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Steel Blues -- The Race Begins

One of the things I love about writing with Melissa Scott is her fabulous flying sequences! As we move toward the release of Steel Blues, the second book in The Order of the Air and sequel to Lost Things, I thought I'd share a piece from the beginning of the air race -- Los Angeles to Flagstaff, Arizona! This is the beginning, just before they realize that they have a problem...

I'd love to hear what you guys think!



At the back of the hangar, a man in one of the red-striped jackets that marked a race referee lifted a megaphone to his mouth. “Teams, you may start your engines!”

“Not until we find out where we start,” Mitch muttered.

“Fifth,” Alma said.

Lewis craned his neck to see where she was looking, and spotted Jerry limping through the crowd, holding a piece of paper over his head that was emblazoned with a big number five. “No hurry, then,” he said. There was a ten minute gap between starts; no need to waste fuel or worry about overheating by idling on the runway.

“Go ahead and start the preflight, though,” Alma said.

Lewis climbed into the Terrier, glad to be out of the crowd’s eye for the moment. It was warm in the fuselage in spite of the new white exterior, and he shrugged out of his jacket, leaving it neatly folded on a rear-facing seat. By rights this should be Mitch’s leg — the Terrier was his baby — and Lewis meant to do right by him. He settled himself into the cockpit, fitting himself behind the familiar controls, and ran down the checklist that was becoming as familiar to him as breathing. Everything was in order, just the start sequence left, and he leaned forward to peer out the narrow side windows. Across the hangar, the Ford in United’s colors fired its engines, spitting flame and smoke before it settled to a smooth roar. A moment later, Consolidated started up, and the race marshals began moving the planes out of the hangar.

Mitch brought the ladder over, climbed it to turn the big propeller, making sure everything was clear, left wing, right wing, nose. Lewis heard the familiar clatter of Jerry pulling himself into the passenger compartment, and then Alma joined him in the cockpit, settling herself into the copilot’s seat.

“Ok,” she said. “Fire her up.”

Lewis glanced out the windows again to be sure Mitch was clear, then pumped the primer a couple of times. Throttle closed, fuel at “Full Rich,” spark at “Full Advance.” Starter on, starter dog engaged. He took a breath, and switched on the ignition and the booster magneto. The center engine caught and fired, and then the pair on the wings; he adjusted the spark and eased the throttle open, watching the oil temperature climb.

He heard the rattle of the stairs being folded in, and then the bang of the cabin door sealing. A moment later, Mitch stuck his head into the cockpit.

“We can taxi when ready,” he said. “Follow the flagman.”

“Right,” Lewis said. The oil was warm now, the engines turning over nicely, and he looked at Alma. “Ready when you are, Al.”

“Let’s do this,” she said, but her expression was grimmer than her words.

Lewis lowered his side window and waved to the flagman, signaling that they were ready. The man waved back, and Lewis eased the throttle back to idle and followed him decorously out of the hangar.

A plane had just taken off, little more than a bright dot disappearing into the eastern sky, and the TWA Ford was taxiing slowly toward the end of the runway. Lewis let the Terrier creep slowly forward, engines at idle, watching the engine temperatures climb and then hold steady, testing flaps and rudder one last time.

“Flag’s up,” Alma said. “There goes TWA.”

Lewis nodded, watching the big trimotor turn into the wind. It trundled forward, clumsy at first, then more graceful as it picked up speed. The pilot let the tail come up, and the Ford rose neatly into the air, banking as it turned south toward the Banning Pass.

“We’ll all be going that way to start,” Alma said. “After…”

After that, they’d see who the real gamblers were.

Lewis eased the Terrier into position at the end of the runway, revving the throttle and tightening the brakes as the last minutes ticked away. At the end of the runway, the flag went up. He released the brakes and shoved the throttle forward, fuel once again at “Full Rich” for the takeoff. The Terrier responded eagerly, leaping forward, the tail coming up almost at once, and he couldn’t help grinning as the ground fell away below them. At three hundred feet, he banked south and east, Alma calling out the heading for the Banning Pass, and he watched the compass turn, straightening the plane to come smoothly onto the new course. For an instant, he thought he felt something shift in the tail — no, not even a shift, just an odd heaviness, something off, but then it was gone again. He checked the instruments, saw nothing wrong.

“Everything all right?” Alma asked.

“Looks good,” Lewis answered. Maybe a suitcase had fallen over? If it happened again, he’d send Mitch back to check.

They had the TWA Ford in sight for most of the flight to the pass, and Alma, peering through binoculars, swore she’d caught sight of the Corsair ahead of them. “They’re making good speed,” she said, tucking the binoculars away again, “but they’ll have to stop for fuel. I wonder if they’ll go north or south?”

“I’d go south,” Lewis said. “There’s a string of railroad towns on the southern edge of the desert there.”

“Me, too,” Alma said.

As they began the climb to Banning, Lewis frowned at the fuel gauges. It seemed as though they were burning fuel a little faster than he would have expected. Well, once they were over the pass, he could dial back the mixture again, that would help. He was glad they hadn’t tried to hop the mountains.

“We weren’t supposed to hit a headwind, were we?”

Alma shook her head. “Not much wind at all, and supposed to be at our tail. Why?”

“Fuel consumption’s up,” Lewis answered.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
sockich
Feb. 3rd, 2013 11:51 am (UTC)
Oh, I can't wait for this book. I really do love these characters something awful. ♥
jo_graham
Feb. 4th, 2013 10:33 am (UTC)
I'm glad! I love them something awful myself! :D

Right now we're finishing up Silver Bullet, and oh, I do love them. I could do ten more books!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )