Now for something very different to what you normally get here …
Sherpet and the DC-3
Sherpet slowly lifted his head above the rim of the 44-gallon drum, and scanned the ground between him and the plane. He’d been hiding for 23 minutes, ever since the pilot and tourists had entered the hanger. Sherpet had been dreaming of this day for months; actually, more than dreaming about it, he’d been doing something about it. It started with the arrival of the DC-3 in Darfield, and the idea that if he could take it for a solo flight, perhaps the kids at school would lay off. They’d stop calling him names. Stealing his lunch. Tripping him in the hallway. And so for months he’d been planning how to “borrow” the DC-3, take it for a spin, and then return to a heroes welcome. Sherpet wasn’t a pilot — he was barely 15. But he had been spending hours a day on Flight Simulator — sitting up late at night after his Dad had gone to bed — and he’d even taken a couple of flights in the simulator at Eastgate Mall.
Today was the day. He’d snuck away from school, climbed through a window into the hanger, and was getting ready to board the plane when that confounded group of tourists had come. Their arrival had thrown a curve-ball into his plans, and until they left, he had to lay low. Sherpet knew he’d get caught, but he’d counted the minutes between when the engines roared to life and the plane could take off. He knew he’d get it into the air before anyone could stop him, but it would be the landing back at Darfield that would cause the problem. When he finally climbed out of the plane, they’d get him. Sure he’d be a hero at school, but there would still be a cost to pay — maybe a couple of grand for fuel. Once he’d got the money paid back, and time had passed, he figured everyone would get over it. And anyway, how could it cause harm?
While the tourists and the pilot made a final tour of the plane — the pilot completing his pre-flight check, and the tourists looking on — Sherpet massaged his legs. 26 minutes. 27 minutes. Just as Sherpet was about to give up the idea of taking the flight that day, the pilot and tourists headed back to the carpark to wait for the co-pilot to arrive. “Great — about time too” Sherpet muttered. “I have a flight to take.”
The plane was unlocked, so after removing the chocks, Sherpet scampered inside. He made his way to the cockpit, strapped himself in, and scanned the instrument panel. Flicking some switches, he set up for the flight. He’d done this hundreds of times in Flight Simulator. All was good. Sherpet looked at his watch. 2.38pm. The co-pilot was 12 minutes away, so he had to get airbourne now. Taking a deep breath, Sherpet started the engines one at a time, and clicked the remote control to open the hanger door. The plane’s engines cycled up faster than the hanger door opened, so he held the plane in place with the brake. When the door was sufficiently open, Sherpet released the brakes and taxied out into the summer afternoon. The pilot and tourists were still there, but they were far enough off that they couldn’t interrupt his plans. The pilot starred at the plane with an open mouth, and started gestering wildly while pulling out his cellphone.
Sherpet wiped his brow, downed his glasses, and turned the plane onto the runway. Saying again what he’d rehearsed countless times, Sherpet started his countdown. “We are go, in 5-4-3-2-1”. Opening the throttle, Sherpet let the plane run. Faster and faster he went. The long runway meant that Sherpet had plenty of time, and as his airspeed increased sufficiently, Sherpet edged the nose of the DC-3 forward so the tail lifted off the runway. Easing back on the stick, the DC-3 gracefully lifted into the skies. Sherpet had done it! He’d got the plane out of the hanger, up into the air, and he was free. Free to explore. Free to take this flight that would make him a hero at school. Banking the plane towards the mountains, Sherpet pushed the consequences of this joyride to the far recesses of his mind, and focused on the freedom of the skies.
Sherpet could have stayed up all day, but it was the flashing light that brought him out of his reverie. Fuel! The fuel gauge. Now Sherpet was worried. He’d left the pre-flight check to the pilot, and so hadn’t even checked the fuel gauge. He was 150 kms away from Darfield now, and looking at what was left on the gauge, he wasn’t going to make it back. “Idiot” he thought to himself, his concentration growing in matched intensity to the stress of the moment. “I’ve got to ditch this bird somewhere safe … somewhere with a runway … otherwise it will be a whole lot more than the $2000 I’ve estimated for the fuel bill.” Sherpet started to think: “Where is there a runway near here?”. For a second time in the few brief moments since the light started flashing, his reverie was broken as the flashing light was joined by a high pitched buzzer. “Oh no”, Sherpet exclaimed. “We’re going down”.
Frantically scanning the ground, Sherpet saw a long road. “Thank goodness for the long flat Canterbury roads”, he muttered to himself. “I hope those cars can get out of the way in time.” Barrelling the engines he banked, and came in for an emergency landing. It was this or nothing. With 2000 metres to touch down the engines started mis-firing. 1500 metres. 1000. 750. 500. With a final splutter, at 100 metres above the road, both engines died. It was quiet. Silent. The plane dropped. Sherpet and the DC-3 hit the road hard. No wheels. No engine for braking power. No nothing. Just the soft metal of plane’s underbelly against the hard metal of the road. As the plane finally shuddered to a stop, a huge gash ripped for hundreds of metres down the road, Sherpet collapsed in the pilot’s seat. His bank account was destroyed forever. His hopes for a heroes welcome irrevokably ruined. “Fuel, fuel, fuel!”, he whimpered. “If only I’d checked the fuel.”