فصل 07

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فصل 07

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  • زمان مطالعه 9 دقیقه
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CHAPTER SEVEN

An unhappy client

For the next half hour, Francesca listened while Doug explained in detail the principles of landing. It seemed the general idea was to bring the plane slowly down, by carefully controlling the power. The most difficult part was the final moments. When the plane was six or seven metres above the ground, you had to ‘flare’ - to pull back gently on the control column so that the main wheels touched the ground before the nose wheel. At that point you had to hold steady, letting the speed die away, so that the plane would gently sink down.

‘It’s not as easy as it sounds,’ Doug added. ‘Some students get it almost immediately; some take a long time. Judging when to flare - when to pull back - is the biggest problem. You have to wait until the ground seems to be rushing up to meet you… that’s the moment to flare.’

By the time they got up in the air, Francesca was quite nervous. She was trying to concentrate on flying, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the scene with Mrs Barker and Doug’s treatment of his daughter. It had shocked her tremendously - the anger and violence hidden just beneath the surface. She wondered if this was Doug’s true nature. The more she got to know him, the less she liked him.

They climbed to 1000 feet and flew down the western side of the airfield, parallel to the runway. It was windier than usual and Francesca found it difficult to control the plane; she couldn’t seem to find the right power to keep the plane straight and level.

Soon they were turning back towards the airfield. The runway lay ahead in the distance. Doug began a steady stream of instructions.

‘OK, reduce power,’ he said. ‘Hold her steady at 80. Not too slow… keep your speed up.’

Francesca looked along the nose. The runway was creeping towards them, growing bigger all the time, but it was a little over to the left.

‘Keep the plane in line with the runway!’ Doug called. ‘You’re not on the centre line.’

Francesca tried to correct their direction, but when she did so, the nose came up.

‘Watch your speed!’ Doug shouted. ‘You’re down to 65!’

Francesca pushed in the throttle, but it was too much. Instantly, the plane rose upwards. Francesca pushed the control column forward, then at last regained control.

‘Are you OK?’ Doug asked, glancing across.

‘I’m fine,’ Francesca answered quickly.

‘Right, try and keep her like this then,’ he said.

Francesca’s eyes flashed between the dials inside the cockpit and the runway visible above the nose.

The plane slipped slowly down towards the ground.

The runway was getting closer and closer, the black and white stripes at its end like a set of piano keys.

‘Aim just beyond the piano keys,’ Doug said, more gently now. ‘That’s good. Hold it there. Now watch for the ground rush.’

Francesca froze. What did it mean? What was the ‘ground rush’? The runway already looked huge. She waited. Should she pull back now? Surely they would hit the ground at any moment!

She pulled back on the control column and at the same time reduced the power. As the nose lifted, the runway disappeared from sight. They seemed to be flying on blindly, the plane hanging in the air only a couple of metres above the ground. They held like that for an age, speed dropping, like a boat sinking in the water. Then, suddenly, there was a terrific bang. For a second, Francesca thought they’d crashed. Then she realised the main wheels had hit the ground.

‘OK, push the control column forward slowly to bring down the nose wheel,’ Doug called.

Francesca obeyed automatically. She watched the nose slowly drop, then felt the front wheel touch the ground. The plane rolled steadily forward, eventually coming to a stop.

‘All right, take her off the runway,’ Doug instructed. ‘Then let’s have a talk.’

Francesca did as she was told. She felt suddenly hot and embarrassed; the headphones were tight on her ears.

‘OK, stop here,’ Doug said.

Francesca brought the plane to a stop. She felt afraid of what Doug was going to say; the landing had been so heavy.

‘Have I damaged the plane?’ she began. ‘There was so much to think about. I didn’t expect -‘

‘Don’t worry about it,’ Doug interrupted. He turned towards Francesca and looked at her closely. ‘Heavy landings are quite normal at this stage. But you’re not concentrating today. There’s something on your mind.’

Francesca blinked. Was it really so obvious? She didn’t know what to say.

‘I… I didn’t sleep well last night. Maybe that’s it,’ she said a bit desperately.

Doug raised his eyebrows. He kept his eyes on her. ‘I hope you’re happy with the lessons,’ he went on quietly.

Francesca felt completely frozen: the harness trapping her back against the seat, the cockpit tinier than ever. ‘Of course,’ she lied.

Doug continued to watch her. Then, keeping his eyes on her all the time, he stretched out his hand and placed it on top of hers where she was resting it on her knees.

‘Good,’ he said, squeezing her hand very gently. ‘Because I’m very happy with you.’

Francesca didn’t move. Doug’s words seemed to hang in the cockpit. She felt suddenly sick. The image of a huge fleshy spider resting on the back of her hand flashed into her mind.

After a moment or two more, Doug took his hand away.

‘Right, turn the aircraft round and take her back to the runway,’ he said. ‘Let’s see if we can get these landings sorted out today.’

Francesca was still frozen. Although Doug had removed his hand, it still felt as though there was a spider resting on hers. She had to look to check there wasn’t one there.

‘OK, let’s go,’ Doug said.

Francesca tried to refocus on flying. She reached forward to the throttle and pushed it in to increase the power. The plane leapt forward fast, too fast. Immediately, she pulled at the control column.

‘Whoah!’ Doug called. ‘We don’t want to take off!’ Using his controls, he brought the plane to a stop.

Francesca closed her eyes. She felt her arms shaking slightly as she held the control column. She was sure it must be noticeable.

All of a sudden she felt a hand on her leg.

Francesca’s eyes shot open. She looked down to see the man squeezing the top of her leg gently.

‘Take your hand off me!’ she shouted.

Doug smiled at her across the cockpit. ‘Whatever you say,’ he said casually and slowly removed his hand. ‘Shame,’ he added more quietly. ‘I guess we’d better concentrate on these landings.’

All of a sudden Francesca knew she couldn’t go on. ‘I want to stop. I want to stop the lesson,’ Francesca said quickly. ‘I don’t feel very well.’

Doug looked across and raised his eyebrows. For a moment she thought he was going to lean across and try to kiss her, and she froze. Then, with heavy sarcasm, he said. ‘As you wish. Don’t want an unhappy client, do we?’

Francesca didn’t reply.

Doug took over the controls and took the plane back towards the hangar without speaking.

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