When Al and Curt, riding easily, reached the region of the Rocky Lake
Park, they hid their wheels in the well remembered field, preferring to
advance on foot, to spy out conditions before arriving at the roadhouse
to which they were going.
“There’s something going on, over there,” said Curt, as they walked,
facing traffic, along the familiar highway.
“The new dance floor—The Hangar—is opening tonight.”
“That will make it easy for us to get in.”
“They may not allow juniors on the floor.”
“But they won’t chase people away! It would be bad for the business!”
chuckled Curt. “Every young man can have—must have—at least two in his
family, and they might be dancing papa and mama.”
“We can go on and see.”
The new dance floor, built in an old-looking, metal-covered addition at
the side of the main hotel, was crowded. A “jazzy” orchestra, with many
toots of its saxophones, howls from clarinets, trills and staccato yaps
from its trumpet, put rhythm into the march of many feet.
“Makes me wish I had a girl and had her here and knew how to dance,”
“What I wish more is—” Al did not get time to express his desire to have
Bob along, to advise him in his rather impulsive acts. A man in a dress
suit, as the drums rolled in warning to attract attention, advanced to
the edge of the band platform and addressed the dancers applauding their
“Lay—deeze—an’—gemp—mum!” Al nudged Curt and whispered that the man was
Jenks. “For this opening night the manage—munt has went to the special
expense—youse mus’ excuse my poor way of speakin’. ‘I’m only a simple
flyer, an’ my eddication don’t go no higher’——”
Al exclaimed, and Curt scowled at the aspersion thus put on the
intelligence of the most manly, most steady, best educated general class
of men in industry—pilots!—but they listened, nevertheless.
“The manage—munt has put on a extra fine show for tonight. In fact,
folks,” his manner became more natural, “we’ve engaged a stunt flyer to
come over here tonight, to fly around up in the dark blue, and to do
stunts, with rockets and colored lights so you can see what he does. I
understand the whole crate is to be lit up some way. So, if you’ll all
step outside, while we put tables in here for refreshments, you will
have the free entertainment as soon as we can get his signal and let him
know to go ahead.”
As Curt and Al were already outside, they craned their necks.
While the laughing couples gathered, a small, red flare was visible. The
men who seemed to be awaiting this signal, lighted flares. But to their
amazement the ship did no stunts! It went away!
“Funny!” muttered the excited, disgruntled manager, Jenks, close by Al
As the flares brightened it seemed as though there were two airplanes
dimly reflecting the light.
“But they aren’t doing any stunts!” complained a girl to her partner.
“Wait!” he counseled. Waiting, however, did no good.
The dancers, murmuring, and the manager, trying to apologize, saying it
must not be the right crate, went back to dance, shoving the refreshment
tables roughly aside.
Al and Curt, waiting, watching, wondering, saw the men stick the stubs
of their flares into the ground and walk off.
“Look! He’s coming back!” Al pointed to a speck. They listened and heard
the drone of an engine.
“He’s back again!” shouted Al, and the people came out again, standing
with backs to the glaring light, shaded eyes turned upward.
“No—he’s flying low, though,” commented Curt.
“Yes, he is.”
“Look!” Curt caught Al’s arm. “He’s in trouble—isn’t he?—yes, he is!
Listen! His engine has stopped—dead!”
“Yes, he’s gliding!”
“He can’t land here,” said Curt. “He’s too low to spiral and shoot this
little clearing—anyhow, it isn’t a place to land—not for night landing!”
“I wonder if the same things are happening that happened—when Mr.
Tredway was—lost!” Al murmured. “That time, we heard the engine, and
then the ship dived.”
“This one isn’t diving—it’s gliding!”
“I know, Curt—he’s getting over Rocky Lake. Come on!”
“There he does go—down!”
Off they pelted toward the road.
An airplane had been cruising over the flares. Its motor had stopped.
That was sure.
And no one knew it better than Bob.
For he was the pilot whose engine stop had left him with a “dead stick.”
He must glide. He had enough gliding angle, he supposed, to take him
back to that providential field—if he could throw over a flare and make
some sort of a set-down!——
It was dangerous—but it must be done.
For, in spite of its danger, knowing well what might happen, Bob had
shut off his own engine—deliberately!
He had to—to save his life!
“Look!” gasped Curt, running. “See that glare? The ‘plane——”
“On fire!” panted Al.
Appearances are deceiving. To Al and Curt, on the ground, with darkness,
distance and trees to screen the truth from them, it seemed as though
the glare they saw beyond the grove must spell a blazing airplane.
Instead, the light came from a landing flare, dropped by Bob.
As he headed over The Windsock roadhouse, and decided to give up, to
return to the aircraft field, he had all of his mind and attention on
his craft. Because of that he was able to notice a mystifying, if tiny
bluish light, intermittent and flickering, close to the pipe that
conveyed fuel from the tank to the mixing carburetor.
“That’s an electric spark!” he decided. He was right.
Somehow, either through one of those malicious acts which had already
been done to other ships, or from a rubbing wire, some electrical
conducting wire had worn off its insulation and was bare, and each time
it rubbed or touched metal it made a spark.
If there is one thing more dangerous than another in the air it is the
menace of an open spark close to gasoline feed lines and carburetor
Knowing it well, unable to determine the cause, but sure that the spark
was electrical and dangerous, Bob took the only safe course. As Curt and
Al had observed, his engine stopped. He cut off the ignition.
The sparking light ceased.
“Now,” thought Bob, “I daren’t use my motor. That means I must glide. At
this height, if I remember what Lang said, the angle that will give me
safe flying speed will about take me to that little field we first saw
the brown ‘plane hidden in. Can I make it?”
He depressed the nose, watching, by his sense of touch, how the stick
and rudder bar acted. As he moved through the air he elevated the nose a
trifle, to get as flat a gliding angle as he dared; but his whole mind
was concentrated on that feeling, that sense of heaviness in the
reacting of the controls. When they began to respond sluggishly he knew
enough to sense that he was losing flying speed, approaching the danger
point called stalling, in which the ship gets out of control, drops or
slips or does some other uncontrollable maneuver.
Always, in time, he lowered the nose, picked up the needful speed, and
thus, by coming as close to the “graveyard” glide, or flat angle, as he
dared, and yet conserving enough reserve speed to keep the lift of the
wings more sustaining than the downward pull of gravity, he held his
craft in the air.
Always the nose, pointed into the wind, went lower. Always, as he tried
to penetrate the darkness of the night and of the brown earth below, his
eyes, over the cockpit cowling, searched for the flattish, light spot he
wanted. Along its inner side was the strip of turf he needed.
Fear-thoughts flashed through his mind:
“Can I glide that far? Will I overshoot or undershoot? Will I misjudge
the height as I come down, if I do make it? Will I set the ship down too
suddenly, so it will bounce off and then—with too little margin of
height to get speed again—crack up? Will I stall too high and smash
down? Will I be going too fast, and run too far? Can I glide in to the
turf or will I set down in stubble and nose over?”
Resolutely, by all the will power he had, Bob crushed out those
nerve-deadening, muscle-binding terrors.
There was the field. Where, now, did they keep the light producing
flares? Oh, yes! There, in that little boxlike compartment.
He flung a detonating flare that would light in the air or on striking
earth. Its light was what horrified Curt and Al.
To Bob, its glare was a great relief!
The white gleam showed, far ahead, faintly lit, the field. His course
would take him toward it, but he altered the direction of his flight
slightly to get over the turf, then corrected the bank, leveled his
wings, depressed the nose still more, picked up speed and, with all his
force, sent a landing flare into the air, as far ahead and to the side
as he could fling it.
Then he “shot” the field, got his nose directly onto a line with the
large trees at the end of the field, pulled up the nose more, to kill
all the forward momentum he dared, and then——
Bob gasped. He was too far to one side. He would land in the stubble.
Also, he was a little too high.
Wildly he flung the flare he had been getting ready.
Then, from some hidden source of remembered instructions he got the
instinctive knowledge of what to do.
He dropped the left wingtip by pushing the stick sidewise, and felt the
ship tilt. It went into a sideslip. That both lost speed forward and got
him further over to the left.
Opposite rudder, hard! Up left wingtip, down right! Nose down a little!
Speed enough to go on!
With his heart in his mouth, looking swiftly down, Bob saw the earth
seem to come up at him. Up elevators! Stall. He’d have to take it! He
was close to earth, over turf. He must not keep that nose down and glide
into the trees or taxi beyond the end of the turf.
The ship stalled, landed with quite a jar—but the trucks held up!
And Bob, from his heart, breathed a little prayer of thanksgiving.
He had done his best, had held his head, and—he was safe!