Triplane Builder

Poems by Triplane Builder - William (Bill) Woodall

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First Solo

The engines ticking over;
check pilot's getting out;
He must be going to have a smoke;
that's what it's about.
But now he's walking closer,
and I don't see any signs--
He's not fumbling for a package;
he's fumbling for his 'lines'.

His eyes meet mine, and hold,
and then they turn away.
"Do you think that you can fly this thing?"
is what he has to say.
I can't believe he said that-
It's not the time or day!
My instructor's supposed to sign me off ;
that's the Navy way.

He must mean in the 'future',
he really can't mean now;
I hear myself say "yes sir"
as my inner voice gulps "wow".
`All doubt is terminated as he etches on my brain,
"Two touch and goes, and a full stop-
then pick me up again".

He undoes his seat pack, and sits beneath a tree;
I try at acting nonchalant,
but is this really me?
Coiling up the gosport hose
that dangles from my head;
I search in vain for cozy slots
for it to find a bed.

I've opened up the throttle;
begun taxiing away;
I have to find a secure place,
where that hose will really stay!
Now I've reached the region
where my take-off run will start,
As landing traffic clears away--
I feel my pounding heart!

With left hand on the throttle;
and right hand on the stick,
Hose jammed 'neath the tailwheel lock-
(that should do the trick).
The Stearman races 'oer the sod;
it really wants to fly,
It's tough to hold us on the ground;--
our only load is I.

And just as I am feeling thrilled
at being all alone;
My ears are stunned by drum beat drums ;
my heart turns into stone!
I must have had a mid-air!---
as I was climbing blind!
Frantic looks both fore and aft ---
the hose streams out behind.

The swirl of the prop-wash
has it firmly in its sway,
Rhythmic whacks away in back--
I may live another day!
With joystick and the blasted hose
held firmly in my grip,
I now perform appointed tasks,
and finish up my trip.

The Ensign duly climbs aboard;
-- delivers modest praise.
He'll never know the Hell I've known,
on this my 'day of days'
I am really something "special",
the first among my class,
To be allowed to "solo"!
May this feeling never pass!

Our takeoff run is text-book;
so is our climb away;
I bank to port and head for home;
composing what I'll say.
My classmates will be jealous
as they pat me on the back,
My tie (though new), they'll cut in two;
and short-sheet me, my sack.

And just as my self image
has reached epitome,
The engine coughs and dies complete.
We are headed for a tree!
My expertise evaporates.
The limbs come rushing on;
But the Ensign does a side-slip,
and now the tree is gone.

I had had "emergencies",
'til I thought I would go daft;
But these had all been signaled
by the throttle moving aft.
This wily Ensign sees my helmet growing tight,
Turns off the gas instead;
and turns my gloat to fright.

Most men who fly in airplanes,
no matter what their year;
Can tell of that first solo;
how they conquered over fear.
A time so well remembered
that the details never fade.
How they flew so free and easy-
the landing that they made.

I am almost in there with them
but I have this six point star*;
The *flapping hose; my *dead-stick woes;
still haunt me from afar.
Instead of talking landings
and the skills that I had shone,
I remember more the takeoff;--
the emergency so blown!

Bill Woodall

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