As the speed built up down the ramp, there was an increasing roar that could be heard above the sound of the wind and the craft leapt forward, straining to rise. Before it had reached the end of the ramp, Ralf pulled a lever by his side and the hook holding him to the wagon fell away. Free now to move on its own, the pilot pulled back on his control column, and was airborne, climbing into the wind.
The pilot felt the resistance in the control column, like an animal trying to escape his clutch, and as he pushed it one way and another the craft banked and rolled. Remembering his instructions, he reduced the gas flow to the burner, to conserve fuel, but the speed barely faltered. Exulting in the sensation, he turned his attention to flying down towards the sea, and the waiting ship. In his mind he would be home for supper.
The craft flashed past the balloons, whose occupants waved and hoisted flags, these passed the message downriver: “Successful launch”. The message outran the craft until it was received by the waiting warship, in the wide river mouth. Here preparations were made to recover the pilot if they could, and more importantly the craft, after his flight. A small boat was launched ready to assist in the recovery, and bobbed alongside the warship, poised for action.
Ralf spotted a flock of birds ahead; at this speed he would hit them in a matter of seconds. He hauled on the controls, kicking the rudder with his feet, and the plane tilted violently.
The birds had sensed his approach, and scattered, one thumped into his wind deflector and another hit the mesh guard covering the pipe. The manoeuvre had caused his speed to reduce and with the nose up it was close to stalling. Ralf could feel the wings vibrate as the flow of air over them faltered. His stomach felt like it was rising into his mouth as he dropped. Remembering his training, Ralf eased the control forward and increased the burner. The nose dropped and the speed built up. As he felt control return he breathed a sigh of relief.
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