© 2016 Donald Kemp
All Rights Reserved.

TED MONROE, laid off from his pilot’s job for the company’s Learjet, is barely getting by with odd jobs at the airport. The company jet is sold and the management is closing the plant. He holds both a multi-engine commercial license and an aircraft and engine mechanics license. His friend, James, was his copilot on the company jet.

Tall and well-built, Ted doesn’t have bulging muscles. He has what the ladies call, a handsome face. His blue eyes often draw comments, and curly black hair crowns his presence.

The large T-hangar door is open. Ted and James are working on the engine of a J-4 Piper Cub. Both have rollaway tool chests standing nearby. An amicable silence surrounds them as they work.

“James, I’m finished on this side. Need any help over there?”

“No. I’m almost done. Just a few more minutes.”

Ted wipes his hands on a rag and walks toward the front of the T-hangar. He turns and faces the other end of the airport. The control tower stands tall in the distance, and he can see a row of parked aircraft parallel to the 4-right.

“I can’t believe this. That neglected, cobwebbed old twin Beech is lining up on the 4-right for takeoff.” The Beech is cleared for takeoff and begins to roll down the runway. “Hey, does that thing sound right to you?”

“Maybe a little out of sync. You know some pilots adjust while rolling during takeoff, and others after they get in the air and climbing.”

The Beech roars down the 4-right in front of the row of T-hangars. Climbing six or seven feet into the air, the pilot raises the landing gear. As the wheels fold into the wings, the right engine bursts into flames. The right wing momentarily dips down and strikes the ground. The plane levels off, but loses altitude and drops down onto the runway. It continues rising into the air and falling back to the runway like a bouncing rubber ball. Each time it touches the runway, showers of sparks fly behind it.

James rushes to the open T-hangar door just in time to see part of the right engine and propeller tear away from the wing.

The debris spins in wild circles across the airport grass. The rest of the Beech continues its crazy flight, crashing through the fence at the end of the airport. The Beech finally comes to a rest across the street between two houses before it explodes in a ball of fire. People rush out of both houses and run away, the flames soaring upwards. Others along the block step out of their houses to eye the alarming sight.

For a brief moment, Ted can see a figure through the Beech’s cabin windows, scrambling for purchase, trying to reach the exit door. The smoke and flames soon obscure the view.

James falls to his knees in shock. Some of the smoke starts to drift in their direction. He stands up and tries to get out of the way of the drifting smoke, while rubbing his nose and waving his arms about.

“What is that awful smell?” he asks. “I’ve got to move. That is horrible.”

They move away from the smoke to watch the burning crash site.

Sirens wail in the distance as the Detroit Police and the Detroit fire trucks race to the scene. Police start to block the crowd running toward the crash. Firemen have three hoses pointed at the plane and the sides of the two houses, and begin to spray water on the fire.

“They won’t be able to put that fire out with water. They’re just making more smoke,” Ted says.

“Right, and we have to move again. That smoke smell is awful. Here comes the airport fire truck. I can never understand why they need to use the siren inside the fence. They even do that during practice runs. Why do they do that, Ted?”

“You can’t go to a fire without a siren. That’s un-American. All the fire departments do that.”

The airport fire truck passes in front of them. It breaks through the gate at the end of the runway instead of using the gaping hole left by the Beech in order to approach the crash from upwind. The large CO2 boom swings toward the fire. In one slow, single pass, the chemical puts out the fire.

“Wow. That was something to see. Have you ever seen that, James? One pass and the fire is out.”

“No, just in movies at the flight school.”

“What idiot would try to fly that Beech without a thorough ground check? It sat there for at least two years. Birds building nests, condensation in the fuel tanks—that fuel would be stale by now.”

“I wonder what caused the fire in the right engine.”

“Probably mice chewing on the fuel lines, or they were just plain rotten and leaking.”