“DELIVER THESE AT PARIS”

Ask anyone who knows, and he will tell you that there is nothing to
compare to the zest of the aerial flight. Those contemplating it for the
first time view it with mixed feelings of trepidation and anticipation,
but once in flight there is only unbounded exhilaration. The experience
is like that of throwing off shackles which have bound one to a narrow
earthly existence; mere human cares and worries are for the time at
least forgotten, and one feels the freedom of the birds and glows with
the very pleasure of it. Fears which beset the preliminaries are
forgotten; the imagination is awakened with new ambitions; life seems to
hold forth previously unthought-of possibilities. And the real joy of it
all is that the aerial flight never loses its thrill, never fails in
these and new sensations.

Add to this the mystery contained in their unexpected summons to
Washington, and the natural pride stirred by the anticipation of being
called upon for some important service, and you have some realization of
the feelings which animated these four young men as, at a cruising speed
of ninety miles an hour, they continued their voyage southward, a mile
and a half in the air, two miles out to sea from the shore line, looking
like a giant eagle in the sky to those who discovered or discerned them
at all.

As for personal comfort, they were as free from the driving wind as
though they had been riding in a limousine automobile, for indeed this
was a limousine airship, thoroughly enclosed as concerned the Nacelle,
or cock-pit and fusilage, which contained the crew and access to every
part of the engine, radio, etc.

Occasionally Fred would catch snatches of wireless messages, but mostly
they were of a commercial and therefore uninteresting character.

It was about midnight when they came within that sky glow which informed
them that they were approaching the metropolis of America–New York.

“Think of the damage a bomber could do, and the consternation it could
raise down there,” said Don. “Let’s circle around two or three times,
just for the fun of it. We’ve got plenty of time now.”

And they did. Cutting inland, they crossed almost directly over the
heart of the city, continued over the North River and above Hoboken,
swung down and around Newark, out over the bay and then upward toward
the big city again, as though actually bent upon a mission of mischief.

Again they repeated this, and then swerved out over Brooklyn and above
the open sea again.

A little more than an hour elapsed and they were above Philadelphia. It
lay like a great black splotch on the ground, the meagre moonlight
playing on the Delaware in a way to make it look like a great thread of
silver. Only a winding line indicated where the Schuylkill cut the city
in two, but where it joined the Delaware the latter began to widen, and
from the height of the plane they could see far below to where the river
became a bay.

Ships dotted it here and there like little spiders resting on a pool.
Nothing moved. It was like a fairy visit to another and a dead world.

The bay itself was so smooth that they decided to drop there for a few
minutes, open their thermos bottles of coffee, which was still hot, eat
a couple of sandwiches at leisure, and then continue the trip. Finally
finding a spot so remote from any ship that it was unlikely that their
descent would be discovered, and thereby perhaps raise a furore of
excitement and speculation as to who they were and what they were doing
there at that queer time, they made their landing with such ease as
hardly to cause a splash as they settled on the surface of the water.

The inner man satisfied, they prepared for the continuance of their
trip. There was a swift inspection of every part of the plane, and in
another ten minutes they were again under way, the firing of the engines
sounding like a miniature artillery bombardment on the stillness of the
night.

As they rose with the speed and strength and sureness of a giant eagle,
they left the city of William Penn far behind, noted the spot which
indicated Lewes, Delaware, as it seemed to flit swiftly beneath them on
the flank of the lower bay, then passed Cape May and were out over the
open sea again. The moon was now disappearing and it devolved upon Don
Harlan, the navigator of the crew, by chart and compass and air-speed
indicator (whose information, by the way, is always problematical, for
reasons which will be explained in a moment), to guide them safely to
their destination.

Now as to one of the present grave difficulties with which the
navigators of the air have to contend, especially when flying over
bodies of water, which, unlike flights over the ground, give no
“landmarks” by which position may be determined.

If there is, let us say, no wind whatever blowing, either with or
against the direction of the plane, the air-speed indicator will
register one hundred miles per hour speed when the plane is traveling at
that rate. But let the plane, with its engines running at the same
power, get into the teeth of a seventy-five-mile-an-hour gale, and with
a seventy-five mile push back to a hundred mile an hour forward push of
the engines, the speed-indicator will still register one hundred miles
per hour (that is, air-speed), although the plane will actually be
traveling a distance of only twenty-five miles per hour with relation to
the ground.

In other words, it is the principle of air pressure, and if there is no
adverse air pressure, the indicator will show the exact speed of the
plane. But the moment the plane is either augmented or retarded by
favorable or unfavorable winds, the air-speed indicator becomes a very
unreliable instrument for showing distances traveled: it practically
only records the speed of the air pushed past the plane. It is like
running at ten miles an hour with a pin-wheel in the hand on a perfectly
calm day, and getting a certain velocity of revolutions of the wheel per
minute. On another day one might stand still with the pin-wheel and
permit the rush of a high velocity of wind to twirl it round with the
same speed.

And here is a hint to our youthful readers who are interested in
mathematics and things mechanical: Sometime somebody is going to invent
an instrument which will record an aeroplane’s actual speed with
relation to the distance covered above the ground; in other words, which
will actually show a speed of only twenty-five miles an hour when a
hundred-mile-an-hour engine speed is being reduced to twenty-five by a
head-on seventy-five-mile-an-hour gale; and the one who succeeds with
that invention not only will make for himself a fortune, but then may
turn his attention to the devising of another instrument, equally
important, which will show how far a side wind is driving a plane out of
its course.

But Don Harlan had trained long and studiously to combat and conquer
just such difficulties, and like the seasoned sailor who can look at a
clear sky and seem to smell a storm brewing, or a squall coming, he had
learned, by some intuition which he could not even attempt to explain,
to estimate with almost miraculous accuracy to just what extent the wind
was retarding them or blowing them off their course.

He was bending over his charts now, marking off their course,
registering the slight wind deviation, when an exclamation from Fred,
who sat at all times with the radio earpieces on, attracted the
attention of all. With Big Jack and Andy Flures, the pilots, it was
indicated merely by the briefest turning of the head, but Don stopped
short in his work to watch Fred jotting down a message that was coming
mysteriously out of the night.

“Official dispatch,” he announced a moment later.

“Follow previous instructions. One remain with plane, other three at my
office nine if possible. Repeat.”

It was signed by Bronson, head of the air service.

Fred threw on the switch of the radio and opened up with the code call.
Almost immediately he got a response. He repeated the message, and then
gave their approximate location as Don had plotted it out.

There was a considerable delay, during which they concluded that the
dispatch was being telephoned to General Bronson, and then the answer
came, “Good work,” and out of the silence of the night there was
recorded no more.

The balance of their journey was without incident, but every turn of the
propeller, every explosion within the cylinders, it might be said, gave
them renewed confidence that when they essayed the ocean flight, if that
should be their privilege or their mission, they would do so with a
machine as near to perfection as modern engineering could make it.

It was hardly dawn when they settled on the surface of the Potomac, and,
with the time still left them made a cursory overhauling of their engine
in search of any weaknesses or defects. They found none. It was as
though the long trip from Halifax to Washington had been merely a
warming-up, preliminary to some real test of staunch durability.

It was immediately and amicably decided that Fred, because of his
knowledge of the wireless, which might catch some message relating to
their disappearance from Halifax and thus tell them what was being
speculated about them, should remain with the plane, while the other
three changed into the presentable “cits,” or civilian clothes, they had
brought with them, and carry out the balance of the instructions
concerning meeting General Bronson at nine o’clock at his office.

We know what they were to be told, and it did not take General Bronson,
a man noted for his brevity, long to impart to them the fact that they
were to undertake a mission which, considered in all its phases, was
absolutely without precedent.

“We will now go and meet the members of the Cabinet,” he said.

In fifteen minutes they were in the presence of the men who had directed
the various services of the Government during the greatest war in the
world’s history. They were introduced, most critically looked over, and
asked a few, but a very few, questions. Then the Assistant Secretary of
State gave them their final instructions.

“You understand thoroughly the importance of these papers?” he asked.

“Absolutely, sir,” Big Jack replied, and the other two nodded
affirmatively.

“Very well, then,” the Assistant Secretary of State replied. “The
continued peace of the world may hinge upon your success. There must be
no failure. You will guard these papers with your lives. I hand them to
you in the presence of the members of the Cabinet. _Deliver these at
Paris._”