I put down the manual and looked around the room for a while before my gaze settled on the mess of parts in the center of dad’s workshop. It was almost done. All I had to do was to mount the engine, attach the wings and bolt the harness on. I felt proud with myself for being able to build this in 3 days with only PVC pipes, canvas, metal rods, an old engine, gears, and parts from a wheelbarrow- all without dad knowing, too! I almost tripped over a PVC pipe as I jumped about in joy. Back to work.
The last bolt. Being the clumsy oaf I was, I dropped the wrench on my foot. I nearly swore as the pain shot up my ankle. Oh well, no pain no gain, as they say. Soon, the craft was done. I stood up and looked proudly at my handiwork. It was a beautiful thing; it had 2 sleek canvas wings attached to a simple motor that hung above the harness, PVC pipes connecting the tail rudders to the cockpit and 3 wheels beneath the cockpit to support the rider while he was on land. It had the basic design of Da Vinci’s personal ornithopter but the system was of modern 2 pilot flyers. A hybrid, one might say.
I hauled my masterpiece out of dad’s workshop and started my way up the hill. I had asked a few of my friends (Oswald, Emeret, Hal, Leo and Daniel) to meet up there to see the ornithopter in action. When I finally got there, I strapped myself to my ornithopter and put on a helmet and protective gear. Oh, and don’t forget a parachute. The view was stupendous; you could see the entire island from here. I shivered with anticipation.
Ready for take-off. My friends looked on eagerly, excited to see my first flight.
For once, I actually felt slightly nervous. What was the price to pay for flight? I could possibly get hurt, dad would scold me, mum would go hysterical, Miss Anne would be disappointed at her favourite student and that grumpy old Mister Albert will go on & on about how the youth these days aren’t supervised enough. But it’s worth the risk. I’ve always dreamed of flying ever since I saw a gigantic luxury liner airship- The Eclipse (so named because it completely blocked out the sun when it passes overhead) -dock at our island for supplies. Lighter-than-air travel was the norm nowadays since they’re quiet, efficient and luxurious. Despite the success of airships, a few heavier-than-air flyers (ornithopters, gliders) managed to sneak into the air industry as they were tiny and agile, useful for sport and security (unfortunately, pirates generally used ornithopters for plundering). Daniel called my name, snapping me out of my thoughts. It’s time.
Alright. I emptied my head of thoughts. All I needed now was to remember how this thing worked and how to fly it. I said Ok to my friends and they pushed me down the hill. I felt a sudden jolt and the wind blew past my ears.
The wheels cluttered and clunked as they carried me and my craft down the hill. I zoomed down faster and faster, almost enough to get airborne. I turned on the engines so the wings would start flapping. The wheels rattled against the rough ground. Adrenaline pulsed through my body. After a few wing strokes, I felt the wheels slowly easing off the ground. Soon, I was flying. Nose up. Bank left. Increase speed of wing flaps. I was airborne. I left the ground behind and headed for the open sky; I gained enough altitude to start gliding. Cut engines. Switch to manual flight. I tugged on the two handles hanging above me that controlled the wings. My feet controlled the rudders and ailerons. I was on my own now, gracefully soaring above the island, tail and wing under my control.
Looking down, I saw everything. Tiny people scuttling around the roads, houses and forests, sailboats leaving the port. I could imagine soaring ever higher. These continents from overhead look like tiny paper shapes, intricately set in place. I could see an airship in the distance, lazily drifting through the atmosphere towards the island. Wind whipped past me as I glided along with the clouds in the bright blue sky. For once, I truly felt alive. I was living my dream. I didn’t care anymore if I would get in trouble or if anyone would think less of me. It was sure worth it. Nothing could go wrong now, I thought.
Don’t jinx it! Too late, I’m afraid. I was too distracted to notice the flock of seagulls that were straight ahead of my ornithopter. We swiftly collided, one of them clipping the tail and rudder. Immediately, the craft banked to the right before plunging down to the ground. Without hesitation, I switched on the engines to gain lift. The wings flapped furiously, trying to achieve flight; hopefully before we smacked into the earth. Losing altitude. I looked behind to see the problem. The rudder was jammed. I braved myself to unstrap the harness and climb to the tail. With a tug the rudder unfurled and the ornithopter suddenly jolted upwards. I held on tightly, lying on my stomach with my feet faced to the front of the ornithopter.
I had 2 options: climb to the front and slowly strap myself to the craft or control the tail from here. No time to choose. The ornithopter flew dangerously close to the ground towards the town. With a swift maneuver, I banked the craft to the left. I zoomed past an old man drinking his tea, knocking him over. I really hope it wasn’t Mister Albert. I tried to control the thing and land safely in a clearing or field. It was extremely difficult to fly something backwards with your bare hands in case you hadn’t guessed.
Fortunately, luck was on my side as I wasn’t far from the park. I managed to steer towards it and positioned my ornithopter for landing. Unfortunately, luck decided to ditch me right then and there, for as I was about to land, a gust of wind blew the craft off course. Even more unfortunately, the already tired engine began sputtering and coughing before it gave up, stopping the oh-so-important flapping that gives an ornithopter its lift.
My masterpiece spiralled towards the ground beside a pond. Remembering I had a parachute strapped to my back, I decided to let go of my handiwork in favour of dear life. It might not work this close from the ground, but it was worth a try. I let go, then I was in freefall. The ground rushed towards me as I deployed the parachute. My body jerked up as the parachute opened at roughly 40 meters above the ground. My luck returned as I landed in the pond with a splash. The ornithopter crashed beside me, unfortunately missing the pond. It was reduced to a smoking heap of canvas, metal and PVC. I fared better with only a sprained foot, an extremely aching back and cramped arms.
I heard voices and footsteps coming towards me. I climbed out of the pond and took off the soaking wet parachute. Looking up, I saw a few people running towards me. They consisted of Emeret, Daniel, a police officer, a worried woman who might have seen what had happened and a furious old chap with tea stains on his shirt who -coincidentally- happened to be Mister Albert The Grumpy Old Fart.
They all had to speak at once.
Mister Albert then spontaneously erupted into a rage. “Why you little rascal! I will call your parents at once for your disgusting behaviour! Don’t you know this shirt-” he pulled it furiously “-is a gift from Paris?! It’s practically priceless! And just what do you think you are doing; flying about dangerously in a crudely made aircraft?! They’re only for trained professionals, do you understand?! Oooh, back in my day, kids like you would be WHIPPED! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!?!”
The policeman tried to calm him down. “Sir, please calm down, I’ll talk to the boy myself.” Mister Albert The Red Faced Nuclear Explosion settled down for awhile, although he muttered swear words under his breath.