Author's Disclaimer: All characters, locations, events and situations in this story that are borrowed from the Kim Possible TV series are the property of the Disney company. All aircraft mentioned in this story are the creations of their designers. The plot and other characters are the product of my brain and thus are my responsibility.
Airplanes, Spandules and Widgets, Oh, My! - Part One
"You can wait here in the pilots' lounge, Miss Possible," said the manager of the local air service. "And please let me know if you need anything."
"Thank you, we will," Kim replied. Ron Stoppable had already seated himself on one of the couches in the room, while Rufus had come out of his usual pocket of Ron's pants and was sitting on Ron's shoulder.
"We owe you a lot, folks," the manager went on. "One of those Lowardian machines was about a quarter mile away from the field when you pulled the plug on that invasion. Thanks to you, we had no damage at all."
"Glad we could help, dude," Ron answered, and Rufus gave a chirp that sounded like "Okay!"
After the manager had left them, Kim sat down beside Ron, and they began to talk over some of the events of the past ten weeks. Graduation and the foiled Lowardian invasion were included, of course, but the question of their college choices and plans for the future held a higher priority. Their current mission was also discussed, since being asked to help find out why things kept going wrong with a collection of old airplanes was a bit unusual, even for Kim and Ron.
"Wade said that one of the people from the airfield would meet us here." Kim pulled a picture and a sheet of paper from her backpack and glanced at them.
"It's a lady pilot, and this is her picture." Kim held the snapshot for Ron to see, while Rufus leaned forward from his perch to study the picture. "Her name is Flo Lowe," Kim added.
"Flo Lo?" Ron raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure that's the right picture, KP? That name sounds sorta Chinese."
"Actually my ancestors come from New England; ten generations at least." The sudden comment from directly behind them made Kim and Ron jump to their feet and whirl about in surprise. Rufus managed to hang on to Ron's collar, or he would have been tossed off by the speed of the turn. Facing Team Possible was a stocky, dark-haired woman who was about an inch taller than Ron. She looked to be somewhere between 30 and 50 years old, and was dressed in flying coveralls and wearing an old-fashioned leather helmet.
"Full name is Florence Constantine Lowe. I reckon you kids must be Team Possible, right?" Smiling, she extended a hand in greeting, which Kim shook in sheer reflex.
"Yes, Miss Lowe. I'm Kim Possible, this is my partner, Ron Stoppable . . . "
"And this little guy must be Rufus." Flo Lowe finished Kim's sentence in a way that reminded Kim of her two younger brothers.
"That's right, Ma'am," Ron stammered. "He's a naked mole rat."
"I've heard about all three of you." The lady pilot winked at Rufus as she shook Ron's hand. "But don't call me 'Miss Lowe.' I'm just plain 'Flo' to my friends, so you can call me that, too. All right?"
Kim and Ron nodded, while Rufus made a 'thumbs up' gesture and chirped, "Okay!"
"Are these all your bags?" Flo gestured at the pair of two-wheeled carry-on bags that stood beside the couch. Kim assured the lady pilot that their backpacks and the two bags were all that they had brought.
"Okay, the ship is parked just outside on the apron. Let's get your gear loaded and be on our way." Flo grabbed both bags' handles and started walking briskly down the corridor, with the two teens close behind. They quickly came to the exit, and followed Florence outside and on to the parking area in front of the air service building.
Kim and Ron had ridden in many different types of airplanes, from a Douglas DC-3 to a Global Justice hoverjet that could take off and land vertically, but the plane they saw waiting for them was definitely different. It was a biplane, with two wings, an upper and a lower, but the lower wing was closer to the nose than the upper wing. It looked sleek and speedy, had an enclosed cabin and seemed to have retractable landing gear, but as they walked up to the plane Ron began to wonder just how old it was.
They placed their bags in the luggage compartment and climbed in. The cabin was clean and comfortable, and looked like the inside of a luxury automobile from before World War Two. Kim sat in the copilot's seat while Ron and Rufus sat behind her. As Flo checked their seatbelts, Kim asked her about the plane.
"Uh, Flo, this plane looks nice, but aren't the wings sort of . . . different?"
"Never seen one like it before, eh?" Kim, Ron and Rufus all shook their heads.
"Well, this is a Beechcraft D17S, just about the classiest private plane that got built in the 1930s. The way the wings are set is called 'negative stagger.' If the upper wing was further forward than the lower wing, it would be called 'positive stagger.'"
Flo paused to adjust a control, and then continued. "Back in 1933 an airshow announcer got carried away at the sight of one of the first Model 17s in flight and he shouted, 'Just look at that negative-staggerwing go!'" Flo chuckled. "Ever since the Beech 17 has been known as a 'Staggerwing.'"
"It looks . . . cool," Ron observed, as he looked around the cabin. Rufus had climbed to Ron's left shoulder and gazed around with a curious expression. Kim noticed that the windows in the two side doors seemed to be worked by handcranks, the same way car windows used to be.
Flo quickly finished the pre-flight checklist. Then she checked the fuel pump, set the throttle, cranked down the left side window, leaned out and in a Marine Corps drill sergeant voice, shouted, "CLEAR PROP!"
Rufus gave a squeak and dove back into Ron's pocket as the starter cranked the engine and it burst into life. After final checks and getting clearance from ground control, Flo released the brakes and taxied the plane along the apron to the end of the runway.
"Bowman Tower, Staggerwing 938 ready for take-off on runway 32, VFR northwest." As Flo spoke into the microphone, Kim slipped on the spare headset just in time to hear the control tower's reply.
"Nine three eight, you are cleared for take-off. Have a good flight."
"Cleared for takeoff, runway 32, Staggerwing 938. Thank you." After her acknowledgment of the tower's instructions, the lady pilot opened the throttle and the plane rolled forward onto the runway, turned to the right, and paused briefly. Then the brakes came off, the engine roared up to full power, and the Staggerwing began its roll. In less than a minute they were off, and climbing smoothly.
Heading north at first they crossed the Ohio River and then turned toward the west. After several minutes Flo nodded, and spoke directly to Kim and Ron again.
"We're at five thousand feet, doing 180 miles an hour, and should reach the field in about thirty minutes. Meanwhile, how do you like this bird?"
"This is a really smooth-riding plane," Kim replied, over the muted rumble of the engine. "Pretty quiet, too."
"Back in the 30s the Staggerwing was state-of-the-art," Flo commented. "They were used for small-service airline routes, and big businesses bought them as company aircraft. A millionaire or movie star who drove a Duesenberg SJ would fly his own Staggerwing. They were even flown in air races."
"Air racing? In this?" Kim politely tried to keep the disbelief out of her voice.
"That's right. In the 1936 National Air Races, two lady pilots — Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes — flew a stock model 17 in the Bendix trans-continental air race from New York to Los Angeles. What's more, they won the race!" Flo glanced at Kim and winked. "With a Staggerwing, Miss Possible, they were just like you. They could do anything."
After half an hour Flo announced that they would be landing soon. Both Kim and Ron looked down for an airfield, but the land ahead and below the plane was now a forest. Finally, Kim pointed to a small patch of open ground.
"Is that where we're going to land, Flo?"
"That's right. Don't let the view from here fool you, it's bigger than it looks," she replied, and turned the plane into a descending curve. Below them, Kim and Ron saw the open patch grow until it was a wide, straight clearing, with buildings along one side. The Staggerwing flew along the line of the landing strip, turned to the left, came back, and turned again, descending to a gentle touch-down. Stopping well short of the end of the landing strip, Flo turned the plane's nose back toward the buildings, which Kim now saw were small airplane hangars. Flo opened the throttle, and the Beechcraft taxied up to one of the hangars. After running through a final checklist, Flo shut down the engine, and then turned to her passengers.
"Here we are, folks. Welcome to Yesterday's Airport, home of the Old Time Aviators."
After getting out of the Beechcraft, Flo showed Kim and Ron where they could put their bags. This was the office of the gift shop, which was a long building with a roof and sides of corrugated metal. A sign above the door said 'Tin Goose Gift Shop.' Ron stopped to stare at the sign, and then called Kim's attention to it.
Rufus gave a squeak of surprise when he saw the picture on the sign. It showed a goose in flight, but while the head, neck, wings, feet and tail looked normal, the body of the bird was a large tin can. Inside the shop Kim immediately spotted a small metal model of the same sort of 'bird' hanging from the ceiling, with a price tag dangling from the neck.
"Your gear will be safe in the office," Flo remarked. "The boys are practicing formation flying, but I think they'll be landing in a few minutes. Let's go outside and see."
Kim and Ron looked over the airfield, noticing a number of people who were walking around and looking at the planes in the hangars. Then they heard the growl of several airplane engines. Looking up they saw five biplanes flying in formation over the field. After circling the area the planes shifted to a 'line astern' formation and came over the field again. The first plane pulled up and turned to the left, and each of the following biplanes did the same.
"Pretty slick!" Ron remarked. "Sort of like the Thunderbirds, but slower."
One after the other the planes came in to land, and taxied up to where Kim, Ron and Rufus stood with Flo.
"What sort of planes are these, Miss Lowe?" Ron asked, in a puzzled tone. "They look kinda like they belong in World War One."
"Now, I told you, Ronald, just call me 'Flo.' The only folks who have to call me 'Miss Lowe' are the ones I don't like." She winked at Rufus, who grinned in return. "But, to answer your question, all of these are designs that date from 1928 to 1935. Do you kids know much about 1930s airplanes?"
"Well, I've seen Porco Rosso three times, and watched every episode of TaleSpin!" Ron remarked. Rufus slapped his forehead and groaned, while Kim rolled her eyes.
However, Flo just nodded. "That film was accurate in showing real airplanes of the period, and the TV series was good, too. But you might need a few added facts." She began pointing at each of the taxiing planes in succession as they pulled up to the flight line. The first had a colorful paint scheme of light yellow, white and red, while the second was all red, with black trim, and the third was dark blue over yellow.
"That first one is a Stampe SV-4, from Belgium," Flo explained. "The next one's a Waco UPF, and that third one's a British de Havilland 'Gypsy Moth.'"
The fourth plane was painted olive green, with red stars on the wingtips, tailfin and fuselage. "Is that a Russian plane, Flo?" Kim asked.
"Yep. It's a Polikarpov Po-2. More of them were built than any other airplane in history."
"More than the P-51 or the Messerschmitt 109?"
"Oh, way more, Ronald," Flo assured him. "Some put the total production as high as forty thousand machines." Ron's eyebrows went up in surprise.
A silver biplane with a gray engine cowling and trim, and a broad horizontal black-white-red stripe on the tailfin, was the last to taxi to a stop. Flo explained that this was a German Bücker 'Jungman.' After the engines had stopped a pilot got out of each plane, and came over to where Flo and Team Possible stood. As soon as all five were there, Flo began introductions.
"Here they are, boys: Kim Possible, Ron Stoppable, and the little fellow is Rufus. Kim, Ron, Rufus, these are the fellows who own and run this place: Clyde Vernon, Walt Herschel, Frank Gifford, Joe Williams and Tom Murdoch." There was a general shaking of hands and exchange of 'how-dos.' The five men were all at least twice as old as Kim and Ron, but it was hard to estimate their ages. Anywhere from 35 to 60 might have been right. Each one was lean, with a well-tanned face that gave the appearance of having faced into a lot of airstreams.
"Now that we're here, Mister Herschel," Kim asked, "how can we help you?"
"Well, you see, Miss Possible, we founded this place ten years ago to preserve old-time aviation, and let people see what it was like when flying was fun," Walt explained. "Each weekend we do things that were done at small airshows in the 1930s, like wing-walking and crazy flying, demonstrate our planes and give people a fun weekend."
"That sounds great!" Ron said enthusiastically.
"We also give people rides, just like the old barnstormers did," Frank Gifford remarked. "We've got one plane here that was built for just that purpose, back in '26."
"Up to this summer things have been fair dinkum all around, but the past six weeks or so, we've been havin' odd kinds of trouble," Joe Williams explained. "Spark plugs missing from a couple of engines, the ailerons reversed on a plane, and other stuff that shouldn't be happening!"
"We keep the hangars locked up at night with alarms set, and we've been taking turns sleeping in the gift shop so we can be right here if something bad happens," Herschel remarked. "But so far, we haven't caught anybody messing around with the planes."
"It started with little things," Tom Murdoch added, with a slightly British accent. "But lately they're getting more serious. A major accident could send our insurance rates up and put us out of business." He glanced around the airfield with a sad expression. "We'd all hate that, Miss Possible."
"That's why I suggested we send for you," Flo told Kim and Ron. "We need some troubleshooters who can help us stay in the air."
"So, you keep having problems, it looks as if somebody is sabotaging your planes, but you don't know who could be doing it?" Kim asked, thoughtfully.
Walter glanced at the others and then looked back at Kim, Ron and Rufus. "Well . . . we have a hunch we know what might be causing the trouble, but it's rather odd."
"Hey, check our name, folks," said Ron, "we're Team Possible. We can handle anything." Rufus nodded in agreement and trilled, "Uh-huh!"
"Tell 'em, Walt," Flo urged. "They've gotta know eventually."
"All right." He looked Kim straight in the eye as he spoke. "The fact is, Miss Possible, we think that it may be . . . gremlins."
Kim raised an eyebrow, and Rufus gave a squeak of surprise.
"Ah . . . gremlins? You mean, little guys that look cute, but turn evil if they get wet?" Ron asked, cautiously.
"No, not like those things in that movie," Tom Murdoch explained. "These gremlins are little chaps who bothered pilots during the Second World War."
"There were a lot of stories floating around about gremlins, in every ready room and mess hall where you could find pilots," Walt added.
"And in any case, something has been making things go haywire for the past few weeks," said Joe Williams. "We've got to find out who — or what — is doin' it, and then chase the galah all the way past the Black Stump!"
Tom grinned at Joe, and then turned to Kim and Ron. "Joe was born in Australia, and he still uses Aussie English now and then."
"An' Tom here used to be a Pommy," Joe added, with a smile. "That's an Englishman," he explained, in a confidential tone.
Kim frowned thoughtfully for a moment, then pulled out the Kimunicator and punched the call button. When Wade's image appeared on the screen, she said, "Wade, I've got a research job for you." Kim hesitated a moment before she went on, "And it's a bit strange . . . even for us!"
[End of Part One]