Suddenly he saw a break in the trees. He figured that must be it, and headed toward it. Flashing over at two thousand feet, he saw the strip, in a valley between two small hills,
or rather swells in the landscape. Just past the north swell, about half a mile, he spotted the lodge. He could just pick out shapes of people running toward the airstrip. He hoped Haley wouldn’t notice them.
He yelled back in the passenger compartment, “We just passed over what looks like a private airstrip. I don’t see it on the charts, but I’m sure that’s what it is. Whatever it is, it’s our
best shot, so I’m going to set up for a landing.”
Haley yelled back, “Are you sure we can get there?”
“It’ll be tight.” The runway ran from the southeast to the northwest. George had passed over it from the south to the north and entered into a right bank to set up for a right-hand
base leg into it. The ripples on the lake indicated a fairly stiff breeze coming straight out of the northwest, allowing for a very slight crosswind.
He kept his turns shallow. The big twin was sluggish operating with a single engine and a feathered propeller, so he had to be careful not to lose airspeed too quickly. A stall at
this stage would be fatal. He turned on final, lined up with the strip, and dropped the landing gear.
He would be coming in over the tall pines to a relatively short runway, so he increased
his descent rate. When he was sure he had the runway made, he applied full flaps and cut back power a little. He could see a vehicle racing along the side of the runway, probably to be at the end to greet Haley’s Comet after her rollout.
Passing over the last of the pines, George chopped the power and the plane sank rapidly toward the runway threshold. Even with the light crosswind, landing on one engine was tricky and he had his hands full keeping lined up with the runway.
Trying to keep the nose high and flare for a gentle, soft field touchdown ate up a lot of runway. Before he knew it, almost a third of the strip was behind them, so he pulled back on the wheel until the stall horn sounded and dropped
the last three or four feet onto the grass.
The hard landing caused the plane to swerve as it dug into the soft ground, but George danced on the rudder peddles and managed to keep from going off the runway. A military-style jeep sat at the far end, which was approaching
Men jumped out and scattered to either side, not sure if the plane would stop in time. George glanced out the side window and noticed the trees speeding by. He’d increased pressure on the brakes carefully but firmly, trying to bring the aircraft to a stop without skidding, but now he pressed down harder and reduced the flap angle to put more weight on the wheels. The airplane finally came to a stop, the nose dropping down and then bouncing back up, not five feet from the jeep.
When the plane stopped moving, George looked out at the jeep and saw Brady Keyes, sitting alone and staring back, the trace of a smile creeping across his face. They studied each other for a few seconds, then George turned around to check on how his passengers were doing. Strand and Haley were both pale, but they seemed to be all right. With trembling hands, George shut down the airplane and undid his seatbelt and shoulder harness.
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