The sound of the engine falls away quickly after I pull the throttle back to the aft-stop.  The propellor still turns in front of me, of course; a blur of translucent disc, not more opaque or transparent because it's slower.  Apart from the engine sound receding to a low hum, the only indications I have of the changed power-state are the sounds of wind slowly becoming more prominent, my body straining gently against the harness as we slow, and the tachometer.  The tach is part of the body of the machine, extended specially for my eyes to observe its health: here's something happening that I need to know, tempo of the pulse in the chambers of its heart.

    The wind sound begins to recede, too, as our speed through the air falls off.  More machine-body parts: airspeed indicator winding down, less air being rammed into the tiny open tube sticking forward under the right wing to let me know how fast we're moving through the invisible ocean; altimeter holding, so far, reading no differences, yet, in pressure, the density of the ocean.  The body of the machine requires this kind of attention, but it isn't all there is: I can see and hear things beyond them and without them, that tell me, somehow more generally and specifically at once, how we're doing.

    As we slow, the airplane naturally wants to sink to the bottom of the ocean of air, but I don't let it.  With the padded rubber grip of the stick in my hand and easing it backwards toward me, I command the airplane to hold its place.  More and more steeply; the horizon disappears under my outlook forward over the nose.  The sunlight begins to move faster, spilling evermore directly down on me through the clear window over my head, and things in shadow only a second before are now revealed in hot white brilliance creeping backwards over the dashboard, the face of the instrument panel and down, to the floor, up my legs and to my hand on the stick grip.

    The airplane points more skyward than anything, now, and the most important machine-body part is that airspeed indicator.  It will tell me when to expect the feel of the controls to go blank: the moment when the airplane has no working contact with the ocean of air.  It won't be flying anymore, but only falling.  Straight down, but looking straight ahead.

    I know the airplane.  It will begin to only fall at sixty-one miles per hour.

    As the white needle winds backwards toward that mark, I can anticipate the moment by way of sensation through the stick and out through the metal rods that reach to the machine's limbs.  They work like nerves synthesized to my own at the point of my hand on the stick.  The feeling goes flat, anesthetized in the dying airflow.  I won't flex them in order to stimulate something out of the sensory black, because the exercise is designed to feel that darkness itself and understand it.

    Watching the needle and feeling more and more of nothing.  The feeling seems completely gone, but at the point of the edge between flying and falling, the machine knows far better than I do.  The nervous connection between us isn't so total that it can transmit everything that's happening out there on that curiously buxom curve of leading-edge and top camber of the wing in these extremely fine seconds.  I wait.

    It happens suddenly.  The transition.  It's like the rise or fall of a small breeze interrupting a calm evening hour on the front porch and ruffling one's hair for only a moment.  That's how the edge is passed over, but once over that edge, it doesn't stop in the way that one knows the breeze is passed.  Things are different now and motion and sensation signal the nature of the difference.

    The airplane's nose drops back down through the horizon without pause.  The sunlight through the top window rapidly drains back up the face of the instrument panel, and all is shadow.  A very slight shudder reaches back through the metal-rod nerves and into my own at the stick-grip.  And that's the signal for action.

    I move the stick grip forward, in order to place the leading-edge in position to bite the ocean, but just a hair too far, too fast.

    Behind me, I can hear the faint metallic "clink" as the harness buckles jump off the seat and into mid-air as gravity, too, drains away with the sunlight.  Everything floats off: the map off the dashboard; my hair; the cables to my headset; the strap-ends of my own harness; a jumble of loosened objects merrily dancing free in the air of the cabin for the second or two needed to place the wing-edge like a blade for the proper stroke.

    I move the throttle smoothly forward to the stop: the engine sound displaces everything with an eager roar, and the sudden race of air over the top of the blade out there beyond the windows changes everything instantly.  The merrily jumbled objects sit right down where they are like children commanded by a stern parent as the wing lifts the cabin to meet them in their flights.

    Pulling the stick back toward me again, the wing bites the air with authority and the nose leads the whole machine's body, up, with the sunlight filling the cabin again through the roof window: creeping backwards, over the dashboard and down the face of the instrument panel, where it bounces the face of the accelerometer back to my eyes.

    "2g".  Twice the pull of natural gravity on earth, until the nose of the airplane points north up the lake and straight at the blue mountains beyond the far shore.

    And the airplane and I both breathe again.



 

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