Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online


Rocinante
An Aerial Adventure
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2011



Chapter 16

When they left Colorado Springs heading northward, they were a little unsure how to get through the Denver area. There were a lot of control zones and areas ahead of them. The choice was not very clear; either they could go well out of their way to the east, out into the nearly desert-prairie, or they could hug the mountains, really up in the foothills, to circle the city to the west. The foothills route was clearly going to be prettier, and Mark had very little experience flying in mountains, so this seemed like a good chance to get a taste of it without getting in over his head.

They were still climbing out of Colorado Springs, with Mark flying and Jackie navigating, when she noticed something on the chart. "Hereís a place we could stop," pointing at a red dot on the map. "ĎBlack Forest Glider Port.í Itís not very far ahead."

"We just got started," Mark said. "Would be fun to try some time, though."

"Have you ever flown a glider?" she asked.

"No, but itís on the someday list. I wanted to solo one when I was fourteen. Theyíll let you do it that young, but I could never talk Dad into it. Spearfish Lake is not exactly what you call glider country, anyway." Mark looked out the window, and then got Jackieís attention, "Take a look over there."

Off in the distance, she could see a white building, small on the ground, but even at a distance of several miles the building had a striking appearance. "What is it?" she asked.

"Chapel at the Air Force Academy," Mark told her. "It wasnít so long ago that my greatest desire in life was to spend four years there, but . . . "

"The glasses, huh?"

"Yeah, the goddamn glasses. I guess I was destined to be a phone repairman, not a fighter pilot. I think Iíve gotten used to that now, most of the time, anyway."

They flew on in silence. Mark turned to the left, to fly close to the Air Force Academy without getting into the nearby control zone. This is as close as he would ever get to achieve that dream heíd had for years, especially after it had become clear that his sight wasnít going to get any better. In his mindís eye, for a moment he wasnít in a Cessna 140 older than he was, but in some sleek supersonic fighter, where he could cut in the afterburner and break Mach 1 going straight up. Yes, the goddamn glasses; there was an experience heíd never have the chance to know.

With a shrug, he tore his eyes away from the dream of long ago and wheeled Rocinante to the right, to pick up the Interstate highway they would follow to the north.

They probably should have stopped at the glider port, he thought. After all, what the hell was the hurry? He came close to turning back, but knew if he did heíd have to look at the Air Force Academy again. He realized he didnít really want to do that; it would open a part of his mind he thought heíd been able to close.

Oh, well, there would be other chances, he thought. He flew on to the north, between the Interstate and the foothills, edging to the west to stay out of all the control zones and urban area near Denver.

They were nearing Boulder before he was able to ease his way back out over flat countryside, with the mountains rising far above them to their left. Thereís got to be some beautiful country back there, he thought, even though it was awful high. Perhaps he and Jackie could poke their nose into a few places like that.

They were high enough they could see the Denver smog trapped in an inversion below, but being above it they could see for miles. How clear this western air was! It was not like back home, where the smoke and the haze from the trees and the moisture from the air made a day when you could see ten miles from this altitude a rare one indeed. Mark guessed they could see a hundred miles ahead of them, at least.

He could see Jackie fold up the Denver sectional chart and put it in the pouch by her ankle, then pull out another one, the Cheyenne sectional. It only gave a hint of the north part of Denver, and she had to fold it this way and that to get to the right area, then hunt around to see where they were.

Mark looked over her shoulder for a moment. They were passing Longmont, but ahead of them there were few places they could stop for gas for a while. There was Cheyenne, but that was another controlled field, and an Air Force Base as well. There was Laramie, but that wasnít quite on their route. There were still a couple of airports not too far ahead of them that looked big enough to have fuel pumps; perhaps theyíd better stop.

He turned the radio back on and tuned it to 122.8, the Unicom frequency, to check if one of them had fuel. The channel was filled with a lot of traffic, most from the east at Greeley, and he wondered a bit at what the reason could be. When he got a brief break, he called ahead to the nearest field, Loveland; they responded quickly with the wind and active runway, and confirmed they had eighty octane.

"Weíll be with you shortly," Mark replied, then hung up the microphone. "You want to try to land it?" he asked.

"Well, I think I can," Jackie said.

This would be the first time Jackie landed at a strange airport, one that Mark had not already flown them into; a good test, to push her learning, he decided.

They were flying out of the smog, now, so Jackie was able to pick out the runway from far away and set up a pattern entry that Mark had no reason to complain about. At 5800 feet, she set herself up for the pattern, and began her approach using the runway as a cue, just as she had already learned.

Flying on the right side, Jackie didnít have a good view of the airspeed indicator, and she was a little fast. Mark realized she would be until he decided to start making her fly on the left side, or until she got more familiar with flying, but he also realized it was good to not depend on gauges too much.

With the extra speed, Jackieís landing was a little long, and she had a little bounce, but not enough to matter. "Good landing," Mark said as she let the plane slow, keeping it going straight; sheíd long since got past over controlling on the runway. "One of these days, weíre going to have to find a real flight instructor to take you around a few times, and maybe turn you loose."

"Iím in no hurry," Jackie said. "Itís just good to know I can fly this if I have to."

The attendant acted as if the few gallons of 80 octane they bought was hardly worth the effort, one of the few unpleasant people they had met at an airport along the trip, and they were glad to be on their way. Mark let Jackie do the takeoff, too; they climbed out to perhaps 1500 feet above ground level and turned to parallel the Interstate, still several miles to their right. Mark wanted to edge even further away from it, to avoid the Air Force base at Cheyenne. To their left, the mountains flattened out a little, revealing tortured brown foothills. It was a shame the attendant had been so nasty, he thought; it would have been nice to stay around here somewhere and explore the vicinity.

In the distance in front of him, he could see some aircraft activity; there was a white plane, perhaps three or four miles ahead, crossing from right to left in front of them. He looked again; it was closely followed by a second plane.

All of a sudden, he realized it was a glider and a towplane. He stole a look at the map, and sure enough, only a few miles ahead was a red circle symbol, lettered, "Waverly West Soaring Ranch."

"What do you think about a glider ride after all?" Mark asked Jackie, who was still flying Rocinante.

"Sounds fine to me," she said. "I kind of wondered why you didnít stop earlier."

"Better let me have it," Mark said, letting her comment go unanswered. He looked off into the distance for the glider port; it didnít stick out like a paved strip would have. He glanced at the map again; it had to be there, next to that reservoir. "Keep an eye out for gliders," Mark told her. "They have the right of way."

As they got closer, he could pick out the runways, merely places where the grass showed signs of wear. Part of one runway showed signs of having been oiled for a part of its distance, and there were white spots that marked its outlines; another runway ran almost corner to corner of what had to be a square mile section. The wind sock seemed to indicate the slightly improved runway was the one in use; there were a couple of cars sitting off to the side near the end of the runway, and two or three people standing around. A glider and a towplane sat on the runway; as they watched, the towplane gave off a cloud of dust, and both started to move.

Mark set up his pattern, checked the skies once again for gliders, and turned to land. Rocinante touched down not far beyond the beginning of the runway and rolled out quickly; Mark turned to the right, and taxied back in the grass to where the cars and the people were gathered, then turned into the wind and shut the Cessna off.

A tiny man with a neat Van Dyke beard walked up to them as they got out of the plane. "How you doing today?" he asked.

"Oh, pretty good," Mark said. "Can we get a glider ride, by any chance?"

"Sure thing," the little man said. "Jack is just starting with a student, but this should be Fredís last flight with the student heís got now. I donít think heís got anything after that. If you want to wait a while, it wonít be any problem. Thereís some tie downs about thirty feet behind you, if you want to tie that down."

"Thanks, weíll wait," Mark said. The three of them pushed Rocinante back to the tie downs, then walked over to the group clustered around an orange and white sailplane.

The sailplane wasnít quite what Mark had expected. The ones heíd seen were typically a sleek piece of fiberglass with immensely long wings. This one still had the long wings, but it looked like something out of the twenties, with a fabric structure and strut-braced wings. There was only a single wheel, far back under the belly; it sat resting with one wing down. As they watched, a man sat in the cockpit, while a bearded man stood next to the cockpit, talking.

While they waited, an old dog sauntered up to them, wagging its tail. Mark had to look again; it may have been the homeliest, scraggliest mutt he had ever seen. Jackie bent over and patted his head, and the dog sat down beside her.

In a minute, the man outside opened a door hidden under the wing of the glider and squeezed into the back seat. He was a big man, maybe Mark and Jackieís height, but wider; he looked like he might have been a football lineman. "Hey, Bruce!" he yelled, "You want to hook us up and run the wingtip?"

"Sure thing, Jack," the little man yelled back. "Here comes Paul now."

Mark could hear an airplane approaching; he looked up to see a Super Cub, trailing a rope, in a deep, deep sideslip, dropping toward the runway like a rock. Only feet above the runway, the pilot straightened it out, touched it down on the numbers, and stood heavily on the brakes, coming to a stop almost where the plane hit. "Back in a minute," Bruce said. He ran out onto the runway, grabbed the end of the rope, and ran it over to where the glider lay waiting. He attached it somewhere on the front and put tension on the line. They could see the pilot pull a knob, and the towline released; then Bruce hooked it up again. He went out to the wingtip and picked it up, signaling the pilot to take up the slack in the towline.

The slack came out with a little jerk, pulling the glider ahead a couple of feet. Bruce looked back, to make sure no other aircraft were approaching, then waved his arm in a big circle. In an instant, the Super Cubís engine bellowed, and the dog next to them began to bark. They could see a cloud of dust being raised, and the glider rapidly began to move forward. Bruce could only stay with it four or five steps before it was shooting down the runway. Not too far away, they could see the sailplane and the towplane rise above the cloud of dust. All in all, the towplane could not have been on the ground more than a minute.

Bruce came back over to them. He bent over and petted the dog. "Youíve learned your lesson, havenít you?" he said. "Barking is all right, chasing them, no."

He looked up at Mark and Jackie. "Weíve had a tough time teaching Cumulus here to not chase gliders. Heís kind of a hard-headed dog. Heís been hit by gliders at least three times, but I think getting hit by a prop this spring cured him."

"He got hit by a prop?" Mark asked, incredulous.

"Just dinged him," Bruce said. "Knocked him ass over teakettle, though, and it may have taught him a lesson."

Mark looked back down the runway at the towplane and glider. He could still hear the bellow of the Super Cub, and could see both were climbing rapidly. "Thatís got a little more power than Mr. Piper intended," he commented.

"Itís got a 180 Lycoming," Bruce said, "And the tow pilots complain it still isnít enough."

Mark shook his head. That was three times the power of Wally Byerís little yellow J-3 that shared the hanger with the Stinson, back home. The J-3 was a little putt-putt; the towplane wasnít.

"Here comes Fred," Bruce said. They looked back down the runway; another sailplane was approaching. It was similar to the trainer that had just taken off, except for being green and white, but only a gentle whisper of air across reaching wings heralded its approach. It touched down at the end of the runway and rolled for a short distance before turning to roll off of the runway. All of a sudden, its nose came down and it came to a stop, perhaps fifty yards from them. Bruce and Cumulus started to slowly walk toward the glider, with Mark and Jackie following along.

The canopy of the glider opened. "Itíll be ten minutes or so before Paul gets back," Bruce said. "Is it still flat out there?"

"Thereís a little bump or two below a thousand feet," the man in the back seat said with a slight accent, something European. "But itís still dead flat above that. I think this inversion is just capping things off, but it might be better this afternoon."

"Weíve got a couple of rides for you," Bruce told him. "These folks just flew in for a ride. Can we work them in now?"

"Might as well," the man in back said. He must be the Fred who Bruce was talking about, Mark and Jackie realized. He turned to the student, who was unbuckling himself from the front seat. "Marty, if you stick around, maybe things will pick up this afternoon," he said to the student.

"Yeah, what the heck," the man said. "It looks like too nice a day to go home and mow lawn."

"All right," Fred told him. "Which one of you wants to go first?"

"Why donít you go ahead, Jackie?" Mark said.

She was in the cockpit and being buckled in before she began to have second thoughts. In Rocinante, they just wore a lap belt, but the sailplane had a five-point harness to buckle around her. What was the point of a five-point harness unless it was going to be used, she wondered. On the other hand, it made her feel safer in a way.

While they waited for the towplane to return, they talked for a minute. They learned that Fred was the owner of the glider port, and heíd been flying gliders for a long time. "Howíd you get into doing this?" Jackie asked.

"Thatís how they taught us to fly in the Luftwaffe," Fred told her, "Before I became a fighter pilot."

The words didnít mean much to Jackie, but they did to Mark, with a certain degree of amazement. He had never met a German fighter pilot before. There was a question or two he wanted to ask, but the time would have to come later as the towplane was approaching.

Bruce closed and latched the canopy. While Mark stood back out of the way, Bruce ran to get the towline again, much as he had before. In a minute they were watching the green and white sailplane disappear down the runway.

As Mark, Bruce, and Cumulus watched them fly away, Mark could not help but ask, "Is that true what he said? About the Luftwaffe?"

"Thatís about all Fred ever says about it," Bruce told him. "Donít you dare tell him I said so, but we had a tow pilot here one time who spoke German, and didnít tell Fred he could. An old buddy of Fredís showed up, and they got to telling war stories in German, and the tow pilot said they were some wild ones. He said he got the impression that Fred had over a dozen kills."

Mark let out a long, low whistle. Cumulus perked up his floppy ears at the sound. "I wonít tell," Mark said. "I can see why that might be something he would not want to talk about, under the circumstances."

"Nice looking Cessna youíve got there," Bruce said to change the subject.

"I rebuilt it this last winter," Mark said, and explained a little bit of how he and Jackie were touring the country as Cumulus lay at their feet.

They talked about flying for a bit. Mark was surprised to learn that the little man didnít work at the glider port, but was a college professor who liked to hang around out there. Flying was one of his passions, he explained, although he wasnít too good at it. Their conversation was broken up by the return of Paul and the other trainer, which sat on the ground for only a few minutes before the towplane returned and towed the other sailplane off again. "When itís flat like this," Bruce explained, "And all weíre doing is training or rides, itís about all one towplane can do to keep up with two gliders."

A few minutes later, Fred, Jackie, and the green trainer returned. "Itís great!" she bubbled. "So smooth and quiet! Fred let me fly it some!"

Jackie climbed out of the cockpit, and Mark replaced her and strapped himself in. He looked at the panel in front of him, nearly devoid of instruments: an altimeter, a couple of rate-of-climb gauges, and that was about it; the only thing he couldnít figure out was a piece of yarn taped to the outside of the canopy in front of him. Fred explained for a minute what was going to happen, and then Bruce closed the canopy. Mark could see the towplane pull in front of them, and come to a stop. Bruce ran out to get the rope and then bent down under the nose of the sailplane. "Pull the red knob in front of you," Fred said. Mark did as he was told, and he saw Bruceís hand outside the canopy ball up into a fist, realizing that must be the signal to let the knob go. He saw the little man stand in front of the nose and pull on the rope.

"Pull the knob again, to check that it releases," Fred told him. Again, Mark pulled it, and the towline fell away. In a few seconds Bruce had the towline hooked up again and went to level the wing. Bruce signaled the towplane to take up the slack in the rope, and when it came tight, Fred asked, "You ready?"

"I guess so," Mark replied.

"Wag the rudder." Mark stepped on one rudder pedal, then the other. Seeing the rudder wag, Bruce began to make the circular motion with his arm. Inside the canopy, Mark couldnít hear the towplane well, but could see the dust cloud rise behind it. The glider began to move forward, accelerating rather quickly, and Mark was surprised to see Fred had it in the air, skimming the runway, while the towplane was still on the ground.

They were not very far above the ground before Mark realized how much better the view outside the sailplane was compared to Rocinante. The cockpit was so narrow he hardly realized it was there; it was almost as if they were a bird on the wing.

After they were a ways above the ground, Fred said, "You want to try to fly it?"

"Sure," Mark said.

"All right," Fred told him. "Flying on tow is probably the most difficult part. You want to keep quite a bit of forward pressure on the stick. Try to keep the tip of the towplaneís rudder right in the center of the window on top of the fuselage."

It took Mark a minute or two to get the feel of it, a little surprised at how stiff the controls were and how sluggishly the sailplane banked. Fred explained the need to stay clear of the disturbed air coming off of the towplaneís wingtips, then stuffed the sailplane down into one of the vortices for a moment to demonstrate, before pulling back up into a normal tow position to let Mark continue to fly it.

"Weíll get off at 8000 feet," Fred told him. "When we release, weíll do a climbing turn to the right to get away from the towline and burn off speed. The towplane will turn left and dive away from us."

"Weíre coming up on 8000 feet now," Mark said.

"Then put on just a little bit of skid to the right to put a little more tension into the towline, and pull the red knob," Fred told him.

Mark did as he was told, and pulled the release. With a loud bang that startled him a little, the towline shot away. He could see the towplane bank away and leave them.

Climbing a little, the sailplane slowed. Mark let the nose drop until the pressure came off of the stick, a little astonished at the low reading on the airspeed indicator. The Cessna wouldnít even fly this slowly, and here the sailplane seemed comfortable.

"We can just sit up here and sightsee," Fred told him, "But since youíre a pilot, why not get the feel of this? Youíll find it rolls a little slow, but itís very well-behaved."

Mark started a turn to the right. "Youíre coordinated pretty good," Fred told him. "You can check your coordination with the yaw string taped to the front of the canopy." He pressed on the rudder a little, to demonstrate how an uncoordinated turn caused the yaw string to flutter to one side or the other.

Satisfied, Mark tightened the bank some more. The stick seemed a little weak in his hands, so he dropped the nose a little to pick up some speed. Fred suggested they straighten out and try some stalls.

Stalls in the old Schweizer trainer were hardly worth the name. The plane barely broke over a stall from a normal attitude, but dropped rather naturally and kept on flying. The air was still, and they were slowly sinking, but much more slowly than he had expected. "Youíve been flying a while," Fred said.

"I started flying my dadís Stinson before I was old enough to see over the panel," Mark told him. "This is so quiet, though, and the view is great."

"Your girlfriend liked it, too," Fred said. "Has she been flying long?"

"Sheís technically not supposed to be flying at all," Mark said. "Iíve been teaching her a little. Sheís been flying with me enough that sheís learned quite a bit, but Iím not a flight instructor. If I were, Iíd think sheís close to soloing."

"I thought sheíd been flying longer than that," Fred said. "I talked her right through to a landing, and she did fine."

"Yeah, we need to find a flight instructor some time," Mark said.

"Iím not a power instructor, but Jack is," Fred said. "Maybe heíd be willing to fly with her. Heíll do just about anything to get another hour in his logbook. He flies students over at Greeley six hours a day, five days a week, then comes over here and flies every chance he can get on the weekend. He thinks if he can get 2000 hours picked up by the end of the summer, he can get a job at a commuter airline back home."

"We just stopped to take a ride," Mark said, "But Iíd kind of hoped to get to fly one of these things when thereís some thermals in the air, to see what itís like."

"It might pick up this afternoon if you want to stick around," Fred told him.

Mark asked what it would take for him to get a license in sailplanes; he remembered hearing somewhere that it wasnít difficult, and flying the trainer didnít seem difficult.

"A couple of hours of dual," Fred told him, "And then a few solo flights. You could do it in a couple of days if you were in a hurry, three or four if you wanted to take your time."

As the Schweizer slowly sank, Mark gave it some thought. The glider port probably wouldnít be a bad place to camp for a day or two, and if this Jack were willing to fly with Jackie, so much the better. Mark had not felt intimidated in teaching Jackie a bit about how to handle the Cessna, but worried that perhaps she was picking up some bad habits he couldnít realize. A couple of hours with an instructor seemed like a good idea. "How much would it cost?" he asked Fred.

The answer he got was higher than heíd hoped, but their money was holding out well, and, after all, the idea was to spend it before they got home. This could be fun, he thought. "Iíll talk it over with Jackie," he said.

"You want to land this?" Fred asked. "Now, in a sailplane, we always fly a right-hand pattern, with turns to the right. The towplanes always fly a left-hand pattern, so they can see if thereís any sailplanes about to turn in front of them. Now, we want to enter the base leg at about 800 feet above ground level; thatís 6300 feet on the altimeter . . . "

*   *   *

The air was still pretty dead a couple of hours later, when they gathered up in the office for lunch, mostly sandwiches and sodas brought from home. Mark and Jackie limited themselves to bags of peanuts and cans of pop from the styrofoam cooler in Rocinante.

Mark briefly had second thoughts about having Jack fly with Jackie in the Cessna. After all, it was a taildragger, and flying taildraggers was getting to be a lost art. His doubts evaporated a little later in the morning, when another couple of sailplanes were rolled out of the hangar, and Jack rolled a second towplane out to help deal with them. Another taildragging Super Cub like the first, it told Mark all he needed to know about those qualifications. As Fred had said, Jack was willing to take Jackie out in the Cessna after Mark had explained what was going on. "The only thing is, I want to go around the patch with you a couple of times, first, to make sure I know how you fly and how it flies."

"We can do that," Mark said. "When do you want to get started?"

"As soon as we put the sailplanes away this evening."

"Fred," Mark asked, "You got any problem with us camping here overnight? We can go into town and get a motel or something, if youíd like."

"No problem," Fred replied. "The only thing is, itíd be best if you camped out on the edge of the property, maybe over by the gully off the end of runway 34, and donít come around the office. Cumulus is the friendliest dog in the world in the daylight, but he knows his job is to guard the office and hangar at night. I let him run loose, and I donít even like to come out here at night. He might tear my arm off first and ask questions later."

"Cumulus?" Jackie asked, looking at the grungy old dog asleep at her feet. "Heís just an old softie."

"Only in the daytime," Fred repeated. "I came out here one day last spring and found the hangar doors open a couple of feet. Someone had pried the lock off. I got out of my truck and looked in the hangar. There was blood and pieces of clothing all over the place, and Cumulus sitting right in the middle of it, with a very satisfied smile on his face, just like he was saying, ĎHey, boss, I done my job.í He must have waited until they got the hangar door open, then nailed them. I called the police, and they found someone in the hospital with massive dog bites. The clothing matched, and the guy is still in jail."

"Howíd you get him?" Jackie asked.

"He just showed up here one day," Fred said, "Just a stray. He saw there was a job to be done, and decided he was just the dog to do it."

"We used to have to keep him chained up," Paul, the towplane pilot said. "Then after I hit him with the prop last spring, he decided chasing planes wasnít as much fun as it used to be, so we let him run loose."

"Speaking of cumulus," Jack said, "I see a couple popping up in the mountains. Maybe things are perking up a little."

"Could be," Fred said. "Jack, why donít you fly with Marty again, and Iíll fly with Mark."

It was almost half an hour later before the trainer with Mark and Fred aboard released from tow high above the gliderport. The air was more lively, now; Fred found a thermal and showed Mark how to work it. In hunting around, they found the other trainer circling a spot above a ridge to the west of the gliderport, and flew over to join them. "Watch yourself," Fred warned as they joined in below the other trainer, "We may have a visitor."

With the sailplane in a tight circle, the rate of climb indicator showed a steady, if slow climb, and the altimeter slowly wound up. After a while, they were higher than they had been when they had released from the towplane.

Mark couldnít get over how peaceful it was, how great the view was from the cockpit of the slow-flying glider. It was almost as if he were a bird . . .

"There he is," Fred said, pointing over Markís shoulder from the back seat. Mark looked out in the general direction Fred was pointing, and saw a little black dot, seemingly far in front of him.

"A hawk?" Mark asked.

"An eagle," Fred told him. "Heís got a nest over on the ridge somewhere. Heís gotten so used to the sailplanes that he apparently thinks weíre just big birds, too. Heíll find lift for us on days when we canít find anything else, and he doesnít mind when we come over and join him. Of course, he comes over and joins us when heís scratching for lift and weíve found something."

Flying with an eagle, Mark thought. Now, that was one to remember . . . it was the kind of thing this trip was all about. If nothing else, it made this stop worthwhile.

They were up about an hour before Fred suggested they go in to land. They could have stayed up longer, but he had another student scheduled for the afternoon. As they landed, Fred showed how easy it was to land the trainer right where they wanted to. They normally carried quite a bit of speed down the approach, and the trainer would float quite a bit in the ground effect, with its long wings. The trick was to float around, just above the ground, until you came up to the spot where you wanted to land, then pop the spoilers. "Weíve had bets on spot landings," Fred told him. "It usually comes down to inches."

As the afternoon wore on, Mark and Jackie learned from Bruce how to run towlines and wings, and about the various signals involved. After a while, there werenít any more sailplanes left to launch, and they wandered up to the office and the cooler of water there. Fred was already there; the trainer he had been flying was off on a solo flight, and he was telling Mark and Jackie some of the special things about flying sailplanes when the phone went off. "Waverly West," Fred answered.

He listened for a moment, then said, "No, heís out flying . . . I see . . . yes, I see . . . well, Iíll see if I can get him on the radio." He went over to the portable radio, mounted in a yellow box. "Golf Echo," he called, "Are you on tow?"

"Just landing," Paulís voice came back over the radio.

"You want to land it up to the office?" Fred said. "Youíve got a phone call waiting."

Mark looked out the window. He could see the towplane on short final; he saw it straighten out, heard a burst of power, and saw it point more or less at the building. Paul rolled the plane to a stop just short of the fence outside the office door, shut it off, and came inside; it could not have taken a minute from when Fred called him.

Paul picked up the phone and listened in increasing agitation. "Yeah, Iíll be there as quick as I can," he said. "Early in the morning, probably. Des Moines General, right?" He listened for a few more moments in silence, then said, "Right, just as quick as I can."

He hung up the phone and turned to Fred. "My dadís in the hospital. Heís in real bad shape. His car got hit by a train. Look, I hate to run out on you but . . . "

"Donít stand here apologizing," Fred told him. "Weíll work out something. Just donít kill yourself driving like a maniac." In thirty seconds, Paul was in his car, heading out the driveway.

"Thatís how it is from the other side," Jackie mumbled.

"Howís that?" Bruce asked.

"My dadís a railroad engineer," she said, a little more loudly, but still subdued. "You donít stop a train inside of a mile or two if itís moving fast. He says heís never killed anyone, but heís had nightmares about the close calls."

"Des Moines," Bruce commented, "Heís probably not going to be back for a while."

"Jack and I can handle the towing for tomorrow," Fred said. "But Iíve got students Tuesday, and no tow pilot."

Mark only had to think it over for a second. "Weíre not going anywhere in particular," he said. "I could probably tow for you for a few days, if you can show me how."

Fred thought for a moment. "Thatís right, you do know how to fly a taildragger. You got a commercial license?"

"Over two years," Mark told him.

"Our insurance says you have to have over fifty hours in taildraggers. Have you got that much?"

"Fred, Iíve got about eight hundred hours," Mark said. "I donít have fifty hours that isnít in taildraggers."

"Come on," Fred told him. "Letís see how well you can fly a hot-rod Super Cub."

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