Posted by: harrisonjones | June 7, 2011

Shadow Flight Excerpt

Now that SHADOW FLIGHT is nearing the release date, I wanted my blog readers to be the first to preview a bit of the book. The following excerpt introduces a few characters and the scene sets up one of the sub-plots of the book. I hope you enjoy a sample of the 300 page novel.


Soaring seagulls, and the little red and white Cessna, were the only things moving in the blue skies of south Texas. The seagulls were not likely to crash. The airplane, like the birds, seemed to change direction every few minutes to loiter in the same area. A casual observer would have concluded that the pilot was lost or searching for something yet unfound.

          When the aircraft’s engine increased to full power and the nose pitched up, it appeared to be on its way to whatever destination had been originally planned. The airplane’s propeller labored at maximum RPM, but the forward progress continued to decrease as the nose went higher. The Cessna seemed to be suspended in mid-air, like an apple above Newton’s head, as the speed became dangerously slow and the wings struggled to maintain lift.

          Suddenly the airplane rolled sharply to the left and the nose fell forward to begin an uncontrolled dive at the earth. The pilot had obviously demanded more from the machine than it was capable of producing and the lack of judgment would now be rewarded by the inevitable and unforgiving law of gravity. The two people sitting side by side in the Cessna were now less than two thousand feet and precious moments from certain disaster. The woman in the left seat fought the controls as the windshield view filled with spinning Texas landscape. She hung in her shoulder harness and felt the sickening sensation of weightlessness as the airplane plummeted. Her adrenalin charged brain issued commands that her insubordinate hands and feet ignored.

          She refused to give up. She was a pilot and would not allow herself to become a passenger, although she found herself repeating things that had already failed. At last she heard the calm voice of the man in the right seat say, “I’ve got it,” and she put her hands up in front of her as she had been trained.

          Kyle Bennett pushed the right rudder pedal and then re-centered it when the spinning landscape in the windshield became a stationary cornfield. He released the back pressure on the yoke and as the airspeed rapidly increased in the dive, he gently pulled the nose up and planted it on the horizon where the blue sky merged with Texas. He pulled the throttle back to a cruise RPM, rolled in a little pitch trim, and said, “You’ve got it.”

          Brooke Roberts took a deep breath and put her hands and feet back on the controls. She looked at the instruments and decided that airspeed was better than money in the bank.

          “Don’t worry, Brooke,” Kyle said, “Departure stalls are tricky because of the extreme nose high attitude, but you’ll get used to it. If one wing stalls before the other, the spin can develop and you have to be aggressive with rudder to stop that. I think you could have recovered on your own if you had released the back pressure on the yoke to break the stall.”

          “I know. I was just trying to stop the descent.”

          “The survival instinct is to pull, but you have to get the airflow back over the wings first. The good news is you now know how high you can pull the nose up on takeoff without stalling. We’ll practice the recovery more on the next lesson and you’ll be fine. Take me to the airport and we’ll get in a couple of landings before we quit.”

          “Kyle, you just wanted to see if I would squeal like a girl and I almost did. Can we do one more of those before we go back?”

          “You’re not gonna barf are you?”

          She laughed, “I think you’re safe, Kyle.”

          “Okay, let’s climb back up to 2500 feet and we’ll set it up again. Turn back to the north so we’ll stay in the practice area.”

          Kyle relaxed and tried to stretch his legs. The cockpit of the two seat trainer was much more suited to his petite student. Brooke sat almost a foot forward to insure that she could fully depress the rudder pedals. His aviator sunglasses blocked the glare of the sun as he watched her begin the climbing turn and he was pleased that she had not been intimidated by the previous maneuver.

          He knew that self confidence was a necessary trait in all good pilots, but confidence born of simple bravado had been a deadly factor in the final flight of too many pilots.  Brooke’s poise was not due to ego, but rather from understanding theory and the ability to apply her knowledge—the basis for good judgment and longevity. He watched as her eyes took in the instrument panel, digesting information and applying corrections. Her dark pony tail bounced as she scanned left and right to check the horizon and look for traffic.

          Brooke leveled the airplane and Kyle briefed the maneuver once again. She pushed the throttle up to maximum power and simulated the takeoff by raising the nose slowly until the angle became so extreme that air could no longer flow over the wings. This time she was ready for the stall and made a smooth recovery without  help.

          Kyle congratulated her, “I knew you could do it, Brooke. Now do you think you can find the airport so we can do some pattern work?”

          “If I do will you let me solo?”

          He smiled, “Maybe someday, after I’ve bled your bank account dry.”

          “Kyle, you know you would do this for nothing just because you love it so much.”

          “Well, don’t tell my boss because I’m working for almost nothing already.”

          “Someday you’ll be a rich airline pilot and then you can buy the flying school.”

          The conversation was a bit of a distraction and the airplane began to climb slightly.

          “Watch your altitude, Brooke.”

          “Sorry ’bout that.”

          “Use the vertical speed indicator more in your instrument scan. It will always show  an up or down trend before the altimeter even moves.”

          “Okay, thanks, Kyle.”

          “I won’t get rich anytime soon. I just got another rejection letter from Tri Con Airlines. I can’t even get an  interview.”

          “Don’t give up Kyle—at the ripe old age of twenty-six, you’ve got time.”

          Brooke was not familiar with the requirements to become an airline pilot, but if appearance counted, Kyle would qualify. He kept his dark hair trimmed short and his blue eyes could compete with the Texas sky on a clear day. He was the clean cut young bachelor that every mother hoped her daughter would marry—airline pilot or not.

          The flying school was based at a small airport located west of Corpus Christi in the less crowded airspace of a rural community. The airport was called McLane Field and named for the owner rather than a town. They descended over the plowed fields of Texas farmland and approached the single asphalt strip from the south. Kyle purposely kept his mouth shut and evaluated Brooke’s entry to the traffic pattern without instruction. The airport didn’t have a control tower, but she announced her intentions on the common Unicom frequency to let  any other airplanes in the area know she was in the pattern for Runway One-Five.

          “McLane Unicom, Cessna November Six-Eight-Three-Four Bravo, entering right downwind for landing, Runway One-Five.”

          She and Kyle both scanned the area but saw no other airplanes to interfere with their landing. Brooke recited the before landing checklist and accomplished the items perfectly. As they continued the landing pattern, they could hear someone key a microphone on the frequency, “Cessna Three-Four Bravo, McLane, Kyle give me a call when you’re on the ground.”

          Kyle picked up the mic and double clicked it to informally acknowledge the message. Brooke said, “Your girlfriend must be looking for you.”

          “If I had a steady girlfriend she wouldn’t have to look for me. I’m always at the airport.”

          Brooke smiled, “In that case they must be repossessing your truck or something.”

          “Not likely,” Kyle laughed, “They’d take one look at it and decide it’s not worth hauling in.”

          Brooke flew the pattern smoothly and the Cessna’s tires chirped in harmony as she made a soft touchdown. Kyle knew that he would let her solo when she took her next lesson in a few days.

“Not bad for a girl, Brooke. Let’s taxi back and do one more before we quit for the day.”

          While Brooke raised the flaps and did the after landing checklist he picked up the mic, “McLane, Three-Four-Bravo—what’s up, Roy?”

          Roy McLane was the airport owner and Kyle’s boss.

          “Your next student showed up early. Do you want him to watch a video lesson while he waits?”

          “Actually, Brooke and I are just doing one more pattern and we’ll be done. Tell him he can preflight the airplane while I debrief Brooke.”

          “Okay, tell Brooke her husband is here too.”

          “You just told her.”

          Brooke had recently celebrated her thirty fifth birthday and her husband had given her flying lessons as her gift. Glenn Roberts was a prominent Corpus Christi surgeon and had been flying his own light twin for years. Brooke had shown an interest and he thought it would be great to have a qualified copilot for the trips they made together. She was petite, but athletic and her obsession with playing tennis not only kept her fit, but also produced a deep and attractive tan. He was pleased to see her enjoy a new challenge.

          They had reached the end of the taxiway and Brooke went through the before takeoff checklist. There was another airplane in the pattern to land and they waited for it to make its approach.

          Kyle asked, “Are you nervous with your husband watching?”

          She chuckled, “Of course not, I’m a pilot. I have nerves of steel.”

          “I’ll keep that in mind if he asks about your progress.”

          “He’s not here to check my progress. Glenn’s flying the twin up to Dallas tonight for a medical conference. He’ll be gone several days. As a matter of fact, I was hoping we could get in a couple of flying lessons while he’s gone. Can we fly again tomorrow?”

          “Sure, I’ll check the schedule and see what times are available.”

          Kyle turned his thoughts to the requirements for Brooke to solo. “Have you made your visit to the FAA doc for your flight physical?”

          She seemed to lose focus for a moment before answering. “I saw him this morning. He issued the student pilot’s license and first class medical certificate.”

          She turned away from Kyle and stared out the window as the doctor’s words played through her mind once again. She had decided not to discuss the diagnosis with her husband until he returned from Dallas.


  1. Okay, so now you made me late back to work after lunch. Great read Harrison. Looking forward to reading it from cover to cover. Jeanne

    • Sorry ’bout that, Jeanne. When someone says something good about the book, it’s almost as nice as when they say something nice about one of the grandkids. You made my day.

      • Happy to make your day…A good book always makes mine.:)

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