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Phantom takes flight (Chapter 1)

Posted 04-23-2012 at 09:39 AM by PhantomCruiser
Updated 07-04-2012 at 04:04 AM by PhantomCruiser

John Kirby, multi-billionaire and owner of Phantom Manufacturing strode out of the cavernous hangar into the sweltering equatorial heat of the Malay Peninsula. He spied his long-time friend, Cleveland Davis standing on the edge of the apron staring at the enormous aircraft on the tarmac. His lanky form standing easy, arms crossed with the upper half of his flight suit hanging down at his waist, with the sleeves pulled around and tied in front, thus making his tie-died Bob Marley to be the most colorful thing is anyone’s visual range. Kirby felt a bit jealous of Cleveland's easy demeanor, he'd often tried to emulate such an easy going manner and appearance, but in his minds-eye, it always came across as either forced, or comical. So even though Kirby could speak relaxed and smooth, his most relaxed appearance was one of playing golf somewhere like Augusta National. In some circles, rules were rules, and no matter how hard Kirby ran from his rigid upper-crust childhood, there remained some habits he could not break.

Cleveland's situational awareness alerted him to Kirby's quiet approach. “That's one really big airplane bro”, he said, nodding to Kirby's latest addition to the Phantom fleet. After all these years, the Antonov 225 still had the distinction of being one of the world’s largest aircraft. 285 metric tons of engine, tires, fuel and sheet metal sat awaiting its mission. There were not many like her, and Kirby had recently finalized the purchase of one of them. The flight crew had arrived some time before to give the big bird her morning walk around. “People are going to say that you're compensating for something, don'tcha think?”

Kirby took in the sight of the magnificent aircraft decked out in Phantom livery of blue, black and gold, the words “Phantom Manufacturing” spelled out in letters six feet high. “Too much, you think?” Kirby grinned at the panic such a purchase would cause to his accountants.

“No problem mon, it does make a statement though” Cleveland replied. “You still wanting to go through with this? Once we climb in there, there's pretty much only one way out”. Cleveland gestured roughly in the direction of the Antonov's “cargo” for the mission. Atop special struts along the spine of the aircraft sat a relatively tiny space-plane. Later more struts would be added to support a bulbous fuel tank that the tiny spacecraft's engine would utilize during her climb to orbit.

“What's the worst thing that could happen, we die a horrible death?” Kirby asked, already knowing the answer.

“I was thinking that Nancy might find out. Something bad happens here and she'll kill us both.” Cleveland grinned at him. “Don't worry my man. It'll be just like we've been practicing in the simulator.” Cleveland knew how nervous had been during every simulator run. He also knew that it wasn't because Kirby wasn't capable, but that Kirby was worried about screwing the pooch. During their last run, Kirby performed as well as, or maybe just a bit better than the Russian pilot that had been with Cleveland on his previous two drop tests. His relentless simulator practice had earned him the respect of the crew, and after the many grueling hours spent in its cramped confines, nobody could accuse Kirby of being a glory hound.

The two men stood there as a tow truck began moving the Antonov towards the gantry that Cleveland and Kirby would use to gain access to the little plane.

What was being called “Drop test three” was the final test with the space-plane in it's no tank configuration. It was basically a climb to altitude, separate from the aircraft and recovery back onto the runway at SRC Polygon. From here on out the tests would incorporate the fuel tank and increase in complexity, culminating finally in a climb to orbit with a recovery at Ascension Island. The space-plane itself was a matter of some pride to a few of the spaceports residents. A very small group of engineers had found some mock-ups and models of the old Soviet-era space program and put together a presentation that was promptly ignored by the big aerospace corporations. John Kirby had managed to eavesdrop on a presentation during a commercial space conference and became fast friends with several of the Russian team; and over borscht and vodka, a deal was hammered out. Without government regulation, oversight, budget concerns and time-tables, the small group of scientists and engineers were able to build a reasonably economical and reusable space craft.

The results of their labors were, by all appearances, a marriage of the OKM1 and 2, and MAKS. While it didn't offer a lot of cargo capability, it did offer better cross-range than any capsule. The air launch from the back of the Antinov meant that it wasn't married to any one particular rocket and the “drop-and-swap” engines were much less costly than any of the space-planes currently in use. The result of the whole was a much smaller and economical craft that offered the capabilities of a capsule with the flexibility of a rolling recovery at any of the world’s runways. Essentially, any runway in the world that could handle the Antonov (and could supply the fuel), could become a spaceport for Phantom mfg.

As they stood alone, Kirby glanced at Cleveland, “So how do you stay so calm, Cleve? I mean, I'm sweating bullets here.” He managed to not sound scared, but inside Kirby was more nervous than when he got his first kiss.

“You white people worry too much mon”, Cleveland laughed. “Every little ting, gonna be all right” he said in a sing-song reggae. “But seriously, do you know how hard it is for me to look this nonchalant?”

Cleveland motioned and began to walk over to the aircraft. “Truth be told, I am a bit nervous. And here is a big secret. All pilots will be a bit nervous. Looking at ease takes time and practice. The ones that strut around with their chest puffed out? They are the ones that either have something to prove, or they are so scared that they need to clean out their flight suit and are trying draw your attention away from the smell.” He gave a sideways grin at Kirby “Either way, you want to stay away from those guys. You've got a good team of pilots; you've got a good eye, that's for sure.”

There were a precious few people who really “knew” Kirby, and he felt blessed that Nancy and Cleveland fell into that category. “You really think so?”

“Of course”, Cleveland laughed as he began climbing the stairs to the gantries loading platform. “You hired me didn't you?”
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  1. Old Comment
    RacerX's Avatar
    Very good reading ,can't wait for the assent! Nicely done! I felt I was transported there. I to felt nervous for them!
    Posted 04-30-2012 at 01:04 AM by RacerX RacerX is offline

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