The satisfying whump-whump of the rotor blades above and the periwinkle tint the sky had this time of the afternoon stirred gut-held feelings of excitement in Vincent Schoenbloom. Soaring above the ground always gave him the same thrill. He glanced across at the twelve-year-old in the co-pilot's seat and grinned at the delighted look he saw.
The boy, Chad, was thoroughly enjoying his sky adventure. Vince wondered if this event would influence the kid as much as his own first chopper ride fifty years ago. Even as he reflected, the pilot hoped the boy would never have to gain his future flight experience in the way he had. With a shudder, he repressed the unpleasant memories and focused on Chad.
“So, how long've ya'll been interested in flyin'?” Vince adjusted the mike on his headset to address his passenger.
“Pop's an Army helicopter pilot. He took me to an air show last year. I been studyin' all the books 'bout planes and helicopters the library has. Gotta shelf full of models I've put together. But this beats all of that combined!” Chad's voice crackled over the headset. The veteran pilot detected the enthusiasm of a kid who would stop at nothing to take his hobby to the highest level.
Just like Vince had. He winced at the phantom pain in his right thigh, a reminder of the level to which his own enthusiasm had drawn him. Unwanted voices whispered in his head, voices of former crew members either MIA or coping with their own forever altered lives. He shook his head to rid himself of the memories but they clamored for his attention. He needed a distraction to silence them.
“Hey, kid, see those low-flyin' cumulus clouds ahead? Wanna spear 'em 'n' see what they're made of?”
The boy's eyes widened and he nodded with a vigorous up and down motion of his head.
“Okey dokey. Here we go.”
Vince eyed the clouds for lens-like bubbles on their undersides, the tell-tale sign of downdrafts. He did not want unexpected severe turbulence to ruin the kid's birthday flight. Raising the collective on his left side to ascend to four thousand feet, he pushed the cyclic forward. He meant to skim the wispy outer edges before banking to the left and starting their return trip.
The clouds were slowly compacting as they approached. Not for the first time, Vince mused at how much layered cumulus clouds resembled higher flying gray and white versions of a napalm bombing attack.
He never could understand the one line in the movie Apocalypse Now. The Lieutenant-Colonel had said, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Anyone who dropped those incendiary bombs could not revel in the destruction they caused. Could they?
With a startled jolt, the pilot realized he had drifted farther into the cloud bank than he meant. The slight increased vibration and a sudden pitch downward forced his full concentration back onto the controls. He did not dare to steal a glance at his passenger.
Increased turbulence could stall the chopper, making any attempt to manipulate the controls futile. They could crash. That was a scenario he had lived through once and did not wish to repeat. He focused on getting through the downdraft and into calmer air.
Lord, get me out of this. Get us home safely. If not for me, for the kid.
For what seemed forever, the cyclic did not respond. He forced himself to take calming breaths and throttle back. The chopper slewed back and forth and Vince allowed it. As long as he could keep it from rolling or losing too much altitude, they would make it.
The chopper pierced through the surrounding cloud haze and Vince breathed deeply. Wispy tendrils drifted by as he manipulated the craft into the calmer blue sky ahead. He silently thanked the Lord.
He wondered how the kid was holding up. Except for a breathy “wow” as they approached the cloud, Chad had not made a sound.
“I never in my wildest dreams felt anythin' like that!” The kid's excited voice suddenly exploded into the static of Vince's helmet radio transmission receiver. “Someday I'm gonna be able to do that, too, when I'm a helicopter pilot.”
“Well, it's not somethin' you wanna do everyday. 'N' let's keep it between you 'n' me we even did it, okay?”
Vince gave the kid a shaky smile and nod as they headed for home.
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