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Authors: Clayton Taylor

Sojourners of the Sky

BOOK: Sojourners of the Sky
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This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher. The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal right to publish all the materials in this book.


Sojourners of the Sky

All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2014 Clayton Taylor

v3.0 r1.0


Cover and Interior Maps illustrated by Ginger Triplett © 2014 Outskirts Press, Inc. All rights reserved - used with permission.


This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


Outskirts Press, Inc.


Outskirts Press and the “OP” logo are trademarks belonging to Outskirts Press, Inc.



To the Reader:


In order to make this novel as realistic as possible, I’ve used actual aircraft names and aircraft types. Northwest Airlines, which for a time was known as Northwest Orient Airlines, is one such example.

Though Northwest Airlines dropped the “Orient” part of their name not long after their merger with Republic Airlines in 1986, I decided to stick with their former name even though the B747-400 variant used in this novel never actually displayed “Orient” on its fuselage. I did that because, in my opinion, the name evokes a mood that helps bring the reader back to a more romantic time in aviation.

Part of my story involves a fictitious flight to Tokyo on board a Northwest Orient B747-400 in 1992. The other part involves an imaginary flight across the Atlantic on board a Pan American DC6B in 1958.

The description of these aircraft and how they were operated is reproduced here as accurately as I was able. It is important for the reader to understand that this is a work of fiction. All of the characters and the things they do are completely a figment of my imagination. They do not in any way represent real people, living or dead.

For many years, Northwest Airlines and Pan American Airways were known throughout the world as leaders in the airline industry. These two airlines helped write the book on international air travel, at a time when flying by air was in its infancy. It is for this reason alone that I selected these two companies to tell my story. This work is in no way meant to portray a factual accounting of true company policies and procedures for either of these two former airlines.

Special thanks to:


Gordon Barnes

Captain, Pan American Airways, retired


Larry Partridge

Captain, Flying Tigers, retired


Tom Matthews

Air Traffic Control Specialist,
New York Center, retired


Boyd Thornburg

Commercial Airline Pilot, Editing consultant



Whenever I write about air traffic controllers, my mind often recalls vivid memories of working with one of my best friends and mentors from way back when. Lew and I spent many hours together “pumping traffic” and then laughing our heads off when there were no more airplanes to talk to. Regardless of whether he had five or fifteen airplanes on his frequency, Lew was forever calm, cool and even-tempered. I always wished I could be just like him. I dedicate this novel to the man whose friendship and guidance I shall always treasure.


Lewis Mason

3/5/35 – 11/11/12


Radar service terminated, frequency change approved. Enjoy the sunset, my old friend.

Cessna 150



The Escape

August 12, 2002

hey feared their lives would be changed forever. It was time to go.

The field in front of them was coated with morning dew. The short green grass would be slippery, and Lucy knew it could get tricky. She worked meticulously, just as she’d been trained.

Once the checks were complete, Lucy added power and pointed the tiny airplane’s nose into the wind. Though she’d been given repeated warnings about such things by her aging instructor, she’d allowed herself to be hurried. It was a mistake she would regret.

Lucy held the control yoke deep in her lap. The ground was soft, and she knew she had to keep as little weight as possible on the nosewheel. She steered with her feet, trying desperately to get the airplane pointed in the right direction, rather than toward the stand of trees poised directly in their path. She was only partially successful in her efforts.

Moments after the nosewheel left the ground, Lucy ever so gently eased the control yoke forward. The airspeed was increasing, but it seemed to take forever. After an eternity of angst for the two young people on board, the little Cessna finally lifted from the runway.

The airplane was airborne, but perilously close to the ground. A quick glance told the young pilot that their speed was much too slow. Had Lucy not rushed her initial lineup, their sluggish acceleration wouldn’t have much mattered. But as a result of the young teen’s carelessness, she was forced to face unexpected obstacles--big obstacles. However, Lucy would not allow herself any regrets. She would deal with the situation as she had been taught.

The Cessna returned to Earth and gently touched the soft grass runway. A brief moment later, the two-seat trainer managed to find its way back into the air once again. The new pilot was nervous. It was the first time she’d flown without her instructor at her side. She could almost hear his words in her head, “
Lucy, stay focused. Accomplish one thing at a time and then move on.”

The little airplane seemed listless. Lucy tried to ignore what her hands were telling her, but she couldn’t. Their red and white two-seater simply wasn’t ready to fly. She racked her brain trying to figure out why. Everything seemed normal, yet it was as if they had a large brick tied to their tail.

Things deteriorated rapidly. Lucy studied the few gauges before her, but everything was in the green. She held the nose up as much as she dared, but the airplane still refused to climb. There wasn’t much more she could do.

Suddenly, the airplane began to shake. For the first few seconds it was merely a mild buffet, but the trembling quickly escalated into a violent shudder. The stall warning horn blared, and they could clearly see a large oak tree looming ever larger in the center of their windshield.

“Push the nose down, Lucy!” ordered Jack, his words dripping with fear.

Lucy didn’t immediately respond. She was scared, but at the same time deep in thought. If she pushed the nose of the tiny Cessna down too much, they would crash and most certainly die. And if she pulled the nose up too far, the wing would stall. A loss of control at such a low altitude would also mean certain death. Her options were limited, but she had to do something.

“Lucy, pull up!” demanded her frightened and confused copilot.

The tiny airplane’s occupants were in over their heads. It was up to Lucy to save them.

“Hang on,” she said, the moment her brain concluded that there was only one thing left to try. Lucy lowered the nose slightly and banked the Cessna hard to the left. Her actions caused the nose of the plane to drop sharply. She managed a very quick glance over her shoulder, seeking assurance that their wing wasn’t going to strike the ground.

The stall warning horn continued to wail and the entire airplane shook, cautioning the pilot that a stall was imminent--that she was about to lose control. Lucy momentarily mused to herself that the warning horn, sounding more like an angry cat than a caution of an impending stall, no longer frightened her.

Emily, on the other hand, who had been sitting quietly in the back, hid her head when she heard the wailing of an upset feline. Riding in the back of an airplane was frightening enough for the young kitten, but even more so when an angry tomcat was lurking about.

Lucy sighed. She knew the noise wasn’t helping. In fact, the racket only served to elevate the tension already present in the cockpit.

They’d acted on impulse. The siblings had stolen their grandfather’s airplane in hopes of escaping the inevitable. It was indeed a foolhardy decision made in haste, but they were committed to seeing it through. Unfortunately, though only moments into the getaway, things were already looking bleak. It seemed their lives were about to end, one way or the other.

“Do something!” exclaimed Jack.

“Be quiet,” muttered Lucy.

The unstated emotions of the under-aged flight crew were rapidly approaching the boiling point! It would take a miracle to save them.

Moments before the left wing impacted the ground, Lucy turned the control yoke to the right and then pulled back. But before she was able to coax their Cessna 150 to respond, the left wheel struck the ground with a thud. The airplane bounced and then banked to the right. A painfully long moment later, the Cessna jumped back into the air.

Lucy knew she wasn’t in complete control, but she refused to give up. She told herself to stay with it.

Their right wingtip cleared the old oak tree by inches, but not before one of the branches scraped across the top of the airplane, perilously close to their heads. It was an eerie sound that lasted for only a second, forcing Lucy to briefly close her eyes when she heard it. She reopened her windows to the world and felt instant relief, seeing nothing but open, cloud-filled sky in front of them.

As the Cessna slowly gained altitude, the angry tomcat-sound silenced itself and allowed the airplane’s occupants to gather their thoughts. Considering the close encounter they’d had with the tree limb, both Lucy and Jack were thankful their Cessna had an enclosed cockpit.

“Wow, that was close!” said Jack with a grin.

Lucy turned and gave her younger sibling a reassuring smile. The takeoff frightened her, but she would never allow her brother to know that. She knew what lay behind them on the ground was even more threatening than their brush-with-death departure had been.

It had been a tough year. The months leading up to their summer vacation had been a roller coaster ride. Neither spoke during their walk home together on the last day of school. Their future looked bleak. Storm clouds seemed to stretch from one side of the horizon to the other. Everything seemed so uncertain. And just when it seemed as though things couldn’t get any worse, fourteen-year-old Lucy and twelve-year-old Jack were informed that they would be spending the summer in another state with people they hardly knew.

It took two very long weeks in their strange new environment, but by early July reality had been put on hold. A basketful of fears had virtually disappeared, becoming so invisible they were practically forgotten.

The summer months proved to be the most exciting weeks of their young lives. The long warm days and cool, crisp Pennsylvania nights seemed to slip by in the blink of an eye. Looking forward to each day’s adventure, Lucy and her brother woke with the sun and went to bed exhausted nearly every night. But an early morning phone call had changed everything, forcing them both back to reality.

“Mr. Tacker’s light was on when we flew past his window,” observed Jack. “Do you think he’ll say anything?”

Lucy looked at her brother, unsure of what to say. “Um, I suppose he might,” she replied. “But it won’t matter.”

The anxious student pilot didn’t want to think about anything other than the task at hand. There simply wasn’t time. But in spite of her reluctance, Lucy’s mind began to recall one of her training flights and their first run-in with her elderly instructor’s neighbor.


“Grandpa, I can see Mr. Tacker’s car at the bottom of the driveway. I wonder what he wants now?” asked Lucy.

“Don’t worry about him, Lucy. He’s just a bitter old man with nothing better to do with his time.”

Lucy pursed her lips. “He’s been snooping around ever since we started putting ‘626 back together,” said Lucy. “You’re not going to get into trouble, are you?”

Lucy’s granddad did not immediately respond. He glanced out his side window and mumbled, “Never again.”

“I think he’s mean. He acts like he’s always mad,” added Lucy. She looked over toward her grandfather awaiting an acknowledgment, but saw only a frown.

Bill Pratt, Lucy’s grandfather, knew that he was probably enjoying the last adventure of his life. Earlier in the summer, when the curious John Tacker first showed up, Bill was resolute--telling himself that there was absolutely no way he was going to allow the FAA and their cumbersome, overly-complicated rules to get in his way. Bill had spent a lifetime being tested and watched by the government, but he’d retired from that and wished only to be left alone. They’d managed to ruin his last few months as an airline pilot, and he wasn’t about to let some old retired government windbag like John Tacker destroy what was left.

After a mishap on board a B747-400 he was piloting, Bill’s work life became miserable. The FAA dogged him constantly, and the resulting stress changed everything. It was the last straw. Bill no longer enjoyed going to work and retired a few months later. It had taken him a lifetime of climbing the ladder to finally make it to the left seat of a B747, and he loved every second of being at the top of the pyramid, but his time there didn’t last long. His childhood friend and neighbor, John Tacker, made sure of that.


Lucy could almost feel her grandfather’s pain.

Jack contemplated their situation for a minute before declaring, “I just don’t want to see anyone else get murdered.”

Lucy snapped back from her daydream. “Murdered? What the heck are you talking about?”

“Remember? Grandpa told us that he killed Mr. Tacker’s wife. I don’t want him to get into any more trouble,” said Jack.

“Oh, yeah,” she said, having forgotten about that revelation. But Lucy had other things on her mind, important things that had to be dealt with right away.

Staring deep into the gray, murky sky, Lucy pondered what lay ahead. She had to admit to herself that what lay beyond the horizon was even further beyond her control than their harrowing departure, and held an infinite number of dangers.

The young pilot banked the Cessna to the right and pointed its nose west. Their destination was not unknown. What was unknown was how they would get there.

BOOK: Sojourners of the Sky
5.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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