Taking To The Air
Rodney: Make yourself comfortable, Charles. You moved those chocks away from the main wheels, right?
Rodney: Good. Now let me get familiar with these controls.
Charles: What do you mean, Rodney? I thought we were just supposed to get into the plane to conceal ourselves from those fellows who are chasing us. Surely you aren’t contemplating flying this thing?
Rodney: Certainly. I have no intention of being here when those hoodlums arrive, and if you look off to our right, you’ll see that they’re approaching us at quite a speed. That car can’t be much more than a mile away and they must have seen the motorcycle we abandoned back down the road. They’ll guess we headed for this airstrip because it’s the only spot for miles around that offers a chance for anyone to hide.
Charles: Never mind that, Rodney. Have you flown an aircraft before?
Rodney: No, but I’ve read about how it’s done.
Charles: Read about it? Where?
Rodney: In two books. One was called How Things Work and the other was the Oxford-Duden Pictorial Dictionary. The procedure seems to be simple enough.
Charles: Most reassuring. On the strength of that, you intend to try it yourself, with no experience at all?
Rodney: It will be fairly straightforward, once we get airborne.
Charles: Airborne! Are you really serious about this, or just trying to scare me?
Rodney: I’m a serious as a terminal disease, Charles. Need I remind you that the four goons in that vehicle approaching are not pleasant people and that the bag you have there contains a great deal of money we stole from them. If they catch us, they’ll tear us limb from li –
Charles: All right. You don’t have to paint a picture for me. Anyway, you appear to be leading us to suicide, and that might be better than our getting into the hands of those chaps.
Rodney: Oh, Charles, must you make a drama of this? We are not going to commit suicide. What we have here is a very small high-wing two-seat monoplane. In some ways, flying it should be easier than driving a car. I think I can remember everything that matters. First, we start the engine with the ignition key here.
Charles: It’s news to me that aircraft have such keys.
Rodney: The big ones don’t but quite a lot of the small ones do. Anyway, this one does. However, that wouldn’t matter much. We could start manually by swinging the propeller. That was the original way. Now, I seem to remember that as soon as one gets the engine going, one needs the throttle out and the fuel mixture in. Those are the two things down there.
Charles: I see them. Then what do we do?
Rodney: Strictly speaking, we should taxi to the end of the take-off strip, but we’re nearly there now, so I don’t think we’ll bother. The whole airfield is no more than a level grass surface, so we’re as well off here as anywhere. We’ll just trundle forwards a few yards, then straighten up and be on our way.
Charles: Oh, Rodney, why did I throw in my lot with you? You’re totally irresponsible at times.
Rodney: Look, Charles, we are supposed to be gentlemen thieves, so please try to act the part. There are times when I think you don’t have requisite raffish air for our kind of work. Top-drawer people may lose their fortunes, or even their lives, but never their equanimity. Think of Sidney Carton at the guillotine.
Charles: That’s really comforting. If you don’t mind, I will paraphrase. “It is a far, far crazier thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far –”
Rodney: Shut up and get a grip on yourself. As soon as we’re aloft, I’ll explain things as we go along.
Charles: Well, we’d better get going now. I’ve just seen why that ignition key is in place.
Rodney: What do you mean?
Charles: I’m referring to those two men who’ve emerged from that control tower, or whatever that building is called. They’re coming this way. I imagine we are occupying their aeroplane. Perhaps they’ve simply had a tea break or something and now want to fly again.
Rodney: Yes, I see them and I’d say they’re too far away to catch us. Now, engine on, throttle out and brakes applied while we rev up.
Rodney: I seem to recall that they are the little fellows at the ends of the rudder pedals. I believe I have to press on them until we get up enough steam, so to speak, then I’ll release them and we’ll shoot off.
Charles: Heaven help us. I don’t think anything else can.
Rodney: There you go again with your histrionics. Strap yourself in and we’ll be on our way in a jiffy.
Charles: I hope to goodness you’re right, Rodney. I never came across another man with so much confidence based on so little knowledge. Oh, we’re rolling.
Rodney: Of course we are. The trouble with you is that you’re an incorrigible worrier. Now settle down and we’ll get up as much speed as we can, then try to take off. Here we go. . . . . . . You see, we’re climbing. I knew it would work.
Charles: Congratulations, but do you know how to manage this beast through the air?
Rodney: Small aircraft work very simply, Charles. Once they’re aloft, they have three axes of movement: lateral, longitudinal and vertical. The first relates to pitching, the second to rolling and the third to yawing. Two controls cover all three axes. The rudder pedals allow turning and this semi-wheel or joystick, call it what you will, copes with both height and banking. If I pull it back from the neutral position, as I’m doing now, the elevators go up and so do we. If instead I push it forwards from neutral, the elevators go down and we do likewise. If I twist it or push it right or left, that enables us to bank, assuming we have ailerons.
Charles: And do we have these ailerons, and what happens if we don’t have them?
Rodney: I’m not sure whether a little crate like this has them or not, but that isn’t very important. If there aren’t any, we can use the rudder alone. As I understand it, that makes turning somewhat less smooth than it would be if we could bank too, but we needn’t concern ourselves with that because we aren’t going to be flying far.
Charles: Oh, I’m so pleased to hear those words. Where and how are we going to land?
Rodney: Well, we’ll get far enough from here to ensure that we’re safe from pursuit, then find a spot long enough and flat enough to touch down. You must have noticed that this a rural area, so I feel sure there’ll be such a place. We’ll use a fairly traffic-free road if we have to.
Charles: Fairly traffic-free! I’d like it to be entirely in that state.
Rodney: Moan, moan, moan. You really do pile it on, Charles. You’d be sensational as a ham actor. When you turned to crime, the underworld gained what the stage lost. Let us proceed and see what crops up.
Ten minutes later.
Rodney: That field over yonder looks about right, and it’s straight ahead, so we don’t have to turn at all. The landing may be a bit bumpy, but I doubt there’ll be a better chance. We’ll give it a go. Right, down with the elevators. . . . . . . . Oops, that mound ahead isn’t exactly welcome, but we can’t have everything . . . . . . . Ouch! . . . . . . . Are you all in one piece?
Charles: I think so, but I’d feel better if we hadn’t ended upside down.
Rodney: Oh, you’re such a fusspot, Charles. I got us up, away and down. Now, put one hand on the roof, or rather the floor as it is now, undo your seatbelt and wiggle out backwards, then we’ll leg it until we can pinch a vehicle.
Charles: That seems to be the best course of action. I must say that associating with you is one long laugh.
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