The turbulence was violent. The plane bucked and lurched, sank quickly, lifting them up against their seat belts, and then rose again with the sickening drag of an express elevator. At times it would drop hundreds of feet – the altimeters unwinding crazily – then catch with an impact that shook the instrument panel in its rubber mountings and set all the needles trembling. Rain and hail hammered the windshield and eerie green halos of St. Elmo’s fire lobbed slowly in the propellers.
Captain Winters wrestled with the yoke. Sergeant Bagley sat strapped into his seat with a cold, heavy lump at the bottom of his stomach. Lieutenant Camp was watching the rate-of-climb indicator with fascination. The needle swept frantically back and forth as it sought to record the wild, erratic progress of the plane. The magnetic compass swam in its little window at the top of the panel and the artificial horizon – on which Winters fixed his gaze – tossed like a match stick as the mammoth updrafts and downdrafts tilted the ship first on one wing and then the other.
The plane rose again, tilted threateningly to the left, and then dropped 300 feet before the wings found solid footing again.
Lieutenant Camp’s voice broke into the interphone. “We’re taking a hell of a beating, Captain.”
The plane toiled heavily into the gale, blind and crippled, like a ship plunging in a shoreless sea. As the ice load mounted, the airspeed sagged. Altimeter needles wavered and the fuel gauges continued their relentless progress downward. Time was running out.
With the fingers of his left hand Bagley pressed the buttons of his throat mike against his neck and began to repeat: “Mayday, Mayday…”
Last Known Position provides a vivid depiction of what it was like for the men of the ATC squadrons based in the eastern provinces of India during World War II. It was their mission to “Fly the Hump,” to airlift fuel across the Himalaya mountains to China for the fighters and bombers of the Fourteenth Air Force and the long-range B-29’s of the Twentieth for strikes against Japan.
The planes these men flew were called tankers – B-24’s with the guns and turrets removed and four large containers of gas in the bomb bays instead of bombs. They flew these planes with a minimum crew of pilot, copilot, radio operator, and engineer; and they went out on their missions unescorted and defenseless, crossing the dangerous mountain terrain day and night in all forms of weather, most of it bad.
It was not as bad a war as some men fought, but there were times when it was bad enough. And since the real adversary was the weather through which these men flew, their most gallant campaigns aloft were reduced to lonely, private struggles for survival.
This is a novelette of approximately 26,500 words (106 pages) written by a man who spent seventeen months in the CBI theatre, flying the Hump, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Read the first 4 chapters (23 pages)
Last Known Positon is available for the Kindle at Amazon.
About the Author…
W. L. Heath
Copyright 2011 Merrill Heath — All materials on this site and the associated excerpts and documents are copyrighted and cannot be copied, distributed, or otherwise used without the written consent of the author.