A Story That Takes Place Across 10 Seconds
10 As he checked the bomb once again just before landing, there it was, right beside him, just a little bit behind his head. It had hung tightly to the wing, even though it wasn’t supposed to be there. The initial surprise of seeing it, and the realization that the routine mission had just become much more unpredictable had made him recognize there were some big unknowns in the near future. He had needed to make some important decisions very rapidly, and once committed; he had needed to carry out his plan to perfection.
9 Over the next nine seconds, he thought back over the sequenced events of the flight, knowing that it might end in an undesired, potentially catastrophic manner. Approaching the familiar field, he carefully reviewed the many factors that determined how he’d arrived at this point, preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best. He reexamined his options and continued his careful flight to the runway as he reconstructed the flight he was completing.
8 The flight planning had been routine, without the complications of coordinating with crews of other airplanes. This flight was an almost routine peacetime mission, intended to train the relatively new team of ground-based ordnance handlers to prepare and load some heavy, live bombs so they could be expended on the approved target for training and evaluation. Flights with live ordnance were rare, and this one had been expected to be relatively uncomplicated, unlike some of the more complex flights with multiple aircraft. Flying with weapons on the wings was always challenging, and skills needed to carry out these missions required continuous training and careful evaluation. Daytime events like this one were a welcome change from the frequent late-night low-level flights through the mountains that took him away from his family even though he was no longer gone for months at a time.
7 Slowing his airspeed for the transition to the landing configuration, he thought about how much he loved flying. The sturdy, predictable airplane had been designed for this specialized activity, but in peacetime it rarely carried anything but small yet accurate practice bombs. Today’s heavy load had made the takeoff roll longer, the climb more labored, and the margin of error smaller. Flying with so much weight on the wings and considerably more drag on the aircraft was a significant change from typical peacetime operations, and he had thankfully remembered how much differently the aircraft flew under these conditions. He knew that even if there were a catastrophic event, he would most likely survive the violent ejection sequence that had saved so many others in his flying community.
6 As he lowered the landing gear and flaps, he remembered that the relatively short transit to the target area had gone smoothly, and the sometimes-unfavorable weather hadn’t really been a factor. All had gone well from takeoff and during the transit to the target area, including the necessary approval to deliver the weapons. He had double-checked the armament system switch positioning, conducted the final checks, and set up for the precise weapons delivery.
5 Following his clearance to land, while concentrating on his rate of descent, he remembered his dive to the target, when four of the five bombs selected to leave the aircraft had performed perfectly, falling away with precision, and detonating exactly as planned. The fifth bomb had remained affixed to the wing, as if waiting for the signal to detach and fall away. Its gleaming arming wire had been clearly visible, still in place, making it unlikely to arm while attached to the aircraft. The big unknown was how long it would stay on the airplane. The systems designed to control the bomb had somehow not worked correctly, making the weapon unpredictable. Since it had been designated to drop, and had instead stayed in place, there was no way to know when or if it might leave the aircraft. He had reminded himself that if it fell away, it could very likely become armed, depending on what signals the bomb received as it left the wing. He had silently hoped that it would respond correctly to his second attempt.
4 As he carefully worked the throttles to control his progress on the glide slope, he remembered purposefully using the appropriate checklist, stepping through the procedures for this eventuality, double checking the weapons switches and getting approval to make another dive to the target. There had been nothing amiss with the switch settings, and he confirmed the weapon should have left the aircraft during the initial delivery. With all the switches double checked, there was every reason to expect that it would fall away as desired during the second dive. However, it had remained stubbornly in place, and the decision was made to take the airplane back to its home base with the bomb on its wing. Total mission success was no longer possible, and the primary mission now was to get the aircraft home safely with no surprises from the live, now unpredictable bomb.
3 Looking at the runway, he was thankful for the tower controller’s quick affirmation that he had an emergency situation and granted approval for a straight-in landing. Ground crews would have been immediately alerted to be ready for his arrival. The ever-present realization that the weapon might leave the aircraft at any time had caused continual concern, and as he passed over the populated areas near the airfield, he silently prayed that the weapon would remain attached to the wing.
2 Just before landing, he thought through the possibilities of what might happen should the weapon leave the aircraft, especially when the aircraft touched down. He remembered the need to land with minimum impact, cushioning the initial contact with the runway’s surface as much as possible. If it came loose, the bomb would likely skip along the runway at the same speed as his airplane, and it was possible that it might become armed in the process. This eventuality caused legitimate concern, knowing that a detonation would likely bring about unavoidable damage to the aircraft, and possible injury or death for himself. There was no good alternative.
1 As the aircraft settled smoothly onto the runway the bomb, thankfully, remained stoutly attached to the wing. The entire range of disturbing possibilities now shrank to a few manageable activities, and he gratefully followed instructions to the disarming area where the weapon was carefully made safe. As he prepared to leave the undamaged airplane, with the weapon in capable hands, he gratefully realized that this was yet another flight that had ended well. He realized there would be a thorough evaluation of the weapons system to determine where the problem lay, and that recommendations and corrections would follow. He knew his buddies in the ready room would casually acknowledge his safe return, just as he did when they came in from their latest adventures. Every flight had its moments, and this was just one of many.
Written in response to the Reedsy writing prompt: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.