A Life for the Skies

by Tedbiker

Caution: This contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Heterosexual, .

Desc: : This is a prequel to 'Slipping the Surly Bonds'. Not as long or detailed as I originally intended, but it does give the background history for the later tale. Set in wartime Britain it forms part of the ATA series.

The Spitfire was an extension of Charles Morrison’s very being as he flew at ten thousand feet from the factory at Castle Bromwich to the RAF station at Hornchurch. It was a beautiful evening for flying, and there seemed to be nothing else around. A gentle movement of the stick into a barrel roll, then back pressure into an Immelmann – half loop and half roll – repeated, the aircraft shivering near the stall at the top, but responding as the thoroughbred it was. He had plenty of petrol, and without ammunition and radio the aircraft was light and even more responsive than usual. He passed over North Weald and changed course, throttling back in order to lose height. Overhead of his objective, he entered the pattern and was given a green Verey flare; permission to land. Why could they not have a radio? A side-slip so he could see past the long nose of the aircraft, straightened up at just the right moment for a perfect three-pointer. No bounce. Taxi to dispersal, switch off, clamber out of the narrow cockpit, walk to the control tower to get the signature on his chit for the delivery. That done, the duty officer asked if he needed a lift anywhere.

“Not today, thanks. I’m being picked up.”

Just time for a cuppa from the NAAFI truck before he heard the drone of two Gypsy Queen engines. A Dominie – he still had difficulties not thinking of it as a Dragon Rapide – entered the circuit, got a green flare, landed smoothly, taxied over to the control tower and he walked toward it. The pilot appeared at the door. She stripped off her helmet and shook her head, though the neat crop of ash-blonde hair didn’t stir. “First Officer Morrison, I presume,” she said with a slight smirk, her voice a mellow, light alto.

“None other,” he agreed. “Second Officer Walters.”

“Come aboard, then. Want to sit up front? We’ve a few more pick-ups on our way home.”

He’d gradually become accustomed to flying alongside the few women pilots in the ATA. (Air Transport Auxiliary). He’d seen that they were as capable as most, better than some; they rarely bent an aircraft, and when they did it was usually a mechanical fault. Even so, his intellectual awareness couldn’t, at least at that point, overcome a conditioned, gut response; “Women don’t do this.” He knew perfectly well that they did, but...

He couldn’t actually sit ‘up front’ – there is only a single pilot position – but he sat in the forward most, right, passenger seat and peered into the cockpit. He watched as she prepared to fly, impressed with her attention to detail. She taxied out, waited for the flare, then smoothly opened the throttles and let the Dominie fly itself off the grass.

It was almost a tour of Eleven Group bases; Gravesend, Biggin, Kenley, Croydon, Heathrow. At the last they collected a pilot he knew well and didn’t much like, who elbowed his way forward and tried to bully the girl into letting him take over. Charles saw her expression, and interfered. “Hey, George – it’s her machine, and she’s done a fine job so far. Back off.”

They arrived back at White Waltham, and while Second Officer Edna Walters was seeing to her machine, he sought out his immediate superior, Flight Captain Stevenson.

“Excuse me, sir,”

“Yes, Charlie?”

“I thought you’d like to know ... at Heathrow, when we collected First Officer Marshall, he tried to bully Second Officer Walters into letting him take over the Dominie. I interfered, but, well; it’s just not on, is it?”

The other man looked at him thoughtfully. “No. I don’t think it is. If he’s so keen to be a taxi pilot, perhaps an assignment to fly an Argus for a couple of days?”

The Fairchild Argus is a single-engine, four seat, high-wing taxi aircraft, far from exciting to fly.

Charles Morrison smiled. “I think that would be most appropriate.”

“I think George is feeling a little put out just now. He’s just been turned down for Class Five training.” (Class five aircraft were four-engined bombers. ATA pilots were trained to fly, not just a specific aircraft, but classes of aircraft. Class One, Light Single Engine, Class Two, Advanced Single Engine, Class Three, Light Twin, Class Four, Advanced Twin, Class Five, Four Engined, Class Six, Flying Boats.)

Charles made his way to the mess, and headed for the bar. “Let me buy you one.” That mellow, light alto caressed his ear. “Least I can do after you stood up for me.”

He looked round, to see that heart-shaped face, framed with ash-blonde hair in a neat crop. “Thanks. I will, though there’s really no need. You were doing great.”

“Thanks.” She stepped past and caught the attention of the barman. “Two beers, Jeff, please.”

“Do you know everyone?”

“Only the important ones.”

She led the way to a table in a corner, out of the mainstream of activity. As they sat, it seemed that they were surrounded by a bubble of silence. Neither was aware of glances thrown their way. In particular, nor some rather acrimonious ones from First Officer George Marshall.

She learned that he’d been flying since 1930 and joined ATA in early 1940. H, that she’d grown up on a Yorkshire Dales sheep farm, but had always been fascinated by flying. She’d joined ATA partly to learn to fly and had qualified late in 1940. Initially, like other women, she’d been restricted to Tiger Moths and Magisters, but she’d moved up to Harvards and other Class Two aircraft in late 1941. Since then she’d qualified Class Three and, more recently, Class Four.

“What’s your favourite?” he asked.

“Oh, the Mosquito,” she said. “Yours?”

“You may find this hard to believe, but it’s the Tiger Moth.”

“Really?”

“I love flying. I love flying, whatever aircraft I’m in, but in a Moth it’s more ... primal, somehow.” He chuckled. “Having you ladies monopolise the Moths and Magisters was a real downer for a while.”

“I never minded flying the trainers, but it was a boost to move up.”

“Why the Mossie?”

“It’s ... everything. Performance, power, handling ... and a bit of a challenge, too. Two Merlins...” she sighed, reminiscently.

He finished his beer. “It’s been good chatting,” he said, “thanks for the beer. Perhaps I might buy you one another evening?”

“I’d like that.”

The next day, Charles found that Edna, himself and Joyce, another Second Officer were assigned Spitfires from Castle Bromwich. Their Taxi to the factory was an Argus flown by a sour faced George Marshall. He landed them – it was a rough landing – and once they were on their way to the flight shed, took off without a backward glance.

Charles walked with the two ladies to the flight shed. “Did you say something?” Edna asked, with a grin.

“May have,” he admitted, off-handedly. “George isn’t nearly the pilot he thinks he is, and he was out of line yesterday. That was a rotten landing, don’t you think?”

Both the young women agreed, laughing.

There were only two Spitfires waiting and they were met by an apologetic Alex Henshaw, the Chief Test Pilot for the factory. “Morning, Charles. I’m sorry, but there was a last-minute hitch with the aircraft to Tangmere. It’ll be ready in half an hour or so ... I hope.” He turned to the two women. “Good morning, Edna. I don’t think I’ve met your companion...”

The other woman, a pretty brunette, held out a hand. “Joyce Bennett. A privilege to meet you, sir.”

He grinned. “None of that! It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Alex.”

“Edna, Joyce ... do you two want to take these machines? I’ll wait for the tardy one.”

The two women looked at each other. “Thanks.”

Charles and Alex watched as the two checked their aircraft, climbed in and got themselves settled. Two Merlins spluttered and coughed into noisy life and the Spitfires taxied out to face into what wind there was. They took off in succession and set course for their objectives.

“Was that a new pilot who brought you in? That was a lousy landing.”

Charles laughed, though his humour had a grim edge. “No, that was George Marshall. He’s in a temper at the moment.”

“Well, I hope he doesn’t come to collect any of my Spitfires while he’s like that.”

The aircraft Charles was waiting for wasn’t ready until after lunch, which consisted of a Spam sandwich offered, apologetically, by Henshaw. As a result, Charles didn’t complete his delivery until late afternoon, after which he had to find his way back to base by bus and train, a tedious and rather unpleasant experience.

He didn’t see Edna again for a couple of days, at which point he made good on his promise to buy her a drink. During the course of their evening, she turned very quiet. Then, hesitatingly, said, “Charlie, I’m being reassigned.”

“Oh? Where?”

“Cosford.”

“That’s the all girl one.”

“Well, one of them, yes. I expect we’ll get a lot of work from Longbridge and Castle Bromwich.”

“Should suit you, then. Except not too many Mosquito flights.”

“I know,” she sighed. “Except ... I’d really liked to have got to know you better.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You’re interested in this old man?”

“Come off it! You’re not that old. Anyway...”

“I expect we’ll still run across each other from time to time. It’s not the end of the world.”

It wasn’t. Not that time.

She left and he continued to fly.

.... There is more of this story ...

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Heterosexual /