotta be soon; getting cool at nights now; frost every morning; little ice along the shore, eh.”
“Yup, tomorrow I think; they’re all fattened up, they are schtrong, know their schtuff; itsch time.”
In the grey dawn one-by-one they all said their goodbyes and finally Naomi and Hilda swam over, “Now, you take care of yourself and we’ll see you in the spring, Gramps”
“Thank you Sweetie, ‘n you take care too; can’t go far wrong if you stay close to your mother and father. Now shoo; go and join the gaggle and remember, have fun.”
Naomi didn’t say anything, just caressed his neck, turned and joined the others then turned to Laurie, “You take care of him for us, now.”
Laurie nodded, “Yes, Ma’am
Brant nodded to Viper, “Proud of ya, Kid; now you watch over that brood; they’re worth it and I’ll see you in a while; won’t be long and this will be nothing but noise and geese again. Besides, I’m looking forward to a little peace and quiet for a change.”
Viper could only stutter and mumble; finally he just whispered, “Good-bye Old Goosche. Only a schort time anywaysch….”
“There’s no ess on that, Kid.”
They both laughed.
The sun broke the horizon and there was an explosion of water and noise as the flock set off. Laurie and Brant watched and listened as the noisy gaggle disappeared to the south.
Turning to Laurie he said, “Well, it’s you and I buddy.”
Laurie nodded and as they swam down the pond said, “Wanna herd some fish? No, how about, now that they’re gone, gathering all those untidy feathers, drives me nuts!”
“That’s a chip shot or maybe just a putt.”
That Licence to Learn
by Zenon Garnett, Commercial Pilot Student
One of the constant challenges of living is that life seems to be constantly challenging us. It is an oxymoron akin to the idea that youth is wasted on the young. Life rarely affords us the opportunity to relish in our accomplishments before providing us with another hurdle to leap. Perhaps the secret to contentment is to find joy in life's various challenges, rather than striving so eagerly towards the goal that we collapse in a heap before we get there. I prefer to think my life will be more comparable to a long distance marathon than a 100m dash. Thus setting a pace and taking care of the details becomes more important than a mad scramble towards your goal only to find that the final reward is death.
The point I'm getting to (in a rather round about way) is that Piloting is the most challenging set of skills I have ever set out to master. Perhaps this is why it constantly manages to hold my attention and regard. I can remember when I first set about my flight training I overheard an instructor say to another student that a commercial pilots licence was really more like a “licence to learn”. At the time that seemed like the most terribly ridiculous and cruel thing to hear for a student who still had 200 hours and close to $40,000 worth of flight training to undergo. Surely a private pilots licence would make me a “pilot” right? Shouldn’t a commercial licence be the pinnacle of pilot learning? Yet in retrospect the simple statement that each respective licence is in fact a “licence to learn” seems to become truer and truer the more I become immersed in the subject matter. If I had to sum up my experience of learning aviation in only one unquotable sentence I would say that, “aviation is a complex series of difficult and different skills that all seem to make a lot more sense once you learn them.” Or maybe I'd just say it’s “really hard”. Perhaps this is why it has also been the most fulfilling, satisfying, and interesting thing I have ever done. Granted I don’t have children, I'm not married, and I've never even come close to winning an Olympic medal. But I’m confident to say that aviation—as a passion, hobby, and hopefully career—will continue to challenge me for the rest of my life. After all you can’t even get the biggest most prestigious “licence to learn” until you've got over 1500 hours of flight experience—the Airline Transport Pilot Licence!
In his book The Outliers, Malcom Gladwell contends that to become a master of any skill a person must be able to spend 10,000 hours practising and perfecting that skill. For the average person that means 10 to 20 years of dedication. Even Mozart, who started composing when he was 6, didn't start to produce is best work until his early 20’s. Which all leads me to one question, is that 10,000 hours Flight time or Air time? It probably doesn’t matter, I just want to enjoy the trip.
By Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee, No 412 Squadron, RCAF. Magee was killed in a mid-air collision on December 11, 1941
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split cloud—and done a hundred thing
you have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
where never lark nor even eagle flew.
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand, and touched the face of God
"Love of Flying"
by Alan Hemingway, Retired RAF Pilot
The Start of It All
As a young boy I became fascinated with flying.
When I pedaled on my bicycle to a large field on the edge of Middleton Park on the south-east side of the town of Leeds, I had just turned 11 years of age and it was a beautiful warm June day. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky and there had been nothing but talk at school about a flying circus that was coming to Middleton and for the sum of five shillings you could go up for a 20-minute flight.
On the following Saturday I pedaled my bicycle as fast as I could go out to Middleton Park. On the downhill stretches when I did not have to pedal, my hand kept wandering down to my pants pocket to make sure my five shillings was still there. As I got close to the park I could see an aircraft with two wings, one above the other, rise up over the trees, circle and then disappear behind the trees. My heart began to beat faster and I stood up on the pedals to make more speed. A few minutes later I was at the edge of the field looking at two de Haviland biplanes—they both had open cockpits. One of them was just taking off, bouncing up and down as it ran faster and faster across the grass. Then all of a sudden it parted company with the ground and was airborne. It climbed upwards, kind of lazily, and after a few minutes it made a turn to the left. In the meantime the second aircraft was taxing to takeoff.
I thought to myself, "This is for Me", so feeling down into my pocket I pulled out my five shillings to make sure it was still all there—it was.
I looked around at the crowd and spotting a school chum I pushed my bike over towards him. I begged him to look after it for me whilst I had a flight. He told me I was crazy, but I was already heading for the small line up of people waiting to take a flight.
The first aircraft was loading a passenger for another trip. I was able to look it over better now, it had two open air seats, and the pilot sat in the rear one and the passenger up front. A man was standing on the wing strapping the passenger in. The propeller had never stopped turning as the man got down off the wing and walked towards our line up.
He walked slowly down the line taking money and handing out tickets in return. When he got to me he looked me over and asked my age. I told him I had just had my 11th birthday. He then asked me whether my mom or dad were with me. I replied in the negative. The next second my dream to fly collapsed all around me as he said "I'm sorry son but without your parents permission we cannot take you up".
Dazed, I went over to my friend and retrieved my bicycle. I felt so sad I went away from the crowd and spent the next few hours just watching the two biplanes do their thing. That night I hardly slept because I could not get those two aircraft off my mind.
Two months later our family moved to another area of Leeds which was about five miles from Yeadon Airport. During the war years Yeadon was to become an assembly area for Lancaster bombers which were built in underground factories.
I soon discovered the shortest route to take, through the countryside, to get to Yeadon Airport. I would bike out there on a Sunday at least once a month, weather permitting. My favourite perch to watch the comings and goings of the aircraft was on top of a stone wall which was common in the north of England for fencing off one field from another.
At this time Yeadon was only a grass field and aircraft took off and landed into the prevailing wind. My happiest time was when the wind was in my direction and the aircraft took off away from me and came in to land just over my head. A small plane commonly in use at this time was called the "Flying Flea". It was about the most skimpily built thing possible to fly. Everything was wide open and you could see the pilot’s legs and hands. and for that matter, his total body. It was as if he was sitting on a plank on edge which had a little bit of padding where he sat. On a fine day there were quite a few "Flying Fleas" coming and going. They sounded more like mad wasps than fleas when airborne. The odd "Rapid Dragon", a twin engine plane, would land and disgorge a few passengers. As yet, Yeadon had not become the main Leeds/Bradford Airport but to me it was next door to being in Heaven.
A Brief Account of my Flying Career
February, 1941 to Air Force Recruiting Center in Leeds to volunteer. (17 yrs 3 months old)
April, 1941 had medical in Leeds, passed medical. Put on Volunteer Reserve for Air Crew Training.
May, 1942 to Cardington Airport for medical—written and oral exams (three days)—passed all exams—told me I would be called when system could absorb me. Joined Air Cadets.
May, 1942 told to report to Oval Cricket Grounds London.
June, 1942 to Ludlow in Shropshire—living under canvas.
July, 1942 Sgt. Harrop arrived to take us to Scarborough in Yorkshire for I.T.W. November wrote exams—passed. Due to bad weather could not progress to grading school. Took extended navigation course.
Late February, 1943 to Scone near Perth, Scotland to commence grading school at #11 EFTS on Tiger Moths.
June, 1943 sailed to New York on Queen Mary (five days) then to Moncton, NewBrunswick—Canada.
June, 18th by train to Assiniboia, Saskatchewan (three days) to #34 EFTS. Commenced flying Cornells on 27th June and soloed at 6 Hours 45 Minutes. Cornell Course lasted 75 Hours 15 Minutes.
August 23, 1943 by train to #11 SFTS Yorkton, Saskatchewan to commence flying on twin engine Cessna Cranes. Soloed at 6 Hours 40 Minutes.
December 10, 1943 completed course, awarded Pilots Wings. Cessna Crane Course lasted 160.00 Hours.
January 2, 1944 sent to #32 OTU. Pat Bay Airport, Vancouver Island.
January 19, 1944 commenced flying Beechcraft Expediter. Soloed at 5 hours 15 minutes.
February 2, 1944 commenced flying Dakota (DC3), soloed at 1 Hours 0 Minutes.
March 24, 1944 course completed. OTU Course lasted 97 hours 40 minutes as follows: Beechcraft Expediter, 367 hours, 10 minutes and DC3 (Dakota), 60 hours, 30 minutes.
May 29, 1944 from Pembroke Dock in Wales flew in Sunderland flying boat to Calcutta India, arriving June 15.
June 18, 1944 flew to Argartala on DC3 from 117 Squadron.
June 19, 1944 flew to Sylhet in Assam on DC3.
June 21, 1944 commenced training for supply dropping on Dakotas with 117 Squadron.
January 29, 1945 completed tour. Being 504 hours and 15 minutes operational flying. Total of 132 sorties or missions as the Americans would say.
February 9, 1945 flew a plane to Alipore—Calcutta for overhaul then had a two week rest in Kashmir.
February 25, 1945 picked up an overhauled Dakota and flew it to Hathazari.
March 31, 1945 flew a Dakota to Dum Dum (Calcutta) Airport.
April 6, 1945 commenced glider towing at Bihta in Bihar State, India.
January 19, 1946 last flight in India.
August, 1946 discharged from R.A.F and given six months leave.
May, 1954 became a reserve instructor for the R.C.A.F.—flying Chipmunk aircraft located at Vancouver Airport. I acquired a commercial license endorsed with an instructor’s rating, instrument and night flying rating as well as the coveted DC3 endorsement.
Pilot Training in Canada
We were told to parade every morning including Saturdays and Sundays. On parade the following Thursday the Adjutant got up and said "you would-be pilots are leaving for Southampton to go by boat for training in Rhodesia, South Africa". We were told to be back on parade by 10:30 A.M. ready to move out.
My kit bag only took five minutes to pack, another five to walk back to the Parade Ground. I sat on my kit bag, noting the time was 9:45 A.M. There were others just as eager to get out of A.C.R.C. By 10 A.M. just about everyone was there. We were clock watching, wishing the time would pass. 10:30 A.M. came and went, then 11 A.M. Everyone was getting fidgety and glancing in the direction of the gates looking for the buses which were to take us to the main railroad station in Manchester.
The Adjutant showed up at 11:15 A.M., climbed up onto the platform and made the following announcement: "Last night Southampton was bombed. The convoy that was to take you to South Africa was damaged including the ship you were to travel on. I regret to tell you that you are confined to camp, no phone calls allowed. In a few days you will be told where and when you are going. Meanwhile you are to parade everyday at 9 A.M. and 1 P.M." It was not until years later I realized this little speech would change the course my life was to take. I headed back to my quarters and padlocked my kit bag under bed number 5. This done I lay on the bed and tried to unwind.
The next day at 9 A.M. parade we were told once more to be back at the Parade Ground at 10:30 A.M. We did not rush to get back this time arriving there at 10:20 A.M. The buses were there; this time the Adjutant wished us Farewell and Good Luck. Not a word about where we were going or how we were going to get there. Our kit bags were stowed and we took our seats. The driver would only say we were going to the railway station in Manchester.
Boarding the train we headed north, changing at Carlisle on the Scottish border. The second train took us through Glasgow to Greenock where we disembarked in a siding overlooking the River Clyde. We marched down to a dock, boarded a lighter and headed out to a massive white and dirty gray colored ship anchored out in the stream. She bore no name but I knew from pictures I had seen in school that this was the famous Cunard Line Ship—"The Queen Mary". I also knew she ran between Great Britain and New York. As we grew close I was awed by the size of her.
Once on board we were assigned to our cabins, shown the dining room which had high ceilings supported by massive marble columns. We also toured the kitchen, bakery and laundry room. The size of everything was mind boggling. There were guns on the forward and rear decks. Radar discs on the top deck were already turning and smoke was beginning to increase out of the funnels. I thought to myself, `we must be leaving on the night tide' but where is our escort. The ship was almost devoid of troops. There were only about 300 R.A.F. personnel, plus the crew and gunners for the guns.
After dinner we were told to stay behind in the dining room. An Army Officer told us we would not be here on a holiday but would be given Guard Duty. He divulged we had 3,000 German and 2,000 Italian prisoners down in the hold of the ship. They would be allowed up in groups to eat and when out at sea would be allowed up on a closed off area of deck to exercise twice a day. The Italians were to be kept separate from the Germans and would eat and exercise at different times. From a list of names he called your name and your designated times for Guard Duty. I was put in charge of 20 men, given the 4 P.M. to midnight shift then given a 38 revolver and told to shoot any prisoner who gave trouble; no warnings to be given. I was also told not to wear my gun when mingling with prisoners while doing a head count. Also I was told there would be Army men with sub-machine guns close by, and if shooting starts get yourself down and stay down! We had no trouble throughout the whole voyage.
Some of the Germans could speak good English and asked me what ship were they on, I told them "The Queen Mary". To which they said, "Germany sunk her over a year ago". No words could convince them otherwise. They had been brought aboard in the black of night and therefore did not see the size of the ship.
I was right; we pulled up anchor at 10 P.M. and left on the night tide proceeding down the Clyde slowly escorted by tugs on each side. It was pitch black out, not a light to be seen anywhere. About midnight the engines worked their way up to full speed, this told me we had cleared the mouth of the Clyde. My guard shift being over I went to bed.
The next morning, after breakfast, I ventured on deck, there was nothing but sea all around us and the ship was zigzagging back and forth. Spotting one of the crew I asked him when we would be meeting our escort. He informed me the ship did 38 knots (44 M.P.H.) and did not need an escort. She was too fast for any submarines. He also told me we were well past the northern tip of Ireland. I was told it would take five days to reach New York because of the zigzagging.
About noon on the second day out the Italians were allowed up on deck in the exercise area. About 20 minutes later the forward deck guns and the stern guns fired off about 10 practice rounds each. The Italians though they were being rescued, threw their arms around each other and started shouting "Savior, Savior". When the guns stopped they were disappointed when the ship kept going full speed and there was nary a bird, let alone a rescue boat to be seen.
The Germans were next allowed on deck. They looked around the sea in every direction and were bewildered when no escort ships were to be seen. The size and speed of the Queen Mary overwhelmed them. I was walking amongst them—minus revolver—when a German who spoke fluent English said to me "This is the 'Queen Mary' and we are without escort". I said it was true. I could see he was having a hard time comprehending this because his government had told the German people the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth had been sunk the year before. They had also been told Germany ruled the seas. To cheer him up I told him he had been fed nothing but propaganda. It did not help matters when a Sunderland Flying Boat appeared on the scene and stayed with us for the rest of the daylight hours.
On the third day out the weather turned for the worse. It was colder and we saw the odd iceberg. Rain came down in torrents. One of the ships crew informed me during the night we had changed course to the north and were then south of Greenland. That night about 10 P.M. we came to a dead stop. The engines and pumps stopped, we drifted for about two hours and then the engines started again and with a shudder she was under way. Later, one of the ships Officers told me that radar had picked up what appeared to be a surfaced submarine ahead. In the morning, at day break, a Catalina Flying Boat appeared and spent the rest of the day scouting the sea all around us.
Icebergs were still to be seen, and the next morning which was the start of the fifth day, the weather was warmer and we were in fog. I was told by a crew member we were only 300 miles off the mouth of the Hudson River and New York. At 2 P.M. in mild fog we stopped and waited for the Pilot Boat to bring out the Pilot who would take over the ship and pilot us up the Hudson to where we would dock. Because of the fog our progress was slow. We could faintly make out the Statue of Liberty on our left and soon after we were joined by half a dozen tugs which did a ballet around us before taking up positions to push us towards the dock. Their engines would snort like mad bees and then become quiet. Each tug pushed in turn to manoeuvre us to the side of the dock. Ropes were thrown and were tied to the dock. Two or three gang planks were put down.
Then our journey was over. We were not allowed ashore but spent many an hour looking over the scenery for the fog had lifted and the sun was out. At the dock immediately to the north lay the "Normandy" on her side. It was rumoured that she had been sabotaged, hence the heavily armed guards around the Queen Mary. At the dock, north of the Normandy, the Queen Elizabeth was tied up and, noting the smoke coming from her three smokestacks, I figured she would be leaving on the next high tide. In the morning she was gone and so were we!
A Strange Experience in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan . .
The cookhouse staff was Canadian and the majority of the girls who waited on the tables were French. One of the girls had black hair, good looks and spoke with a cute French accent. She took a shine to me and made conversation whenever she had a chance.
I asked her where she lived in Quebec and she told me she came from a farm in the far north. In winter her father had a trap line and most of the winter they had moose meat for dinner. Evidently wolves were quite predominant in winter.
Appearing at my table after dinner one evening, she produced some snapshots of the farm where she lived. The farmhouse was made of logs, smoke was coming off of the chimney and children were playing in the front yard. Upon closer scrutiny I could see a coffin, with the lid off, leaning against the wall close to the front door and the body lying within it was that of a bearded old man.
She must have seen the look of horror on my face for she quickly explained it stayed at -50°F for four months of the year and a grave could not be dug. The coffin lid was removed during the day so the children would remember granddad who was 90 years old. Each night the lid was nailed back on so the wolves couldn’t eat him.
She also told me that a gun was necessary when visiting the outhouse after dark. This reasoning made sense to me.
A Close Call
July 10, 1945 I flew 12 passengers to Allahabad, New Delhi and Cawnpore. When we were 20 miles out on our approach to New Delhi we ran into a sandstorm. I immediately called the New Delhi control tower and notified them we were inbound, as well as our altitude and location.
The tower told me we were the only aircraft in the vicinity of the airport, landing approach was into the west and to pick up the beam then land at my leisure. I bracketed the beam and started to let down towards the outer marker beacon. I no sooner thought I had the approach in hand when I looked out of the windshield to see a British Overseas Airways Corp. passenger plane bearing straight for us.
My reflexes reacted immediately; I chopped the throttles, at the same time putting the Dakota into a steep dive straight ahead. I would bet that we missed each other by no more than 20 feet. I levelled out, turned 180° to find the beam and start the approach all over again. While I was doing this I told my wireless operator to call the tower and ask him if they had anymore surprises in store for us. The tower came back to say their radar was not working.
I picked up my mike and told the tower to call the B.O.A.C. pilot and tell him we were two miles out on final approach. After we landed and parked I went to the control tower and had very strong words with them.
Alan was a pilot with 117 (RAF) Sqdn. flying D.C. 3s supplying the 14th army with its needs as they pushed further into Burma. As 1945 dawned their activities increased and presented Allan with many interesting memories.
Jan. 2nd, 1945 Alan and his crew along with a 7,000 lb. load were headed for the west side of the Kaladan valley two miles north of Teinnyo. The DZ (drop zone) was close to the main road running north and south. His was one of ten aircraft, so they had a very large circuit to contend with, the drop taking almost an hour to do and with no fighter escort they did not enjoy spending this much time on a DZ. After the drop they headed north back to Hathazari. That flight took three hours.
The second load of the day was a split load destined for two different DZ's. It consisted of 7,400 lbs. of rations and gasoline. The gasoline was for the tanks at the second DZ. Both drop zones were in the Kaladan Valley, the first was at the 500 foot level on the west side of the valley, three miles north of Awrama village. A small jungle trail ran up the hillside and over the top. It was in a small clearing on this trail that they were to make the drop. The DZ was not hard to locate and Alan decided the best approach was north to south and then swing around into the east to approach again. This put them over the edge of the valley where it would be easier to put the aircraft down if anything went amiss.
This drop went off successfully and they turned north following the Kaladan River until they reached the village of Munhdaung. The valley narrowed to about eight miles wide at this point and as they swung into the west over Munhdaung, mortar shells started bursting all around them. It took Alan about two seconds to dive from 600 feet to about 100 feet! Their fighter escort moved in quickly and strafed the village while Alan flew about five miles to the west to the DZ. The recognition letters were out and the tanks were clearly visible blasting away at the enemy.
Flying wide circles around the DZ and studying the situation, it was apparent that the Japanese were in control of the ground situation. But once again the fighter aircraft appeared and began beating up the enemy ground positions. Moving his aircraft to a safer distance Alan had his navigator warn the "throw out" crew to do a maximum drop each time they could go over the DZ.
Shortly one of the fighter escort appeared and rocked his wings to signal that it was OK to attempt the drop. While the fighter planes continued to beat up the area the supply drops were made. As the gasoline packs hit the ground the ground troops busily retrieved them and it was obvious that the fuel was badly needed. In all it took ten runs to get rid of their load before Alan and his crew high tailed it back up the valleys and over the mountains to Hathazari
It was a 3 hour and 45 minute flight that according to Alan was "one of the more exciting ones"
Part 2—In my own words
Jan 15th. 1945, the army had taken Akyab and its airport during the night and we were headed down the coast bright and early with 4,200 lbs. of Red Cross supplies. We were the first aircraft to land at Akyab since it had been taken, and the Japanese were still lobbing mortar shells on to the field. The runway was still in one piece as we landed and quickly taxied to the unloading area as directed from the makeshift control tower. Upon stopping we ran for the comfort of a slit trench. The army took about 25 minutes to unload our aircraft and put six stretcher casualties and 10 walking casualties on board. Our crew ran to the aircraft and I started the engines and taxied to the end of the runway for takeoff. As we got close to the end of the runway the control tower called and said we should hold position until an American DC3 landed.
We held, and as tile American touched down a mortar shell hit the plane towards its tail. The aircraft stopped about half way down the runway. The crew scrambled out and ran like hell to put as much room as possible between themselves and the aircraft. The next minute the plane blew up shooting flames 200 feet into the air.
More mortar shells began to explode close to the runway as I taxied out and lined up on the runway centerline. The guy in the control tower screamed over the radio "You're crazy, you'll never make it”. With part flaps down, I stood on the brakes, brought the engines up to full power, and released the brakes .We rolled forward like a bullet out of a gun. I coaxed the aircraft into the air turning ever so slightly to the west. We passed over the right side of the burning aircraft at about 400 feet and could feel the intense heat inside our own aircraft.
Up came the wheels, then the flaps. As we turned north over the sea we could see the burning aircraft and four or five aircraft circling the airfield trying to figure out how to get down. We followed the coast north for about 120 miles and landed at Cox’s Bazaar. We were to pick up five passengers and take them to Chittagong, where we were taking the wounded. We arrived without incident, unloaded, took off and fifteen minutes later were back at Hathazari. Flying time 3 hours and 15 minutes.
One night in mid-January I was told to attend a special briefing and to bring only my navigator with me. At the briefing there was only the CO, an army liaison Captain, my navigator and me. We were shown a location on a map approximately five miles northwest of the village of Kaboing, which lay on a small river that fed into the Chindwin to the east. Our cargo was to be 7,000 pounds of pure silver Rupees especially minted for the purpose of rewarding local tribal people for spying on the Japanese. On the receiving end of the drop would be a Captain Stewart who had been born to missionaries in Burma and could speak various tribal languages. He had a small detachment of soldiers with him and they had spent months behind the Japanese lines. We were told that the villages in the valley was infested with enemy troops.
Upon hearing this I suggested some dummy bundles with parachutes attached be put on board so we could occasionally break away from the true DZ and drop the dummies at various points in the valley to distract the Japanese into thinking that there was more than one contingent of the army in the valley. The Liaison officer thought this was a good idea and he would attend to it.
The next morning we were up at 5:30 AM and after a quick breakfast we drove out to the aircraft. On climbing aboard we found a Lieutenant Colonel sitting on top of the cargo. I asked him who he was and what he was doing here, to which he replied, "the name is Grimm and I'm here to make sure you bastards do not steal any of this cargo”. He was nursing a submachine gun on his lap and had the brains to bring along a parachute. I invited him into the cockpit but he refused. I told him of our non smoking rule and why. He said he did not smoke.
Ten minutes later we were airborne and swung around onto an easterly course. I told my navigator I wanted a course to take us about 50 miles north of Gangaw in case the Japanese still had any Zeros at the Gangaw airport. A direct route to the DZ would take us within 5 miles of Gangaw and would have been too risky and asking for trouble. It was a bright clear day and as we climbed to 8,000 feet to clear the mountains we could see the valleys below still covered with fog.
After flying at 8000 feet for 25 minutes, I began a slow let-down to 4000 feet and started flying east through one valley to the next , staying as low as possible when passing over a village in case it was occupied by the Japanese. This way we would be well past them before any guns could be trained on the aircraft. After just over an hour of flying we came to the valley at the south end of which lay the Gangaw airport. We were 50 miles north of Gangaw and our course took us over the village of Sihaung Ashe, which lay on the west side of the Myittha River as it wended its way north up the valley then east to join the Chindwin river. The valley was only 10 miles wide at our crossing point and we were across in three minutes and heading into a valley through the next mountain range. Seven minutes later, clinging close to the mountainside I turned south into the valley where the DZ was located.
Flying south for 20 minutes brought us to the area where the DZ was supposed to be. We flew circles in the area looking for a small hole in the jungle which Captain Stewart and his men had created during the night to make a drop zone. After much zigzagging back and forth we located the target. I quickly looked around the area for points of identification so we could quickly return to the DZ when we left to do dummy drops around the valley. To the south, a small river took a sharp turn to the northeast and I chose this as an identification point. The jungle clearing that formed the DZ was only about 150 feet by 150 feet. Flying over it once more to verify the identification letters, I swung around to start the drop. There was not a soul to be seen on the ground and with such a small target we could only drop a couple of bundles on each run.
After three drops we headed up the valley about ten miles and made a dummy drop. Heading back to the real DZ we came too close to a village and some puffs of smoke coming up towards us indicated that someone did not like us being there.
Fortunately we were not hit. Back at the DZ we dropped another six bundles into the clearing, then headed east about five miles for another dummy drop. This time we stayed close to the ground and away from any village. Then back to the DZ. Rupees being heavy, it did not take many bundles to make a 7000 pound load. This time we dropped the rest of the load.
When this was done I chose two more places to do dummy drops and then headed for the protection of the mountains in the northwest. I instructed the crew to keep a sharp outlook for Zeros because the Japanese knew we were in the valley and had possibly alerted their air force of our presence. We passed from one valley to the next and climbed to 8000 feet to negotiate the next mountain range. Clinging to the mountainside we had reached 7000 feet when I saw what appeared to be three Zeros about 10 miles away heading in our direction.
Knowing that at the speed they would be traveling, they would be on us within two minutes I did a steep diving turn, heading for the valley bottom at the same time telling the crew to keep an eye on the Zeros. Seeing a small valley heading west I turned into it. It was exceptionally narrow so I quickly took off some speed so that we could negotiate the turns in the valley. The adrenaline flowed and I and I could feel the perspiration building up at my belt line. Six or seven minutes passed and nothing happened so I came to the conclusion that we had not been seen. The narrow valley led us into another valley heading northwest. Climbing to 7000 feet we cleared the ridge at the end of the valley. A quick scan of the sky told me we had not been spotted by the Zeros and they must have gone hunting elsewhere.
And now it was all downhill as mountain slopes gave way to flat land and rice paddies. We landed at Hathazari having a flight time of 3 hours and 50 minutes.
We bid farewell to Lieutenant Colonel Grimm as crews began loading the aircraft with cargo for our next flight.
A very strange follow up to this story:
On June 2nd. I did a flight to Calcutta and stayed overnight at the Grand Hotel. My navigator spent the evening at one of the missionary temples and my wireless operator—Scotty—decided to do some shopping. After dinner I wandered into the bar to see if anyone I knew might happen to be there. There was not, so I sat on a stool at the bar and ordered a Tom Collins. Later when I was halfway through my second drink I noticed an Army Captain enter the bar. He came towards where I sat and I noticed he walked like a cat—always on edge, nervous, head on a swivel as though watching for the unexpected. I thought to myself "This one must be fresh out of the Burmese jungle". He sat down next to me and ordered a double "scotch on the rocks”. We struck up a conversation and upon noticing my pilot's wings and Burma Star ribbon on my uniform, he said, "What squadron are you with?" I told him I had just finished a tour with 117 Squadron. With a hollow kind of a laugh he said "One of your boys went to one hell of a lot of trouble a few months ago to do a special drop to me in the jungle and it was all a wasted effort." I studied him for a couple of minutes and said "You must be Burma Stewart". He had a long sip of his drink before replying. "How the hell do you know me?" I told him that I was the pilot who had dropped the silver Rupees and asked him if they had picked them up to pay off the natives. He ordered another round of drinks and then proceeded to tell me what had happened that day.
They had chopped the hole in the jungle during the night and then withdrew to a small hill about a mile away to watch the drop. He said it was a magnificent sight to watch us doing our stuff to put the money in the hole. Talk about "money from Heaven". When the drop was finished they decided to come down to the drop and pick up the money. Suddenly they heard machine gun fire nearby and they soon realized the valley was swarming with Japanese. They decided to forget about the money as the risk was too great. All week they had been having close calls with Jap patrols and they were getting quite nervous. About 20 minutes later three Zeros appeared on the scene and that clinched it. They climbed all day and all night until they reached the floor of the next valley. A couple of days later they were picked up by a flight of L5 aircraft landing on a dried up rice paddy.
I just about choked on my drink. “You mean to say the money is still there?" "Yes" he replied "and you and I are the ones who know where it is because Colonel Grimm was killed about three weeks ago while out on a jungle patrol". We made a pact right then and there to come back after the war and get the money. We finished our drinks and I bade Stewart "goodnight and good luck".
I have not heard of Stewart since the chance meeting. I often wake up at night and think about all that money lying in the jungle. With the heat and dampness, the parachutes and packs would have rotted long ago. The jungle growth would have closed the hole within a year or two. On occasion I still think of going back to see if I could locate the money. But then I think of those Naga tribesmen still chopping off heads—and I would like to hold on to mine fur a while longer!
Final memories of flying his beloved D.C.3 with the R.A.F. in Burma and India
January 16, 1946. I took D.C.3—KJ900 up for a 25—minute air test and the next day flew it to Jodhpur taking 4 hours 50 minutes whereupon I bid this aircraft farewell. We stayed in Jodhpur for two days, and then on January 19th flew D.C.3—KJ874 to New Delhi.
To my regret, this was the last time I flew with the Royal Air force.
The next two and a half months I spent at Patna, playing tennis, reading and studying my corr
espondence courses. Life had become extremely boring until early in April I was told to report with my crew to Bombay.
We traveled to Bombay by train and on arrival I was told we were to fly a Beechcraft twin-engine Expeditor to Germany. I became alive again and, with my navigator, began to plan the route we would fly. We were due to leave on the following Monday but, alas, on the Saturday I came down once more with malaria and was taken in a coma to military hospital.
Two weeks later and still weak after the malarial bout, I was released from hospital. Then I received the bad news. There were no more aircraft to fly to Europe. I left three days later for England on the Capetown Castle. After spending the next 18 days at sea and only being used to traveling great distances by air in a few hours, I was bored stiff and began to think the journey would never end.
Subsequently I was discharged from the R.A.F. and on the November 11, I set sail for Canada, arriving in Halifax on November 18, 1946
My discharge from the Royal Air Force took place at Uxbridge on the outskirts of London. I was told I was Class "A" Reserve and would be one of the first to be recalled if they needed me. I was given six months leave with full pay, told I could return to the R.A.F. within the six-month time frame if I did not like being a civilian.
I was offered a short term commission for five years at my present rank which meant at the age of 28-1/2 years, the Air Force could dispense with my services and no hope of enough time in the R.A.F. to qualify for a pension. My reply was that I might consider a permanent commission but this was turned down.
In 1954 I became a reserve instructor in the Royal Canadian Air Force flying out of Vancouver Airport. The aircraft I flew was the de Haviland Chipmunk, a small two-seat, fully aerobatic aircraft. After hours spent flying the D.C.3, the Chipmunk felt like a toy in my hands. Anyway it was lots of fun doing aerobatics again and I was soon to receive my commercial license with an endorsement that I was qualified to fly a D.C.3. This endorsement I kept on my pilot's license until the year of 1994 when, due to ill health I voluntarily gave up my license.
For a number of years I flew for pleasure in a twin-engine Piper Apache, a single-engine Grumman American and a single-engine Cessna 172. But, alas, they were not the beloved D.C.3, with which I had such a long romance.
And a parting word:
She was part of me and I was part of her, and together we became as one. When I demanded the almost impossible of her she never murmured.
And when I pushed the envelope close to the edge—she would let me know it was time to ease off just a little.
D.C.3., wherever you are now, I would like to tell you my love for you is still as strong as ever. I thank you for letting me be one of your pilots.
Alan Hemingway. For further information on Burma Veterans, see The Burna Star.
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