The Navy aircraft centered on course, the compass pegged at 040. Jake radioed the airfield, then picked up his coffee. In less than two hours he’d arrive first at the writers’ conference and pick up his check for one-million dollars. Jake’s aircraft had the lead ahead of the others thanks to a powerful tail wind. He sipped his coffee and settled back, autopilot flying the plane.
Moments later the aircraft yawed, then started a rolling spiral as the ailerons locked. Jake slammed the autopilot disconnect switch off and took control. The co-pilot, Andy, read off emergency procedures while the flight engineer flipped circuit breakers to isolate power to essential circuits.
Jake struggled to free the ailerons: no dice. Stay calm, buddy, stay calm. “Andy, send the crew to their stations.” Susan. Our anniversary is next week. “Prepare to bail out on my command.”
“Aye, aye, Jake.”
The flight engineer continued his emergency procedures. “Sir.”
“Ailerons are jammed, skipper. The rudder yaw occurred right before the roll. I’d bet a million bucks an aileron torque tube snapped.”
I’d give a million bucks to land safe, Bryce. “Options.”
“Not much we can do about a busted torque tube in the wings, Skipper. But we can check the controls under the floorboards. Thank God the roll stabilized.”
“Who can check?”
“I’m the only airframer. Off-duty engineer can take the seat.”
“Okay.” What if I never see the kids again? Funny. Money doesn’t mean a thing to me, but I’d still like to have it for the kids. “Don’t endanger yourself.”
“I won’t, Skipper.”
I never felt helpless in combat; why do I feel helpless now?
“Andy. Keep up communications; I want eyes on Bryce’s every move. Keep your hands on the yoke, just enough to feel them. Don’t fight anything. Do exactly what I ask.”
“Roger. I trust you Jake.”
“Thanks, Andy. We’ll have dinner this weekend with the girls.” I hope I sound more confident than I feel.
“Call altitude every thousand feet.”
“Roger. Twenty-four thousand.”
Twenty-three thousand. Twenty-two thousand. Nineteen thousand. The spiral deepened. G-forces mashed Jake to his seat. The crew would be unable to bail out if they couldn’t get out of their seats. The crew relayed progress reports from Bryce. The torque tubes appeared intact. He continued looking for other causes. How the hell is Bryce able to move? I’m buying him a drink when we land. A million dollars seemed so important three minutes ago. Now, I’d give anything to see my little girls.
Thirteen thousand. Twelve thousand. The ground rose fast. They’d be dead in less than two minutes. Goodbye, Susan. Every man aboard was well-trained. Every man aboard trusted him. But there was nothing he could do. None of them would be able to bail out. They’d crash and die, leaving a big, smoking hole in the ground. He hoped he wouldn’t cry out. He tightened his grip on the yoke. Come on, Bryce, come…The ailerons broke free. The controls responded. He would live.
“Yes! I’ll be the first to arrive!”