Aboard Trans-Global Airways Flight 907
North Latitude 36 Degrees 59 Minutes, East Longitude 143 Degrees 77 Minutes
(Above the Pacific Ocean, near Japan)
1100 1 June 1950
"This is the First Officer speaking," the copilot of Trans-Global Airways Flight 907 said into the public address system microphone. "We are about to begin our descent into Tokyo's Haneda Airport, and have been advised it may get a little bumpy at lower altitudes. So please take your seats and fasten your seat belts, and very shortly we'll have you on the ground."
Trans-Global Flight 907 was a triple-tailed, five-months-old Lockheed L-1049 Constellation, christened Los Angeles.
The navigator, who wore pilot's wings, and who would move up to a copilot's seat when TGA accepted - next week, he hoped - what would be the eighteenth Constellation in the TGA fleet, did some calculations at his desk, then stood up and murmured, "Excuse me, sir," to the man in the jump seat.
The man in the jump seat (a fold-out seat between and immediately behind the pilot's and co-pilot's seats) looked over his shoulder at him in annoyance, finally realized what he wanted, muttered, "Sorry," and made room for the navigator to hand a sheet of paper to the copilot.
The navigator made his way back to his little desk, strapped himself in, and put on his earphones, in time to hear:
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first officer again. I have just been advised by our navigator - this is all subject to official confirmation, of course - that it appears that a very, very favorable tailwind in the last few hours is probably going to permit us to again set a world's record for the fastest regularly scheduled commercial flight time from San Francisco to Tokyo, with intermediate stops at Honolulu and Wake Island.
"The current speed record is held by a TGA Constellation flown by Captain M. S. Pickering, who is our captain today. If our computations are correct, and are confirmed by the appropriate authorities, TGA will be delighted to send each of you a certificate attesting to your presence aboard today. Keep your fingers crossed."
Captain M. S. Pickering turned and looked at the man in the jump seat.
"You'd better get in the back, Dad."
Fleming Pickering - a tall, large, well-tailored, silver-haired, rather handsome man who was, as he privately thought of it, One Year Past The Big Five Zero - nodded his acceptance of the order and moved to comply with it, although he had really hoped he would be permitted to keep the jump seat through the landing.
He wasn't wearing earphones and had not heard a word of either of the copilots' announcements.
He left the cockpit, musing that they were now starting to call it the "flight deck," and then, when he saw his seat and seatmate, musing that while there was a good deal to be said about the benefits of crossing the Pacific Ocean at 325 knots, there were certain drawbacks, high among them that if you found yourself seated beside a horse's ass when you first boarded the aircraft, you were stuck with the sonofabitch for the rest of the flight.
It was different on a ship; you could avoid people on a ship.
Had been different on a ship, he corrected himself. Passenger ships, ocean liners, were as obsolete as buggy whips. There once had been fourteen passenger ships in the Pacific & Far East fleet. Now there was one.
Pickering nodded politely at the horse's ass in the window seat, sat down beside him, and fastened his seat belt.
"Up front, were you?" the horse's ass inquired. "I didn't know they let passengers go in the cockpit."
"My son is the pilot," Pickering said.
"And I guess if you're the pilot, you can break the rules for your old man, right?"
Reprinted from Under Fire by W.E.B. Griffin by permission of G. P. Putnams Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © January 2002, W.E.B. Griffin. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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