This is the last in this series. I hope you have all enjoyed them. Thank you to everyone who has taken the trouble to leave me a review – especially if I have not been able to thank you in person.
For those of you who like to listen to music while you read, the perfect accompaniment to this story is Sky's 'Watching the aeroplanes'.Alan
There's just enough light to see the steps as I walk down from the house. I had planned to fly at first light so there wouldn't be too many thermals. It's still way too early but seeing as I've been awake for the last two hours I thought I might as well get up. Too excited, I guess. I've been working towards this day for so long.
I approach the hangar. Not the one where we keep the Thunderbirds, but the one where our more 'orthodox' planes are kept. I push open the doors, but don't put the light on. Even in the half-light I can see her standing there, waiting for me. You'd think she would look out of place besides the family jet, Scott's sleek fighter and Tin Tin's Ladybird, but she doesn't. She has a quiet dignity, a pride, all her own. After all, she was flying before these other machines were even thought of.
I can remember the first time I saw her. I was sixteen years old. Steve Peckham had told me he had something he wanted to show me in his grandfather's barn. We cycled over there after school and entered the barn, pushing past sacks of fertiliser and pieces of farm machinery. Then I saw her, standing at the back of that gloomy building, illuminated by light filtering through gaps in the roof.
"It's called a Tiger Moth," said Steve. "my great-grandfather bought it off an old barnstormer when he was a young man. He used it for crop-dusting, but when Grandpa took over the farm he never got round to getting lessons. It must have been here over fifty years."
She was in a sorry state. Part of her undercarriage had collapsed, leaving her listing drunkenly to one side. Sections of the fuselage were scratched and dented, the fabric of her wings was in tatters where it had been nibbled away by mice, and it looked as if several generations of chickens had been born and raised in her cockpit. Yet even in that condition, I could feel her calling to me. She yearned to come out into the sunshine, to feel the wind on her wings, to fly once more.
At that time Dad had already announced his plans to buy this island and move out here, and Steve's family were quite happy to hang on to her for a bit longer until I could arrange to have her shipped over. Then, I regret to say, I was forced to leave her sitting in our hangar for a while. I had college to complete, and my NASA training. My racing career was just taking off, and of course we were putting together and learning to handle all the various machines for International Rescue. Every time I went into the hangar I felt a pang of guilt, but at least she wasn't deteriorating any more now she was away from the mice and the chickens.
At last came the time when I was able to give her my full attention. Rebuilding the frame itself took months of work, salvaging what could be reused and cutting and shaping new sections to replace what was beyond repair.. And of course I could only work on her when we weren't busy with rescues or maintenance on the Thunderbirds and in between my shifts on the space station The engine was another challenge. Virgil gave me a hand there, machining some of the parts that I could not obtain through normal channels. In fact all the guys have been a great help, and Tin Tin too. She helped with fitting and doping the fabric. That was a messy job – I remember we nearly managed to glue ourselves together a couple of times. (Not that I would have minded that for one minute). The next job was connecting everything up in the cockpit, and fitting instruments I had managed to acquire through various historic aircraft clubs. Lastly came the painting. I decided she had been dingy for long enough, so chose a cheerful combination of red and yellow.
So now she sits here gleaming, ready for her first flight. I run my fingers along the surface of her wing. It's almost like stroking a living creature. She feels sleek and vibrant, ready to go and meet the sky once more.
"Hey, Alan, are you going to fly this thing or just sit in it and make 'brmm brmm' noises like you used to with your toy pedal car?"
I look round with a start to see Gordon leaning against the open door. Past him I can see daylight streaming in. It must be over an hour since I came in here.
He enters, followed by Scott and Virgil. "Come on, let's get your baby outside."
We push her out into the daylight and I see the whole family has come down to watch.
Tin Tin steps forward and hands me a box. "Here you are, Alan. We've bought you a good luck present for your flight."
I open the box and take out a fleece-lined leather flying helmet and goggles. "Hey, thanks, guys."
Gordon slaps me on the back. "We thought if you were going to fly like Biggles, you might as well look the part."
I give him a grin. All my family know how much I used to enjoy the adventures of the fictional World War One British flying ace when I was young. It's a nice gesture, and useful too. It's going to be cold up there in an open cockpit, even over a south Pacific island.
The plane is now pointing down the runway. I climb in and run through the pre-flight, signalling when I am ready. Virgil swings the prop and the engine roars into life. With a final wave to my family, we taxi down the runway, picking up speed. I feel her tremble beneath me. She's been waiting for this moment for more than fifty years. Then we're airborne. Back in the sky, where she belongs.
She's come home.