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PANAMA — a fiction by ollie francis
You can feel the rotation through the stick. It is just a slight pull, always to the right.
When I tell the mechanics during the six-week service, they tell me that’s impossible. Everything is electronic. The stick doesn’t connect to anything save a bank of sensors and a series of servo motors.
Through the servos? they baulk. Unlikely. Certainly not rotational feedback. Very unlikely.
But I still feel it: At the edges of sensation, always at the edges; a pull, always to the right.
I can feel it now. It’s not like a side wind; that would be a lateral force. This feels like it is coming from the rotors. There’s something left over from the time before when everything was connected. It’s the ghost of the prop shaft somewhere hidden in the modern miracle of mechanics.
They say that one day we’ll all be replaced by machines. Metal men piloting the flying machines for the good of all us all. Cut down fatalities, or so I’ve heard.
I lost a friend in a crash fifteen years ago. Engine failure. They were only a few hundred feet up on the ascent. It should have been easy enough to land. Even with a complete engine stall, you should still get a few moments of lift from the blades; more than enough time to bring her down relatively safely.
Sometimes we are not as lucky as we imagine ourselves to be.
I could feel the pull of the rotors back when I was flying Mi-24Vs. Those things would never fail. Solid construction. Simple design. Easy repairs. Always to the right.
Today, there is turbulence. The winds are strong. When the winds are strong, they are unreliable. One moment, this direction; the next, that. You have to watch; be aware; always looking at the trees in the distance. They can tell you what is happen out there and what is happening out there now will happen here next. When the leaves stop moving, you know there will be a lull. You anticipate, watch it coming and adjust. When the branches move again, you watch, you adjust. That’s how you keep it still; that’s how you stay steady in the air — hovering like a hawk. Steady, steady, always steady.
We have to go out when the winds are like this. Most pilots hate it, but most pilots are pussies. They have no backbone. Many flew for a few years in the service and then moved on to commercial flight. They are the weak ones. They should have their licences taken from them. They sky is the place for hawks, not these ostriches with their craning necks, desperate to see who I have in my cabin. They would not have flown today. They would have stayed at home with their mothers while I fly with kings. Hunting has always been a sport for kings and great men.
We fly when the wind is high so it covers the noise of the blades. We approach downwind to where the beaters have driven the beasts. They radio me and I know where to go, how to fly, where to slow and where to turn broadside against the quarry. Then it is the hunters’ turn. I can hear the shots through the intercom.
Even over the sound of the rotors and their blind panic from their run from the beaters, I can see the boar react. They jolt, scatter. One trips, its leg broken, rolls in the dust. Others change course, run around its dust cloud.
Sometimes, I feel this is little like hunting. Hunting is done amongst equals. When you face your prey, you know that if something were to go wrong, it could be your own life lost. That is the risk of the hunt. When I fought, many years ago now, I knew I fought equals. I flew for my brothers and I was good at what I did. But I knew that each flight could be the one where I do not return. Each could be the last. All over. We all die one day. On the field of battle, you are always amongst equals, against equals. Rank and race mean nothing. There is only the hunt and the kill. There is respect between hunter and prey.
It is not like this. Two men with automatic rifles shooting into a host of animals from the door of a helicopter. This is not hunting.
I still feel the pull of the blades, twisting us right. Always right. I turn away from the kill. I must watch the winds. They are changing.
Originally published on Tumblr