19 Dec Cleared for take off
The smell of Turkish tobacco tickled Hauptmann Manfred Obermann’s nostrils and brought him out of his reverie. Group Captain Roger Reid stood beside him, puffing on his pipe and staring along the line of planes along the runway. He pulled the pipe from his mouth and motioned towards the base headquarters.
“Looks like our new blood has finally arrived.”
A tall, broad shouldered man in his 20s, dressed in a flight suit with oxygen mask and headgear hanging over his arm, ducktail haircut slicked back over his head, had stepped out of the building and was walking towards them, squinting beneath the bright, late summer sun.
“Ein bier und ein kurzer says he ‘goes bananas’ as you’d say, when he meets Jo,” Obermann said and went back to dozing.
Reid looked up at the new recruit, trying to judge his character by his gait. “A pint and a short? You’re on.”
Manfred offered his hand up to shake without opening his eyes.
The newcomer stopped a few feet short of the two pilots and saluted. “Second Lieutenant Roy Anderson reporting for duty, sir.”
The group captain returned his salute and stepped forward to shake the American’s hand. “Good afternoon, Roy. Welcome to the team. I’m Group Captain Roger Reid, and this lazy looking wretch is Hauptman Manfred Obermann, but we tend to call him Manny.”
Manfred finally opened his eyes and uncrossed his arms, “Guten Tag.”
“And somewhere in that hangar back there is Lieutenant Jo Weston. Jo!? Come out and meet our new team member!”
Obermann and Reid watched Anderson keenly as he stood and waited for Weston to step out, an expectant smile on his face. Weston appeared from out of the hangar’s gloomy interior and strode over to the group. Anderson’s smile slipped from his face but he quickly regained his composure and kept looking at the hangar entrance over Weston’s shoulder.
Anderson kept on smiling even when First Lieutenant Josephine Weston was right in front of him, offering her hand in greeting.
“How you doing, I’m Jo,” she said in a thick New York accent, taking his unoffered hand and giving it a hard pump.
“No shit,” Anderson said, his smile cracking, his eyes dragged away from the hangar’s entrance. “You’re a woman. We’re already dead.”
“Looking forward to that beer already, Roger,” Manfred smiled. “Tell me, Roy, what kind of liquor do they drink where you come from? The captain would like to buy me one…”
“What’s the matter, newbie? Swallow your tongue?” Weston asked, releasing her grip, clearly enjoying Anderson’s stricken appearance.
Anderson began to laugh, “Okay, I get it. This is some kind of joke, huh? They told me you British guys had a weird sense of humor. You can stop yanking my chain now, guys. You got me. You got me good. Where is he, huh? You got him hiding in my plane’s cockpit, waiting to jump out at me? Hey! Weston! I’m on to you, get out of my plane!” he shouted, looking over at a parked Dornier Do 335.
“No, no, there’s no joke here, Roy.” Reid said. “Josephine is as much a part of this team as you are. She has first-hand experience with Sparky drones, which, I believe, is more than you do just yet.” Reid had been a part of 611 squadron during the war, and had flown escort and defense missions out of RAF Kenley, as well as providing cover patrols during the invasion of Normandy from RAF Deanland.
Anderson turned and stared at Reid, open-mouthed.
“Yeah, well, as much as I’d like to watch this guy do fish impressions, the clock’s ticking, ya know? I gotta get my gear on.” Weston headed back to the hangar and disappeared out of sight. She had been a WASP since the summer of 1942 and had stayed in active service once the war had ended, ferrying German planes out to Querqueville Airfield to be shipped off to Britain and the US. Except that many of those planes were kept at that airfield and shipped back to Germany in 1946 by pilots just like Weston, for reasons they knew nothing about.
“You always make that kind of an impression on the ladies, Roy?” Manny asked.
Anderson watched her walk away then perched on the edge of a chair next to Manny. “Seriously, though. What gives?” he asked, quietly. “How come we got a broad in this section? You trying to tell me we ain’t got enough fellas can fly fighter planes?”
Manny looked lazily over from his chair at Roy and smiled. “Weston was one of the first pilots to get into a fight with a Sparky drone. She was ferrying a Ta 152 the day those bastard machines attacked. She was bringing one of those babies back from Cherbourg when she came face to face with a drone…” Feeling like he was done talking, Manny nestled back into his chair and closed his eyes again.
“Yeah? And then what?”
Obermann shrugged his shoulders. “She is still here. The drone is not…”
“You serious?” Anderson looked conflicted. “Listen, I ain’t got nothing against women flying or nothing. They can fly planes, I know that. But combat? Dog fighting? You’re telling me this broad knocked out one of these drones all by herself without any training? Come on, man, that can’t be true.”
“No, it can’t be, and yet that is what happened.”
“Anybody else see it happen?”
“Not that I know of,” Manfred said.
“Okay, so no one saw it happen. Figures…”
“You’re underestimating our first lieutenant,” Reid said, calmly puffing on his pipe. “That’s not a mistake you’ll want to make twice.”
“Is that what the last guy did?”
Reid looked down on the new man. It was understandable that Anderson might question Weston’s being here. Trask, the man Anderson was replacing, had reacted far worse to Josephine’s admission to the unit. Until he’d seen her in action. Truth is, they’d all questioned her joining the squadron. Reid had taken it up with squadron command and threatened to resign his commission he’d felt so strongly about it. They’d refused, of course, and he was glad they had. Weston had proved herself to be an extraordinary pilot, one he and the rest of his section were very happy to share airspace with. There wasn’t much either he or Obermann could say to Anderson, though. He’d just have to wait until he saw what she could do with a plane.
It was Manny, as ever, with that lackadaisical delivery he’d grown to love over the last few months, who had the final word.
“Let’s just say you’ll reserve your judgement of our Wunderfrau until we’re in the bar later, hmm? If you can drink her under the table like you think you can fly her out of the sky, I will personally escort you to the squadron commander’s office and demand that she be thrown out of the squad and sent straight back home.”
Weston had come out of the hangar and was strapping her headgear on. “What’s that, boys? Is there a bet on?”
“Roy here says he’s buying the first round tonight,” Manny said. “He thinks we should celebrate his first flight with the section by sinking a few beers together.”
Right on cue, the sirens wailed – it was time to scramble.
“That a boy, Roy!” Weston slapped him hard on the back as he jumped up from his seat. “Come on, let’s go bag us a Sparky then you can buy me a beer and tell me all about yourself. You ain’t got a girl back home, I hope? I don’t like to break up a happy relationship…”