The Great Airship Race: A Night at Dover Field

by Tamalain

Copyright© 2016 by Tamalain

Fantasy Story: The first landing and the goings on that happen in any big race of this sort.

Tags: Fiction   Steampunk   Science Fiction  

As the Cannon went off, Henry Ford opened the throttle half way on the Model C flyer he was using in this long race. As he rapidly accelerated through the air, he kept a close eye on the Britainian. He had raced that devious man before and had a grudge that was worlds of revenge after their last encounter. Riggers had not been able to build enough speed to get around Ford and had resorted to a very un-gentleman like tactic in order to win. He had used a simple sling shot to hit Fords Gas bag with a simple spiked ball, causing him to go down before the last leg of the race that day. He had never been able to prove it was Riggers, but he was the only flyer in range at the time.

As he gained speed, Riggers stayed right beside him to his Starboard. To the Port and back a bit was the Ferrari Team, they were still forming up into their racing cone formation so would not put on a lot of speed right away. He knew once they got set, he was in for a race from them. The only Flyer he feared in his heart was the Wright Brothers. Those two boys from the IO River Province had a flyer that was an unknown. The duct-ed fans gave them speed and maneuverability that he knew he would not be able to match in a straight run. Another factor was the solid frame design rather than the bag.

He listened as the Navigator repeated what was on the Wireless, "One of the Scotts went up in flames before lifting, The Prussians went down when they tangled up with the Russian. The Russian is clear but damaged. The Wrights are hanging back still."

"What of the floating Palace?"

"The Lincoln is slowly gaining speed, it will be a slow but persistent challenger all the way boss."

"Very good, We will stay at half throttle until things settle out and we see what the winds are like a bit higher up. Take us up to ten thousand and hold."

"Ten Thousand and hold, half throttle aye," called back the navigator.

"Engines are running cool sir, that heat sink below the burner is working wonders boss. Combined with the reflective metals in the bottom, we are getting more steam per pound of coal than the Brit."

"Let's just hope it continues or we go down in flames." Ford watched his nemesis and frowned, wondering what the Brit was up to.

Sir Riggers looked to his port and wonder what changes Ford had made to his flyer this time. He knew he had a tried and true flyer, but it was getting harder an harder to stay ahead of the newer racers every year. Looking at the smoke coming from the Ford's stack, he could tell it was running much cooler than his. That was not a good thing over the long haul. He knew he would use more coal and water than they would and that meant loss of speed and lift to weight. He looked back at the French and cursed as he saw them form up into the pointed cone. They used the cone like geese used the wedge and it worked well, as he knew from experience. The last few time they had met in the air, he had only won because he could out maneuver them in tight turns. On the straights, they could pull away from him easily.

He knew Ford held a grudge over the nasty trick he had used the previous year, but that race would have kept him out of the Monte if he had lost. He just hoped Ford was more of a Gentleman than he. Riggers looked back, trying to spot that unknown, the Wright Flyer. That thing scared him, he saw it would be fast, could turn, climb and dive faster than any on the field. What he didn't know was what the power train looked like. All the current models used light weight steam driven, coal fired pistons. They didn't use coal, so what was their power? He saw Ford climbing for altitude and followed suit, hoping he could survive this race and bring victory to the Empire once again.

Orville Wright watched the pressure gauge on the inboard number two engine as the turbine whined in protest again. "It keeps over revving Wilbur, I can't keep it down, that steam valve is bad, just as I said yesterday. I need to change it out."

"Alright brother, change it out, but hurry about it. The other fans are more than enough to keep us even with the crowd for now."

Orville made his way back through the tangle of cables and over the balsa frame to the offending valve. He closed off the steam to it and with a simple wrench, disconnected the steam pipes from it. He saw the control run had become twisted a bit, that would cause to much tension on the wire, opening the valve to far, damaging it over time. He removed the kinks and twists, installed the replacement valve, then hooked the steam pipes back up. Slowly, he returned pressure to the line to test the new valve for leaks. It held and no leaks appeared, so he made his way back to the control cabin. He gently opened the valve to inboard two and the turbine came up slowly and steady, as it was supposed to. " That fixed it, there was a kink in the control run that caused it to pull open all the way as soon as any power was called for. I fixed it and that was that as they say."

The leader of the French team looked out at the flyers around him, his and the competition alike. He smiled as he watched the rest of the team fall into their assigned positions in the formation. He watched as the Russians tried to free a length of cable that was tangled in their rudder and preventing them from maneuvering safely. One flyer swung in close and reached out with a hooked pole and snagged the dangling cable an pulled it up and away, freeing the rudder to move freely once more. He saw it was the Swiss team and flashed his signal lantern at them to thank them. The Russians waved and shouted their thanks.

The one flyer he knew the least about was suddenly rapidly gaining on the pack and pushing for the lead. The Alliance flyer was a different design, but legal still. The strangest thing was the lack of black coal smoke. He didn't know of any engine that didn't use wood or coal to produce steam. He flashed his team mates to go to three quarters power and go for altitude. He watched as Ford and Riggers raced for cruising altitude and were steadily pulling away from him. He knew he would catch them, or his name wasn't Enzo Ferrari.

In South Londinium, at the Moors Betting parlor just off the Thames River, cheers and curses arose when the announcement came about the fire and crash right at the start of the race. Many bets changed and money flowed freely. In one office, several men in suits quietly spoke about the fate of the racers. The leader of the group, an man in his late fifties, balding and heavy set with a cigar in his mouth spoke, "The Alliance flyers have to be delayed on lifting for the second leg to the Normandy. No killing, that would ruin it for everybody and call the Gendarmes down on us for certain. The floating palace that Lincoln has can be ignored, word is he is already an hour behind the pack and not gaining. It is Ford and the Wrights that are the big threat to the purse this year."

He took a long pull on his stogie before going on, "I had word back from the Alliance spies I sent that the Wrights have found a way to make their fuel on the fly. Something about breaking water down for the hydrogen."

"Boss, if they can do that, then all they need is water along the route."

"Yeah," chimed in another figure, this one thin an pale. "They will stay along the coast and rivers as much as they can then. Africa will be rough for them. Either a coastal run or staying along the Nile."

"I would bet on the Nile route, " said the Boss. "Safer and less prone to the seasonal storms they would face on the Med coast. But for now, we just need to sabotage their flyers to delay them." After another long pull he went on, "Sticks, I'll leave it to you to handle this part of the operation. The rest of you know what you have to do further along. Now go." The three men left the dark office and quickly went their personal ways to be ready for their time to act.

Back at the race things were getting hot an busy in a hurry. Ford and Riggers Had both reached ten thousand feet and had gone full throttle. This was personal between them, and the rest of the teams knew it. They had all been suckered by Sir Riggers at one time or another and hoped to be there the day he got his karma payment for fowl play. On the Ford flyer the crew made ready to change over to speed run. One man lowered a cover of the bowler to keep the heat away from the gas bag. Another cranked down the smoke stack so it was a full twenty feet below the keel. Ford began cranking hard on a handle, drawing the cabin right up to the gas bag, removing the air gap and improving the streamlining of the vessel. Once the crewman had the cover secured, he pulled two move levers. These changed the pitch and angle of the blades, allowing them to move the air more efficiently. The all felt the sudden surge of speed as their ship was suddenly much better in the air than it had been before.

Riggers watched this change and cursed long and loudly. He watched as the Ford Model C, now something else entirely pulled away from him in the sky. He screamed in rage when the Wright Flyer zoomed by him and was gaining on Ford. His flyer was wide open and not even close to what those two had. Enzo just looked and chuckled, "I knew they were good, but this is totally different." He turned and singled for the fleet to go wide open now that they were at cruising altitude. They blew by Sir Riggers and suddenly the world would never be the same as far they all could tell.

Tower of Londinium.

This is Edward Stewart of the Wireless Phone Network and The Tower. we have just received word that two of the flyers have already arrived over the northern district. Our agent reported it seemed to be two of the Alliance flyers, and no sign of the rest so far. I am keeping my eyes to the North, hoping to see them soon. When they are, I will continue this broadcast. This is Edward Stewart of the Wireless Phone Network signing off for now.

Ford and his crew quickly return their flyer to it's normal flight mode as they approached the city. They hoped to keep their little trick a partial secret for as long as possible. Henry Ford scowled at the Wright Flyer. It had gained on him, them no matter how much steam he poured on, they stayed right with him. He was sure they could have blown by him and landed a full hour ahead of him. He was still happy about the look on Riggers face when he had blown away from him. That made all the pain and trials worth the effort.

Back in the pack of flyers that knew they wanted to win, but felt on a stroke from the hand of God would give them the chance, the Italian Flyer was not a happy place. The crew wanted to gag the pilot and throw him in the coal bin because he would not quit singing loudly and off key. Worse still they knew the young pilot couldn't care less about winning the race, he only wanted to beat his eldest brother record of sexual conquest along the long race. Since the race commission had added four additional stops on this years run, he had a good chance of pulling it off. He had the looks women loved and could smooth talk any woman into bed before the dinner was over. His crew just hoped he didn't get shot by an angry husband or father along the way.

On the German Flyer, the Pilot and his lone crew mate were not happy campers. Both had warrants for their arrest in their homeland waiting for them when they returned. So he had stolen the car of the chancellors wife. Big deal he thought. But no, they old man had gone overboard and wanted his head and balls on the wall of his dining room. The wife had enjoyed the ride, both during and that night. She had told them that the old man couldn't get it up and was a two second wonder when he did. It was more of a worry about the black box at his feet. A million in diamonds to be delivered in Shanghai to the dealer in the high district. That is all he knew and wanted to know. He was to look for the sign of the green dragon and take it to the old man then get back in the race and finish no better than fifth.

This year had a contestant from the far land of Japan. They had what had to be the most colorful flyer of the fleet. The shape was not to be ignore either. The Gas bag was shaped like a large Dragon, painted an garish Green and red. The claws were gold plated and heavy, slowing them almost to the Lincolns speed. They didn't seem to worried though. They had discovered Single Malt Scotch while waiting for Race day and had not yet sobered up.

One flyer did cause controversy. The Canadian Flyer was an all Female crew. They had beaten several of the other pilots near to death when they had attempted to sabotage the woman's flyer. They insisted that an all woman team could eat any male team around. The team leader and chief pilot, Mary Taylor stood at the wheel watching as the champion racers sped away from them. She sigh knowing it would be a rough race to win, but like all the rest, they had a chance. Storms and damage, worn parts and failures would take there toll on the entire field.

"Hey, Earth to Mary," yelled the woman manning the boiler controls. "Do you want to open her up all the way or keep plugging along like this." Mary Started, her mood of introspection shattered for the moment, "Take her out to three quarters power. Once at Cruising altitude, hold that speed. I don't want to over stress this old motor any more than we have to this early on."

"Ten thousand, set to three quarters power and cruise, Aye ma'am."

Now the third woman spoke, "Mary, did you see what that flyer from Detroit did? It changed shape a bit and took off like a bat out of hell, with those cute Write brothers right on his ass."

"Yeah Linda, I saw. Scary to think we are up against that kind of mods without a clue. Tama, how is the steam pressure holding?"

"Good so far. I think that new feeder I put in is working finally."

"Coal dust rather than chunks. I admit it does last longer as far as storage goes, but will we be able to get more along the way?" asked Linda.

"Easy, every coal car on the rail and road is loaded with it. I will just ask that they shovel a few hundred pounds out for us."

"Yeah, ask and pay for it on your knees, right?"

"On my knees, back, in the air, hanging from a chandelier. I take it any way I can get it sister girl."

"How you get along with me I don't know Tama. I prefer my own way and that is all."

"Hey girl, I swing both ways as you well know."

"Cool it you two, we need to keep focused here." Mary spun the wheel to starboard to avoid the Russian flyer as they got their rudder free With the help of the Swiss. "We could get wiped out before we get started if we don't keep our eyes open, now get on over watch Linda."

"Yes Mother dear." replied Linda and Tama.

At the Dover Air field, cables began to arrive and be sent to the ground crews that were waiting for their respective teams to arrive. One cable cause sadistic laughter from the crew chief. Perkins read it out loud much to the amusement of the rest. "I told that stupid sod that his old ship was not up to the race against the new generation. What this says about Riggers company surviving is not good." He wadded the cable and dropped it in a trash bin. "The old fart is going to be raging when he hits the ground, so be ready for abuse from the boss. I will handle him, and get him plastered so he sleeps tonight."

"You think he will want to mess with the others overnight?" asked a young boy of maybe twelve.

Perkins looked at the boy then smiled, "Count on it kid, count on it. If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."

At the Ford Landing sight, the crew cheered that the changes had worked so well. "Get that ground pole ready, we need to discharge them as soon as they get close. The speed they used has to have built up one hell of a static charge." He turned to the ground engine crew, "Give the engine a complete going over. This is the first true extended run it has had..."

Orders of similar type were being issued all across the large airfield, now they all have to wait for the Airships to arrive.

This is Edward Stewart of the Wireless Phone network reporting, The next group of racers is now in sight. The pack is being led by the Ferrari team in their classic cone formation. I can see that the Flyer of lord Riggers is several minutes back and he seems to be struggling to maintain his current position in the race. The German Flyer, piloted by Hans Gruheart is right in his wake, followed closely by the all woman team of Canada, piloted Mary Taylor of Ontario. The Swiss and Russians are not far behind them and far back is a ... I believe it is a ... yes, it is, a Dragon. The Japanese team is moving along at a slow but steady pace, and in the rear of the pack is the Lincoln Continental. Large and slow, but majestic in flight.

The two leaders were Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers. From the looks of the way they blew past us here, they were not even pushing it. Only time will tell if they can keep that kind of performance up for the entire race.

The Race started just south of Balnaguard Scotland. The first stop is just north of Dover. From Dover they will cross the channel to France and lay over for one day, just outside of Normandy. From Normandy, they will race the next leg to Casablanca. From there, the legs get longer and harder. Next stop is in Gabes Tunisia. There they will spend two day down for overhaul and rest.

The next leg is south to Timiaouine in Algeria. Next on to Marsa al Brega for a refuel stop. Then across to Cario before the sea crossing. Cyprus, Then Sparti Greece, a five day layover in Lecci Italy. From there to Milan, then crossing the Swiss Alps at the lower points, they next stop in Frankfurt Germany. Then onto Prague, Warsaw, Minsk, then a two day break in Moscow. From there it is a south run to Tbilisi, Georgia. A refuel stop at Baku, Azerbaijan, then across the Caspian Sea to Kara Kala, Turkmenistan. Kabul, Afghanistan. Multan, Pakistan. Diu Island, India. Malvan, India. Point Pedro, Sri Lanka. Balasore, India. Chittagong, Bangladesh. A long coast run south to Thandwe, Burma. Myeik, Burma. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Jakarta, Indonesia. The Island of Pulau, Sangeang. Batugade, Timor-Leste. Next is the longest water crossing of the race. The next land they set down on will be Darwin, Botany Bay. The final run is due south to Alice Springs, were the winner will be the first on to set down on the field marked north of the city.

(Thanks Google Maps. This gave my spell checker fits.)

Folks, this race is the ultimate test to a pilots skill and endurance. It is the test that proves a new technology will last the test of time. Now, I see the last of the flyers have passed over and are making for Dover now. In a few hours all will be landed and the crews will be at the royal reception where King William the Fifth, his royal majesty will preside and welcome the brave crews and see them off at the rising of the sun.

This is Edward Stewart of the Wireless Phone Network, signing off from the Londinium Tower at the city center.

As Henry Ford and his crew approached the airfield in Dover, he slowed them to a near stop and had his engineer, Montgomery Doohan drop the copper ground cable for the ground crew to catch and bleed off the built up static charge on the hull. Jerry Curst, the helmsman and commo expert called off the charge and watched as a blue Halo enveloped the Flyer for a second as the charge went to ground with a crackling sizzle. This was the most dangerous part of any flight, one bad move and the gas bag would turn into a fire ball. He glanced over at the place marked for the Wright brothers and saw something that amazed him once more.

The Silver flyer was holding position over the landing point with it's fans pointed to hold it in place. As he watched, he spotted a copper colored rod swivel down and when it was vertical, the flyer dropped until it drove a few inch's into the packed earth. He saw a brief flash and the charge was grounded. The flyer lifted back up, pulling the rod out of the ground, it then swiveled back up to the hull and the landing skids extended all along the bottom of the hull. Once down, several spiked rods drove down and locked the flyer to the surface.

Jerry turned back to Henry and reported grounding complete and it is safe to land. Several ropes extended from the nose and tail of the flyer and the crew tied them down for the night. Ford then turned a knob and the hydrogen gas was pumped out of the bags and into a holding tank for use later. "Boss, those boys need to come work for you, their flyer can ground without a ground crew."

"I saw that, I'm impressed, but we have a few tricks to play as well. So don't go get all depressed on me. Lets secure the boiler and shut down for the night, we have a party, hosted by the King to go to." They finished the shutdown steps and headed to the hotel they would be staying at.

"Hey Wilbur, they haven't worked out the self landing system yet, we will have an edge there, and look, they are pumping down the bags." They watched in amusement as the bag over the Model C sagged down and settled over the hull of the craft. the ground crew threw ropes over the craft and tied it down tight. "I will run out the extra anchors Wilbur, that storm will arrive before morning and I don't want us damaged by it." "Do it. We need to get cleaned up for the party so be quick about it." "Always the same thing, be quick about it. If I hurried the way he wanted me too, we would crash as we leave the ground." He made sure the ship was secured, then picked up his overnight bag, locking the doors on the way out. Wilbur saw an airfield worker and asked about a supply of water, at least 200 gallons. "I can have a tank here by dawn sir, will that be soon enough?" "Perfect." He handed the man a few coins as a tip to see that the job was done and went to chase down his brother.

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