The Return

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The smell of aircraft exhaust penetrates my nostrils. A cold winter wind gusts through the open hangers as the clinking of metal drifts in the whipping air currents as the windsock tries to break free from its bonds. The crunch of fresh snow echoes under my feet as the sun dances low along the southern horizon.

I walk around the hunk of frozen steel, my teeth chattering against each other as my hands glide over the control surfaces. My crew sits silently, staring off into the sun smoking their Lucky Strikes. Death floats above us all once more.

The last puffs of smoke rise up as a shower of sparks rain down as my crew toss their cigarettes aside. We open the hatch and crawl into the cold, sleeping Bristol Blenheim. I settle down behind the yolk and begin startup procedures. I turn the wheels to select the inner fuel tanks, God damn ground crew gave us 100% fuel again, they know just as much as we do our trips are often one way. I finish the startup procedure and give a thumbs up to our crew chief before priming engine one. She roars to life as the sweet mix of flammable liquid meets a tiny spark. Engine two sputters and coughs as she often does before reluctantly coming to life. My bombardier and gunner check in before the chocks are pulled and we begin our slow and bumpy ride to the active runway.

The brakes screech as they stop all 14,000 pounds before we reach the active. I check for traffic before guiding our ship onto the center of the runway. The roar of the engines becomes deafening as we shutter down the dirt, iced over strip. We break the bonds of gravity as we begin to slowly rotate. Her nose veers into the wind as I steady her, wheels up followed by the flaps. The hum of the engines slows as I reduce the prop pitch and close the cowls before we disappear into the low hanging clouds.

The burning ball of hydrogen spits radioactive particles towards us, turning the ice crystals in the air a golden red-orange and the puffs of cotton like clouds purple. We slice through the cold air at peace. Such a peaceful endeavor which can turn so violent in an instant. We float in and out of the clouds towards our target area near Rouen Boos.

We melt away into oblivion.

My bombardier calls out our position, I make minor adjustments to our flight path. 60 seconds to target. I scan the clouds looking for enemy fighters. Tiny bursts of black smoke become bigger as the German gunners adjust their fire. Pings of sliced metal reverberate throughout the fuselage as tiny pieces of shrapnel tear into us. 30 seconds to target. My pulse quickens and my grip tightens, my breathing becomes short and apparent. Details of life. Nothing like facing death to make you aware of such things.

A shell bursts just below our left wing and rips into the primary fuel lines and oil coolant lines. Bombs away! The four 250 pounders fall silently from our craft, gravity calling them back to their rightful place. In a matter of seconds German ground crews and scrambling pilots will be violently and forever called back to their rightful place. Our ship banks hard right and slips into another cloud, our bombs can be heard exploding in the distance.

I pitch up and out of the clouds, our only chance at making it home is altitude. Engine one's temperature begins to slowly rise as the fuel needles begin to drift toward empty. God damn ground crew, they always know better than us. The setting sun peaks in and out of clouds, creating tantalizing shadows, the moon glaring through the clean winter air. Engine one finally gives in as I close the cowl flaps and feather the prop. I hope I have done enough to get my crew and bird home.

My gunner calls out an aircraft at 8 o'clock high, my stomach sinks. I pitch the nose down to keep our speed up as we rip through the air above the frozen tundra of France. Crepon's aerodrome finally comes into focus on the horizon as the ball of hydrogen sinks beneath it. We have escaped unseen. I turn my ship as we approach the airstrip, calling in an immediate emergency landing.

A final bank and we line up with the airstrip, the hydraulic pumps creaking as the flaps extend against the wind. I carefully watch the airspeed before lowering the gear and adding more drag, a short approach could turn deadly. Engine two begins to sputter as our fuel is depleted. I lower the gear as we fall below 60 feet AGL and pass over the threshold marking.

Our wheels kiss the ground as gravity welcomes us back with open arms. We limp to a stop as our ship veers off the active. I finish shut down procedures before my crew and I jump out of the hatch. I light up three Luckies and hand over two of them. The puffs of ghostly smoke float away as we stare silently at the steam rising from our bird. The approaching sounds of speeding jeeps and the whir of an ambulance siren become foggy in my ears as the winters chill numbs my forehead.

I fight my heavy eyelids and look out the window at the snow covered landscape, rubbing my cold forehead. The Nebraskan farmlands have a fresh coating of snow that looks painted on from 30,000 feet. I turn my neck and try to look as far behind me as possible. The rocky mountains are long but gone, a short return home gone all too fast.

I shall return.

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Updated Jan-13-2015 at 03:05 by 69th_Spiritus