The pilot knew exactly what was wrong, and that there was nothing he could do about it. But he felt no fear, possibly because everything was happening so quickly, or perhaps because he was busy in his final seconds considering options he already knew were futile.
He realised he was about to die, but that thought did not seem any more important than the knowledge that something had gone wrong as he was in a banking turn, leaving him nowhere to go but down, or the physics of the failure and the inevitability of what followed.
He did not experience any sadness, or anger, or feel the need to become religious, or shout the name of someone who meant a lot to him. He did not review his entire life. He only experienced a plummeting aircraft, rushing towards a field. A moment later, the Hurricane thumped into the ground in a shallow dip running between two fields.
The pilot experienced something no more severe than a faint pop, most like a thin sheet of paper bursting. There was no impact, but he was aware of an impact some way behind him. He found that the Hurricane was flying straight and level, in a clear sky. The Second World War fighter cruised onwards, almost silent. They must be at a very high altitude, as the engine was all but soundless and the ground was not visible. It didn’t occur to him to be surprised.
He became aware of certain feelings, emotions and knowledge that might be described as an epiphany, but this too, did not seem to come as a shock. Only a sense of realising something he had always known. There were means of moving from one way of being to another, and he had found one.
He had always loved the Hurricane – it was a beautiful aircraft that responded to his touch and flew every manoeuvre he wanted, with no fuss or protest, and seemed to share the lift in spirit that such aerobatics brought him. But only now did he realise he really loved this machine, every stitch in the canvas, every rivet, because it was part of the same universe that he was bound to. He and the Hurricane were merely parts of the same whole, and he loved it with a power that only comes with the truest connection and understanding.
For the Hurricane was of course a work of pure perfection, everything about it was right in this world. It worked in perfect harmony with the ether around it. He did not know how he had never seen this before.
But he himself also now embodied perfection – he was linked, atom, molecule and cell with everything around him, and the Hurricane in particular. With a childlike joy he flipped the antique aircraft into a cascade of aerobatic manoeuvres, climbing up into wingovers and stall turns, spinning wildly through the rushing air, corkscrewing in energetic but beautifully smooth barrel rolls. The Hurricane seemed to sing with elation, and he did the same.
The Hurricane climbed ever higher. The pilot wondered that he did not seem to need the oxygen mask, and that the Hurricane was able to perform so wonderfully in this rarified atmosphere. Not only had the engine not missed a beat since he hit the ground, it had run as smoothly as a sewing machine, and with muscular reserves of power. The sun shone clearly up here, reflecting orange off the edges of the feathered clouds.
Soon though, it became clear that he must leave the machine – indeed, that he did not need it any more. Without sadness, he drifted out of the cockpit and for a while he and the aircraft flew on side by side, in silence. After a while the Hurricane banked away, waggled its wings, receded to a tiny cruciform against the pale sky, then disappeared altogether. The pilot continued flying, climbing into the sun.
He became aware, joyfully, that other figures now joined him. He had not been alone since the Hurricane departed, purely because he was connected to everything in this realm by strands of something invisible and beautiful. The other figures were men, but not like men, and like him they flew, but did not need wings. He knew them as Ray, John, ‘Cobber’, Mark, Manfred, Mike, Lanoe and a host of others receding away into the sunset. They welcomed him into their brotherhood. With rapture he saw that they had freedom of the only domain any of them had ever really inhabited – the boundless blue sky.
© M. Willis 2013
Read about the event that led to this story here