The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 100: The Second Flying Cloud Christmas Special

Christmas scene with airship

The flight was over and the engines were silent. Outside, the last light of the setting sun cast shadows across the grounds of the Cairns Royal Air Station. Tomorrow the field would echo with the sounds of men and machinery as they moved the Flying Cloud to a shed for her overhaul, but now the ship rode quietly from her mooring mast. The breeze was light out of the southeast, leaving the watch with little to do but be ready at the controls in case some errant puff set the vessel swinging.

"It's a beautiful evening," said Iverson, who was duty officer this watch.

"That it is," said Abercrombie from his station at the elevator wheel, "It's hard to believe it's almost winter back in Scotland. Soon the moors will be covered with snow."

"Snow!" exclaimed Sarah. "I've always wanted to see some. What's it like?"

The Scotsman thought this over, wondering what to tell her. To the island girl, snow must be the stuff of fable. "It's an uncanny thing," he said at last. "The world looks different after a snowfall. The southrons..." he nodded in the general direction of the administration buildings, " it a fairyland. We'll hae none of that nonsense in the highlands, but I will awn it's beautiful. And like all beauty it can be perilous."

"Perilous?" asked Sarah. "How?"

Abercrombie shook his head, marveling at the contrast between this idyllic tropical evening and a harsh winter storm. "Tae begin with, it's sair cold: colder than ye ken. Many's the lad who's come to grief in some blizzard, overcome by the chill. The drifts can rise taller than a man, trapping folk indoors 'til they can dig their way free. And on warmer days, it can melt and refreeze to form a layer of ice, treacherous to man and beast. There's also the weight."

"Weight?" asked Sarah, fascinated.

"Aye," said the Scotsman. "Snow's just a queerie kind of frozen rain. But unlike rain, it doesnae run off into the gutters. Instead, it piles into a great heavy layer that can bring down a roof or capsize a ship at sea. It can be even worse for an airship."

"Were you ever caught aloft by a snowstorm?"

"Only once," said Abercrombie, "but it had unexpected consequences."

"What happened?"

Abercrombie paused to compose his thoughts. It was an old tale, but one that deserved to be told properly.

"I served on cruisers during the War," he began. "Most Scotsman seem to end up as engineers, but I never held wi' that tradition. I was a deckhand even then, so when I joined the Airship Service after the Peace, they put me to work as a rigger.

"I thought it would be an adventure, an' perhaps it was, but new riggers get all the scunnersome jobs. If someone has to grease a mooring cable, flake down the handling lines, or hang from a harness in the driving rain to splice a flying wire for the lower fin, ye can guess who they choose. An' who'd hae thought plumbing for the conveniences would be part of a rigger's duties? I didna mump aboot it, of course. I'm a Scotsman! But that storm still caught me by surprise."

"This was back in 1919. I was on the R-80 then. She was the first Wolseley-class patrol ship -- a Wallis design and a real beauty. I believe the Captain had one of her sister ships when he served in Palestine. At the time, she was under Admiral Goodenough."

"The Admiral Goodenough?" asked Iverson.

"Aye," said Abercrombie. "One of the heroes of Jutland. He commanded the cruiser squadron that found the German High Seas Fleet. After the Peace, there weren't enough sea commands to go around, so he transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service -- it was either that or end up running a dockyard in Chatham. He was determined to show that airships could do a Fleet scouting mission in all kinds of weather, so when the Gale of '19 arrived, we were over the North Sea, out near the Long Forties.

"It wasn't so bad to start. Wind means nought to an airship, and we were high above the waves. But then it began to snow in the worst possible way. This wasn't some thin layer of scruif; it came down thick, and clung to the hull like a blanket. We tried changing speed, varying our pitch angle, and climbing to different altitudes, but it was no use. The snow kept accumulating 'til someone had to go outside and clear it off.

"You can guess who got the job, an' a terrible job it was too. These airships are muckle big things, and all we had were a few tiny brooms. Even with a decent helpender, it wouldna hae been easy, and they had tae pair me with Angus."

"Who was Angus?" asked Sarah.

"Another Scotsman, from a hostile clan!" said Abercrombie. "There was many years of bad blood between our families. In the old times, we might hae settled our differences wi' swords and axes, but this would have contravened RNR-6782A `Procedures for Resolving Interpersonal Disputes'. Instead, we had to content ourselves wi' dark looks and angry glares. It was a poor substitute for a guid rammie.

"So there I was, slittering away on top of the hull, sweeping off the snow, trying not to slip off after it, and doing my best to keep my temper. I was doing a fair job of it until that snowball hit me in the back."

"A snowball?" asked Sarah. Abercrombie paused, at loss to describe something so profoundly alien to the South Pacific.

"Snow can be sticky, rather like wet sand," explained Iverson. "When it takes this form, it can be used to fashion projectiles."

"That sounds like fun!" said Sarah.

"Aye," said Abercrombie, "an' if it had been someone bonnie as you, I might not hae minded, but I couldnae let Angus get away wi' such a foul blow. I packed a snowball of my own, hurled it back wi' all my strength, and the battle was on!"

The Scotsman gazed off into space, glorying in the memory. "It was byous! We cleared off the after part of hull in no time at all and started working our way toward the bow, scooping up every bit of snow we could lay our mitts on. It's hard tae say who had the upper hand, but I ken I was winning. We'd just reached the forward observation post when the hatch swung open.

"Wouldn't ye know it was the Admiral. "What's going on out here!" he yelled. At least that's what he started to yell, for before he could finish, a snowball caught him fair in the face."

Iverson gasped, appalled by the prospect. Assaulting a superior officer was a serious matter. Men had been court-martialed, or worse, for much lesser offences.

"What happened?" he asked breathlessly.

Abercrombie rubbed his chin as if remembering some ancient bruise. Then his eyes twinkled in a smile.

"I'll say one thing about the Admiral. He had a good throwing arm!"


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you from the crew of the R-505! We hope your old year ended well, and your new one dawns even better! The Flying Cloud will be on vacation for two weeks while crucial members of the Royal Naval Airship Service are on leave. Season Three will begin on 10-Jan-2010. We look forward to seeing you...

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