Author Elizabeth Lane
"Wild Wings, Wild Heart"
by Elizabeth Lane
Excerpt from "Wild Wings, Wild Heart"
Long Island, New York
June 16, 1911
The wind struck without warning out of a calm summer sky. Sharp gusts buffeted the wings of the fragile biplane, causing the craft to pitch and heel like a stricken dragonfly.
Rafe Garrick cursed as he fought to stabilize his lurching aeroplane. His right hand clutched the lever that raised and lowered the ailerons. His feet shifted frantically on the rudder bar as he wrestled for control of his precious machine.
Blast! He’d checked the weather reports carefully before taking off from the aerodrome at Hempstead Plains. This was to be the last test of his engine prior to next week’s big air meet—he was counting on that event to make all the difference. The sky had been flawless, the day pleasantly warm. There’d been no sign of wind. Not this kind of devil wind, at least.
Two hundred feet below, the waters of Long Island Sound rose and curled. White-winged sailboats rode the cresting waves off Matinecock Point, their wakes trailing foam. Rafe would have to get the aeroplane down at once. But for that he needed solid ground beneath the wheels. The field at Hempstead was too far to fly in this accursed wind. He would have no choice except to head straight for the nearest landfall and pray for a long, smooth stretch of beach.
On his right, the north shore of Long Island extended along the horizon. He should have known better than to fly so far out over water. But the sky had been a deep crystalline blue, the summer breeze a perfumed siren, luring him onward and upward. Drunk on sunlight, he’d surrendered to the call. Now it was time to pay.
Easing down on the rudder bar he banked the craft sharply to the right and swung it in a wide arc toward the land. Wind clawed at the canvas-covered wings, threatening to rip the varnished fabric from its lightweight wooden frame. The engine coughed, sputtered, died for a breathless instant, then roared to life as Rafe jerked the throttle full out.
Blast! What was wrong with the damned thing? Was it the wind or some vital weakness his inspection had missed?
He had no more time to ponder the question as another gust struck from behind, catching the rear elevator and sending the nose of the aeroplane plummeting toward the waves. Rafe wrenched the stick backward, launching the craft into a steep climb. Easy…easy now, he warned himself as he leveled out. The beach was only a couple of miles. If he kept a cool head he’d be fine.
He’d be bloody fine….
He was whistling “Annie Laurie” between his teeth when the engine started to sputter again.