1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 71

Chapter 26

Dresden, capital of Saxony

“Well, it’s done,” said Denise Beasley, looking very satisfied with herself. Amazingly so, for someone who’d actually played a very modest role in getting the airplane repaired.

But Eddie Junker saw no advantage to himself in pointing that out. Denise was often egocentric, but she was not snotty. A cheerful and self-satisfied Denise was a very friendly and affectionate Denise, a state of affairs entirely to his liking. A Denise who felt she was being unfairly criticized, on the other hand, was a sullen and belligerent Denise — and she viewed criticism as inherently unfair, when directed at herself.

This was not because the girl was more self-centered than any other seventeen-year-old. She wasn’t. It is simply in the nature of seventeen-year-olds to know with a certainty usually reserved for religious fanatics that nothing is ever their fault. Eddie could remember that sublime period in his own life. Quite well, in fact, since it wasn’t really all that long ago. There were times when he wondered if all of life could be described as a long, slow slide into self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy from that all-too-brief Golden Age.

“Eddie?” Self-satisfied as she might be, Denise also shared — albeit in smaller portion than the usual — the seventeen-year-old need to be constantly reassured.

“Yes, it’s done. All we were really waiting for was the propeller, anyway.”

The propeller had finally arrived the day before. Smuggled in — Eddie found this quite charming — in a load of firewood. The smugglers hadn’t even had to bribe the one cavalry patrol they’d encountered. The mercenaries working for the Swedes had taken one look at the load in the cart, curled their lip, and ridden off. You might as well try to get a bribe from a mouse as get one from a woodcutter.

Somewhat to Eddie’s surprise, and certainly to his relief, it had turned out that there was no damage to the engine. There’d been some structural damage to the wings and fuselage — fortunately, not much — and the fabric of the wings had been pretty badly torn up. But Dresden’s artisans and craftsmen had the skills and materials to repair that sort of damage. Repairing the engine would have been far more difficult, if it was possible at all. There, the problem wasn’t so much the skills needed — seventeenth century metalworkers could do truly amazing work — as it was the materials involved.

That was the great bottleneck for aviation in the world produced by the Ring of Fire. The knowledge was there. Not enough to have created a giant airliner or a supersonic military aircraft, of course, but more than enough to have filled the skies with the equivalent of Model T automobiles. But the materials required to make suitable internal combustion engines — or the materials required to make critical auxiliary parts like reliable and flexible fuel lines — were either not available at all or could only be produced slowly and at great expense.

In practice, that had usually meant that a heavier-than-air aircraft needed to use an existing up-time engine that had come through the Ring of Fire. True, primitive rotary engines had been developed that were good enough to get the Jupiter aloft. But there was still only one functioning Jupiter and getting more into service was proving to be difficult.

For that reason, at least for a time, aviation in the here-and-now was shifting in the direction of lighter-than-air craft. Those had enough lift that they could be powered by steam engines, which were now within the technological capability of the more advanced nations of Europe. There were even rumors that the Turks had developed some airships.

“So when do we take it up for the first test flight?” Denise asked brightly.

Eddie set his jaws. Wanting to keep Denise happy had certain inherent limits. Beginning with the demands of sanity.

“First of all, we aren’t going to be doing any test flights. If and when — emphasis on ‘if’ — I decide to take this thing up for a test, I’m doing it alone. There’s no point in killing two people when killing one is enough to prove you were a damn fool.”

Denise pouted, but didn’t try to argue. She’d have been expecting that answer, because Eddie had made it clear enough what he thought on the subject of Denise Beasley, Intrepid Test Pilot.

“And the first of all part probably doesn’t matter anyway,” Eddie continued, “because, second of all, there’s no way I’m trying to take off using that so-called runway out there. That’s just plain suicide.”

The airstrip in the city square had finally been finished a week earlier. Perhaps oddly, completing the thing had made it clearer than ever that the whole project was absurd. There simply wasn’t enough room for even a small plane such as his to get off the ground.

Well…not that, exactly. He’d be able to get the plane off the ground, all right, as long as he waited until he had a sufficient headwind blowing in. Just high enough to smash it into the second floor of one of the buildings surrounding the square — all of which were at least three stories tall. Theoretically, he could thread the needle required to fly the plane down the street after it left the square, long enough to lift above the level of the roof-tops. But that was pure theory, and vacant theory at that. The plane had a wingspan that was no more than a yard smaller than the width of the street — and it wasn’t that straight a street to begin with. The slightest gust of wind, the slightest error on the pilot’s part, and he was probably just as dead as if he’d flown into a building.

The simplest way to get around the problem would be to demolish part of the square to expand the runway. The easiest way to do that would be to widen the street by removing the buildings alongside it. But you’d need to remove a minimum of a hundred yards of existing buildings — each and every one of which was inhabited by someone and most of which doubled as places of business. Eddie was dubious, to say the least, that any such project could be carried out.

The other possibility would be to create a ramp. That…could be done, especially if you combined the effort with the first option. That would shorten the length of demolition required, too. You could use the rubble from tearing down fifty yards or so or street-frontage buildings as the material for the ramp. With an additional fifty yards that ended in a shallow-incline ramp…

Eddie thought he’d have a good chance of getting the plane into the air safely. Quite a good chance, actually.

But then what? How would he land the bloody thing? Taking off on a ramp was one thing, landing safely on one was something else entirely. Eddie had chewed over the problem for hours, and seen no way to solve the problem.

No way within their means, at least. If they could have built a steam catapult like the sort he’d seen in movies launching planes from the deck of an aircraft carrier…adapt the rear wheel of the plane to serve as a hook catching an arresting cable when he landed…

Blithering nonsense. By the time such devices could be built and tested in Dresden, with the resources available, the siege would be over anyway.