my Wings. Even the No-lift-in-the-air motor salesman ( still there) deigned to talk with me. I told him the Caudron was very apt to spin.
But upon the return journey I paid for the pride and joy of the morning. I had had a swim and an excellent lunch; had I been my own master I should also have had a short siesta. When at length I soared into the air, watched by a crowd of envious pupils, and set course for Gosport I felt – for the first time in my life in an aeroplane – really happy, almost drowsy. The engine no longer seemed to emit a menacing roar, but rather to hum a regular, slightly monotonous lullaby. The air had all the requisite “lift” in it, there were no bumps, it was warm even at two thousand five hundred feet and the sky was cloudless all the way to Gosport. I leaned back, very nearly at my ease.
On the way home I followed the seashore to see from the air a coast I had long known on the ground. Ahead, Hayling Island came gradually into my ken. I had done a course in machine-gunnery there before joining the Flying Corps and I thought that I would like to look more closely at so familiar a locality. After passing over it I should, of course, have to turn inland to avoid the prohibited area of Portsmouth; that would involve quite a long detour by Fareham. But there was plenty of time before sunset; the evening was calm, clear, and of such beauty as to make the temptation to stay up a little longer irresistible to a young airman.
Presently I was above marshes and mudflats and the arms of the quiet sea encircling the island. I began to recognize roads, lanes, cottages, clumps of trees, to see paths down which I had rushed perspiringly with weighty pieces of Vickers or Lewis guns. I smiled contentedly from the superior position to which I had advanced. . . . Perhaps it was over-confidence that did it. I don’t know. At all events there was a sudden change of note in the engine’s steady music, then a slowing down and much vibration. From rhythmical roaring the explosions dwindled until they were like nothing more than a faint crackling of ice in a cocktail-shaker. Then they ceased altogether. The silence seemed immense. And with it came a nasty pain in the pit of my stomach: two thousand feet up, an amateur pilot, and no engine! This must be the end. I fumbled around desperately; wiggled the throttle lever, tried the switch, buried my head in the cockpit to see if the petrol was properly turned on, fumbled some more.
When I took my head out of the cockpit I found that the noise of wind in the wings and wires had unaccountably died away. The rudder bar and control stick seemed strangely easy to move. And the nose of the machine was dropping heavily, uncontrollably . . . I was stalling – about to spin? Without thinking or hesitating I pushed the stick hard forward. The Caudron gathered speed; and within two seconds I was sighing my relief, wind had come back to the wires, feeling to the controls. I flattened to a more normal glide and began to do some quick thinking.
What were my lessons? “Keep straight on, don’t lose flying-speed.” Well, after a moment’s panic I was doing that all right. The next step? “Make sure of the direction of the wind.” At Shoreham I had been heading directly into it, how was it here? I gazed earthwards. There was a ripple of air over the cornfields, too erratic to be a sure guide. A herd of cows was obstinately refusing to obey the laws of bovine nature, for not two faced the same way. No sailing craft at sea, no flags on the houses. Ah, smoke from a cottage chimney! I had never seen household smoke so friendly. Country people should always let their chimneys smoke to help poor airmen in distress. I took the wind’s bearing with precision, turned into it at once. Now? “Choose the field in which you intend to land, and choose it as early as you can.” A glance at the altimeter – less than fifteen hundred feet – I hung over the side, goggling at the earth.
A. Destiny, Catherine Hapka