|Undergoing engine maintenance. The cowling|
piece described is furthest back from the prop.
(Also missing in this picture.)
It has the air scoop attached which is crucial
for inducting air for cooling during flight.
"Did you see that?" I said into the mic.
"Yeah, what the hell...", and then the engine throttled back. "Can you see anything?"
I pulled back the sliding plexiglass housing and stuck my head out into the slipstream. There was a square of black where there should have been smooth yellow metal.
"We've lost a chunk of the engine cowling." My stomach was already knotting.
I heard my husband's voice over the radio. "Reading tower, Mayday, niner-three-tango requesting immediate clearance for landing." Perfectly calm, despite the fact that the engine temperature reading was climbing rapidly toward the red.
Back came the disembodied voice of the controller. "Niner-three-tango, cleared for landing. Active runway is 27. Alternate runway 36 is also cleared. State your emergency."
"We've lost a section of engine cowling along with the air intake. Possibility of catastrophic engine failure. Stand by for emergency landing."
"Roger, emergency equipment is on the field. Maintain current heading if possible. Godspeed, Bill."
I tightened my parachute straps and ran through the drill. Open the canopy. Elevate and lock the seat. Stand up; dive over the side and as far forward, toward the wing, as you can. If you jump straight out, you run the risk of the rudder clobbering you. Count. Pull the cord.
The airport had steep ridges to one side, and a town lay directly under the approach to the runway. We'd discussed it a dozen times; if there was danger of crashing into an inhabited area, he would guide the plane into the ridge and stay with it. No collateral damage. I was to jump for my life.
All very clinical, but how do you face that sort of decision? How do you save your own life, knowing that someone you love is going to certain death? I never wanted to make that choice, yet the possibility was now pouring its poisoned breath down my neck.
I didn't tell him that I loved him. I didn't see my life flashing before my eyes. I didn't make any vows of undying love and devotion that would last through all of eternity.
"Can you set this crate down?" I asked, watching the duplicate controls moving in my backseat cockpit. Stick, rudder pedals, trim wheels, all seeming to move of their own accord.
A moment of silence. "Of course. It's your turn to pay for lunch. And it better not be McDonald's, you cheap wench."
His confidence. My trust. An equal,and silent, exchange of I love you.
We stuck together.
Later, I opened my moth-filled wallet and bought him a steak dinner.
FCA (ending obviously shortened due to word count restriction of 400)
Offered for both Friday Flash and Romantic Friday Writers: Heart Stopper!
Based on a true story.
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