Author's note: I acknowledge that the characters of the Tracys in this and subsequent chapters were invented by Gerry Anderson and his team and are now the copyright of Granada Ventures. I would like to thank Purupuss for proofreading this and all the following sections, and Sam and Lady Viva for providing background information for this particular chapter.
"OK, son, she's all yours. Good luck, now!"
My instructor steps out of the cockpit and closes the door, leaving me alone. It's my sixteenth birthday and I'm about to take my first solo flight.
I glance over to the side of the airfield where the cars are parked. Dad is wearing his poker face but Virgil is giving me a thumbs up. Even from this distance I can see the big smile on his face.
OK, here we go. Brakes off. Check for approaching aircraft. Ease open the throttle. I hear the note of the engine pick up as we start to move down the runway. I keep one eye on the instruments and the other on the runway as I gently ease back on the control yoke. The rumbling of the wheels on the ground dies away as we lift off. We're airborne. I've done it!
Calm down now, Scott. This is no time for a happy dance. There's a lot more to flying than just taking off. What is it the old hands say? That a good pilot is the one with the same number of take-offs as landings.
I pull back on the controls, gaining height as we clear the end of the runway. Now if the engine stalls I would put down in the field straight ahead. Never turn back, that's what they tell you. I sneak a quick look back to the cars and people behind me, now looking very small. I needn't have worried about the happy dance. Virgil's doing it for me. I'm glad he could come today. The other kids all had other things on, and Grandma was too nervous. She's at home, probably polishing something. It's what she does when she's worked up. The house will be gleaming by the time we get back.
I level off now, glancing up at the sky above me. It's a perfect day for flying, just some light cirrus clouds high above me, no problem there. I'm not licensed to fly above cloud yet, not until I get my instrument rating. That's my next goal. I've been training for the last three months for today, doing my ground school and getting the hours in my log book. Well, strictly speaking I've got a lot more hours than that. Dad's been letting me handle the controls in level flight ever since my legs grew long enough for my feet to reach the pedals.
We're coming up on the McAllister's grain silo now. Time to make a turn. Ease round gently, feet playing across the rudder pedals. Now if we stalled there's a cow pasture straight ahead.
I'm amazed how quiet it is up here on my own. It feels completely different from flying with Dad, or with my instructor. Apart from the noise of the engine, there's nothing, just me and my thoughts. For some reason I feel lighter, as if gravity is less up here, though I know that's nonsense. This is where I belong. Is this how Gordon feels about being in the water? No wonder he's always so keen to get to his practice sessions. Right now I feel as if all the problems I have, my schoolwork, the responsibility of keeping the kids in line, the pressure of living up to the Tracy name, I've left them back down on the ground. Dad can be a hard act to follow sometimes. People seem to expect more of you if you're the son of a famous astronaut, and a millionaire as well. But the sky doesn't care who your father is. Up here the only rules you have to obey are the laws of aerodynamics, nothing more. Up here it's just me, the plane and the sky.
Now I'm crossing the road to town. I make another course correction, feeling the plane respond to my control. For a moment I dream that this isn't a single engine Cessna, but the Air Force's most advanced jet which I can throw across the sky by just moving a finger.
Later, Scott, later. I've go to finish college and get through University first. The air force will still be there. Coming up on the lake now, which means its time for the next turn. Now I've got the airfield ahead of me again. This flight has gone so quickly. I line up on the runway and start to lose height, coming in on the glide path. The windsock is hanging limp so there is no worry about cross winds, and there's no other traffic around. I make a small course correction and extend the flaps. We come lower – watch the speed! My instructor's voice echoes in my ears, talking me down, but my hands and feet seem to be moving almost without conscious thought, as if I've been doing this for years. A rumbling from below tells me the wheels have touched down, so I put the flaps on full We slow to a halt and I look across to the cars. Virgil has his hands clasped above his head in a victory salute, but it's Dad's face I'll remember. He looks proud enough to burst.
I'm home, though part of me feels that 'home' is now up in the skies. I can't wait to get back there again.