Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Safe Landing

“Leslie, look over there”, prompted Cathy as she pointed to the sky just above a distant dune.

“I don’t see anything,” replied Leslie lifting her binoculars and scanning the horizon,“ it’s still a bit too soon. He’d call if he was approaching.”

Leslie lowered her binoculars and turned to Cathy, “Try to remember to call me Donna, not Leslie. It won’t become automatic for either of us if we don’t use it all the time.”


“Andy should be within range of our walkie-talkies in a few minutes,” continued Donna glancing at her watch.

Sunrise was still a few minutes away and there was an onshore breeze blowing across the beach. The distant trackmobile’s idling diesel was still faintly discernible above the screeches of circling seagulls and the white-noise of waves washing up on the beach.

“Do you think this wind will slow him down?”

“No, I re-checked the power system this morning and he has plenty. The wind should be a good test of its control capabilities.”

The sun was just peeking above the horizon. 

“There he is,” reported Cathy.

A black blob had appeared in the previously vacant spot in the air above the dunes.

Donna took another look through her binoculars and nodded confirmation. Cathy went on the walkie-talkie, “Andy, we see you.”

“I hear you,” came the faint, staticy reply.

“How’s your steering?”

“Excellent. Bit of a cross-wind. I’m holding course without much trouble. I’d rate it an eight.“

The black blob started to take on features. A big cylindrical gas-bag. A lengthwise beam slung below. Several propellers on struts sticking out at strange angles from the beam.  Andy Dumont was strapped into a seat right in the middle of this aerodynamic confusion.

The speed was good. Surprisingly so for a blimp.

“Do you see the flat car?” Cathy asked the radio.

“Yes.” The static was gone.

The blimp started to turn inland and head for the flat car.

“I’m going to get the grapple ready,” announced Cathy, who then ran for the train.

“Ok,” replied Andy from the radio.

“Ok,” replied Donna from behind her binoculars, still tracking Andy’s flight path.

The landing flat car was coupled to the trackmobile in the tall-grass siding on the other side of the dune ridge where the surfers usually parked. 

Cathy deployed the flat car’s grappling mast.

Andy was on a perfect approach. The flat car was broadside to the wind and the blimp was on a steady descent in line with it. It was unfazed by the ocean breezes. 

Donna lowered her binoculars and ran over to the flat car to watch the landing up close.

Andy got the blimp positioned over the grapple, stopped, lowered the landing cable and the grapple did what the grapple was supposed to do: grab the cable and pull the blimp down. Propellers slowed. The blimp wobbled a little. There was a soft bounce when it hit the deck.

“Come fly with me, let’s fly!” sang Andy in a pathetic Sinatra imitation as he unstrapped himself from the cockpit, jumped from the flat car’s deck, and bestowed a kiss on both members of the ground crew.
Whatever you installed in her, it did the trick. Perfect control. Lots of power. Like riding on rails!” Andy was ecstatic.

“Don’t run off and join the comedy club circuit just yet. Pull the gas release and let’s get out of here.”

Andy did as he was told. A big seam opened up on the top of the gas bag and let loose all the hydrogen. In a few seconds it was just a big sheet draped over the car. Within minutes all three had it tucked in place and were ready to leave.

Cathy got into the trackmobile’s cab and put it in gear.

Andy had climbed onto the flat car.

Donna started to enter the trackmobile’s passenger door.

“Let’s look at the flight recorder!” called Andy, waving Donna to come back. She stepped down from the cab and motioned Cathy to start the train.

The trackmobile slowly started to pull forward. Donna stepped onto a flat car rung as it passed by. 
Andy grabbed her free hand and helped her up onto the deck. 

From up there she was rewarded with a panoramic view of the ocean and dunes and birds and tall grasses. All glorious in the glow of the rising sun. Maybe this was the place to stop running.

The next instalment can be found here.

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