Riders of the Wind is an epic novel of adventure and romance set in the scene of aviation during the turbulent times of the nineteen twenties and thirties. The book follows the lives of Charles and Doretta Cross through the era of the great depression, prohibition, the airmail, and the formation of the infant airlines. It graphically portrays the danger, excitement and romance of flight in the pioneering years before World War Two and takes the reader into the cockpit with the airmail pilots of the twenties and the airline route survey pilots flying the heart of the Amazon jungles. A “must read” for anyone interested in aviation or, for that matter, anyone who is merely interested in the history, dress and lifestyle of the pre-WWII era.
Charlie was lost; there was no doubt about it. He was not disoriented nor was it his imagination he was definitely lost. He had left Newark two hours ago bound for Elmira on a night express mail route in an unfamiliar airplane on a run he had never flown before over terrain that was unknown to him and unfriendly to say the least. He should have known better. The plane was an almost new Boeing model 95 with a wingspan of 45 feet. It was powered by a Pratt and Whitney Hornet engine that had been making strange sounds since he had left Newark. The rattles and clanks he just put down to not being used to Pratt and Whiney engines.
Without warning there was a great gout of flame from the exhaust that lit the whole underside of the aircraft followed by a streamer of heavy smoke. The engine died with a clanking rattle, seizing solid with the prop stopped in a horizontal position. Charlie knew the signs; a connecting rod had let go. His grip on the control stick tightened and his heart rate jumped a hundred percent. He didn’t panic but went through the engine out procedures as if it were a practice drill. He began a gliding descent until he finally broke out of the overcast at three thousand feet only to see by the dim light that mountains surrounded him. He had descended into a narrow defile between ridgelines and most of the mountain peaks were now above him. Looking down he could see nothing but trees and he was approaching all too rapidly. “Oh Hell, there’s no place to land this thing, just stall into the treetops straight ahead I guess.”
Time had seemingly slowed to a crawl and a thousand thoughts raced through Charlie’s mind, At that instant something seemed to touch him on his right shoulder and he turned to see what it could be. As he did he spied a small clearing that looked to be within gliding distance but as he turned toward it he saw that it would be too close and too short.
“Well, I can’t do anything about the short but I can sure do something about it being too close.”
He slammed the stick to the right and the rudder to the left, putting the biplane into an all-out sideslip. He dropped like a stone kicking the plane straight just before he touched down at the edge of the clearing. It bounced once and slewed sideways. Charlie kicked the rudder to straighten out his course toward the far edge of the field. He thought, “Too short, and too damn fast.”
The aircraft plowed through the drifted snow, throwing plumes high into the air. Just before they reached the trees at the far end of the field the landing gear struck something buried in the snow. The wheel broke off, spinning the charging plane around to the left so the right wing was the first part of the ship to hit a tree. The wing snapped off like a twig to the accompanying sounds of breaking wood, tearing fabric, and the screech of rending metal. The headlong slide of the Boeing came to an end with the side of the fuselage against a tree. Charlie’s head snapped forward on the first impact, smashing against the instrument panel. He never felt his lower leg snap or the piece of steel tubing that penetrated his calf.
Except for the muted hiss of falling snow silence once again reigned in the tiny valley.
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