Friday, November 9, 2018

Three Days

(Source)
As the drone of the engine surrounded him and the cold air nipped at the parts of his face not covered by his goggles and scarf, the young pilot realized that he had never felt more alive. Scanning the skies around him, he sensed more than saw the other aircraft in his flight, his attention was focused farther out, out to where the enemy might be.

The shadows were beginning to stretch across the torn and scarred land passing beneath his fragile steed. Smoke drifted from fires, here and there he could see the trace of a trench. He had been down there once upon a time, drowning in the mud, going nearly insane from the constant artillery fire. Watching his comrades torn to pieces by cannon, rifle, and machine gun fire. From the first moment he had seen an observation plane high above, he knew what he wanted.

It had taken months, but finally he had ascended to the heavens in his wooden and cloth bird, held together with varnish, nails, and tautly stretched control wires. He had become a pilot, a man above it all. They said that the war was ending, both sides were stretched to the breaking point, it had to end.

But the pilot silently prayed for the war to last just a few more days. He had only reported to the front a short while ago. He had yet to see an enemy aircraft. He wanted to test himself against another pilot. He had worked too hard to get here, worked too hard to return to a peacetime existence.

While his new squadron mates, nearly to a man, prayed for the end of the war. He begged the Fates for it to last, not forever, just long enough...



High above the front, the veteran pilot and his wingman watched the shadows below for movement. The enemy was getting complacent, patrolling at nearly the same time and height every day. Though the war was nearly over, this man didn't care one way or the other. With the exception of his wingman, all of his friends were dead. The boys he had gone to school with, devoured by the war machine which still sputtered far below.

As he scanned to the left, his wingman watched the right and to the rear, he saw the other aircraft pull ahead slightly. Turning to look, he saw the exaggerated gesture of the other pilot, motioning ahead and to the right. Peering intently in that direction, he saw them, a flight of four. Waving to his wingman, he chopped his throttle and eased the stick forward.



The young pilot saw the gunner in the observation plane they were escorting suddenly swing his gun to the side. Turning to see what had attracted the man's attention, he was startled to see the bright flashes of tracer ammunition pass through their formation. Controlling his emotions, just barely, he saw two aircraft coming in from above and to their rear. Winking lights lit the noses of the two aircraft.

Dear God, he thought, they're shooting at us! All thought left him, he could die here!



Letting the momentum of their dive carry them through the enemy formation at a very high rate of speed, the veteran pilot pulled back and to his right, letting his speed lift his aircraft into a zoom climb. With grim satisfaction he noted a long line of smoke falling to the earth, tipped with fire, it marked the death of an enemy pilot. "Better you than me, brother," the veteran thought.

Easing his aircraft into the top of a semi-loop, he craned his neck to reacquire the enemy formation, they had broken apart. One aircraft had stayed close to the observation bird, the other was pulling hard into them. "Huh, that fellow seems to know his business."



The young pilot had seen the other new guy slump in his cockpit as the enemy's fire consumed him and his aircraft. He saw the flames, he saw the smoke, he saw the aircraft begin to burn, begin to fall. Without thinking he turned into the enemy attack, abandoning the aircraft they had been sent to protect.

The two enemy aircraft were flown beautifully, arching high to come around and make a second pass, the young pilot thought he had misjudged his turn. Pulling hard on the stick, he then knew that his turn had been perfect. At least one of the enemy aircraft would be under his guns in just a moment.



The veteran was annoyed, his wingman didn't seem to be paying attention, he had focused on the target and was ignoring the rest of the fight. "I guess now I'm the wingman," he thought. Flicking the controls expertly he slid behind his wingman and to the other aircraft's right side, slightly under and behind him.

The well-flown enemy aircraft was there, wait, wait, NOW!



The young airman jumped as enemy tracer fire dazzled him just as he triggered his own weapon. Ha! The bastard missed. But he was still shooting.

Bunting the nose of his aircraft, he let her drop, then  pulled back and kicked the rudder. In his peripheral vision he saw smoke. Had he hit the enemy he had fired at?



Shit! The veteran saw his wingman's aircraft stagger, then watched in horror as the wings of the brightly painted aircraft folded in upon itself. But he saw that the enemy airman had misjudged his pass, there, there...

FIRE!

Triggering his guns, he saw the enemy aircraft seem to push forward then lift up as the tail swung around. It was if the enemy had managed to stop in mid-air!

Now the veteran began to sweat. This was no simple fight.



In the distance, the observation plane and its sole remaining escort fled for their home aerodrome. Mission accomplished, but to lose two pilots on a mission to photograph a supply dump in the waning hours of a dying war?

What a waste.

But the commander of the flight didn't realize that one of his fledglings was still in the fight raging behind them.



The rookie pilot was in the fight of his life and he had never felt so alive. The two aircraft, his and that of his enemy, danced through the dying light of a late November afternoon. Neither pilot could gain an advantage, and the fight was drifting to the east with the prevailing wind.

Then, the enemy aircraft flashed passed his nose, he pulled the trigger and...

Nothing. Damn it! Out of ammo.

Kicking the rudder he skidded his aircraft to try and get on his enemy's tail, it was his only chance to survive.



The veteran pilot jinked his aircraft, tried every trick he knew to shake his adversary. But nothing worked, the man was on his tail as if the two aircraft were welded together. Why won't he fire? Just end it!

Then it struck him, perhaps the fellow was out of ammunition? Throttling back, he lifted his left arm up and waved.



The rookie watched, he had to chop his own throttle as the enemy aircraft abruptly slowed, then the guy lifted his arm and waved? What the hell?

Warily, he pulled alongside the enemy craft. The other pilot lifted his goggles and saluted. He was grinning from ear to ear.

Without thinking, the young pilot lifted his own goggles and saluted the other man. Then, waggling his wings, he turned towards home. The fight was over.



As the veteran watched the other aircraft recede into the distance, he laughed, I was bested by a kid. That man couldn't have been more than eighteen. But damn it could that kid fly, if he'd conserved his ammo, he doubted seriously that he'd be laughing now. Then as his home field came into view, the veteran became sober.

He had a letter to write, to the parents of his friend, lost somewhere over northern France on the 8th of November, 1918.

He was going to get very drunk tonight.


22 comments:

  1. Well done Sarge. Even used "Bunted", and described a Hi Yo Yo. I'll give you an A for accuracy.

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    1. I had my fingers crossed when I wrote that. Thanks Juvat.

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  2. Hey Old AFSarge;

    That was well written, for a moment I could see myself on a "motorized" kite. I remember a phrase from the movie "Midway", Henry Fonda's character as Nimitz commented "Were we better than the Japanese or Just luckier". There are times being lucky is better than being good.

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    1. The phrase "I'd rather be lucky than good." has a lot of validity in Air to Air combat.

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    2. Thanks MrG. Luck should never be discounted.

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    3. There's also this -

      "All great events hang by a hair, I believe in luck, and the wise man neglects nothing which contributes to his destiny." - Napoléon

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  3. Well written Sarge, short and not many sentences make for a smooth flow. Nice idea not to identify sides. Decided to check here again after returning inside from shoveling the 2 inches that came down earlier, glad I did. Echoing Dwight's post...... ya... dusty......

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    1. Glad you noticed the sides thing.

      Snow? Oh dear!

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  4. Exceptionally well written, as always. The eyeball must be better by now so you can type again!
    Are these incidents based on actual characters and events, or mostly fictional creations albeit with great appreciation of the historical context?
    In any case, fully up to the standard for historical writing with fictional narrative quality in "Killer Angels."
    John Blackshoe

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    1. Thanks John.

      Usually the characters are fictional, the events are too, sometimes. Having read so much history there is always the possibility that a particular event is based in fact. Might be a different war or theater but odds are I read it somewhere and now it pops up in a story.

      I like to give the "flavor" of the time, what I think it must have been like. The Killer Angels is an all time favorite, I draw inspiration from books like that.

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  5. I, too, noticed the lack of sides, and lack of identification of the aircraft. Though I have my suspicions based on mission and plane count.

    Excellent tale. Brought me right back to some of the books I read about WWI aviation, Arch Whitehouse's to be specific.

    Funny that in a war where there were lots of little graces like the veteran not blasting but saluting the kid (which also framed the nationality of the pilots in my mind) there were a lot of just no-good dirty handed. The crucible of combat does tend to emphasize a person's personality.

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    1. I kind of wanted the reader to put his or her own imagination as to the who is on what side and what types of aircraft are they flying.

      More fun to write that way as well.

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  6. When you write your novel, I want an autographed copy.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Oh, by the way, when the time comes, I would be honored to be among your first readers and I offer what skills I possess in helping to make your book the outstanding work that I know it will be.

      PLQ

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  7. step by step, slowly we count down to my mom's birthday.
    but i will hang out the flag for that.

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  8. Some of your posts, Sarge, are just a joy to read. Others? They kick me in the gut. World War One. WWI. The War to End All Wars.

    They all are gone, now. What once was memory, now is "merely" history. And it saddens me. The war that was a result of a few cousins' family spat.

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    1. Saddens me as well, Jim. History is made by living, breathing people. Just like us.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)