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FiF Dry Run: A Short Story


HotleadColdfeet
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S! all,

 

I had the opportunity to participate in the FiF dry run last Wednesday. First of all, thank you all for such a great time! I had a blast. :)

 

Anyways, on my college forums, they were having a thread where you could submit short stories. The theme for this month was "something that may or may not have been from your personal experiance". I wrote and submitted this short story about my first flight that Wednesday night. Who knows? Maybe I can get some college kids interested in WW1 aviation. ;)

 

A few notes about the story:

The server that night had lots of lag. For the sake of immersion, I simply didn't mention that. Also, in order to include some of our dialogue in the tale, I decided to pretend that our biplanes got equipped with air-to-air radios. ;) Enjoy! :D

 

*****

 

I sat at the desk, in my study, with an empty notebook in front of me and what seemed like a lifetime of memories behind me.

 

Summer daylight filtered through the paneled windows, providing all the illumination I needed for my writing. I set the fountain pen to the paper, but I could not decide where to start. How do you begin to tell a story that shaped the rest of your life? I sat back in the chair to think, absent-mindedly rubbing my chin. My mind wandered back to that time long ago...a time that would soon be forgotten if the memory was not kept alive.

 

.....

 

Summer 1917, the First World War

Courcy aerodrome near Rheims, 1055 hours

 

I walked - no, ran - out of my quarters and onto the grass airstrip. This was going to be my first real mission with my new squadron and the last thing I wanted was to be late. Five sopwith camel fighter planes sat idly just outside the hangars, their blunt metal noses shining in the summer sun. I exhaled in relief. At least they hadn't left yet.

 

Three of my mates were already in their planes, checking over the controls and exchanging banter, obviously in no hurry. I shot a nervous grin, waved at them, and climbed into my own cockpit. As I fastened my seat belt I turned to the pilot on the runway beside me. "Who's in charge of this flight?"

He grinned. "You are!"

 

Oh boy. My already knotted stomach did a couple more flips. I didn't even know what our objective was and where we were headed. Visions of possible disasters ran through my mind.

 

Just then, to my profound relief, our CO, Otto Klaiber, strolled out onto the field to claim the fifth camel. I would be more than happy to simply fly his wing this first time around.

 

I keyed my radio - marvelous invention! - and plugged my headset into the receiver. We were among the first units to receive the new air to air radio sets, improving our ability to work as a team a hundredfold. Alas, we did not as yet have parachutes. Best not to dwell on that fact.

 

Over the radio, Klaiber gave us our flight ops. We were to take off, rendezvous with two heavy bombers over the city of Rheims and escort them to their targets. One by one, the mechanics swung each of our propellers and our engines coughed to life.

 

At precisely 1101 hours, a green flare was fired at the periphery of the airstrip. That was our signal to take off.

"Klaiber's rolling," announced Klaiber over the radio. I waited until he was a safe distance down the runway before starting my takeoff run.

"Hotlead's rolling," I said, using my callsign. I looked over my shoulder, watching the other three camels rise like windborne leaves off the ground behind me. There was no going back now. Our flight was committed.

 

In a minute or two, the vast stretch of Rheims lay sprawled out beneath us. We circled for a while, climbing higher, ever higher. We could hear the two heavy bomber pilots over the comms. They were following the river into Rheims. Klaiber called to me:

"Hotlead come with me. You and I will fly out and lead the heavies in."

"Copy."

 

I left the number three slot in our rather loose formation and formed up on Klaiber's wing. While we flew towards where the heavies should be, I took up a patrol position, directly opposite of the enemy lines and to Klaiber's right. That way I could simultaneously keep an eye on him and on where any threats would probably appear.

 

Just to be safe, I checked to our right as well. Contacts!

I suppressed my first urge to call them out in panic. They might be friendly after all. I took a closer look. Ah, the heavies. And indeed, there they were. Two giant twin-engined Handley-Page bombers, slowly creeping their way towards us.

 

We lead them over Rheims. When we got there, the other three camels had disappeared. Apparently they had gone off on their own mission. I'm afraid I missed whether or not they did so with Klaiber's orders. I had been busy keeping an eye on Klaiber, the heavies, and enemy territory. Oh well. Klaiber and I can escort the heavies on our own. We turned our four ship flight towards the blackened trenches that divided our lines from the enemies.

 

I looked over my left wingtip at the heavies. They seemed to float over no-man's land below us. From this height, no-man's land looked dark and dreadful as the river Styx, and we, like Charon, escorted the bombers across that tortured expanse. I stretched my gaze beyond and, in the distance, enemy territory glowered at us. Would that place become a Hades of no return for some of us? It was an entirely real possibility.

 

The flight continued, deceptively uneventful for a while longer until we had completely crossed the lines. Suddenly Klaiber's tense voice crackled across the comms.

"Contact 3 o'clock!"

His plane in front of me broke right to face the threat and I followed suit.

"It's Dr 1!"

 

Ugh.

 

If there was one plane I hated to fight, it was the Fokker Dr 1. Nimble as a greased fish in the hand and deadly as a concealed rapier, the Fokker triplane was a terrible opponent in the hands of a skilled foe.

 

"Machine guns cocked!"

I jammed the cocking levers on my two vickers machine guns forward with shaking arms while adrenaline took hold. We merged as swiftly as colliding winds. The Dr 1 ducked our fire and shot underneath and to the right of us - straight towards the heavies!

 

Klaiber and I kicked rudder to follow. Already, I could see the Dr 1 shooting at one of our wards. Klaiber closed on him and took a shot, scaring the Dr 1 away from the heavies. Deftly, the enemy pilot reversed direction and went into a sharp right turn.

 

Gritting my teeth, I yanked the stick back and followed him. The wind sang madly about me as I fought with my plane, trying to maintain the turn. I mentally deplored the Camel's lack of stable handling. My plane lurched and wavered as my airspeed dropped.

"I'm pushing him, go left," Klaiber commanded. I broke off my failing pursuit and went around, trying to catch him between Klaiber and I. But our adversary climbed up, and reversed direction again. Blast it! I couldn't change directions as quickly as his plane could.

"He's firing another flare!" Klaiber warned. Indeed, the pilot had been shooting red flares during the entire fight. This wasn't just random flare-shooting - he was calling for help!

 

"Hotlead look out! There's an Alb in here too!" Another German, flying an Albatross scout had latched onto Klaiber's tail. As I turned to help Klaiber, I caught sight of another Dr 1 screaming in from above.

"Hotlead, we've got to get out of here now!"

 

Klaiber and I pulled the stick back and stomped right rudder, intentionally throwing our planes into a spin. Our enemies didn't appear to follow us as we spiraled to the earth below. That was fine, but now we would have to stop our spin soon. Getting into a spin with the Camel was easy. The tough part was getting back out of the spin. Many pilots before us had been killed when they couldn't pull their doomed crates from a flat spin.

 

My horizon wheeled madly like a tilt-a-whirl doing 80 mph. The ground started to get alarmingly close. I held down the blip switch - momentarily killing the engine - applied left rudder and shoved the nose down. Come on...come on... Cold sweat came and evaporated as soon as it made contact with the rushing air.

 

Finally! The spinning stopped and I regained control.

"Head east!" Klaiber told me. I looked to my left. He had pulled out too. I could see the horde of enemies coming down after us. Only a couple hundred feet off the ground, we made for our own lines. But first we would have to cross no-man's land.

 

The sky went ballistic all around us. Anti-aircraft fire exploded from every angle. To my absolute horror, a burst of flak caught Klaiber!

"Klaiber's been hit! Going down-"

Those were the last words I ever heard from him.

 

Now I was alone. I weaved right and left, desperately trying to dodge the bursts of flak. Up ahead, to my shock a massive dogfight swirled. Dr 1s, Camels, and Albatrosses engaged in a lethal struggle a mere hundred feet off the shell-pocked wasteland.

 

I looked behind me.

No!

An Albatross was racing up behind me, too fast to outrun. Panic welled up inside me as I turned hard left, trying to get him to overshoot and miss. This momentarily threw off his aim. I continued my turn, blood pounding through my temples. For an instant, he flashed across my gunsights! I pulled the trigger! He flinched away, trailing fluids. I had holed his fuel tank. But he was experienced. He quickly turned right.

 

I vainly tried to convert my hard left turn to a hard right. My Camel shuddered and leveled out. Curse the Camel's instability!

 

My anger chilled to cold fear as bullets whipped through my plane...

Augh!

...and through me!

 

In my peripheral vision I could see 2 Dr 1s.

They're here for me. I thought as I started to go numb.

 

Instinctively, I went back into a tight left turn. The Dr 1s could not - or chose not to - follow me. Why bother? I was at their mercy anyway.

 

The Dr 1s might not have followed, but the Albatross did. Doggedly, he turned with me. My heart sank as I saw him pull into a shooting position. I would have pushed my aircraft further, but I was doing all I could do. Bullets again. Spars and struts snapped. Wings folded. This is the end.

 

I hit the ground. Pain! Searing pain that I could feel even through the numbness. Yet the pain didn't stop or fade. I still lived!

 

.....

 

I finished writing the last sentence, unconsciously tracing the scars on my shoulder. I smiled, remembering how a platoon of British soldiers on scout found me a couple hours later and brought me back to friendly territory. Come to think of it, it had to be Providence that those guys had found me so far out in no-man's land. I shook my head, laughing softly to myself. Really, it was Providence that I survived at all.

 

I closed my notebook, set it on the desk, and leaned back in my chair. Writing for that long had taken its toll on me, reminding me that I wasn't as young as I used to be. I folded my hands behind my head and closed my eyes. The sound of birds singing outside my window was all I heard as I drifted off to sleep.

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