FLIGHT TO DESTINY
CHAPTER ONE (Part 1)
Annie Gwynn nudged the control stick to the left, touched her foot to the left rudder pedal, and put the small, single-engine airplane into a shallow bank. The right wing lifted and traced an invisible arc across the sky as the aircraft swung through a 180-degree turn.
The early morning mist had vanished from the green valleys between the rugged mountains that looked down on Pearl Harbor. In the two months she had been there, Annie had learned that the seasons in Hawaii didn’t change like they did in Tennessee. Back home, by early December, the trees on the gentle, rounded Green Hills south of Nashville were bare, and the sky had taken on that slate gray monochrome that comes in mid-November and stays until March. On December 7, this tropical paradise brimmed with sunshine and gloriously brilliant blossoms of red, purple, orange and yellow.
Annie bit back a yawn. She had been up since five. Both she and her roommate, Cornelia Fort, had students scheduled to fly at sunrise — not unusual for a busy Sunday at Honolulu’s John Rodgers Civilian Airport. She could see her friend’s yellow trainer flying a half-mile away. Cornelia had taken off first and already had her student doing turns and stalls.
“Let’s Try Some Power-off Stalls”
When a scan of the sky told her no other airplanes were in the practice area, Annie turned to eighteen-year-old Tom Witten, who sat behind her in the enclosed cockpit. “OK, Mr. Witten,” she yelled over the noise of the engine, “let’s try some power-off stalls. Carburetor heat on, power off, stick back, nose up, back pressure, back, back. When the controls get mushy, stick forward to neutral, power on. Carb heat off. Gentle but firm.”
She watched the nose of the plane climb the sky, her hands and feet resting lightly on her own set of controls, ready to take over in an instant if the young man sitting behind her failed to perform the maneuver correctly. To land an airplane, the pilot first has to put it into a stall. But a fledgling pilot learns how to stall by practicing high in the air where a mistake results only in a little loss of altitude, not an uncontrolled flight into the ground.
Tom did well for a beginner, she noted. You never could tell with students. The ones you expected to be bold often turned out to be the most timid once in the air, whereas the poor soul you thought was afraid of his own shadow might turn out to be a roughneck who tended to jerk the plane around all over the sky.
“My grandmother gave me the money for my birthday. I’ll be eighteen on the seventh,” the eager young man told her when he signed up for lessons. His broad chest puffed out just a bit. “I’m gonna join the Air Corps and be a pursuit pilot.”
An Instructor at Twenty-Two
Annie smiled at that. As a college graduation present last summer, Gramma Gwynn had given her the money to get her instructor’s rating. Now, barely twenty-two herself, she taught eighteen-year-olds how to fly.
And she loved flying the little J-3 Cub, single-engine trainers.
“Very nice, Mr. Witten,” she called out when Tom had three reasonably successful stalls under his belt. Then she put him to work negotiating 360-degree turns, first to the right and then to the left — to be accomplished without gaining or losing altitude. “Keep your eye on the altimeter.” She tapped her finger on the instrument panel.
Below lay the jungle — so dense, so verdant, so intense in the early morning sun, it almost hurt to look at it. Mesmerized, lulled by the drone of the engine into a momentary complacency no flight instructor could afford, Annie forced herself to look up and out beyond the crests of the hills in front of her to the brilliant gem-blue of the Pacific Ocean.
Moving Specks Caught the Sun’s Rays
Having lost track of Cornelia’s plane, she began to search for it. Instead of her friend’s yellow trainer, in the distance Annie saw moving specks— specks that caught the rays of the rising sun.
A flock of birds? Too big. Airplanes? Maybe she and Cornelia weren’t the only ones flying this morning. She squinted through the windshield. The specks — yes, airplanes — and coming toward her, closing on her.
Now she could see a formation of dozens, maybe hundreds of planes. They resembled a swarm of angry bees. Seconds later, the lead aircraft banked right and turned south and she caught sight of a red ball on the wing. The other airplanes followed the leader. All but one.
The last plane peeled off and flew toward her. With the sun behind her and shining right into the other pilot’s eyes, maybe he couldn’t see her. Nevertheless, they were on a collision course with Annie’s much smaller, slower aircraft the vulnerable one.
Alarm bells were going off in Annie’s brain. Red ball. The Rising Sun? Japanese? Impossible. But that sleek silver airplane closed on her fast.
The Silver Menace Kept Coming
“Let’s get outta here.” She yanked the controls from her student and shoved the throttle in full. Her stomach did a rollercoaster flutter as she put the airplane in a sudden dive, mindful that she didn’t have a lot of altitude to lose in these hills. But Annie knew she had to do something to evade the silver menace that came straight at her.
She heard what sounded like machine gun fire and bullets whining overhead. Keep the nose down, she thought. She swung first left and then right, hoping to spoil his aim.
“Where is he?” she yelled. “For god sake, find him. Tell me where he is.” She knew any minute a burst of those bullets would rip through the fabric of the little Cub and tear them to shreds.
“H-h-h-he’s gone, Miss Gwynn,” was Tom Witten’s stuttered response — barely audible over the engine roar.
“Flew over us, turned, followed the others — straight south.”
Columns of Smoke Rose from Pearl Harbor
She turned in her seat and saw him pointing back toward the harbor. She eased back on the stick and banked right, beginning a gradual climb to regain her lost altitude.
Columns of smoke rose from Pearl Harbor. They fouled the bright blue morning sky with a dirty pall that threatened to obliterate the few fleecy clouds that floated high over paradise.
Continued Next Week …
Hope you like Chapter One from my second WASP novel, Flight to Destiny.
To read Part 2, click here
To read Part 3, click here
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