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The following excerpt is from The Lady in the Spitfire, a novel about a British woman pilot and an American pilot in World War Two, by historian Helena Schrader.

"We should be approaching the English coast.  We must be about 110 miles from home.  J.B. asked Roach to try to get a weather report from base. Five minutes later the Sergeant squeezed his way forward to the flight deck and handed J.B. a message: "Cloud down to 500 feet.  Rain and squalls.  Winds gusting to 30 knots."

Did God hate them, or what?

"Ask about diverting."

Roach disappeared.  A few minutes later he was back.  "Conditions better to the West. Try Winslow."

Great - that was a lot farther away.  J.B.'s eyes wandered to the fuel gauges that were dipping nearer and nearer to the red zone. "See if you can raise this Winslow place, all right?  If the weather's better, have Lieutenant Vernon plot a course for it, and then have him call it up to me. Got that?"

Roach nodded and disappeared again.
After another eternity, Dan's voice came over the intercom with a new course.  J.B. turned onto it blindly and trustingly, but his left leg (the one he'd injured playing football) was starting to tremble, too.  His shoulder muscles were completely cramped.  He needed to relieve himself.  "What's our ETA, Dan?"

"25 minutes."

J.B. turned the ship over to Tony again, and went back to the 'pee hole' to relieve himself.  Feeling somewhat better after that, he returned to the cockpit.  He took a deep breath, flexed his hands on the controls several times, and then nodded to Tony that he was taking over.  Then with another deep breath, he started to drop them down through the murk.  It was now more than seven hours since they had taken off in the bright morning sunshine.

Above the cloud it was still a bright, sunny day, but with every second, as the ship sank deeper and deeper into the muck, the darker it became. "Pilot to Radio!  What was the weather report at this place?"

"Ah. Cloud ceiling 1,000 feet, Sir.  Winds gusting 20 knots."

Great.  The winds that could be felt tugging at their damaged engine and buffeting their open tail were unpleasant enough at altitude, but when landing they could be a real bitch.  In fact, the ship seemed to be handling worse already.  J.B. looked in alarm at Tony.  Tony's face was chalk white and sweat was glistening on it.  His oxygen mask dangled beside his face as he pointed agitatedly out his window and shouted against the howl of the engines.  "Number Three's trying to tear loose!"

J.B. couldn't afford to take his hands off the controls long enough to really see what was going on - but he could feel the way the whole ship was lurching about the sky.  Just then they broke through the cloud and into a drizzle that at once hissed on their windshield.  Tony switched on the windshield wipers and shouted at the same time, pointing ahead.  Like a miracle, there was a long runway running diagonally across their path not more than a mile away.  Hangars lined it on the far side and a wind-sock stood stiff barely rippling, showing a sharp wind coming out of the west.

J.B. called for landing gear and banked about as hard as he dared in order to line up with the runway.  The big bird was wallowing through the sky and J.B. was sweating blood as he tried to haul her around.  She just wasn't responding right.  They were skidding off to the right.  There wasn't going to be a second chance!  He had to get her lined up on that runway.

"Should I fire a flare for - AAAAAAHHH!!" Tony's voice changed to a terrified scream.  The next instant the cockpit darkened and the world closed around them.  The landing gear of an aircraft passed what seemed like inches in front of them, and then its black wings filled their view, blotting out all else.  It was screaming under full power, trying to pull up again, and J.B. - more from instinct than thought - jammed the wheel forward and so pushed the nose of the B-17 down.  In a second it was all over.

The other aircraft was climbing up and away while J.B. was heading straight for the runway at excessive speed.  There was no need for communication; instantly both Tony and he hauled up on the controls.

"Full flaps!" J.B. screamed, and throttled back.  Only seconds later they hit the tarmac with a resounding thump, bounced up into the air like a kangaroo, and smashed down again with such force J.B. thought for sure the landing gear would collapse under them.  A new but smaller bounce followed, and then a third.  Then they were on the ground and J.B. was struggling to keep them straight on the wet runway, the B-17 fishtailing half the way.

When they finally came to a stop just short of a low brick building, J.B. just sank back in his seat and tried to breathe again.  After a moment, the wail of sirens penetrated his brain, and he realized the ambulance was approaching.  J.B. unstrapped himself and stumbled-crawled off the flight deck to drop out of the aircraft by the fore hatch.  He landed on the wet tarmac just as the ambulance screeched to a halt.  "My tail gunner!" he explained.  "He's back here."  J.B. indicated the after hatch, which opened nearer to where Olds was stretched out.  The RAF medical orderlies nodded and pulled the stretcher off the back of the ambulance.  They moved efficiently toward the hatch, which was opened from the inside by Roach.

The sound of another aircraft coming in to land attracted J.B.'s attention.  He looked over his shoulder.  It had to be that bastard that had nearly killed them during the final approach!  Sure enough, it was a black Wellington with RAF roundels on it.  Suddenly J.B. was furious with that pilot.  He must have been able to see that they were in trouble - the engine was dead, hanging down below the wing and charred black, not to mention the tail being half blown away.  It was obvious they were making an emergency landing.

Order the book!There was such a crowd around Olds, helping to gently ease him out of the B-17 toward the waiting stretcher, that there was nothing J.B. could do to help.  He turned and strode out across the wet grass of the large, strange field toward the Wellington that had nearly killed them all.  It had just come to a halt, turned about and cut its engines.  All very proper - as if nothing had happened.  The bastard!

J.B. reached the aircraft just as the pilot backed down the little ladder out of the hatch.  He was dressed in white overalls, an ancient and very dirty Irvin jacket, and a leather flying helmet rather than a peaked or overseas cap.  J.B. burst out with all his pent-up fear converted into fury: "What the f**k did you think you were doing back there!  You nearly killed us all!"

The pilot turned around to face him and J.B. registered at once he was just a little wimp: slight, at least 8 inches shorter than J.B., and he had soft, delicate, almost girlish features.  It flashed through J.B.'s head that he was just like Buzz: the kind who's all brag and bluster and can't fly worth s**t!  The RAF pilot opened his mouth and said in a girlish high voice: "I don't know who was trying to kill whom.  I had a green from the tower and was on final approach.  You cut straight across in front of me."

Then, leaving J.B. gaping after her - because by now J.B. realized it was a girl - she walked toward the Watch Office, with her parachute over her shoulder.

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OOOPS! On the Acknowledgements page of the current published edition of Lady in the Spitfire, my wonderful editor's name was misspelled!  It should be Christina Dickson.   Although she was the editor, she unfortunately didn't get the opportunity to edit the Acknowledgements page before it went out! 

NOTE: In building this site, I thought about many things - such as what spelling standard I should use in referring to World War II, and what keyword spelling people might use in a search engine to find this page.  I found it interesting to note the following numbers of page listings for the various ways one might type World War II into a search engine. 

bullet  6,050,000 for world war two
bullet  5,860,000 for world war 2
bullet  134,000,000 for world war II (using the capital i for the 2)
bullet  83,900 for world war ll (using the lower case L for the 2)
bullet  26,200,000 for second world war
bullet  310,000 for 2nd world war

bullet  21,600 for ww two
bullet  804,000 for ww 2
bullet  7,130,000 for ww ii (using the i for the 2)
bullet  46,300 for ww ll (using the lower case L for the 2)

bullet  21,600 for w.w. two
bullet  804,000 for W.W.2
bullet  7,130,000 for w.w.II (using the capital i for the 2)
bullet  46,300 for w.w.ll (using the lower case l for the 2)

Note that capitalization, punctuation and spacing changes introduced no differences.  So if you are looking for information on a particular subject, remember to use all variations of the words related to the subject.  The pages a search engine will give you to look at will vary with each method. Also in general, I have referred to World War II on these pages using WWII (using the capital i for the 2).


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 Last updated May 29, 2010