Friday, August 17, 2012

Before A Fall

By Dick Shead, Historical, 434 pages
Cover art by Dick Shead
Todd Abbin planned a career with a major airline. Mike Gilroy’s dream was owning a race plane and flying it in the 1938 Cleveland Air Races. Della McClusky plans to step from waitress to actress. Events turn out much differently after they meet Georgie Pine. Georgie marries Della and tricks Todd out of an airline job. Todd and Mike are hired to fly the couple from New York to the Caribbean.
What starts out as a honeymoon trip to the Caribbean turns into a nightmare journey of sabotage, survival, and death. Mike, Todd and Della will face situations beyond their imagination as they travel to a confrontation with a mob of Nazi sympathizers in Brazil.
I have often wondered if I would have ever tried to fly it. I would have liked the experience. It was a lot faster and had a much higher wing loading than anything I had ever flown. As it turned out, I never got the chance. Jimmy touched down, a little fast, on the main gear. The airplane bounced once and settled into a nice three-point landing straight down the runway. I was yelling and shaking everyone’s hands when the airplane tried to swap ends.
Interesting fact about a conventional, or tail-wheel, airplane: the center of gravity, or cg, is behind the main wheels. As you apply the brakes to slow down, the cg is trying to push forward. If you don’t keep the airplane going perfectly straight, the force from the cg will try to spin the airplane around backwards.
That’s what happened to Jimmy. I heard someone say “oh, oh” and looked around to see a big spray of snow as the airplane took off through the unplowed area at the side of the runway. I thought, “He’ll be okay as long as the landing gear holds.” That’s when the right main strut collapsed. As the wheel folded under the fuselage, the wing struck the ground and crumpled. The engine stopped instantly when the prop hit the dirt and I knew the dream was over for the up-coming season.
I remember running toward the wreck. Fortunately it didn’t flip and there was no fire, but it was obvious we were out of business. We could inspect and rebuild the engine but it would be a long, slow process building or finding (buying was out of the question) a wing panel. Jimmy climbed out of the cockpit as I got to the wreck. He was shaking all over. I asked, “You all right?”

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