WINGS OVER DRACOVIA

by

Richard Paul Smyers

TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista/Walt Disney Co. and are used without permission.  No profits are being made.

 

Part 2: More Bounce To The Ounce

 

July 18, 1937, Downwood Island

     “Well, Baloo, there she is,” said Rick Sky.  He gave a wave of his hand toward the high-speed bomber that stood on the hangar apron.  “What do you think?”

     “Oh, man, that is one sweet-lookin’ flyin’ machine!”  Baloo gave a low whistle of appreciation as he looked over the sleek, twin-engined aircraft.

     “It’s a Mossberg 98, isn’t it?” asked Kit.  “I saw one at the Cape Suzette air show last summer.  It’ll do 310 miles an hour at sea level, and 375 at 25,000 feet.”

     “That’s right, lad,” Rick replied.  “Mr. Khan arranged for a dozen to be diverted from the production line and sent to us for this little job, along with all the tools and spares we need.  The engines have been specially tuned for maximum performance at low level, and we’ve got some special modifications as well.”

     Rick led Kit and Baloo over to the Mossberg and pointed to the side of one of the engines as he went on.  “These special shields conceal the engine exhaust flame at night, and they give us an added boost in speed — sort of like a rocket.  The Dracovian Air Force doesn’t have a thing that can catch this machine in a tail-chase!  Over the next few weeks you’re going to spend a lot of time in one just like it.  But for now, I have somebody you both need to meet.”  Rick turned and led the way into an office next to the hangar.

     “Kit, Baloo, I want you to meet Mike Foxlee.  He’s my navigator for this mission, and he’ll brief you on the routes our training flights follow.  Pay attention, because for this job we have to fly low and fast, over water, at night, and make sure we hit the target bang on, each time!”

     Foxlee was a small, sharp-eyed desert fox of an Aridian who bounced up from the desk where he had been working, and came over to shake Baloo’s hand.

     “We’ve never met, Baloo, but my cousin Mira has told me a lot about you.”

     “Mira?”  Baloo blinked in surprise.  “Ya mean that lady I delivered the tablet of King Utmost to?”

     “That’s right,” Foxlee nodded.  “Mira is curator of the museum now, and doing a fine job at it, even if I say it myself.”

     “I think I told you about that, didn’t I, Kit?  The upside-down pyramid that Don Karnage tried to steal?”

     “Yeah, that was the one that Wildcat said he liked better when he was walking on the ceiling,” Kit chuckled.

     “While Mike briefs Kit, Baloo, I’ll give you a check-ride in our dual-control Mossie,” said Rick, as he picked up his flying gear.  “Then you can try it yourself.  Think you’ll have any difficulty with three-point landings in a taildragger, after all your time in that seaplane you’ve been flying?”

     “Hey, just lead me to it!” Baloo laughed as the two pilots started out the door.

     “You’ve been Baloo’s navigator for some time, I hear,” said Foxlee, showing Kit a large-scale map mounted on the wall.  “Well, here are four routes that we’re flying to give the pilots the feel for what they’ll do on the mission.”  The colored lines snaked around mountains and down valleys, over lakes and streams as if a crazy fly had left a trail of ink on the map.

    Kit looked closely at the markings along the routes and whistled in surprise.  “Are these altitudes right?”

     “They are,” said Foxlee.  “We have to fly right on the deck, all the way in and out, avoiding the known gun batteries and airfields.  You’ll train for it by flying these routes by day, and then by night, just like the mission will be flown.  There isn’t much room for any mistakes.  Oh, wait a minute.”

     Outside the rumble of the Mossie’s engines was rising, and turning to the window Kit saw the airplane begin to taxi out for take-off.  Behind him Kit heard Mike making a telephone call.

     “Control tower?  Foxlee here.  Better warn any aircraft in the pattern, the Captain is giving our new pilot his first ride in the dual-control machine.  Right.”

     “Hey!  What’s that all about?”

     Mike grinned as he replied to Kit’s indignant question.

     “Captain Sky has taken each new squadron member through one of the training runs the first time himself.  At 250 miles an hour and 100 feet, it tends to be…rather exciting,” he added, pointing out one of the colored lines on the map as he did so.  Kit looked closely at the turns and altitudes marked on the chart and then whistled.

     “You mean I’m going to navigate Baloo through that?  At night?”

     “Oh, it’s not so hard,” Foxlee remarked.  “You’ll do it all with these strip maps.  And once you know what to expect, lad, it’s fairly simple, if you keep your wits about you.”

 

*          *          *

 

     About two hours later, Kit and Mike watched as the Mossie landed, taxied in and came to a stop on the hangar apron.  As Rick and Baloo got out, Kit noticed that Papa Bear seemed a bit wobbly in his walk back to the office.

     “What was it like, Baloo?” Kit asked as soon as the two pilots had come through the door.

     “Kit, that Mossie is one hot plane!  It’s like flyin’ a stick o’ dynamite with the fuse lit, an’ no mistake about it,” Baloo sighed as he flopped into an armchair.  Rick chuckled, and then turned to Kit.

     “Well, Navigator Cloudkicker, are you ready for your first flight in a Mossberg 98?”

     “Uh, yes, sir.”

     “Did you brief him for the basic run, Mike?”  Foxlee nodded in reply.

     “I think he’ll do fine, Captain.”  Mike gave Kit a pat on the shoulder and added, “Just follow the map like I showed you, lad, and don’t worry.”

     “Tom has a demonstration for us in four hours, Captain.  You wanted me to remind you about it,” said Foxlee, as Rick and Kit started out the door.

     “Right!  We’ll be back in time, never fear,” Rick replied.

     Inside the airplane Kit settled himself in the navigator’s position, which was in the nose.  He put on a set of headphones that also held a microphone before his mouth, and then checked the map for the course they would follow after taking off.  The map was a bit different from others he had used, for it was a long strip on two rollers in a light metal frame.  As they flew, Kit would have to unroll fresh map from the top roller and roll up the area that they had passed on the bottom one.

     “Pilot to navigator, intercom test.  Can you hear me, Kit?” Rick Sky’s voice sounded in Kit’s earphones.

     “Uh, yes, sir, I hear you.  Am I coming through all right?”

     Loud and clear, Kit,” said Rick.  Now, don’t worry if you make a mistake, for I know the route by heart.  I’ll catch any errors you make, so you just tell me what course you feel I should steer, and I’ll let you know how we’re doing.  Kit nodded in reply, forgetting that Rick couldn’t see him.  Then he remembered, and spoke into his microphone.

     “I’ll do my best, Captain!”

     I know you will, lad.  You know, Baloo thinks a lot of you…

 

*          *          *

 

     When the Mossie returned to the field, and Kit went into the office to look for Baloo, he found his friend talking to Mike Foxlee.  As Kit came in, Baloo looked up and smiled at him.

     “How did you like it, Li’l Britches?”

     “Well…it’s really something, Papa Bear.  Riding in the nose bubble at sixty feet over a lake at that speed lets you see everything!”

     Mike glanced at Rick.  “How did he do on navigating, Captain?”

     “First class,” Rick replied.  “He even caught that turn-and-reverse bit around Benny Hill.”

     “That’s more than I did, Kit.  What about some lunch?  We can talk over your first flight while we eat.”

     Baloo and Rick followed Mike and Kit out of the hangar, discussing the Mossie and their flights as they went.  It seemed to Kit that it would be hard to eat any lunch, though, for every flier finds it hard to talk about flying without using his hands to gesture and show how it was done.

    Later that day all eight pilots and their navigators were gathered in a small building a short distance from the airfield.  Thomas Rupert, a tall lion, was there, explaining how the squadron was going to break the dams in the Moaning River valley.  A cross-section diagram of the biggest dam was drawn on a blackboard behind him, to which the scientist referred as he spoke.

     “The dam is one hundred feet thick at the base, one hundred and ten feet high, and much too strong for any ordinary bomb to do more than scratch it,” he pointed out.  “These floats in the water on the upstream side will stop anything from drifting down against the face of the dam, and they hold up these steel nets, which would stop a submarine, let alone any torpedo we could get an aircraft to carry.”

     “Careful, Tom, you’ll get us discouraged before we start,” said Rick, smiling.

     Rupert went on, drawing a bomb and its course on the blackboard as he spoke.  “My first idea was a very large, specially-built bomb, that would be dropped from high altitude.  It would be shaped so as to gain all the speed it could while falling, and hit the surface at over 950 miles an hour.  It would go deeply into the ground and bury itself in the base of the dam, here, and rip it open.  But this would require a bomb weighing 22,000 pounds, dropped from an altitude of 40,000 feet.”

     Tom paused and what he had just said sank in to everyone in the room.  Reggie, one of the original Squadron of Seven pilots who was sitting next to Baloo and Kit, let out a whistle and said, “Blimey!”  Baloo gave a grunt of amazement, and a ripple of gasps and snorts ran over the room.

     “But, nobody has built a plane that can fly that high with that big a load,” Kit protested.

     “Absolutely right,” Rick replied.  “But Tom has the basic design of one that could do it.”

     “The chief difficulty with that approach is that it would take at least two years to build and test the machine.” Tom went on.  “Plus the fact that if the bomb falls more than ten feet upstream from the face of the dam it might not do the job.  Then I realized that the task would need a much smaller charge of explosive, if only it were set off in direct contact with the upstream face of the dam, about forty feet below the surface.”

     “But how do we put this bomb smack up against the target, so it will work?” asked Johnny, another member of Rick’s original squadron.

     “By bouncing it across the surface of the lake,” Tom said, drawing a ‘bouncing’ line on the blackboard as he spoke.  “The projectile is spherical and is spun by a small air turbine that is worked by the slip-stream of the aircraft.”  He added a small, round object to the drawing and an arrow showing the direction of spin.  “Captain Sky and navigator Foxlee have made three trial drops already, and it works.  I have some films of the tests for you to see, but first I want you all to come outside and I’ll show you just how effective this will be.”

     As they left the building through the back door, Kit saw a small pond that was partly dry.  A low cement wall stretched across one side of the pond, keeping the water back, and Tom explained that this was a scale model of the Moaning Valley dam.  Two sets of wires led from a detonator box to the water side of the model dam.

     “Now, this first charge is the scaled-down equivalent of my 22,000-pounder,” Tom explained.  “It will be the same as the full-size bomb at fifty feet from the upstream face of the dam.  Go ahead on number one, Harry!”  A technician checked the wires, called out, “Firing charge!” and closed the switch.  There was a bang, a spout of water and a cloud of spray, but as it settled they could see that the model dam wall was still intact.

     “You see?  The water between the charge and the dam acts like a cushion, and it doesn’t really hurt the wall.”  Tom grinned as he went on.  “But this next one will be different.  Go ahead on number two!”

     It was different!  When the second charge went off, the model dam wall burst apart in chips of concrete and a cloud of flying spray that rained down on the watchers.  When they got a clear look they could see that a wide gap had been ripped in the model wall, and the water was rushed through!

     Baloo whistled.  “That’s one quick way ta get the door open!”

     “And that,” Tom said in a triumphant tone, “was a much smaller charge than the first one!  Now you can see why you all have to be spot on target with this thing.  Put them in the right place and they’ll work fine.  But if they’re off target just a trifle, then it’s no good.”

     “Well, there’s still time today to get a few flights in,” Rick remarked, as they walked back toward the hangars.  “Baloo, the radio call sign of your aircraft is ‘F for Freddie,’ and you’ll find it in hangar number two with the identification letter ‘F’ on it.  You and Kit might as well start getting familiar with the machine.”

     “I guess so,” Baloo replied.  “Come on, Kit, we’ve got some flyin’ to do!”

 

July 21, 1937

     “All right, Baloo, you should see Simon Lake dead ahead in two minutes.”  Kit looked up from the map and gazed ahead of the Mossie, through the transparent nose bubble.  Baloo’s answer came clearly through Kit’s earphones.

     “Right on the money, L’il Britches!  Let’s just drop down and try a bomb run on the practice target.”

     Kit felt the Mossie bank and begin to lose altitude as they swung over the lake and Baloo took aim at the low bluff at the far end.  The water here was forty feet deep and the bluff rose ten feet more into the air, straight up from the lake’s bottom.  Two wood and canvas markers on top of the bluff duplicated the dam towers, making it a perfect simulation of the real targets.

     As the plane settled down toward the lake surface, Baloo watched his windshield, where two numbers appeared on either side of the view straight ahead.

     “It’s workin’, Kit!  Speed 235, altitude 75, right on line for the target.”  Baloo let the Mossie drop slightly and twitched the throttles further open just a hair.  “Speed 245, altitude 60…250 and 60…steady…steady…”

     “Coming up on the markers, Baloo,” Kit reported as he saw they were nearing a line of buoys that marked the point where they would drop their bomb on a real attack

     “Okay…steady…now!” Baloo called, as he punched the bomb release button.  Then he let the plane start to climb and opened the throttles.  “How’d we do, Kit?”

     “Not so good, Baloo.  We were still about fifty yards short,” Kit replied, as he noted the location of the splash made by the small, sand-filled practice bomb.

     “I’m gonna get it right if it kills me,” Baloo muttered, and then raised his voice to a normal tone.  “Let’s go ‘round and try that one again.”

     Several minutes later the Mossie came thundering over the lake again.  Baloo judged his range to the target, speed and altitude all at the same time,

     “Baloo, we’re getting too close!  Pull up!” Kit cried as he saw the markers for the danger line flash past beneath the plane’s nose.  The trees and the target markers were coming up fast!

     “Whoops!  Hang on, Kit!”  The engines thundered up to maximum power and the nose rose, slowly at first and then rapidly, as the machine stood on its tail climbing out.  For a few moments Baloo had expected to plow through the trees on the bluff.

     Minutes later Baloo swung ‘F for Freddie’ back toward the airfield as the training flight came to an end.

     “That was our third close one,” Kit observed, in a slightly shaky voice.  He hadn’t liked the way those trees had seemed about to come through the nose bubble at him at the last moment.

     “Hey, with ol’ Baloo in the pilot’s seat ya got nothin’ to worry about.”  But under his

bravado, Baloo was concerned.  That had been a little close!

 

July 26, 1937

     The evening’s discussion of the flights of the day was just getting started as Kit sat down next to Baloo.  Things had been difficult that day, with several bombers clipping treetops with a wingtip after a bomb run.

     “All right, lads,” said Rick Sky, “I want to hear any ideas and complaints you’ve got.  So far we’ve all got in plenty of practice runs by day.  Anybody having problems?”

     “I’ve got one, skipper,” said Reggie.  “The gadgets to put the airspeed and altitude up on the windscreen are fine, but getting the distance right for dropping the beast is jolly well impossible!  I’ve made over a dozen runs on the dummy targets and haven’t hit the right release point yet.  Almost hit a few trees, though,” he added after a moment.

     “Same here,” said Johnny.  “You can’t judge range over water at that altitude, and keep the ship steady as well.  It’s hard enough missing the trees in daylight, but when we do it at night we’ll bend a few aircraft at this rate.”

     “How about having the navigator trip the release?”

     “We’ve tried that, Scott,” Rick answered.  “Mike and I have run tests with everything Tom or Shere Khan can get in the way of a bombsight, and nothing works that low down.  If anybody has any ideas―no matter how odd you might think they are―let me know.  We’ve got to find a way to let them go at the right range or they won’t work.”

     You mean, they wouldn’t bounce up to the dam?” asked Kit.

     “That could happen,” Rick answered.  “But if you drop it too late, the bomb could bounce over the dam and be wasted…or it could hit the dam, going too fast, and explode as you flew above it.”  Several of the pilots winced at this, and Kit gulped.

     “A bit sticky, isn’t it?” Reggie remarked, to nobody in particular.  Baloo just sat silently, thinking it over.  He’d known from the start that this mission could be risky,

but now it seemed to be getting too risky.

 

July 28, 1937, Hangar Number Two

    When the warning sounded, Baloo and Kit were in the hangar, taking off their flight gear after a nighttime practice flight in ‘F for Freddie.’  At the first squall of the klaxon they both froze and stared at each other, for nothing chills a flier’s blood like the sound of the crash alarm.

    As they burst out of the hangar door, Reggie pulled up in a jeep and waved to them.  “Hop in, lads!”  The jeep thundered off for the control tower as soon as Baloo and Kit were on board, with hardly time for Kit to ask what was wrong.

     “Don’t know yet!” Reggie answered, hurling the vehicle across the field with a total disregard for traffic laws and safety regulations.  When they pulled up at the tower they could see that all of the squadron was there except for two crews: Rick’s and Johnny’s.

     Thomas Rupert came out of the tower moments after the jeep stopped to make an announcement.  “Captain Sky has radioed that his aircraft is damaged.  He struck a tree while pulling out from a bomb run and the elevators are jammed.”

     Baloo winced; that was a bad situation to be in.

     “The Captain thinks he can land safely, but the crash crews are to stand by, just in case,” Tom continued, as everyone searched the night sky for signs of running lights.  Then Kit gave a shout and pointed to the northwest.

     “There he is!”  In a few moments they all could see the approaching Mossie as it circled the field, dropping lower all the time, until it lined up with the runway at a nervously low altitude.

     “Come on, Rick, you can do it,” Baloo muttered, as each pilot followed the crippled plane with his eyes, willing it to a safe landing.  It must have helped, for the Mossberg settled gently to the surface about one-quarter of the way down the field and came to a halt.  Then it taxied over to the tower and both engines shut down, as pilots and navigators alike stared at the long tree branch that stuck out of the nose bubble like a spear.

    “Whew!  Landing with only the elevator trim tab for control is not my idea of fun,” said Rick, as he dropped out of the Mossie’s access hatch.  Mike Foxlee followed, holding a cloth to one cheek as he did.

    “Beautiful job, Skipper!”

    “Jolly good!”

    “Marvelous!”

    The other pilots chorused their praise as they clustered around the aircraft.  The hawk-faced flight surgeon was already busy, tending to a nasty scrape on Mike’s cheek, as Kit came up to him.

    “What happened, Mr. Foxlee?”

    “We got too close to the target and on the pull-out a couple of branches came on board,” Foxlee replied, while the surgeon put antiseptic on the scrape.  “One of ‘em…ouch!…came right into the nose bubble to ride with me, but all I lost was a bit of skin.  Thanks, Ben,” he added as the flight surgeon slapped a bandage on the scrape.

    “Next time you go tree-climbing, leave your airplane at home, all right?” Ben responded.

    “Ya got one in the tail, too,” said Baloo, as they walked back to the Mossie.  A branch was stuck between the horizontal stabilizer and the elevators, jamming the controls for horizontal flight.

    “What do you think of that, Mike?”  The navigator looked at the bedraggled tail surfaces and grinned in reply to Rick’s question.

    “Well, we know where it came from, Skipper.  Maybe we should send it back!”  Baloo gazed at the bandage on Mike’s cheek and shivered.  A couple of inches the other way

and the branch would have gone straight through the young Aridian!

 

July 30, 1937

    “Hey, Scott, do ya know where Rick is?”

    “The Skipper’s in his office, Baloo,” Scott answered, with a wave of his hand toward the building he had just left.  “Something up?”

    “Sorta,” Baloo replied.  “I’ve got somethin’ ta talk to him about.”  Baloo stalked into the building with a grim look on his face.  He hated what he was about to do, but he couldn’t see any way out of it.

    A few minutes later Baloo was sitting in Rick’s office and trying to keep calm as he explained his request.  “Rick, I don’t wanna let you an’ the squadron down, but…but I gotta ask ya ta let me leave.  I can’t fly this mission.”

    “Well, Baloo, if you feel you can’t do it, you shouldn’t go, of course,” said Rick.  “But you’ve been doing so well up to now, I don’t understand what the problem is.”

    “It ain’t me, Rick—it’s Kit.”  Baloo sighed.  There, he’d finally said it!  “He’s gonna be a great pilot some day—he’s a natural-born flier—an’ I don’t want him ta get hurt.”

    As he listened to Baloo, Rick had a thoughtful look on his face, and seemed to be hiding a smile.

    “So, you’re not concerned about yourself, but it’s Kit you’re worried about, eh?”

    “That’s it,” Baloo sadly agreed.  “Kit won’t stay off the mission if I fly it, an’ I keep thinkin’ about a tree branch crashin’ into the nose bubble an’ goin’ smack through Kit’s gizzard.  I said I’d give anything to fly with the Squadron of Seven on a mission, Rick… but I can’t give Kit’s hide.  I just can’t do that!”

    “Hmmm.  Is it just the problem with the trees around the lakes that bothers you, Baloo?  Or is it the whole thing---low-level flying at night, over hostile territory?”

    “Shucks, Rick, that’s easy!  Kit an’ me have done that sort o’ thing hundreds o’ times,” Baloo protested.  “But these bouncer-bombs have to go down just right or they’re wasted, right?”  Rick nodded in reply and Baloo went on.

    “Well, worryin’ about Kit in the nose might put me off enough to spoil my aim.  Like I said, I don’t want to see him get hurt.”

    Rick sat back in his chair and looked at him seriously.  “I know how difficult it is for you to come here and tell me this, Baloo.  You might not realize it, but it takes a lot of courage to do something like that.”  He seemed lost in thought for a moment, and then continued.

    “It’s odd that you should come to see me today, Baloo, because I’ve just been talking to Mike and Kit about something I’m sure you’d be interested in.”

    “Kit was here?”

    “He still is.  I had him wait with Mike in the next room while I listened to you.  Just a minute,” Rick added, touching the buttons on the intercom on his desk.  “Mike, would you and Kit come in here, please?”

    Baloo felt a touch of panic as Rick spoke.  “Rick, I didn’t want Kit to know…”

    “Don’t worry, Baloo, you just trust me for a minute, eh?”

    The side door opened and both Kit and Mike Foxlee came into the office.  Mike was carrying something that looked vaguely like a coat hanger, but Baloo paid little heed to it as he tried to look unconcerned, and smiled at his navigator.

    “Hi, Papa Bear.”

    “What’s up, Skipper?”

    “Have a seat, lads,” Rick said, and then turned to Baloo.

    “Baloo, Mike came to me just half an hour ago with something he thinks will solve the problem of dropping these bouncer-bombs in the right place.  Show us how it works, will you, Mike?”

    The young Aridian brought the ‘coat hanger’ up and held it for Baloo to look at.  It was a section of a broom-handle with three short pieces of flat wood fastened to the upper end, and a nail set in the ends of two of these pieces.  At the end of the third piece was a vertical bit of wood with a small hole drilled through it, and Mike brought this peep-hole up to his right eye and looked through it at Baloo.

    “You just look through this hole toward the dam as you fly over the lake,” Mike explained.  “There are two towers on each dam, six hundred feet apart, and when you see these two nails in line with the two towers, then you’re just the right distance from the dam.  So, you just press the bomb release button and there you are!  It should let us put each bouncer smack on the same spot of water each and every time!  What do you think of that?”

    Baloo took the gadget from Foxlee’s hand and turned it over a couple of times, then held it in one hand and looked through the peep-hole as he had seen Mike do it.

    “You’re sure this thing’ll work?  An’ keep us from hittin’ the trees?”

    “Basic geometry, Baloo.  It has to work,” Foxlee replied.  “Ah, what’s wrong, is it too simple to believe?”

    “Huh?  No, no…did you think o’ this, Mike, or did Tom Rupert come up with it?”

    “I wish I had thought of it, but Kit deserves the credit.  It’s his idea,” Foxlee answered, and Baloo turned to stare at his navigator in amazement.

    “How’d ya think this thing up, Kit?”

    “Well, I was sort of worried, Baloo, with you coming too close to the trees on the training runs, so I tried to think of some way to know when the plane was just the right distance from the dam.  Then I remembered my geometry lessons, so I drew a triangle on a map of the dam, and figured if we could know when the angle was right we’d know we were at the right range,” Kit said seriously.

    “You dreamed this up ‘cause you were worried about me?”

    “Well…yeah,” said Kit, looking slightly embarrassed as he did.

    An’ here I’ve been worryin’ about Kit for the same reason, Baloo thought.  “Uh, Rick?  Just forget about what I said before, O.K.?”  Rick gave a ‘thumbs up’ gesture in reply, a faint grin crossing his face as he did so.

    “I’ve made up a couple of these bombsights,” said Mike.  “The Skipper wants to try it, Baloo.  Suppose you and Kit come along in ‘F for Freddie’ and test it as well?”

    Baloo picked up the gadget and handed it to Kit as he answered.

    “It’s Kit’s idea, so why don’t we let him make the first test with it?”  Kit looked ready to burst with happiness at Baloo’s words, while Rick gave a nod and stood up.

    “Right!  Let’s get into the air and see how they work, lads!”

 

August 9, 1937

    “How does it handle, Baloo?” Kit asked as ‘F for Freddie’ lifted off the runway and began a slow climb away from the airfield.

    “Doin’ all right, Kit,” came the answer.  “This concrete-filled dummy bouncer is a lot heavier than the practice bombs, but this Mossie’s got power to spare.”  The flaps came up as Baloo trimmed the airplane for level flight and headed toward the practice bombing range.

    As the airplane droned along, Kit checked his sight and the electric release button, strapped himself into position and then watched for the practice range to come into view.

    “Simon Lake dead ahead, Baloo!  The target should be on your left.”

    “I see it, Kit.  Ready to drop, Li’l Britches?”

    Kit pressed the switch that would let the turbine wheel swing down into the airstream and start rotating the weapon.

    “Bouncer is spinning, Baloo.  Ready to drop!”  Kit felt the Mossie bank and begin to lose altitude as they swung over the lake and Baloo took aim at the low bluff at the far end.

    “Speed 240, altitude 100,” Baloo called out.  “On target…250 and 60…steady…”

    Kit held the release button in his right hand, the sight in his left, and watched while the markers seemed to draw apart as the aircraft approached them.  In the sight, the nails and the towers grew closer…closer…they met!

    “Bouncer away!”  Baloo felt the Mossie lift as the weight fell away, even as he heard Kit’s call over the interphone.  The pilot shoved the throttles forward and let the airplane rise as they soared between the markers and over the low cliff edge.  Circling bank Baloo and Kit studied the lake surface until they saw a line of splash-marks that ran straight up to the cliff, exactly between the markers.

    “It looks good to me, Papa Bear.”

    “Right on, Kit!  Let’s check in with Rick and see if he wants us to show the others how

it’s done,” Baloo chuckled, as he headed ‘F for Freddie’ back toward the base.

 

August 16, 1937, 10:00 AM

    “Right!” said Rick Sky, as he looked around the room at the eight navigators and seven other pilots.  “Everybody has dropped three concrete-filled dummy bouncers on the Simon Lake target, and over 200 practice bombs have been dropped as well.  The Cloudkicker bombsight lets us put them right on the mark every time,” Rick added, and Kit wriggled in his seat from a mixture of pride and embarrassment.  “We’ve flown over 1,000 hours of practice missions between us,” Rick went on, “so there’s only one more thing to be done.  Make a drop with a live one, and make sure the beast will explode properly.”

    There was a stir among the others and Baloo spoke up.

    “Who gets ta try it, Rick?”

    “The ground crew is loading my ship right now,” he replied.  “As soon as you lads get up to the target area to watch, Mike and I will take off.  Stay on that spit of land that’s to the right and short of the target and you’ll get a good view.”

    “Don’t drop it too late, Mr. Foxlee,” Kit said as they walked out to the airfield.

    “Never fear, Kit, I’ll put her down right on the mark,” the Aridian replied, clapping Kit on the shoulder as he spoke.  “Now get in that truck, lad, before they start without you!”

    Kit trotted over to the truck and caught Baloo’s hand.  The pilot swung him aboard and

with a rumble of its engine the vehicle started down the road that led to the target range.

 

August 16, 1937, 11:30 AM

    The calm surface of Simon Lake reflected a few high clouds that drifted in the quiet air as Baloo, Kit and the other crews scanned the skies for a sign of Rick’s plane.  The dummy towers on the low bluff marked the target area off to their right, while the lake spread out to the left.  A faint hum of engines came to Baloo’s ears a moment before Reggie’s navigator called out, “There he is, over those trees!” and pointed to the west.

    The Mossie swung in a circle of the target area and off to the left, letting down as it did so, and then dropped even lower.  Suddenly it was not an airplane circling in the sky, but a fast-moving machine skimming the lake surface, heading in on the bomb run.  Everyone followed it with their eyes until a large, round object dropped out of the belly of the plane, toward the surface of the lake.

    It all seemed to be happening slowly, with the bouncer-bomb floating down lazily and falling behind the plane at the same time.  Then it struck the water and vanished in a burst of spray, reappearing from the spray, rising again and sailing on down the lake!  It struck a second time, a third time and then a fourth, while the watchers turned to follow the bouncer’s course from left to right, straight toward the target.

    Rick pulled his plane up and over the target, flying between the markers, while the bouncer came along behind, giving a final, low bounce and hitting the bluff with an audible thud!  Then it dropped out of sight as it sank into the depths.  Everyone had just given a sigh of relief when the lake surface bulged upward at the bluff in a great mound of water!  Then the bulge split and a vast jet of water surged skyward, while the ground twisted and danced under their feet!  The jet seemed to rear hundreds of feet high before it collapsed, while the sound of the explosion thundered around them.

    A series of waves washed against the rise of ground the pilots stood on, and as Kit picked himself up he realized that his clothes had been soaked by the cloud of spray.  Reggie shook some water out of his ears, and muttered, “Dash it, I had a bath yesterday!”

    For once Baloo was at a loss for words.  Then he gave a shake of his head, and turned to Kit.

    “It really works, don’t it?”  Thomas Rupert was standing behind them, writing something in his notebook, and at Baloo’s words he looked up and spoke in a slightly annoyed voice.

    “Of course it works!  After all, it’s supposed to work, you know.”

 

August 16, 1937, 2:00 PM

    After lunch, and much discussion of the test, everyone met in the briefing room.  Rick Sky outlined the practice missions to be flown over the next few days, and then said what they all had expected to hear.

    “Now, don’t go breaking any aircraft or getting yourselves bunged up, lads.  The weather looks good, The Leader’s birthday is coming up, and we’ll be getting any final intelligence about defenses in a couple of days.  Get in all the practice you can, and be ready for it.  In five days we really have to start earning our pay!”

 

To Be Concluded

 

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