Wednesday, October 21, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XXVI

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Those interested in the future of the country, not only from a national defense standpoint but from a civil, commercial and economic one as well, should study this matter carefully, because air power has not only come to stay but is, and will be, a dominating factor in the world’s development.” – Billy Mitchell

Elizabeth remembered how she rolled her eyes when her father decided he would buy the airplane. Alaska Air was always happy to allow BSB to charter one of their planes and they enjoyed pretty good access to the lower 48, even as the administration there still felt the need to harass the instrument of their restored prosperity. Zimmerman had been considered a war criminal and he wanted a plane with no discernible livery so he could return quietly to Virginia. There was a little airport in the Shenandoah Valley where he had friends in the general aviation terminal. There was also a smaller airport just North of it in Bridgewater where he could pretty much come and go as he pleased, and he did. The parka wearing Inuit man on Alaska Air's planes tail markings was just too much of a risk. Zimmerman wanted access to his Summer house with Pat but he had no desire to see the inside of a Virginia prison!

It is quite alright to own an airplane if you don't mind a kid throwing up in it!" Zimmerman had retorted to his daughter's well-reasoned objections. In the end, Elizabeth had become the biggest fan of the jet and her brave crew. She'd been visiting Virginia with Rupert when an old friend of Zimmerman's who ran a medical center in Santa Cruz, Bolivia took her father aside and confided to him that one of her staff in Santa Cruz was watching her little child dying. "If we could just get her to medical care in the US..."

But it seemed that all of Bolivia was on strike. The commercial airliner that flew in from Miami daily by way of La Paz was grounded. The airport was closed, her tower dark. No one knew when it would be safe to fly in again. Yet a beloved daughter's life was ebbing away. There was no time to wait if she was to be saved.

Zimmerman quickly summoned his crew, who were enjoying some rest and recreation at the resort tucked inside the twin ridges of Massanutten Mountain. They rushed back to the little Bridgewater Airport in their golf clothes and performed what has to have been the fastest preflight checklist ever. Fueled and readied, they flew through the night and pulled off a dangerous grass-field landing. All of Santa Cruz was on strike and commercial air traffic was at a standstill. Besides, the airport inspectors at Santa Cruz airport were notorious for slowing things up when you needed them not to. Zimmerman was a bit shaken when his pilot showed him the fresh bullet holes in his shiny airplane.

The little girl reached a Miami hospital just in time and had made an amazing recovery. Now she was the head nurse at the Santa Cruz hospital, where Elizabeth had helped her obtain some of the machines that had saved her life in Miami.

Once Elizabeth discovered the power of her father's plane to bring healing to her friends around the world, she kept the little plane and her crew quite busy. You couldn't save every child who needed medical care, but you could do something! The person you helped, like the young Inca girl, would go on to expand the circle of healing. Because she didn't die, she took what she'd seen back to Bolivia!

Mission of Hope, Bolivia is an actual ministry in Santa Cruz.

The fine leather upholstery of the little plane soon bore the permanent stains of childish innocence. Rupert would often pull Cheerios and crayons out of the seat cushion and show them to high-powered world leaders as if they were trophies he had won in hard battle. Indeed they were.

The crew of the little plane became a legend... among the Alaskan bush pilots!, a group not easily impressed. When the crew returned to their vacation in Virginia after their diversion to Bolivia, they arrived early in the morning. They were far too excited to sleep so they managed to secure an early tee time at the mountain golf course. The pilot and the communications officer both scored under seventy!

At least the legends that grew around these men and women were akin to the stories that grew around Davy Crockett of old. Pilots are given to understatement, as everybody knows, but we actually have their scorecard from that day!

Kris and her daughter had their own story involving the airplane. The Greene's young daughter had become seriously ill without warning during her second Winter on Big Diomede. The doctor on Big Diomede examined her and said they'd need a specialist that could only be found at some place like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore... it was a dark day for Kris! It was also a dark day on Big Diomede. A cruel Winter storm pounded the world outside the biosphere as Kris made her desperate call to Elizabeth. Officially, all air traffic was suspended. Rupert's plane was at Wales, where the runway was long enough to attempt a takeoff, but the crew would have to agree to it. Zimmerman would not order these fine young people into danger. They would have to volunteer.

Zimmerman went personally to his crew, as the young family sped across the bridge to Wales. His pilots were the first to step forward. One was a young mother herself and Rupert asked her to fly the mission. The crew eagerly organized themselves around the young hero and began their signature rapid, but thorough, preflight checklist. The Greenes were bundled safely aboard and Rupert himself stepped aboard as the flight attendants came in.

Zimmerman quietly ordered them to stock the plane's galley and leave. For the next seven hours Zimmerman himself would attend to the little family's needs. Rupert was no hero, he just felt it was wrong to ask people to do jobs you wouldn't do yourself. That is why, when his pilot made her intent clear to go, Zimmerman made it clear that he would join her crew!

The pilot would have to take off blind, depending on her copilot to tick off the seconds as she pushed the plane's acceleration. She'd have to lift the plane off the runway at just the right moment. The enhanced visibility technology and computer controlled takeoff were no match for the variable conditions created by such an intense storm. One needed the skills and sense of a Chuck Yeager and Jack Ridley to even attempt this. The wicked and fickle currents required a special touch and some intuition... and that was on a blue-sky day! Zimmerman's crew had been groomed for this moment and as they pushed their airplane into the face of the storm's furious force, their voices reflected their calm resolve that they were up to the task.

Zimmerman himself kept quiet during the takeoff, knowing his cracking voice might betray the fear he still struggled to contain. Though he did things some would call brave, he constantly was fighting the wounds inflicted by his overprotective father. The plane shook violently as she strained to climb above the swirling chaos. Thick snow blew by the windows in furious streaks as the aircraft flexed to avoid breaking, buffeted by the cruel elements. Kris' daughter unceremoniously threw up on the fine leather. As the plane broke through the clouds, Rupert unfastened his seat belt and grabbed some cleaning supplies from the galley. The poor little girl had been rushed aboard without so much as a change of clothes. The extra uniforms of the plane's crew would not fit her, but Pat's terry robe was a comfortable solution. "We'll go shopping in Baltimore." Zimmerman said softly. His mind wandered to a time when his youngest brother had hurled in the family car on the way to Luray Caverns in Virginia. They had stopped quickly at a J.J. Newberry store and bought a cheap little outfit for him. Rupert's mother would recall years later how that little outfit had outlasted many a more expensive set of children's clothes from Hutzler's!

Touching down for fuel in Canada, the crew quickly filed an 'official' flight plan into Baltimore's BWI airport. There was no sneaking into Virginia now. Time required a straight-on approach. An ambulance was scheduled to meet them. They declared the medical emergency that they were coming for. No surprise. Hopefully the authorities would cooperate as they usually did.

Map of Alaska in 2060. Enlarge [click to view full size]

(to be continued) [click to read]

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