For the month of February, I will be posting to my blog excerpts from my young person's novel "Norma's Revenge" as I work on character development. Your comments, critiques, and suggestions are welcome. Today, the pilot Heinrich Forster, continued.
From Chapter Eight – The Mighty Atlantic (continued)
Over the next year, Heinrich consulted on the next airship being built, but he also was gone for large periods of time on training exercises with his newest ship. Loredana felt conflicted for her husband. Much of the time he was under contract with the Navy and could not tell her where he was going or what the training mission entailed. Her heart ached for her husband as she would wait expectantly for a telegram while still trying to create some sense of normalcy at their home in Cuyahoga Falls. There were times when she wondered if the lure of the sky would compete for Heinrich’s heart, but then he would burst through the front door unexpectedly, whisk her off her feet and shower Lucien with treasures -- be it the sands of California’s beaches or the autograph of a noted celebrity or dignitary. During these absences, Eduardo took up the void and continued Lucien’s musical training. Eduardo had taken a few local music students and used his income from teaching to mail order more recordings. The record collection of the Forster’s was continually expanding.
“Mama, I went to the opera!” Lucien’s eyes sparkled after spending the afternoon with Eduardo, playing records and listening to Eduardo tell the story.
“Oh, you did? Did you sit in the President’s box?” Loredana played along. She was always amazed at his vivid imagination.
“No, I didn’t go to the opera in the theatre, I went into the opera . . . I mean I was in the story!”
“Of course you were, Luci! And just what story did you go into?” Loredana’s smile was wide and Lucien felt a warm glow wrap around him as pleasant as the smell of panacetta dolce baking in the oven.
“I met Papagano, and I played the magic flute! And the dragon was terrifying!”
“Oh, yes Mozart’s Magic Flute. And what about the Queen of the Night?”
“Well, she wasn’t a very nice person, but I fixed that.”
“And so you did.” Loredana and Heinrich disagreed on the merits of encouraging Lucien’s imagination. Heinrich thought he was reaching the age where he needed to have more practical amusements. After all, as the country was beginning to have even deeper problems of poverty and joblessness, music, opera, and fantasy characters didn’t have much of a future. Loredana believed that joy was the one human emotion that could supplant even the darkest day; and she protected Lucien’s perceived frivolities as best she could.
April 4, 1933, was a beautiful day in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It was one of those days that bursts out of the winter and beckons to all that Spring is on her way. The soggy, cold, rain of days past was evaporating leaving an aroma of the burgeoning soil holding the green beginnings of a new season’s birth. Loredana knew the day would be glorious when she awakened to the sound of singing birds. They too were overjoyed as the sun brought its warmth and promise. The only thing that dampened her spirits was the emptiness beside her in her bed. Heinrich had been gone for almost a month. The Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation had sent him to assist the Navy with his pride and joy – the USS Akron. Over the past year, a series of mishaps, accidents, and crashes left many airmen dying and that concerned both the company and Heinrich. He had traveled to Lakehurst, NJ, USS Akron’s new home to help train, troubleshoot and build the confidence of the Navy and its airship crew on the safety and enduring capabilities of the country’s most sophisticated dirigible. The fact that Heinrich could not disclose the nature of his work or the flights worried Loredana. She would never trust any military that stood in the way of a husband and wife sharing their hopes, fears, or secrets. As Loredana rose and dressed for her day, she stopped at her dressing table. Instinctually, she opened a small wooden box that held the moonstone brooch, and on this ordinary day beckoning an extraordinary Spring, she pinned it on her housecoat and went to wake up Lucien for school.
Heinrich was up early as he prepared the USS Akron’s crew for the evening’s training exercise. He had spent the past year; helping to tame the accusations that the airship was becoming a less than predictable method of air travel and its excellent safety record was beginning to wane. The airplane and the growing possibilities of cargo size aircrafts were in development and had many strong advocates. The loss of the USS Shenandoah in a thunderstorm and the past close calls for the USS Akron had heightened the doubts. Heinrich Forster was the foremost training pilot that the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation had and his reputation with the US Navy was stellar. He agreed to arrive in Lakehurst to observe the month’s training missions to assure that all safety precautions and the highest level of skill were being used. The evening’s training exercise was one of detecting radio signals along the Atlantic coast. Heinrich made last minute preparations for tomorrow’s flight. The flight crew included the Rear Admiral of the Navy and Heinrich was well aware that the airship program was under great scrutiny. The weather was overcast, but the wind was still. Heinrich stood in the control car and examined the clouds. As if on cue, the clouds broke for a moment and the evening’s full moon was exposed. It brought fond memories of Loredana and of the night they first met. He took it as a good omen for tomorrow’s flight. Within minutes the clouds gathered and the moon was lost from view.
The next evening, the cloud cover had increased, accompanied by fog. Flying in cloud cover was one of the many advantages of the airship and traveling and working at night was a key advantage to the airship due to its ability to fly at high altitudes and its quiet recognizance. What troubled Heinrich were the rising winds. Winds could be fatal to an airship. As the crew of eighty readied the ship, they began their flight out over the Atlantic along the New Jersey shoreline. The intensity of the storm increased and the navigator reported that it looked like the eye of the storm was near Washington D.C. and that their best bet was to head back to shore. Crewmembers were called to man their stations and all were to the ready. As they neared the shore, the intensity of the storm increased. The ship tossed violently in the wind and they found themselves at the front of a great storm far from the calm eye that they were hoping to reach. Their only option was to head back out over the Atlantic Ocean in search for calmer weather. After several hours the crew and Heinrich breathed a sense of relief as they found calm air. They could ride out the storm here. They had plenty of fuel and the airship crew could get a few hours of rest. Heinrich tried and relax over the next hour, but remained concerned as he could see the storm flashing around them.
“Captain, what direction is the storm traveling?”
“Forster, I have given the order to remain here until the storm passes. The storm should distance itself in a matter of hours.”
“But the storm seems to be raging all around us. If we are wrong and we are at the storm’s eye, we are surrounded.”
“Heinrich, we will have to ride it out. We have no other choice.” Heinrich looked to the captain and saw a stern look of defiance in his face. Heinrich looked at the ship’s speed and checked his watch. It was a few minutes past midnight.
“Based on my calculations, we will head into whatever is out there in ten minutes unless we change direction.”
“And just what direction do you recommend?” The Captain looked at Heinrich mockingly. It was clear he had little use for Heinrich’s concerns.
The Rear Admiral and Commander of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station had just entered the control car from their sleeping berths and it was evident that they had overheard the conversation between Heinrich and the Captain. The Captain passed Heinrich off as an over-concerned corporate representative and that was why the airship was in the Navy’s hands and not corporate interest’s. Heinrich felt a hot rage rise within him, but before it had a chance to explode upon the arrogance of the Captain; the USS Akron bolted and balked with terrifying intensity. Suddenly the steering wheel went slack and the ship’s tail dropped treacherously pulling the ship downward with rapid speed. Crew, officers, and Heinrich were catapulted to the ship’s deck and amidst mayhem and blood the ship dropped over a thousand feet toward the stormy sea. Regaining their footing, the crew rushed to their posts as the Captain barked out orders to dump the water ballasts and any additional fuel. Crewmen hurried about the ship discharging everything they could to lighten the tail and stabilize the ship. Off-duty personnel were ordered to the nose to help bring that end down. The engines were brought to full power in order to regain altitude. As the airship began to rise, Heinrich ran toward the front of the control car and as he grasped a railing to regain his balance, a thunderous roar, sounding like an oncoming freight train, filled the airship. He heard the captain scream, “Stand by for crash!” as the tail fins hit the water and broke away. At that moment he knew they were doomed. The USS Akron was ripped apart by the savage winds and the once silvery miracle balloon smashed into the icy Atlantic Ocean. There was no time to drop the single life raft, nor was the ship equipped with life vests. All but four crewmembers went down with the ship to the frigid depths of the mighty Atlantic. The majestic USS Akron was no longer a miracle of man, but a tragic silvery tomb engulfed by the forces of nature.