Daedalus’ New Wings


Magdeburg, September, 1634

Tracy Kubiak stared at the shop window, not really seeing anything. She was in Magdeburg to inspect the local division of her company, Grantville Canvas and Outdoor, but she was finding it hard to stay motivated. Maybe it was just because she’d turned thirty, but she’d been feeling old and tired lately. What she needed was a new project. Something she could really get her teeth into. Something that would make her feel young and alive again.

“Free at last. Kids are in school and we can rumble.” Belle, her cousin, gripped Tracy’s arm. “Where do you want to go first?”

Tracy shrugged in disinterest.

“I know, let’s check out the progress of the opera house. It’s on the way to the navy yard.”

Tracy let Belle drag her along. She wasn’t interested in the opera house, but her adopted daughter back in Grantville might like to hear an eye-witness report on progress.

Tracy heard the drone of an aircraft flying overhead, looked up and sighed. She’d never felt more alive than when she was skydiving. Unfortunately, there was no way she could get into the air. The Air Force was running Belles and Gustavs. Neither of which was suitable for skydiving. The only aircraft even approaching suitable was Trans European Airlines’ “Monster”, but they only had the one aircraft and it was either flying the airline’s commercial routes or in for maintenance.

Tracy felt Belle stop and looked down to see why. They’d come up to the fence surrounding the work site. “What the hell?”

“Yes, I know. The foundations were laid weeks ago and they haven’t done anything since then. Bitty’s already had a fight with Carl about the lack of progress. ”

 

Tracy wasn’t interested in whatever Bitty Matowski had been complaining about. She only had eyes for the two kite balloons hanging in the sky. She started toward them.

“Hey, Tracy, where do you think you’re going?” Belle called as she hastened to catch up.

“Hold it. You can’t go in there, Tracy.” Carl Schockley, one of the directors of Kelly Construction, and an old friend, was holding her arm.

“Those balloons . . .”

“Romulus and Remus?”

“Is that what you call them?” Carl nodded and shrugged.

What was in a name? Tracy wanted answers to more important questions. “How high can they fly?”

“How high do you want them to go?”

“High enough to skydive from?”

“They can go high enough. That’s not a problem. The problem is the tether. That’s going to limit you to about a thousand feet. With high performance chutes you might get up to five seconds of free-fall. What kind of chute do you have?”

“I don’t have one yet. But I can make one.”

“How about making two?”

“You want to skydive, too?”

“Sure,” Carl said.

“Hold it. You’re not planning on parachuting from one of those balloons are you?” Belle demanded.

Tracy nodded. “I sure am.”

“I thought you gave up parachuting when you were pregnant with Justin.”

“I gave up sports parachuting, but I had to do some jumps with the army to maintain my jump qualification.”

“Still, you had Terrie in early 2000. You wouldn’t have been jumping when you were pregnant, so that makes it at least four years since you last jumped.”

“It’s like riding a bicycle, Belle. You don’t forget the skills that quickly.”

“But to do it for the first time with a homemade parachute . . .”

Tracy glared at her cousin. “You make it sound like I don’t know how to make a parachute. I was a rigger with the regular army for four years and the National Guard for another four. I know how to sew a parachute. I didn’t just pack them, I maintained them. All I need is enough of the right kind of fabric.”

“Nobody’s making any nylon.”

“They might not be making nylon, but there’s plenty of silk around, and silk is what they used before they had nylon.”

“I don’t know what Ted’s going to say.”

Tracy couldn’t help the grin. “He’ll probably want me to make one for him, Belle.”

* * *

“A parachute? To jump off a balloon? You can’t be serious?” Ted sounded upset, although Tracy couldn’t imagine why.

She gave him her best glare. This was not the supportive response she’d been expecting. “I want to experience free-fall again and Carl said I can use one of his company’s balloons,”

“But . . .”

“But?” Tracy waited for Ted to continue. He didn’t, slumping into silence instead. “So it’s agreed? I make some parachutes and we all jump from the balloons.”

“We?” Ted asked.

“Sure. You, me, and Carl.”

October 1634, Grantville

Ted stood at the door to the basement work room and watched his wife as she struggled with the clouds of fabric. She’d already prototyped a proof of concept scale model; now she was working on a full-size linen parachute. It would be as functional as a silk parachute, but weigh a lot more. However, it would have the benefit of being considerably cheaper. Tracy, even though she no longer had to count the pennies, didn’t believe in being unnecessarily extravagant.

“I’ll take Justin.”

Ted turned and passed his sleeping son to Richelle, their adopted daughter. “Thanks. I’d better drag Tracy away from her machine or she’ll be impossible tomorrow.

“Tracy, do you know what time it is?”

“What?” Tracy checked the clock. “That can’t be right.”

“Well it is. Come on, Justin and Terrie are going to forget what their mother looks like if you don’t surface every now and again.” Ted tugged gently at Tracy’s arm, pulling her to her feet.

“Just another few minutes . . .”

“No. Shut everything down now. It’ll still be there tomorrow.”

“But I’m nearly finished,” Tracy protested.

Ted smiled. The Tracy that had been missing since her thirtieth birthday was back with a vengeance.

Magdeburg

 

Tracy stood in the basket dangling below Romulus and looked down. Beside her, Ted was checking the rigging on the test dummy. “That’s the signal. We’re at the end of the cable. We can let Daedalus go. On the count of three. One, two, three.”

The balloon jerked a little when the two-hundred pound test dummy and its fifty pound parachute left the basket. Tracy studied each second of Daedalus’ descent. The static line pulled the ripcord of the parachute and the canopy streamed out as Daedalus fell. Then the parachute ballooned open. She felt an arm going around her waist and smiled up at her husband. “Who wants to go first?”

* * *

It had been a rhetorical question. No way was anybody going to jump with her parachute before she did. Right now Tracy was looking over the edge waiting for the signal from the ground. There it was. Four flashes. Damn. That meant they were under a thousand feet. She wouldn’t even reach terminal velocity before she’d have to deploy the canopy. Could she afford to stretch the time out an extra second? Probably not.

She gave Ted a last hug before pulling on the skydiving goggles. Kelly Construction hadn’t been prepared to cut a hole in one of their baskets so she let her husband help her climb onto the edge of the basket.

Tracy balanced precariously on the rim and held onto the lines with both hands. “There’s the signal!”

“Jump,” Ted called.

Tracy settled her feet on the wicker rim on the basket, leaned forward, and let go of the rigging, pushing away from the basket.

“One one-thousand.”

She adopted the flared position which gave maximum stability while also offering the maximum amount of air resistance so as to drag out the experience as long as possible.

“Two one-thousand.”

She knew she was taking a risk skydiving from only a thousand feet. With a static line jump from that altitude she’d have plenty of time to act if the main canopy failed to deploy. But at nearly a hundred and eighty feet per second, if the canopy failed to deploy at five hundred feet, there wouldn’t be time to clear her lines and deploy the reserve.

“Three one-thousand.”

Damn. Her period of freefall was almost over. She really needed to get access to a plane so she could really experience freefall. But how could she do that? She reached for the ripcord.

“Four one-thousand.”

Tracy pulled the ripcord. There was a crack as the canopy caught the air and deployed. Suddenly her entire weight was pressing against the parachute harness while her plunging body decelerated rapidly. She reached out for the control lines and started looking for a good place to land.

Ten seconds later she hauled back on the brakes and stepped onto the ground. She immediately turned and started to wind in her canopy before the wind could catch it, or the crowd of onlookers could damage it.

With the parachute a heavy bundle in her arms she looked up at the balloon. It had been fun, but she needed more. She wondered if Carl would let her go up again soon.

* * *

Jesse Wood had hot footed it to Magdeburg when he’d heard the rumor that someone intended jumping from one of the Kelly Construction balloons. He’d missed the earlier test using a dummy. Daedalus. When it came to Greek mythology most people could vaguely remember Icarus, the man who flew too close to the sun before falling to his death, but not many remembered that there had been two men in the sky that day, and while Icarus died, his father survived. Daedalus was a good name to associate with a parachute, it implied escape and survival.

A shape jumped from the balloon and fell towards the ground. The gathered crowd exclaimed in horror, thinking the parachute had failed, but Jesse had seen enough skydiving to recognize the parachutist knew up-time freefall parachuting.

 

Impossibly close to the ground the parachute started to deploy. Then, firmly under the control of the jumper, the parachute was steered into a cleared area where the jumper made a gentle touchdown.

Jesse had to find out more. He made his way towards the jumper. It was hard going as people were crowding the jumper even as he bundled his canopy. Eventually he was able to get close. “Here, let me give you a hand with that.” Jesse lifted the bundled up canopy out of the parachutist’s arms. “Jeez, what’s this thing made out of?”

Tracy ripped off her jump helmet and goggles and wiped sweat from her face with the sleeve of her jumpsuit. “Thanks. It’s a bit heavy isn’t it? It’s a light-weight linen, but even then it weighs nearly fifty pounds.”

Jesse sighed. Fifty pounds for a parachute would severely impact the disposable war load on a Belle or Gustav. “Pity. I was kind of hoping that maybe we could get some for the Air Force.”

“I can make them lighter. I only used the linen for this one because it was a prototype, and jumping from the balloon, there’s no weight constraint to worry about. I should be able to make a simple escape canopy in silk under twenty pounds.”

“Is that twenty pounds all up, or just for the canopy?”

“All up. Pack, harness, canopy, the lot. Of course I’ll need access to an aircraft to test it.”

Jesse grinned. Lots of people wanted to go up in a plane. This woman was the first one he’d met lately who wanted to go up in one so she could jump out.

* * *

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