Touch and Go
It was a cool morning. Chris, Justin, and Carey had
gotten to sleep early as usual, and up at four AM to quietly creep
down out of the loft and get into the van. Chris carried a
soundly sleeping Carey out and lay him on a cushion in the back.
They stopped first at Tony's shop. He was already up and
ready to go. He had a couple of survival manuals. Chris had
calculated the weight of what they were bringing and allowed each
person to bring one large bag and one small one. Justin had
found a little backpack that fit Carey perfectly;
all of his things were in it.
The crew got to their aircraft as the sky was beginning
to lighten. Everything there was just as they had left it.
Chris was glad not to have to find and prepare another plane, as
that would have delayed their departure another day, for sure.
Tony had come out to help refuel it using the special equipment
that he and Justin had put together.
They had rigged a pump setup that connected with clamps to the
battery terminals. There were inlet and outlet
hoses which Tony said were the kind that won't melt when used
with gasoline. All they had to do was find a tank of the right
fuel, drop the suction hose into the tank, and apply power by
connecting the battery cables.
Tony had given a demonstration of its use at the shop; it
all seemed okay except for one thing: connecting and
disconnecting the cables made a lot of sparks. Chris worried
that this might not be the safest arrangement when working with
highly volatile fuel. They hadn't yet been able to find any
kind of switch that would be large enough and sealed against
vapors, so Tony made up some extension cables that at least gave
a little more distance from where the fuel was being pumped.
Chris gave the plane only the briefest of checkouts since he
had checked it all out yesterday afternoon when they refueled it.
Carey was still asleep. Justin had a child's car seat that he used
with him in the van; not only was it safer for him, but it raised
him up high enough that he could see out easily. Justin wanted
to try it in the back seat of the Cessna. Chris managed to
secure it with the seat belt and it fit just fine.
As Justin put the sleeping little boy in his familiar car
seat he just opened his eyes briefly, looked around and closed
them again. Chris hoped again that the decision to take him
along really would be okay, and reminded himself not to take
Justin hated to see Tony get the copilot's seat, but he
wanted to be by Carey when he woke up. Carey had not been in the
plane before and Justin wanted to be right beside him, ready with
reassurance and goodies to eat and drink.
So Tony sat up front and read the checklist, and this
time Chris didn't bother to try the radio or look for traffic as
they crossed a runway. But something in the back of his mind
insisted he was building bad habits; that it just wasn't the
right way to do things, even though it was now safe.
Chris opened the throttle and the motor responded with
smooth, reliable power. Though the plane was full, it still took
almost no time get aloft. Even with the four of them, their
luggage, and full fuel tanks, they were not overloaded.
Tony's father had been a weekend pilot, so Tony was
accustomed to flying. Chris glanced behind and saw that Carey had
not even opened his eyes in response to the noise and motion.
It was a clear morning, and the sun was behind them and
seemed to rise as the plane did; the sunlight hitting the plane
soon after they were aloft. Even as they climbed Chris trimmed
up the controls and gave Tony the yoke. Then, without forgetting
to keep a piece of his attention on the plane's attitude, Chris
got out the sectional chart and reviewed the sequence of
landmarks along the route he had marked. It was mostly a
straight line to San Antonio, their refueling point. After that
the route zigzagged more, in order to make the best possible use
of the most visible landmarks. Chris was concerned about the
prospect of getting lost over unfamiliar terrain with no working radio beacons.
As for weather, they'd just have to watch what was coming
and avoid any chance of flying into trouble. The much more
serious danger was that of landing into trouble. If they were
attacked at some landing point they might be unable to do
anything, except run. Chris hoped it would help that they didn't
really have anything worth attacking for.
Carey had begun to stir, and now he cast a sleepy eye around
and looked out the window. "We're in the airplane, Carey!" said
Justin. "See, look how little everything looks." The sleepy
lad seemed not particularly upset or even interested.
"I'm hungry," he said.
"Here, I've got a hard-boiled egg from our chickens,"
offered Justin. He held it up for Carey to see. "Do you want
Carey gave a sleepy nod. It was still just a little
early in the morning for him. "If you'll open it for me."
Some of the kids at the house had been keeping chickens,
but as yet they had collected so few eggs that most of the kids
hadn't gotten one.
"I need to go pee."
Justin was all ready for that one too. He rummaged in
his bag and brought out an empty jar with a screw-on lid. He had
to get Carey unstrapped and out of the childseat before it would
work, but luckily peeing was all he needed for now. They all
hoped he could wait for the other necessity until they landed for
fuel. Otherwise they were faced with the choice of having to
either have him do it in the plane or land for a few minutes.
He sat in Justin's lap and ate his egg. By the time he
was through with it, he was awake enough to take a little more
interest in what was going on.
"Why is it so loud?" he asked.
Chris wasn't sure of the answer at first. He pointed at the
front of the plane. "The motor is right there," he answered,
realizing at the same time that a car motor is just as close, but
not as loud. Why is a small plane so loud? he thought. Kids
always ask those simple questions that have such difficult
answers. "And I guess most of the noise is from the propeller, "
Justin could always put himself in Carey's position, and
he knew right away that Carey wouldn't understand "propeller".
"The propeller is a big fan on the front of the plane that makes
us go by blowing air," he explained.
Chris was often impressed by Justin's parenting skills.
Maybe Carey wouldn't fully understand Justin's answer right now
(though Chris wasn't sure), but it was put in terms that the little
boy was likely to remember and recall when the question occurred
to him again.
Tony had been watching their progress along the landmarks,
and it was clear that he had some previous experience recognizing
objects from the air. He could take a look at the map and point
out their position from objects below, sometimes noticing an
important landmark before Chris did.
San Antonio, home of the Alamo. Chris wondered if anything
would be different here than in Houston. He really didn't want
to hang around long enough to find out.
Just land, refuel, fertilize the grass at the side of the
runway, and back into the air. Any delay whatsoever would mean
they couldn't reach the Marfa airfield before dusk, and Chris
wanted to avoid putting down on an unlighted and unfamiliar
runway in the dark.
He decided to impress on the boys the importance of not
hanging around long on the ground. "We're bound to attract some
attention coming into town this way.
"I could glide in quietly with the motor off, but with
things like they are you can't tell what we might find on the
runway. I want to be ready to put on the power at the last
second and take us back up. And in any case, we have to make a
pass over the airfield to have a look first."
"This will be the first airplane they've heard in weeks,
and someone is bound to come check us out. If they should decide
to try to interfere with us in some way, we could have real
"Wouldn't it be quicker to just hop in another plane that
has fuel in it?" asked Tony.
"Maybe. We'll have to leave that decision till we get on
the ground and see what our choices are. I would rather refuel
this one, because we know it doesn't have any problems. If we
change to another plane, there's the risk of getting one that
wasn't really ready for a long trip. Then there's the
matter of the key. We either have to find that or else rip the
wiring out to break the magneto grounds. And we'd still have to
move all of our stuff over into the other plane."
"There's our airport," said Tony. Justin strapped Carey
back into his childseat.
Chris pulled the throttle back, put on the carb heat, and
let the nose drop. He wanted to make the approach as quiet as
possible, so he tried to pick a low throttle setting that would
carry them through a slow flyover and into the final approach
without having to put any power back on.
There was still a sock flying, but there was almost no wind
filling it, so it made no difference which runway they used. As
they passed over the center of the field, they saw a couple of
kids beside a group of small planes tied down near a flying-
school office. As near as he could tell there wasn't
anything obstructing the runway.
Chris decided to take a chance on the two kids playing
around the planes. They were probably just exploring, and with
any luck they wouldn't be armed or looking for trouble.
The runway was far longer than they needed, so he decided
on a steep descent right to the center of the runway's length.
He put on full flaps, pulled the throttle all the way back, and
circled back to set down not far from another group of small
planes as far as possible from the ones with the kids.
With a bit of stiff braking they came to a halt right by
the planes. It looked like a flying club, with a Taylorcraft and
a few old Cessna 150's. They were all two-seaters, so it was
either get the fuel out of them or go look for other planes.
Chris had decided they were better off keeping their own plane.
"I need to go poop," said Carey, just as the plane stopped.
Everyone burst out laughing. Carey smiled as if he sensed
that he had said something pleasing.
Justin explained. "Everybody thinks that it's a good time,
because the plane just stopped!"
He was busy getting Carey unstrapped. Tony was out with
his electric pump as soon as the plane rolled to a halt. Chris
waited with the motor running while Tony pulled a fuel cap off of
the nearest Cessna.
"Full!" he shouted, poking a thumb in the air.
Chris shut off the motor and got a fuel cap off while
Tony shoved in the hoses. Chris watched for the exploring kids
as he connected the battery clamps from the pump.
The hoses were large and the pump strong enough that the
first wing tank of the other plane was soon empty. Justin and
Carey returned as they changed the hoses over to the other side
of the planes.
Justin had caught sight of the local kids. "They just
hopped into a car and took off fast," he reported.
Chris frowned. "They'll be back. With others, I expect.
Better go ahead and strap Carey back in."
They were relieved when the second tank was done, but then there
was an unexpected problem getting all of the fuel out of the
hoses once they were done. Chris didn't want a lot of gasoline
spilling out in the plane, but the pump hoses just wouldn't stop
trickling. There seemed to be a lot of liquid trapped inside the
Finally Tony had an idea. He reached in his shirt pocket
and pulled out a large rubber band. "Wait a sec," he said, and
reached inside the plane to the box their lunch sandwiches were
in. He took the plastic wrap off of a sandwich and wrapped it
around the end of one of the hoses.
"Perfect!" Chris said, "But do you have any more rubber
bands in your pocket?"
"Yep," he replied with a big grin, and pulled another one
out of his pocket. Another sandwich got unwrapped and soon both
hoses were capped.
It looked perfect to Chris, but Tony scrutinized the plastic
carefully with a frown. "Gasoline dissolves some plastics," he
"It looks okay to me. Let's get out of here before those
kids are back with all their friends."
They had to push the plane backwards and rotate it to get
headed away from the Cessna that had had the full tanks.
Then they threw the pump and hoses back in the plane and
started the motor. As they came onto the runway and turned
upwind, Tony pointed to their left and said, "There they are!"
A speeding dark blue and white police car with the lights
flashing had just come through the airport gate from the main
road, and was headed towards the runway. Rifles could be seen
waving in the air from the rear windows of both sides of the car.
Unfortunately for these young policemen however, they were headed
towards the wrong end of the runway, and by the time the fast-
moving car's occupants saw the plane, it was obvious that they
could not get turned around in time to head off the plane.
Then a second police car, moving even faster that the first,
burst through the gates, nicking a corner of the gatepost as it
came. It too appeared to be filled with kids brandishing rifles. By
now the airplane had gotten up some speed, and Chris had to
decide whether they would be airborne by the time the reached the
point where the car would come onto the runway in front of them.
From the beginning, it looked close, at best. The runway was
bordered on either side with smooth, green grass, and that meant
they had room to maneuver on either side of any obstacles.
Chris kept the throttle open.
Then he pulled it back. A flash of light had caught his
eye. There, on the center stripe of the runway lay a boy with a
rifle pointed slightly above them. The flash of light had been
emitted from the barrel as their warning shot was fired, and now the barrel
dropped to draw a bead on the plane.
Copyright ©1995 R. Verner