Kudzu Scientific Instruments, Grantville

September 1634

Helmut Strauss pounded the table in frustration. “I don’t care what you do, you have got to get this thing working. Der Adler has about reached the end of his patience, and so have I!”

“But Herr Strauss,” Bertha Klepsh protested, “we’ve tried everything we could think of to make it work. Followed every suggestion we’ve been given! Everything we do just seems to make it worse. At this point we simply don’t know what else to do.”

“You were able to repair the up-time gyro instrument for Herr Smith. I do not understand why you cannot make the new unit work. Der Adler is very anxious to be able to install these gyro instruments in all of his aircraft. Do something! Use stronger springs! Lubricate the bearings! Do something!”

Strauss stood abruptly and stalked out of the shop. He headed back to the procurement office at the air base.

Hans Richter Field, Grantville

October 1634

“You know, Woody, I’d never even heard of a graveyard spiral before,” Kevin Clements said.

“Yeah, well, I’d just barely heard of it,” Woody Woodsill replied. “They mentioned it in AFROTC when we were getting ready for the instrument familiarization. It makes a difference when it kills a buddy, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does. Poor Rudy. He never had a chance! Haze can be as bad as fog when it gets thick.” Kevin hesitated. “The boss sure seems to be taking it hard.”

“That’s the truth. I worry about him. He keeps trying to do everything himself, at least when he’s here. He blames himself every time we lose a pilot and it really frustrates him that we don’t have any decent instruments or navaids yet.”

Woody got a thoughtful look on his face. “Navaids . . . navigational aids. Up-time we had VOR, TACAN, and GPS. What I wouldn’t give for GPS now. I know VOR and TACAN were just radio stuff, but pretty sophisticated by our current standards.”

“Jesse mentioned something about radio ranges and low freq homers, once, but we didn’t have time, then, for him to explain about them. He just said that they were pretty basic and that some of the old heads had talked about them, but he’d never used them himself.”

“We could sure use something like that,” Woody continued, “we need something bad.”

Hans Richter Field, Grantville

Late October 1634

Traditionally, at least back up-time, the graduating cadet class was supposed to pass in review for all of the assembled dignitaries and family members. In the USE Air Force, the graduating cadet class would barely have constituted a squad, hardly enough people to provide a reasonable review.

Instead, the ceremony held in the new hangar was pretty low key and relatively brief. Colonel Wood had returned just in time to make the traditional remarks, the chaplain provided a non-denominational blessing, the cadets received a commission and a training certificate, and the sweethearts and mothers pinned the new gold bars of a second lieutenant on their shoulders and a pilot’s wings on their chests.

Major Woodsill was circulating among the new lieutenants congratulating them on their achievement and wishing them well for the future. When he came to the newly-minted Lt. Joseph Glazer he grinned and said, “Congratulations, Joe. You did a great job, and you really earned those wings and bars. Good luck to you!” He turned away, then turned back. “Oh, before I forget, the boss has a job for you. Why don’t you stop by the colonel’s office before you take off and let him tell you what he has in mind.”

****

“Hi there, Joe. Congratulations on winning your wings. If you’re like me, you’ll remember today for a long time.” Colonel Wood looked exhausted.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, I did.” He stared into space for a moment or two while he gathered his thoughts. “Joe, you know what happened to Rudy in the weather. What you may not know is that last summer I almost busted my ass by going out and trying to fly in marginal weather, too.” Jesse stopped for a moment.

Joe was startled. This was The Colonel, Der Adler, the man who knew more about flying than anybody! He just didn’t do things like that!

Jesse smiled grimly. “Yeah, it really happened. Mother Nature is, indeed, a bitch! I had forgotten just how fast you can get yourself in trouble without gauges.

“We’ve been trying to fix that, but so far we haven’t gotten the damned thing to work. I’ve had KSI working on a turn needle for about a year, and it certainly looks almost identical to the one usable one we’ve got, but somehow it just doesn’t work right. I’d like for you to try and help out to see if you can get it to work.”

Again, Joe was startled. “Me, sir? What . . . ?”

“We really need to be able to fly in bad weather, which means we really need gyro instruments and radio navigation aids. In fact, we’re already damn late, considering Rudy.” Lines furrowed the colonel’s forehead.

“Major Woodsill tells me that you’ve done some gyro work. Is that true?”

“Well yes sir, I did try to make a gyro autopilot for a model back before the Ring of Fire, but I don’t know if that really qualifies in this case. It didn’t work too well, either.”

“Joe, that gives you a hell of a lot more experience than anybody else I know down-time. I need to leverage that experience to try to get this thing going. I’ve got an old manual, Instrument Flying, and it gives you a pretty good introduction to the things we need and how they’re used, but it only gives us principles, not designs.

“What I’m hoping you can do is figure out how to translate those principles into something we can build and use.” He held up his hand before Joe could protest. “We’ve gone over everybody’s records and you seem to be the only one in our bunch that might have a chance to do this.”

Joe started to say something, then he closed his mouth and sat back, his mind racing through the implications of what he had just heard. He recognized that his modeling work did give him just a little bit of a leg up for a job like this, and probably no one else had even done that. But it was certainly a big step to go from there to any kind of gyro instrument. He didn’t know anything about navaids! “I don't know whether I can figure out how to fix the turn needle or not, but I’m willing to give it a try. I know we really need them. I don’t know anything about navigation aids, though.”

“I’d have been surprised if you did.” Jesse tapped the manual lying on the desk. “Read through this and see if it makes any sense to you. If you have questions, come see me and I’ll try to help. I don’t expect you to make this stuff on your own, but you need to be able to talk intelligently to somebody like GE and get them to make something we can use. I think I can carve out a budget for you.”

“I’m sure willing to give it a try, sir.”

“All right, Joe, why don’t I take you and introduce you to Helmut Strauss? He’s my chief of procurement, and he does a good job getting supplies and services for the air force. Do you know him by any chance?”

“I think I’ve seen him around, sir, but we haven’t been introduced.”

“Well, let me warn you that he is a pretty crusty sort of guy and he’s really frustrated that he hasn’t been able to get this gyro delivered. He may not take it too well if he thinks I’m replacing him with you, which I guess I really am, to some extent. Just remember, he’s the procurement officer and you’re his technical advisor. I want to make it clear that you’re working with him, not for him. You’ll be working directly for me as a coequal technical assistant to Helmut. Notwithstanding all that, it would be a big help if you could be as diplomatic as possible with him. The last thing I need is to have my folks fighting with each other.”

“Yessir, I’ll do my best.”

Strauss was rather stiff and formal when he found out what Joe was going to be doing, but he agreed to introduce Joe to the people at KSI who were working on the turn needle, on the following afternoon.

Same Evening, Glazer Residence

Sophia Glotz opened the front door in response to Joe’s knock. “Why, good evening Herr . . . no, I guess I should say Lieutenant Glazer, now. What brings you here this evening?”

About that time a young woman in a sweater and jeans came down the stairs. “Ah! I thought I heard strange voices. Hi, Joe. What are you doing here tonight?”

Joe and Maria Glotz had been classmates in high school for the years since the Glotzs had arrived in Grantville in 1631, and shared a lot of classes because both of their family names began with “G.” Neither Joe nor Maria had realized that the other had applied for Cadets until they found themselves standing next to each other in formation at their first muster.

“Hi, Maria. Oh, and congratulations, Lieutenant Glotz! I was just about to tell your mother that the colonel has given me a project that means I’ll probably have to make use of my workshop in the basement. I hope that won’t be too much of a bother for you folks.”

“And congratulations to you, too, Lieutenant Glazer!” Maria made a mock curtsey. “I don’t think there’d be any problem unless you got particularly noisy or smelly down there.”

Maria’s mother said, “We really shouldn’t stand here in the door. Please, Joe, why don’t you come into the living room and sit down?”

It was an odd sensation for Joe. This was the house he’d lived in for most of his life. Even most of the furniture remained, except for some small pieces that his parents had taken to Badenburg. And yet, it felt different. It even smelled different.

When they were seated, Joe shook off the feeling of strangeness and turned to Maria, who was more likely to understand. “The colonel wants me to see if I can help get some instruments made that we can use to fly in weather. They will have to be gyro instruments, so I may need to use my shop to do some machine work.”

“I think I remember a little about gyros from science class,” Maria said. “Are you a good enough machinist to make something like that?”

“Well, I don’t have to make a complete gyro. KSI has been working on a prototype for some time. The colonel hopes that I can help sort out the problems they’re having. I have a little experience building a gyro autopilot for a model airplane, but that was just before the Ring of Fire, so I never finished it. I’m not real sure I can do what the colonel wants, but I can at least give it a try. Maybe I can help.”

“The other thing we need is more difficult, at least for me. The colonel wants me to get some navigational aids, navaids, started. They’re radios that allow you to figure out where you are in flight. I just barely got through the electrical stuff in school, and I don’t know anything about radios. I wouldn’t even try to make something like that on my own, but GE should be able do it. Anyway, I need to use the shop.”

“Ooo! Can I come along and see your secret laboratory, Doctor Frankenstein?”

Joe shook his head in mock disgust. Shy and retiring she was not! “You might as well come along,” he said, and headed for the basement stairs.

****

His shop looked smaller than he remembered it, and messier, which was not helped by the dust that had accumulated in the time since he’d been there last. Joe turned on the two lights over his workbench, then pulled off the dust cover that covered his modeler’s lathe.

“What’s that?” asked Maria.

“Hmm?” responded Joe absentmindedly as he examined the machine minutely. “Oh, this is the combination lathe/milling machine. Compared to what you’d see in a machine shop this looks like a toy, but if you’re careful, you can do pretty good work with these little things. I’ve already used it a lot to make things for my models. One of them was the small gyro that I mentioned.” He searched through the clutter on the bench for a few moments and then held up the gyro.

Maria didn’t know what a gyro should look like, but she could see that what he was holding was neat, smooth and gave the appearance of good workmanship. She was impressed. He blew most of the dust off and spun the wheel experimentally. She noticed that it spun very smoothly, and continued spinning for some time.

When it finally stopped, Joe wrinkled his nose. “Not too good. It used to spin much longer than that. I guess the dust has gotten into the bearings.” He put it back and wandered along the bench sorting through the clutter to see what was buried there. He opened the drawers one at a time and shoved stuff around till he could get a good idea what was in each one. He walked over to the set of shelves along the other wall and inventoried the odds and ends on them. Finally he pawed through some boxes that were under the bench.

He stood back and ran his hand through his shock of short, unruly brown hair. “Well, are you properly impressed by my secret laboratory? Is there anything more you’d like to see? I’m sorry, Igor has the day off so I can’t fire up the lightning machine.”

Maria laughed.

The next day

While everyone was stiffly correct, it was obvious to Joe that the relationship between Herr Strauss and the artisans at KSI was not the best. After Herr Strauss had made the somewhat stilted introductions and left, Joe tried to ease the tensions.

“Look guys, I’m no expert, no master as you might say. I’m just a fellow who had a little bit of experience with gyros back up-time. I know they can be tricky to work with, and it may be that I can see something that’s causing your difficulty when it’s not obvious to you. Why don’t we sit down and get a good look at this thing and see if there’s something that sticks out.”

When they brought over the covered tray and pulled the dust cover off, Joe was immediately impressed with the appearance of the assembly. Whatever their problem might be, it was not lack of craftsmanship. Joe praised their workmanship, which caused a noticeable lessening of tension around the table.

Joe looked up. “Do you have an air or vacuum source we can use to power this up?”

“Yes, of course. Just a few minutes,” Elise responded.

When the air source was connected the rotor spun up handily, but to Joe it did not sound quite right. He put a finger very lightly on the gimbal. He could feel just the faintest evidence of a tremor. He sat back and thought for a moment. “Do you know how fast the rotor is turning?”

“Yes,” Jakob answered. “The rotor is spinning at almost 12,000 rpm. We could go even faster if it were not for the vibration.”

Joe thought That’s too slow, and it needs to be balanced better. He sat back and signaled for them to turn it off. “Tell me about how you got started in this.”

“Yes, of course. Herr Smith loaned us the only available up-time unit to study last year,” Bertha explained. “He apologized that it was not performing properly, but said we could use it as a pattern. We disassembled it, making note of every screw and every adjustment so we could restore it accurately. Drawings were made of every piece, and each process and procedure was written up. In doing that we cleaned every part thoroughly so we could make precise measurements. When the unit was re-assembled and returned to Herr Smith he discovered that it was once more functioning properly, and later installed it into one of his airplanes. That gave us a great deal of confidence that we would be able to produce new units. Unfortunately, we seem to have been mistaken, at least so far.”

“And did you make your new unit exactly like the up-time unit?”

Jakob, Bertha and Elise exchanged looks. Elise took up the explanation. “It is as close as we can make it. We could not obtain the jeweled bearings, so we had to substitute bronze. Because of vibration we couldn’t spin the rotor quite as fast, plus the nozzle would have to be opened up to get a little more air. It was Herr Strauss’ opinion that this would not make any difference, so we did not try to run it faster.”

Joe stared at his steepled fingers for several moments. “Have you ever done anything with gyros before? Do you understand how they work?”

Jakob looked embarrassed. He shrugged and replied, “Unfortunately, no. None of us have ever worked with gyros before, and I’ve found no one who can explain them more than the most basic theory. All of us have had problems grasping the principles behind this device.”

“That’s because you don’t think at right angles.” Joe grinned at him. “You shouldn’t be embarrassed. Gyro instruments were not invented until the late nineteenth century in the old time line, about two hundred and fifty years from now. If you can be available tomorrow, why don’t I come back and provide a little introduction to how gyros work?”

Bertha spoke up quickly. “If you could do that, we would be forever in your debt. Do you have any idea how difficult, how frustrating it is to work with something you don’t understand?”

The next day Joe came back with the toy gyro his father had found in a flea market when he was a kid, and with the manual that the colonel had given him. After a half hour or so of demonstrating the basic principles of the gyro, Joe then went through the illustrations of each of the basic gyro instruments in the manual and showed how the principles were applied. Joe had never thought of himself as a teacher, but it was actually thrilling to see the light of understanding dawn in the eyes of his new friends.

Flight Line, Hans Richter Field

Early January 1635

Joe and Maria were headed back to the briefing room to debrief after their afternoon training mission. A cold north wind was blowing, and it cut like a knife after the relative warmth of the Gustav cockpits. They were both huddled down in their winter flying gear.

Maria raised her voice to be heard over the wind. “You goin’ over to the Club for a brew after we debrief?”

“Naw, I got to hurry back to the shop. KSI has done some more things to clean up their gyro and I want to run some turntable tests on it tonight,” responded Joe.

“You sure spend a lot of time on that stuff. How’s the work going?”

“Tell you about it after debrief,” Joe said as he turned up his fur-lined collar and pulled his chin down into its protection.

Later, Joe spent a few minutes trying to explain to Maria just how a turn needle worked. She was having a hard time grasping the ideas.

“But I don’t understand! Why do you need this gyro thing? Couldn’t you just use a plumb bob, or something like that?”

“A plumb bob can’t tell when you’re turning. It only tells you whether you’re coordinated. That’s the kind of thing that killed Rudy Hocheim.”

“I’m still confused, and I still don’t understand what you’re telling me.”

“Okay, tell you what. Come down to the shop tonight and I’ll try to show you how this thing is supposed to work.”

“Gee,” she teased, “a date?”

“Nope,” he responded, straight faced, “a training session.”

“Ah well, too bad.”

****

Joe hung up his coat and headed back to the kitchen where the basement door was. Sophia Glotz was busily getting dinner ready for her husband, Hubert, and Maria.

Joe stopped for a moment. “Hi, Missus G. How are you this cold, chilly evening?”

“Good evening, Joe. It certainly is cold. I almost froze walking home after work!” Sophia worked as a housekeeper at the Higgins Hotel. Her husband had been a farmer, but now he had worked his way up to foreman at one of the large firms that had sprung up in the area around Grantville.

“Have you had any supper yet, Joe? Should I set another place?” Joe had been spending so many afternoons and evenings in his shop that the Glotzs had taken to inviting him regularly for dinner. Joe had finally accepted with the condition that he be allowed to contribute some money toward the food budget.

The same circumstance had led to Joe frequently spending the night in what had been his old room instead of at the air base. Joe found his old room comfortably familiar, although it was not nearly as cluttered as it had been when he had lived there. He did discover that he had to be a little more circumspect about using the bathroom. He’d never had a sister, so dealing with two females in the house took some adjustment.

Joe had grown up in the old foursquare and knew most of its quirks. He knew how to stop the toilet from running, how to relight the pilot light in the furnace when it blew out, and which gland nut to tighten under the kitchen sink when the drain started to leak. It didn’t take too long for Joe to begin to seem like one of the Glotz family.

They heard the thumpety-thump of someone coming down the stairs, and shortly Maria breezed into the kitchen. “Well, are you ready for the training session, oh lord-and-master instructor!”

Joe made a face at her and then looked helplessly at Sophia. Sophia grinned at the two of them. It was obvious to her that Maria was “interested” in Joe. It was equally obvious that Joe hadn’t a clue!

“Come on,” Joe said and led the way downstairs, Maria following closely behind. Early on, Maria had followed Joe down to his shop every visit, but she soon found that, for her, things got pretty dull in a hurry. Once Joe started working he became very absorbed in what he was doing, and Maria discovered it wasn’t very exciting to watch someone else work. She quickly became bored with that and went back to doing whatever it was that girls did, while Joe toiled away. About the only time they saw each other at the house was over the dinner table on the days when Joe ate there.

Joe switched on the lights and pulled the dust cover off of a stand in front of the bench. He started his guided tour. “I salvaged an old phonograph to make the turntable.” Joe pointed to the middle of the assemblage of things on the stand. “Of course, I had to change the gearing with these belts and pulleys so I could run it at either a half rpm, or a quarter rpm. The motor is a synchronous motor, so that it stays phase-locked to the commercial power.”

Maria rolled her eyes.

Joe saw it and grinned ruefully. “Okay, okay, okay. I guess I need to start another way. Let’s see . . . all right, the first instrument we’re trying to build is what’s called a turn needle.” Joe launched into a detailed discussion of what a pilot would see and how he would use the instrument.

“That seems easy enough,” she said, “but what does the rest of this stuff do?”

“Those are the guts that make the turn needle work, just like those are the guts that make you work.” He poked her in the midsection.

“Hands off the bod!” she shot back.

Embarrassed, Joe felt his ears turning red. “Sorry,” he mumbled. He changed the subject.

“I guess you need to get some idea how gyros work.” He rummaged around in one of the drawers for a minute or so, then held up the object of his search. “Okay, this is a toy gyro I got as a kid.Gyros do two things: they stand still, or they turn over.”

“Huh?”

Joe demonstrated the basic gyro principles again with his old toy gyro and then explained how they were used in the prototype, ending up with “What I want to do is power up the latest version and then start the turntable to see if it works. Assuming it does, then I’ll try to calibrate it. They got everything put together yesterday, so if it doesn’t blow up when we power everything up we should be able to run the test tonight.”

“Blow up?” exclaimed Maria, sounding alarmed.

“Well, no! It’s just a figure of speech.”

“I’m certainly glad of that! You never know what to expect in a secret laboratory!” Maria said with mock severity.

Joe laughed, and then Sophia called down the stairs. “Joe, Maria, dinner is ready and Papa is at the table, please come up to eat.”

****

The tests that night were, at best, partially successful, which was still far better than before. The turn needle sort of worked, but it had a tendency to hang up sometimes and then jump. Joe thought that part of the problem was the need for better bearings, and it seemed like the speed was still vibration limited, too. Joe knew that KSI had about reached the limit of their high speed balance capability. He knew that jeweled bearings would work, but he didn’t have any experience with those, and he didn’t know where they might find such a thing down-time, anyhow. The only other thing he’d heard about that might have lower friction was air bearings, but they required finer tolerances than either KSI or Joe could achieve. Then too, he’d need to figure out how to get the air to the bearings through the gimbals. In addition, he figured that he would have to get the services of an up-time machine shop to balance the rotor to reach 20,000 rpm.

The testing finished up fairly late, and Joe spent the night in his old room. The next morning Joe and Maria caught the bus out to the air field. Joe owed the colonel a progress report, so he brought along the latest version for show and tell.

****

The colonel sat quietly while Joe pointed out the changes they’d made since the last status report and then discussed the results of last night’s testing. He asked a few technical questions, which Joe was able to answer readily. Then he commented, “Joe, you’re making much more progress than I had hoped. I think you’re on the right track with the air bearing idea. Why don’t you go down to Marcantonio’s and see if they can provide any help? Hal Smith says they do pretty good work. Do you have any drawings of these bits and pieces?”

“Yes, sir, I do. KSI made up drawings and I’ve copied them to my computer. Do you want me to bypass Herr Strauss on this?”

The colonel shuffled some papers on his desk and came up with that day’s flying schedule. After perusing it for a moment he said, “Okay, Joe. Looks like you’re not on the flying schedule today. Helmut is all wrapped up in trying to negotiate a big buy right now, and I don’t want to wait. Why don’t you go ahead and take this down to Marcantonio’s and explain what you’re trying to do.” Then he rummaged through a desk drawer and found a piece of paper with project numbers on it, copied one of them to one of the requisition forms and handed it to Joe. “They can charge any work on this project to this number. I shouldn’t have to tell you to be sparing in its use.”

“Yes, sir.”

****

When Joe and Dave Marcantonio got down to talking about the purpose of his visit, Dave asked a lot of penetrating questions, most of which Joe was able to answer. He’d brought along his archive of drawings and he and Dave pored over them, talking about how they might be modified for air bearings and for easier machine work. The price Dave quoted seemed astronomical, but Joe swallowed hard and told him they’d go ahead with it. On the other hand, when Joe reported the price to the colonel, it didn’t seem to faze him.

The hardest part was waiting for his project to come up in the queue at the machine shop. Joe went in a couple of times, mostly to discuss proposed changes for various reasons, and most of which he agreed with.

Early February 1635

It was almost a let down to go into Marcantonio’s to pick up the turn needle to take to his shop for testing, along with some auxiliary stuff. After setting things up and mounting the latest example on the turntable they headed upstairs to dinner.

After dinner he and Maria headed down to the basement, fired up the system, and found that it performed just exactly like it was supposed to. The only thing needed was calibration of the needle in each direction. Joe timed the rotation of the turntable each way to be sure that the rate was correct, and then adjusted the tension on the tiny springs inside the unit to get the needle in exactly the right position. It looked like the air bearings had done the trick.

Joe had carefully avoided touching Maria after that one night, so he was a little startled when she threw her arms around him and hugged him after the test was seen to be a clear success.

****

The next step was to get the instrument into an airplane. After reporting to the colonel the next morning, Joe went over to see Hal Smith. Some time earlier they had agreed to use Belle 01 as the test bed. Hal had stayed abreast of the progress on the turn needle, so he was ready when Joe showed up and announced he was ready to put it in the airplane. It took the better part of two days to get the prototype installed in the airplane and all of the checks completed.

Since it was Joe’s project, he had the job of conducting the first test flight. The flight itself was an anticlimax. He spent about a half hour, first checking that the turn needle functioned in the airplane like it did on the turntable, and then practicing standard rate and half-standard rate turns.

When Joe landed, Colonel Wood was waiting in the parking area. Joe climbed out, the colonel climbed in, then the whole system got a second shakedown.

“That’s really great,” Colonel Wood said after he landed. “Maybe there’s a little light at the end of this tunnel. Maybe we can actually do this!”

Jesse invited Joe to his office and sent someone to get Major Woodsill. When Woody arrived Jesse got right down to business. “Okay, what do you think? Can we build this thing now and start an instrument training program pretty soon?”

“We already had a decent set of drawings and Marcantonio’s has updated the drawings for the precision parts and the air bearings, so we have a good set of technical data. Air bearings don’t wear out like others do because there’s not normally contact between the bearing surfaces. As long as we keep the bearings from being contaminated by dust or dirt they should last for a long time. Other than that, I can’t think of anything that we’d need to worry about,” Joe said.

Jesse looked at Major Woodsill. “What do you think, Woody?”

“I’ve got a simple-minded partial panel training program blocked out in my head. It’s really not very involved. It’s just giving the students practice under the hood until they can fly straight and level with just needle, ball, airspeed, and whiskey compass, and do it fairly reliably, then learn to make timed turns, and finally have them fly a series of three-cornered round-robin cross countries under the hood. Until we have some navaids, there’s not a lot more we can do.”

The colonel stared at Woody, thinking. After what seemed like a long time he returned from wherever he had been. “Okay! Joe, I’ll call Marcantonio’s and get a price for twenty-five units. You work with Major Woodsill to schedule airplanes into the shop for modification. I’ll set up with Hal to do the mods. We’ll start with the Gustavs first, but I want all of the birds modified before we get through. Woody, let’s get that training program down on paper and start breaking it down into training sorties. Any questions?”

Joe stuck up his hand. “Sir, one of the reasons the price was so high was that Dave Marcantonio doesn’t really like to do the fiddly little assembly work. Mostly he just likes to make things out of metal. It might make sense to have KSI be a prime contractor and have them hire Marcantonio’s as a sub for the high precision stuff. I think they’d both be happier and we might end up with a better price.”

The colonel thought for a moment. “Okay, Joe, you’ve been working with both those guys more than I have. I’ll buy going that way. Rather than me getting involved, why don’t you work with Helmut to get them on contract ASAP. Try to be diplomatic in how you approach it with him. Anything else?”

Neither Joe nor Woody could think of anything.

“Okay, you guys better get at it . . . No, wait! Joe, stick around for a minute.”

After Woody had left Jesse asked Joe, “Have you done anything yet with the navaid problem?”

“Well, sir, not a heck of a lot. Early on, I did go down to GE and spent an afternoon talking to them about the project, but I haven’t been back since. They seemed to think that there were no fundamental stumbling blocks, and the only thing they were concerned about was getting the radios small enough and light enough to fit in the airplanes. Now that my time is freed up a bit, I’ll get down there and see what’s going on.”

“You do that. Let me know how they’re doing.”

“Yes, sir. Is there anything else?”

“No . . . Yes. Damn fine job so far, Joe. Keep up the good work.”

****

Since Joe hadn’t heard anything from GE, he just assumed that they’d either forgotten about the project, or not made any progress. When he got there, they led him back to one of the labs and showed him some equipment on the bench. He saw what he took to be a loop antenna on a stand, and what looked like a car radio nearby. Sitting on the bench not too far away was a wooden board with some electrical stuff on it and a wire connected to it that Joe realized was a makeshift antenna.

“Actually, we’ve been looking for a use for old car radios,” Jennifer Hanson told him. “They don’t have any components that we use for our other radio requirements, so they’re just sitting around. This operates in the regular broadcast band, where VOA operates. That means that it’s susceptible to electronic noise, like lightning. While it’s not as good as citizen’s band, at least there are lots of them available. We’ve cobbled it together with a simple loop antenna so that we have a basic system of the type you and I were talking about before.” Joe was flabbergasted, but Jennifer wasn’t through.

“Now that,” she said, pointing to the varnished wooden board with a few electronic components mounted on it, “is a signal generator Rolf put together for a class assignment in high school electronics shop. It’s only meant for lab work, but Else did some back-of-the-envelope figuring, and she thinks if we give it a good antenna, an airplane could pick it up at least twenty miles away. Rolf rigged it with a tone generator so you can identify it on the AM receiver. I’ll show you how to take bearings on it, and if it works out for you, we’ll build one that’ll stand up in the field. It’ll run a few months on a car battery, so you don’t need to fool with windmills and stuff.

“So, over there you have your radio direction finder for your airplane, and here you have a low frequency homer to put at a ground station. They’ve both held up fairly well during testing, here, but of course that’s not the same as service use.”

“I’m really surprised that you have been able to put this together so fast,” Joe said.

“These were really pretty simple stuff that didn’t use resources we needed elsewhere. It wasn’t a big deal to adapt them to meet your needs.”

Joe thanked Jennifer profusely and made his way back to the base and headed for the Club. It was a Friday, and Happy Hour, and he ran into Maria and bent her ear mercilessly while they put away a few more than the usual number of beers. Finally she suggested, “Look, why don’t you go change into something besides a uniform and go home with me? I’ll change into some glad rags and we’ll go out and celebrate, my treat.” That sounded good to Joe, and the result was their first real date, even if she did end up inviting him, and paying for it.

****

On Monday Joe brought the colonel up to date and laid out his plans for the test program. The colonel gave his go ahead.

The mod to install the radio in the airplane was rather more involved than the instrument mod since they had to modify the aircraft structure to mount the loop.

Altogether they gave up about twenty pounds of useful load capacity, assuming they stayed within the established max gross weight limits. The whole process took all of fifteen days. The additional weight was barely noticeable the first time Joe flew Belle 01 after the mod.

Siting the homer was not the problem they had feared and they were able to get it up on battery power while they waited for commercial power to get out to the site.

Happy Hour at the Club

First Friday in March 1635

“Hey! Look! It’s the Bobbsey Twins!” Dev Martin yelled over the usual hubbub.

“Oh, buzz off Dev!” responded Maria, grinning.

Joe and Maria picked up mugs of beer and headed for a more-or-less quiet corner where they could talk.

“Well, wha’d’ya think? Are we getting any better?” Joe had been working to develop an instrument approach for the base.

Maria studied Joe’s earnest face for a few moments. “You split the runway three times out of four. The fourth time you could have corrected, no sweat, if you’d broken out at minimums. I’d say that was pretty damn good.”

“I don’t know. I was having so much trouble switching back and forth between the RDF and the turn needle/compass that it just felt all wrong. I didn’t feel like I really had the airplane under control.”

Maria took a deep breath. “Joe, you were a little rough, sure. But you still ended up in the right place at the right time. That’s what counts. Don’t keep beating yourself up over it. I don’t think there’s anyone here . . . ” Maria gestured at the rest of the room ” . . . who could do as well, let alone better. I know I couldn’t, and I’m pretty good.” She smirked.

“Actually, that’s one thing I’m worried about,” Joe said. “I think I screwed up the human factors on this setup. I’ve got to find some way to get the antenna indication on the instrument panel. Every time you have to move your head the way you need to now, the vertigo gets really bad.”

“Yeah! I know that time you put me in the left seat I had a lot of trouble with that. Do you think there’s some way we can fix that?”

“I really don’t know. We could do it up-time, no sweat, but down-time . . . I don’t know.”

****

The next flying day was something of a bust. It was miserably cold, and a plane coming back from the south reported snow moving north. Joe’s flight in the Gustav that afternoon was already canceled because of the impending snow. He flew 01 on his usual practice flight that morning, but Maria had been detailed to take a passenger to Magdeburg, so he flew with Major Woodsill, instead. For whatever reason, Major Woodsill was crotchety that morning, so it hadn’t been a pleasant flight. As far as Joe could tell, it was nothing that he was doing that caused it. In fact, it seemed to Joe that he was finally getting tolerable on the approaches.

It was about time to land when they heard a faint call on the radio.

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is Belle 03. I have a fuel leak and I’m down to just the header tank remaining. I’ve only got a few minutes of fuel left. I’m somewhere northwest of Halle, close to the west bank of the Saale River. I’m going to try to set her down while I have some power.” Maria’s voice was remarkably calm and businesslike.

“Shit!” Major Woodsill’s voice was not calm and businesslike. “Let’s get this thing on the ground so I can talk to the boss!”

The colonel was waiting as they taxied into their parking spot. Major Woodsill jumped out of the airplane and headed over to the colonel.

“You heard?” Jesse nodded. “Do we have any way to get hold of Halle?” Jesse shook his head. His face was a mask. “No, the phone lines are still down after that mess yesterday in Grantville.”

Joe climbed out of the airplane and headed over to the line chief. “Sarge, let’s get this thing fueled up right now.”

“Yes, sir. We’ll get on it right away.” The sergeant hurried off to get some help getting the fuel bowser dragged over to the airplane.

“Colonel, if I leave as soon as 01 is refueled I can get to the search area before the snow moves in,” Joe said.

The colonel’s head jerked around. “Forget it Joe! I’m not putting any more lives at risk today!” His eyes had a haunted look. “I’m sorry, but I’ve already lost too many people. I just can’t send anyone out with that snow moving in.”

“But, Colonel, if you insist on that and she’s not dead already, she’ll freeze to death tonight. Even if somebody helps her, what if she’s hurt bad? It might be important to get her back here right away. You could be killing her!”

“Oh God! I know that, Joe,” the colonel said in a more reasonable tone. “Maybe I’ll go, but I just can’t send anyone else out in this stuff. I have more experience than anybody here, so if anybody goes it’ll be me.”

Woody chimed in, “Sir, let me go instead. You’re needed here.”

A humorless smile passed over Jesse’s face. “Thanks, Woody, but if anybody goes, it’s me.”

“Begging your pardons, sirs, but neither of you is as experienced in flying this airplane with this set up as I am.” A brief, crooked grin passed over Joe’s face. “Besides, if it comes to that, I’m more expendable than either one of you.”

He turned to look very intently at the colonel. “Respectfully, sir, if you don’t have someone hold me down, I’m going as soon as I can get 01 turned around. You can have me court-martialed when I get back.” Joe turned to walk to the airplane.

“Joe!” called Jesse. Joe stopped. “You’re right.” He sighed. “God help me, I won’t try to stop you. Look, I know that you and Maria have a sort of ‘special relationship.’ Don’t let that special relationship make you do anything stupid. Up until now you’ve shown pretty good judgment. Don't let this become an exception.”

A look of surprise on Joe’s face was followed by a slow smile. “You know, sir, that ‘special relationship’ actually never occurred to me! I think you’re right, though. I can’t guarantee I won’t do something stupid, but I’ll really try not to. After all, I may be the only hope she has.” Joe smiled briefly, went into base ops and took their first aid kit, and headed for the airplane.

“Grantville Tower, this is Belle 01 for takeoff. Did you get a bearing on Belle 03’s last transmission?”

“Belle 01, Grantville, you are cleared for takeoff at your discretion. Belle 03 was weak but we got a bearing of approximately 027 degrees.”

“Roger, 027, Belle 01 rolling now.”

Once in the air, Joe turned left to a heading of 027 and looked around. There was a solid overcast, but the visibility underneath seemed to be holding up. He settled down and tried to fly the heading as closely as he could.

When he got near Halle, Joe dropped down to about a thousand feet and tried to fly right up the middle of the Saale River. Maria had said she was near the west bank, so if he flew up the middle, she’d be where he had the best chance of seeing her from the left seat. He scanned every field he came across anxiously. Nothing there, next one . . . nope, nothing there either. After what seemed like an eternity he caught a glimpse of something orange. He turned left and pulled the power back a little to slow down.

There it was! Thank goodness for the orange tail and wingtips. He dropped down to get a closer look. Belle 03 was lying on its back. No sign of life. He let down even more and anxiously scanned the area around the airplane. No footsteps in the snow around it. He climbed back up and surveyed the area around the wreckage. It was actually two fields with what looked like a road dividing them. He could see that there were snow drifts up to two feet deep in the fields. That was probably what had flipped 03 on her back. It was clear he couldn’t land in one of the fields.

He dropped down to take a good close look at the road. It was fairly straight where it ran across the fields. Like many down-time roads, there were low stone walls on either side where the farmers had cleared their fields of rocks, but they looked far enough apart to clear the landing gear with a little to spare, and low enough to be below the wing struts. On the road the snow seemed to be packed down pretty well. Must get a lot of traffic. He turned around and flew back the other way, checking the other side. There were some ruts, so it could be tricky trying to keep her straight, but if he could do that there was room, just barely, to land on the road. His mind made up, Joe climbed back up to a thousand feet.

“Grantville Tower, this is Belle 01, over.”

“Belle 01, Grantville reads you weak but clear, over.”

“Grantville, please pass the following message to Colonel Wood: I have found Belle 03 in a field. She’s pretty much intact but on her back. There are no footprints in the snow around the airplane. My intention is to land on a nearby road and investigate. I will call when I am airborne again.”

“Belle 01, Grantville, Roger. The colonel is right here, so he has your message.”

“Roger, Grantville. Belle 01 going below your horizon for a while.”

Joe dragged the road one more time, right down at the tops of the rock walls. There was no turbulence, and no wind that he could detect. Just as he reached the end he saw that there was a local headed down the road. He pulled up and came around to land before the villager could walk far enough to obstruct his landing. He slowed it down as much as he dared, and dropped it in on the first straight stretch of road. Belle 01 wallowed and darted on the packed, rutted, snow but Joe managed a tap dance on the rudder pedals that kept her clear of the rocks. It seemed like forever, but he actually stopped rather quickly. He just sat there for a minute, and remembered to breathe again. He wiped a hand across his forehead and grinned wryly. Imagine sweating at 25 °F!

Joe wormed his way out of the airplane and looked around. The villager had stopped, and was watching from a distance, then he waved and walked back the way he had come. Must have decided I had things under control, mused Joe. I hope he’s right. Belle 03 was about forty yards away. He grabbed the first aid kit from behind the seat and walked back down the road to the nearest point to the airplane, and then climbed over the pile of rocks that was the wall. As he plowed his way through the snow he tried to tramp down a trail for the return trip. He came up on the right side of the airplane. Heedless of the wing fabric under foot he worked his way to the right door. It stuck a little bit, but his exasperated heave got it open. He knelt down and looked inside.

Maria was still in her seat on the left side, hanging from her seat belt. Her arms were hanging down, her face and head were swollen, and there was a slow drip of blood from her scalp. Joe’s heart fell in a cold lump into the pit of his stomach.

Then she turned her head slowly and looked at him through slitted eyes that were almost swollen shut. She worked her mouth a couple of times and then whispered, “Took you long enough!”

“I came as fast as I could,” he protested.

“I know,” she whispered back and then turned her face forward again. “Damn seatbelt buckle wouldn’t release. Not my preferred kind of hanging out.”

“Okay,” he said, “how are you otherwise?”

“Left arm hurts like hell, may be broken. I have this cut on my forehead. Legs and feet have gone to sleep from hanging upside down. Other than that, everything’s just hunky dory.” She’d picked up a lot of American slang in school.

He looked around the inside of the cockpit, then he ripped the seat cushions out of the right seat and slid them in below Maria on top of the puddle of blood, the splintered wood, and the broken glass from the windshield. “Now,” he said, “I’m going to try to lift you up to take the strain off the buckle and see if it will unlatch.”

It was awkward trying to do that in the restricted confines of the cockpit, but after a struggle he was able to lift her a little bit. Didn’t help, the buckle stayed securely latched.

“I guess I’ll have to cut it.” He pulled out his knife and began sawing away on the tough fabric of the belt. After a few minutes he said to Maria, “Okay, I’ve cut most of the way through.I won’t be able to catch you, so when it lets go you’re going to fall on your head without any warning. It’s probably going to hurt, but I can’t think of any way to avoid that.”

Maria pulled her left arm up against her chest with her right hand and nodded. Joe started sawing away again and in a moment the belt parted and Maria crumpled onto the seat cushions with a sharp cry. She lay there in a fetal position, eyes tightly closed, cradling her left arm with her right. Joe let her just lie there for a few moments.

Then, “Maria, I’ve got to get you out of here and into 01. We need to get back to the base. It’s probably going to hurt, again, for me to drag you out, but there’s no other way.”

Again she nodded. He repositioned himself on his knees and caught her under her arms. As gently as possible he dragged her out of the airplane and onto the wing. She moaned just a little bit.

He grabbed the first aid kit and said, “I guess we’d better get you patched up. Can’t have you bleeding all over my airplane.” She stuck out her tongue at him, but didn’t open her eyes. “Let’s start with the arm. I’ll be as gentle as I can but it’ll probably hurt some. Once I get it splinted and in a sling, it should help.” Again she nodded. Working as quickly as he could, he secured her arm to the splint. He helped her to an upright sitting position, cradled her arm in the sling and tied the sling around her neck.

He dug around in the kit and found a bandage and a flask of alcohol. He saturated the bandage and used it to clean up her hair and face around the cut as best he could. It looked nasty and was certainly bloody, but he remembered from first aid class that scalp wounds were usually bloody and looked worse than they were. He hoped they were right. He put a clean bandage over the cut and began to wrap bandages around her head to hold it in place. “You’re beginning to look like the Spirit of ’76,” he commented.

She opened one eye and looked at him. “Huh?”

“Tell you about it later. “Do you think you could walk?” he asked.

She shifted around a little, testing her various body parts. She shook her head. “Nope, I’m still pretty numb and shaky.”

“Guess I’ll have to carry you then. Good luck to me!”

She opened both eyes and glared at him. “I’m not that heavy!”

“I wouldn’t know,” he shot back. “Well, we’d better get going. Not much more we can do here. If you can stand up, it’ll help.”

Hanging onto his shoulder, with his arm around her back, she managed to stand up. She swayed a little bit, but then stood by herself, leaning against the side of the fuselage. Joe tramped out a path around the wing to his entry path so he wouldn’t need to break trail while he was carrying her.

“Okay, here we go.” He turned her so she could get her good arm around his neck, then bent over and scooped her up. He stood there a moment testing his balance and footing. The thought passed through his mind that it was kind of nice, holding her like this, but then he went on to more practical matters. She was solid, but not as heavy as he had feared. He was young and reasonably fit, but he was no muscle man. This was still going to be a challenge, particularly in the snow.

He stopped a couple of times to catch his breath, but they got to the wall in fairly short order, slipping and sliding at spots along the way. No way he was going to carry her across that wall. He set her on her feet and swept the snow off a moderate size rock so she could sit down. “I’ll have to go drag the airplane back here so we’ll have enough room to take off. After I do that, I’ll help you across the wall and we can load you up and get out of here.”

Joe clambered back over the wall and walked down the road to the airplane. Going to the tail, he picked the tail up by the handle placed there for the ground crew, and tugged. Nothing happened. He stopped and looked carefully at the airplane. Again he picked up the tail and this time rocked it from side to side, finally breaking the main wheels loose. Once more he pulled, slipping some on the packed snow, but it did start moving, and when he finally had it rolling it continued rolling relatively easily. Soon he was back where Maria was sitting on the stone. By now some of the swelling had gone out of her face, and she was giving him an impish grin.

“Boy, am I glad to see you! My butt’s about to freeze to this rock.”

He shook his head sadly. “Jeez! Nothing but complaints! Next time I’ll just leave you here.”

He helped her get over the wall and up into the right seat.

She looked out the windshield at the road. “You know, that’s pretty narrow up there ahead. Are you sure you can get us off okay?”

“Well, I got it down, so maybe I can get it off. It won’t be easy, though, so a few prayers wouldn’t hurt.”

There were a few scary moments until he could get the tail up and get some rudder effectiveness, but after that, even though the heavy airplane took a while to get off the ground, he kept her right down the groove. As the heavily laden airplane slowly climbed out, both Joe and Maria started breathing again. Joe looked over at Maria. “Now, the only thing we have to worry about is the snow.”

“Snow? What snow?”

“After you left this morning one of the guys came back from a round robin cross country to the south and reported there was snow moving north. In fact, looks like it’s starting here, now. I had to risk a court-martial to come and get you. We may have to use our instrument approach.” Maria looked out. Sure enough random flakes were beginning to filter down.

Maria sighed. “You really do like to live dangerously, don’t you? Do you think you can do it?”

“Well, I may have to, but, yes, I think I can do it. Practice went pretty well this morning.”

“Oh great! Just when I was starting to feel safe, you have to go play Superman with X-Ray vision that can see through snowstorms.”

They had reached 1000 feet and Joe fired up the radio.

“Grantville Tower, Belle 01, over”

“Belle 01, Grantville, go”

“Roger, Grantville. Belle 01 is southbound with Lieutenant Glotz on board. She has a possible broken arm and a scalp wound, but otherwise she’s her usual snotty self so she can’t be too badly hurt. I guess we should have the meat wagon standing by. We’re estimating Grantville in about thirty minutes. How’s the weather there? Over.”

There was silence for a moment, then “Belle 01, Grantville, light snow started about twenty-five minutes ago. What are your intentions?”

Joe looked over at Maria. She made a face at him. “Grantville, Belle 01. We should be high station at GTV in about thirty minutes. If necessary we will use the provisional instrument approach to Runway 07, over.”

“Roger, Belle 01. Call high station. Grantville, standing by.”

Joe looked over at Maria. “I suppose we could have tried for Halle or Magdeburg, but this stuff seems to be moving fast. We’d be screwed if we went to either of those places and they were socked in when we got there. At least at Grantville we have the homer and an approach that I know.”

As they got closer to Grantville the snow got heavier and Joe found that he had to stay on the instruments. If he looked out at the swirling snow he got vertigo in a hurry.

****

The colonel was pacing back and forth in the tower. Suddenly his head jerked up and he looked at Woody.

“Woody, go get some help and build some bonfires at the approach end of the field, on either side of the threshold! Use some gas if you need to, to get them started. We need them going before they start their approach.”

“I’m on it!” Woody flung over his shoulder as he ran down the stairs. Woody raced through the briefing room, grabbing anyone there to help. Then he went up to Smith’s and recruited more help there. They took scraps from the shops, old furniture, anything that would burn, and piled them in heaps at the corners of the field. A couple of crew chiefs brought jerry cans of gasoline and doused the piles. Somebody handed Woody an old, lit, Zippo. He lit a torch and flung it on the pile, which lit with a whoosh. Someone else went through a batch of kitchen matches before they got the other pile lit. He lost some hair and eyebrows in the process, but now both piles were blazing fiercely.

****

“Grantville, Belle 01 is stabilized on the back course approaching high station at 1500 feet. Estimating high station momentarily.”

“Belle 01, Grantville. Past high station cleared to descend to 500 feet and execute a GTV 1 approach to Grantville, Runway 07. Over.”

“Grantville, Zero One. Copy cleared for a GTV 1 to 07. Zero One is high station now, departing 1500 feet for 500 feet.”

“Roger, Zero One, cleared for approach. Call low station, inbound.”

“Zero One, WILCO.”

Joe had hacked his watch at high station. He was flying with his left hand and furiously working the RDF with his right. Back and forth, back and forth with the loop, adjust the null, check the time, bring the turn needle into the scan, watch the altitude as they descended.

Time! Joe rolled into a right turn and checked the watch. Now he concentrated on the turn needle. He dropped his hand from the RDF and handed the CB radio to Maria. “Call at low station. I’m going to be pretty busy.”

“Rog,” responded Maria briskly.

Time! Roll from a right turn into a left turn. Check altitude . . . coming up on 500 feet, shift hands, add a little power, level at 500 feet, check the watch, set the RDF straight ahead, coming up on rollout, watch the altitude!

Time! Joe rolled her upright and centered the turn needle, then he checked the mag compass. Over-turned slightly, half needle right, roll out again, check the compass, okay, work the loop, left, right, left, right, adjust the null, watch your altitude! Add a little power, adjust the null, left, right, left, right.

Joe was concentrating so hard that he was startled when Maria reported “Low station inbound” as he swung the loop around to the rear.

“Roger Zero One, cleared for approach.” A different voice. “Joe, we have bonfires on both sides of the threshold. It may help.”

Maria rogered the message.

Joe risked a glance outside. Nothing but snow! He pulled the power back slightly and started a slow descent. He sensed Maria looking at him. He was going below minimums. Left, right, left, right, adjust the null, watch the turn needle, check the altitude . . . 300 feet, left, right, left, right, check the compass, check the altitude . . . 250 feet, airspeed good.

“Joe,” said Maria quietly, fearful of breaking his concentration, “I see some lights ahead on either side. Must be the bonfires. Looks good as far as I can tell.”

Joe just grunted. Left, right, left, right, 200 feet, 071 on the compass, left, right, left, right.

“Joe, we’re way below minimums,” Maria said quietly.

Joe grunted acknowledgment. He glanced outside again, saw the light from the fires ahead and a few streaks from the terrain below. Now he gradually began to bring the outside into his scan. Slowly, he transitioned from the gauges in the cockpit to what he could see outside. It was still murky, but now he had a pretty good view down. He let down to 100 feet, searching ahead for the rocky outcrop at the threshold. There! “Maria, tell them ‘field in sight’!”

It was not his best landing, but at least it was in the right place, and the landing gear didn’t collapse.

Joe took the radio from Maria and took a deep breath. “Grantville, Belle 01 on rollout. Where do you want us to park?”

“Belle 01, Grantville.” There seemed to be more emotion than usual in the tower operator’s voice. He started over, “Belle 01, you can park at Hangar Two. The ambulance is waiting for your passenger there.”

Joe cut the switches. They looked at each other for a long moment. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world for Joe to put his arm around Maria and hug her tightly to him.

****

With much appreciation to Jack Carroll and Karen Bergstrahl for their help.

****

Art Director’s Note: The Belle aircraft illustration is based on a line drawing by Mike Spehar and descriptions from 1633. The image is not canon, it is my interpretation. -Garrett W. Vance