Episode 53: We Hope You Enjoyed Flying With Us
"Watch out, lads!" cried Abercrombie. "She’s going!"
The crewmen dropped their saws and scrambled to get clear. Instants later,
the control car broke free with a screech of tearing metal. Everett
watched it plummet toward the desert, tumbling end over end as it dwindled
into the distance below. The impact, when it came, was lost in the
"I feel a certain sense of déjà vu," remarked Jenkins.
Everett nodded, remembering the wreck of the R-212, months ago. "At least
we have an entire ship this time and not just the bow section. We’d best
get to work if we’re going to save her."
Their immediate peril was over. Relieved of the control car’s weight, the
City of Brisbane had ceased her plunge. But now the vessel’s nose
was rising, for that weight had been near the bow. Ordinarily, they might
have dropped ballast aft to compensate, but this had all gone during the
storm. And if they didn’t bring the ship under control, she would continue
to pitch up until she was standing on her tail -- a maneuver civilian
craft were not designed to withstand.
"Captain Sanders," Everett observed. "Our expedient has left this vessel
somewhat out of trim. You might wish to order your spare crew and
passengers to the bow."
"An excellent suggestion," replied the skipper. "Everyone forward! Lively
The four men stepped aside to make room. In front of them, figures hurried
past -- riggers, stewards, and passengers -- scrambling up the keel passage
toward the front of the ship. Everett noticed the Italian, still
complaining. Behind him came a substantial matron in slippers and dressing
gown. That should bring the nose back down, he thought.
Gradually, imperceptibly, the ship’s motion began to slow. "I believe
that’s done the trick," said Sanders.
"Aye, " said Abercrombie, who was watching the clinometer he’d improvised
from a pocketknife and a length of string. "She’s coming back to an even
"This might be a good time to have a look at your emergency control
station," Everett said to Sanders. "You do have an emergency control
station, I trust?"
"It’s in the usual location, inside the lower vertical stabilizer," said the
skipper. "If you’ll come this way."
They followed him aft along the catwalk that ran down the interior of the
hull. The vast space was a shambles, draped with broken cables and dangling
pieces of equipment. Above them, the row of nineteen gas cells pressed
upward against their netting. The cells were half-empty now, for much of
their hydrogen had bled off during the ship’s unplanned climb. What
remained was barely enough to hold the ship aloft. They’d have their work
cut out trying to keep the vessel in the air.
Toward the stern, the passageway began to climb, curving upward to match the
shape of the hull. From here, ladders led up and down to provide access to
the four great fins that extended from the vessel’s tail. Sanders swung off
the catwalk -- a certain amount of agility was an occupational requirement
for airship officers -- and started down one of the ladders.
"Here it is," he said when they reached the bottom.
They stood inside the ship’s lower vertical fin -- a narrow space, taller
than it was wide, that served as the vessel’s auxiliary bridge. The
compartment was dark, criss-crossed with wires and supports, with a row of
small windows that gave an entirely inadequate view of the outside. It was
obvious that the station had not been used for some time, for its floor was
cluttered with discarded work clothes while what looked like a pair of
woman’s stockings was draped over the elevator wheel. Everett made no
comment as he glanced at the latter. Civilian ships could not always be
expected to follow Royal Navy practice.
"Abercrombie," he said to his rigger, "if you could have a look at the
The Scotsman was already examining the controls, peering at the levers,
giving each of the wheels an experimental tug. "Engine telegraphs are oot,"
he said after a moment.
"Can they be repaired?"
"No telling how many breaks there are in the circuit, an’ most of our spare
wire went over the side to lighten ship. Ye might do better to station a
runner to carry orders to the engine cars."
"How about the helm and elevator stations?"
"Cables are loose. Ye’ll have tae take care an’ they don’t slip the drum or
jump the sheaves. But I believe the vessel can be managed."
"You’re sure?" asked Sanders. He seemed strangely unenthusiastic about the
prospect of using unreliable controls to fly a damaged ship to safety.
"I’ve learned to trust Abercrombie’s judgment," Everett replied smoothly.
"But if you’d send your ballast master down to assist us, we’d be happy to
handle matters here while you attend to the business of command."
"If you would be so kind," said the skipper, with visible signs of relief.
"I’ll go to organize the damage control parties."
It took some time to get the engines running again -- for obvious reasons,
they’d shut these down before cutting the control car free. Number One
refused to start, and Number Five was gone with the control car, which left
them with only three, but this may have been just as well, for Everett was
unwilling to apply much power until he knew how the injured vessel was going
to behave. The hull flexed alarmingly as they put on way.
"What do you think, Abercrombie?" he asked.
"I ken she’ll hold together," said the rigger. "Captain Sanders and his men
know what they’re aboot. But we’ll have to keep her below thirty knots."
"I’ve gone over our fuel figures. We'll need to maintain a speed of at least
thirty knots to reach Darwin before the bunkers are empty."
It was a familiar dilemma, thought Everett. Too fast, and the damaged ship
might break up under the strain. Too slow, and they’d run out of fuel
before they reached their destination. And if they went down in this
emptiness, no one would even find their bones. At times like this, it was
important to have good hands at the controls. Men you could count on. Men
you could trust.
"Abercrombie," said Jenkins. "I cannot help but notice that you seem
unwontedly cheerful. Might I ask why?"
"It’s that MacKiernan fellow," gloated the Scotsman. "He bet me a shilling
we wouldnae have any trouble on this flight!"
Next week: The Darwin Award...