Metallic thunder resounded through the hangar as he pulled the rolling door open. The smells of oil and avgas escaped the building as newly risen sun rays crept in, glinting on shiny propellers and metal pitot tubes. With a loud clang signalling the extent of its exit, the door was open. James stood back.
An array of planes filled the space, arranged seemingly haphazardly. A tri-pacer stood at an angle off to the left and a recently restored North American T-6 Harvard in the foremost front. To the right, and this was where he was headed, waited a Piper Cherokee 140. The windshield gleamed in the sunlight as if winking at him, and her low wings stood proudly in the cold hangar. He placed the tow in the nose wheel hooks and pulled the beauty out of her parking spot, almost imagining he could sense the jealousy of the other birds.
It was a cold morning, but bright and clear as was the custom in this area. Smoke rose in the distant horizon, signalling the presence of the not-so-far away residential area, and James’ one time home. The wind was steady at 11 knots, scooting gently along in a northerly direction.
Coming to a stop at the paint-marked T on the airfield apron, he removed the tow and stuck it behind the co-pilot’s seat. Removing the fuel-check, he began the pre-flight inspection.
Pre-flight inspection completed, James pulled the canopy shut and clicked the seat belt shut. Checking the gauges and instruments, he set the clock time and air pressure, and continued with the start up procedure. Engine primed, he leaned towards the air hatch and yelled “CLEAR PROP!”, and brought her roaring to life. The air pressure rose as expected, and once the mixture was leaned, he made the radio call:
“Brakpan traffic, this is echo x-ray india taxiing to the holding point, runway one eight.”
While taxiing, he changed tanks to the fullest one, and made sure the time was recorded as well as the airframe hours. James whistled softly to himself, surveying the fields around him as he made his way to the runway threshold. At the entrance point, he did the power checks, made the radio call, and entered the runway.
Sitting tight in the centreline, he did the final checks and pushed the throttle fully inwards. Hurtling down the runway, he prepared for takeoff.
“Special Rules traffic, this is echo x-ray india in a piper 140, currently seven tousand foot abeam the Rustic Dam to the East, heading to the old military airfield for some low-level flying. Any conflicting traffic?”
With the silence of the radio confirming his solitude, James opened the carburettor heat and eased the nose forward.
He watched the needle on the air speed indicator rising progressively out of the corner of his eye as the ground slowly rose up to meet him. After he was satisfied that he was going fast enough, he quickly but steadily pulled the control yoke towards him. The nose rose up and cut through the clear blue sky. Pushing hard on the rudder and counter controlling with the ailerons, he brought the 140 swinging sideways and watched the ground swing round gleefully as it did a vertical 180 in the air. He relished the rush of being free, and the push of the force weighting him down into his seat.
Smiling to himself he sought the gleam of water, and after bringing her out of the dive, he took the plane on a descent to low level.
“Brakpan traffic, this is echo x-ray india, on final approach for runway one eight, for a full stop.”
He pulled upwards on the flap lever to bring her into the two-flap configuration. The downward pitch and nose attitude brought about by the extra flap made his view of the runway numbers clearer. Checking speed he adjusted his position to be in the centre of the runway, neither too steep, nor too shallow. He adjusted for the wind, and smiled as the ground rushed up to meet him.
The steady rhythm of the heart monitor beep was lulling her to sleep. The smell of ammonia didn’t help, and neither did the otherwise deathly hush of the white hospital room. A side lamp lent enough light to the room so that Christy could see her husband’s face. The constant rise and fall of his chest was a comfort to her, yet she knew it would not be long. She could hear him muttering in his sleep, and longed to have him speak with her coherently, for what would be the first time in weeks, and for this reason alone she struggled to keep her eyes open.
Christy watched her husband as he mumbled through his dream, and realized how much he had meant to her. They had had their hard times, it was never easy, but it had been good. She regretted none of it, and only wished that he had gone out more gracefully. He had always boasted of flames and glory for his final moment, and she couldn’t help thinking that it may have been easier.
Lost in thought about what could have been, the quick bleeping of the heart monitor broke her reverie. The rate had gone up, and was reaching peak levels. She put her hand on his hand and whispered softly to him to ease the tension out of him and slow his heart rate. The bleeping didn’t slow down, and her husband began to mumble loudly and twitch in his death bed. The bleeping raced along too quickly, and the emergency alarm began to sound.
Tears streaming down her face, Christy leaned over and kissed him on the mouth, telling him firmly how much she loved him. His eyes sprang open, shining blue and clear of the illness he had been subdued by in recent weeks. James looked at his wife and said “I love you honey.”
“I love you too Jim.” The words tumbled out, and tears streamed furiously down her face as the words escaped her. “I hope you had a nice dream.”
He lay back in his bed and closed his eyes, ignoring the alarms and the rushing steps of nurses and doctors coming to his aid. It was over.
“I did. I’m flying.”