For the third time in as many flights, Ginger’s aircraft developed trouble. To make things worse, they were responding to a scramble, not just on a patrol. “Bandits” were approaching the coast, and all the duty pilots had rushed out to their aircraft. It had happened so fast that Ginger almost didn’t have time to get nervous. Then his engine started to pack up. He tried everything he’d been taught, but it just kept spluttering, almost dying. It roared back to life if he gave it more oil, then faded again. When they made a sharp turn in response to a new vector, it went out on him altogether.
Ginger managed to get it re-started, but only after hectic seconds of trying. By then he’d been left rather far behind, drifting away from the rest of them, and the CO was furiously calling for him to catch up. When Ginger throttled forward, the engine gave off a bang and started making a horrible racket. Really frightened now, Ginger had no choice but to report that he had engine trouble and he was ordered back to base.
As he nursed the Hurricane back to Tangmere, he noticed that if he kept the revs down below a certain point, the noise was less threatening, but at that level he had barely enough power to keep the Hurricane in the air. As he went into the circuit for landing, there seemed to be an inordinate number of people standing about watching him. It was worse than being on a check flight. He did his best to make a good landing for such an audience, but at the critical moment the engine cut out on him again. He fell out of the air and bounced badly. Ginger cringed with embarrassment.
He rolled to a stop and tried to re-start the engine, but now nothing seemed to work at all. Suddenly Flight Sergeant Rowe, the Chiefy, was on his wing telling him off in an exasperated tone that he was “never going to get it re-started that way” and “asking” him to get out of the cockpit so someone else could move it off the landing strip.
Humiliated, Ginger climbed down from the Hurricane, and Rowe himself slipped into the cockpit. An instant later the Hurricane roared back into life, puffing smoke to be sure and making a horrible racket again, but running well enough to trundle off towards a hangar. Ginger was left standing in the middle of the field, holding his helmet and his parachute and feeling foolish.
After a moment, he decided he ought to follow his aircraft on foot and find out what was wrong with it – or at least report what had happened during the flight. By the time he reached it, it stood on a hangar apron with Rowe still at the controls, revving the engine while the ground crew removed the cowling and took a look at it. Ginger waited off to one side until Rowe had switched off and climbed down. The aircraft’s fitter and rigger were already starting to take things apart.
Rowe caught sight of Ginger and came over to him looking very sour. “Well, sir? What happened?”
Ginger tried to describe the problem, but Rowe seemed very displeased with what he had to say. What speed and altitude had he been at when the problem developed? Hadn’t he noticed the oil pressure? What had the oil temperature been? Why hadn’t he tried this, that or the other? Had they been climbing when the engine cut out entirely? After a few minutes of cross-examination, Ginger had the impression that there had never been anything wrong with the engine at all – only with the pilot.
Ginger was relieved when a telephone call drew Rowe away. While the “Chiefy” went to his office in the small shed that ran along the length of the hangar to take the call, Ginger stood gazing at his Hurricane in despair. He just wasn’t cutting it. He was never going to be a fighter pilot – and he hadn’t faced the enemy yet!
“Tea, sir?” It was the aircraft’s regular fitter. Ginger had been so lost in thought, he hadn’t noticed the LAC coming up beside him. The young man was offering him a mug brimming with steaming tea. “It’s got two sugars in it, if that’s all right with you, sir?”
“Thank you,” Ginger took the tea gratefully.
“You mustn’t let the Chiefy get to you, sir.” Sanders was roughly Ginger’s own age, but he had been a Halton apprentice and so had six years in the Service behind him already. “He won’t admit that there’s anything wrong with any of his chicks.” He nodded towards the aircraft generally. “But, just between you and me, sir, ‘Q’ hasn’t been the same since P/O Davis ground-looped it up in Scotland last month.”
Ginger clung to his tea mug and gazed at Sanders with more gratitude than he could put into words.
“Just leave it to us, sir. We’ll either find the problem or write it down for a factory refit.”
“Thank you,” Ginger managed at last. Sanders smiled. “Just doing our job, sir.”
Ginger would have liked to say more but at that moment Rowe emerged from his office calling out. “Look sharp! The Station Commander’s on his way over with visitors!”
Sanders dashed back towards the aircraft, and Ginger decided to make himself scarce.
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