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Posted: 30 September 2014
Word Count: 1305

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.


According to the manufacturers, a take-off in a DC7 with the cooling gills open is impossible.  But my old colleague Sk----, from that little village west of Reykjavik, was there, did it, and knows otherwise... 

As they cleared the lumpy ‘runway’, a commandeered section of highway, manoeuvering in the black darkness with engines roaring, the conditions at the airhead revealed themselves in the light of hundreds of hand-held lanterns. Jake was immediately struck by the numbers of people there. There must have been over two hundred of them, surging across the apron in a panic-stricken mass of black humanity. Jake didn’t like it. He saw Karl go back and open the forward cabin door, remembering asking him if he could see any nuns. He could still hear his succinct reply;
”Ten thousand kaffirs, but not one fucking nun .” 
The surging crowd down below were all screaming :LADDER! LADDER”, meaning the ten foot aluminium ladder necessary to reach the ground. Before anyone could stop him the Caritas priest had rigged the ladder, and was disappearing down it to look for his nuns. A fight broke out around the base of the ladder, and the co-pilot passed Jake, heading for the back to open the rear door. Then Jake, watching from the forward door, saw the number one propeller change from a smooth silver disc to a blur. On instinct he turned owards the flightdeck. 
“Tony, don’t shut down! For Christ’s sake keep them running!” And the Captain was looking back at him uncertainly, and that was when the firing started.
Shit! Not again…was his only thought, the staccato fabric-ripping sound of an automatic weapon transporting him straight back in time to the river crossing, with Eissman laying down traversing fire in short bursts, as the line of Federals closed on them. This time it was worse, and as he glanced back outside, seeing muzzle flashes in the darkness, there was a rapid tic! tic! tic! as a row of holes appeared as though by magic in the exposed aluminium skin of the aircraft.
Christ, let’s fire it up and get out of here!
He leaped for the cockpit, just in time to see the windshield on the captain’s side star and craze over, sagging inwards where the bullets had struck. Tony in the left hand seat was yelling something and then more rounds came zipping into the flightdeck, and Tony was doubling up in his seat, clutching his hands together. Jake ignored him, instead hitting the number one starter, hearing the welcome surging whine of magnetos energizing as the engine turned over. Then on with the fuel and the Pratt & Whitney fired and lit. Then number four. It fired, and as it did so he glanced backwards into the cabin. Amazingly, the priest had managed to make it back on board, and Jake saw him hurl himself flat as the gunfire increased in tempo. 
He was aware of Karl Eissman, cool as ever, and grinning as he leaned forward over the man’s recumbent body and laid down a steady return fire, the MP40 erupting in short professional bursts as he hosed at the muzzle flashes, brass cases spewing from the clattering breech. Karl knocked the empty magazine out, smacked another one in.
“Englander, let’s get the fuck out of here!”
It was the feeling Jake had also, as he climbed into the right hand seat, not stopping to worry as to the whereabouts of the co-pilot. He pushed forward the throttles, felt the airplane start to move, glancing sideways at Tony who was still bent double, blood seeping from his smashed left hand. The taxi way showed up dimly as he flicked on the nosewheel lights.
Have to chance it with the Migs…
Ahead a black surface showed up.
Turn right, it’s only a couple of hundred yards to the threshold…
Aware of the firing close behind him as he entered and turned to backtrack the runway, he managed to yell to Karl, ”Close up, we’re taking off!”
Eissman turned towards him, nodding briefly as he fired the gun empty, disappearing from Jake’s view as he moved forward to close the door. Jake heard the locks as they thudded home. The bush beyond the runway threshold now showed up in the glare of the landing lights. Jake throttled back on the one and two, opening up on three and four as he swung the aircraft through one hundred and eighty degrees to line her up.
Check the flap setting, OK, fifteen degrees ought to do it at this weight...
He opened the throttles wide, and the engines responded with a powerful crescendoing roar. They moved forward, the vibration from the rough surface of the roadway increasing rapidly with the acceleration. A glowing ribbon of plasma flashed across the nose, as someone fired a burst of tracer, and Jake automatically checked the manifold pressure.
Shit, only a hundred and ten, I need a hundred and sixty, what’s wrong ? The big lever on the right side of the throttle quadrant caught his eye.
With his left hand Jake released the gustlock, feeling the throttles ease and move fully open with the engine noise increasing accordingly. Manifold pressure now up at one-sixty, airspeed increasing through ninety, and palm trees showing up ahead in the landing lights. They were running out of road, and with just a hundred showing on the airspeed he rotated, willing the airplane to fly. It did, sagging briefly back onto the runway, bumping into the air again. Then they were flying.
Gear up.
He snapped it out of positive lock, and raised the gear lever, noting the three green lights on the panel as they winked out, feeling the muffled thuds from below and aft as the wheels retracted. And flicking a rapid glance at the ASI.
It was down at eighty-five knots, and the vertical speed read zero, which meant they weren’t climbing. The controls also felt loose in his hands and he could feel the airplane starting to wallow. She was ‘mushing’, not really flying, and on the verge of a stall. Jake looked up. Treetops, revealed in the harsh glare from the landing lights, were ripping past, scant feet below. He slammed at the throttles. No good, they were already firewalled, the overboosted engines screaming.
What the fuck’s WRONG ?
He shot a glance across at Tony. The Captain, his face chalk-white and glistening with sweat, was pointing at something with his good hand, something up on the eyebrow panel, as a shudder ran through the airframe..
This is it. At any second now she’ll stall in.
He looked, for the final time, at where Tony seemed to be pointing.
Jesus Christ, the gills, the fucking gills, still stuck at the open position where they’d been left on the ground to cool the engines at idle, and now sapping the machine’s ability to fly, protruding from the cylinder heads as they did into the slipstream around the cowlings like four sets of airbrakes…I
Jake reached out, switching all four door switches to ‘TRAIL’, just as the aircraft gave what must have been its final shudder, before the airflow broke up over the wing, and then they were FLYING, FLYING by Christ, the ASI needle forging around the dial to a healthy speed, with the VSI showing a thousand feet per minute upwards. He levelled off at fifteen hundred feet and a hand fell on his shoulder. It was that of the missing co-pilot. Jake wondered how long he’d been standing there watching. He shouted, to make himself heard above the hundred and forty knot draught through their mangled windshield.
“Well done. Do you mind if I climb back in now?

An extract from the novel “The Freight Dog”.
By Billington.
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