by R J Dent
On his birthday, my brother got a radio-controlled plane as one of his presents. It was something he’d wanted for a long time and he was very happy about it.
– Wow, he said. It’s a ShinMaywa US-2. That’s brilliant.
– What’s a ShinMaywa US-2?
– It’s a Japanese short takeoff and landing amphibious air-sea rescue aircraft.
Within minutes, the aircraft was out of its box, fully assembled and ready to go. My brother carried it outside and stood it on the path. It looked like a boat with wings. Each wing had a pontoon at the halfway point. It was big and it looked serious – and fast.
– Doesn’t it need a runway? I asked.
– Short takeoff and landing, remember?
– Is it a boat or a plane?
– It’s both. The Japanese use it for sea-air rescue.
My brother pressed a button and the aircraft started up with a hiccup and a steady bass rumble. The rumble turned into a deep buzzing sound, and the plane moved forward and took off abruptly.
It climbed steadily through the air and for a moment it looked as though it were a real aircraft.
My brother controlled it carefully, making it bank and roll, loop and swoop, tail-slide and nosedive, climb and spin.
By the time our father got home from work, my brother had mastered the art of flying and manoeuvring a radio-controlled aircraft.
My father watched him for a while, and then asked if he could ‘have a go’ flying the plane.
– It’s not as easy as it looks, my brother said, as he handed the RCU to my father.
– How difficult can it be? my father asked. You seem to be flying it without any problems.
– Yes, but that’s because I’ve been practicing all day.
– What takes you a day usually only takes me an hour, my father said.
My brother quite clearly wanted to say something in response to this, but instead he came and sat down on the bench.
My father examined the RCU.
– It’s clearly labelled, he said. I don’t foresee any real problems.
He ducked as the ShinMaywa US-2 flew over his head.
– Where did that ruddy thing come from?
– You’re supposed to be controlling it, my brother said.
– Why didn’t you tell me it was flying at that height? my father asked.
– Altitude, my brother said. Because you said you didn’t foresee any real problems.
My father pressed buttons, flicked levers and moved toggles. The aircraft banked, veered and climbed.
– Not too high, my brother said, or it goes out of range.
– All right, Biggles, my father said, adjusting the controls.
I watched as the aircraft flew across the garden. It was flying at about head height (head altitude?) and the evening sunlight glinted off its fuselage as it flew. It flew past the flamingo statue and the left wingtip scraped its hook beak, causing an arcing shower of sparks. The aircraft turned and flew through one of the lilacs. Twigs and leaves, hacked down by the plane’s four propellers, cascaded to the ground.
My mother came out of the house and looked at my father as he wildly jabbed at buttons and levers. He saw her watching him and tried to act nonchalantly.
The plane emerged from the lilac and turned in a smooth curve. It started flying steadily towards my mother.
– A rocket is one thing, my mother said, and a rogue sock is another. But if you think I’m going to be attacked by a radio-controlled aeroplane, you’ve another think coming. If it comes anywhere near me, I’ll hold you personally responsible.
– Don’t worry about a thing, my father said. I’ve got everything under control.
I’m not sure if it was my mother’s words or her taking a step forward that was the cause of my father dropping the RCU, but drop it he did. It landed on the grass with a gentle thud.
– Oh, damn and blast it, my father said, stepping forward and treading on the RCU.
The plane veered to the left, then to the right, it spun in a circle three times, and then it surged forward.
– I’m not in the least bit reassured, my mother said, as the plane swooped to the ground and motored along the grass. It taxied towards the pond.
– Not the pond! my mother yelled.
My brother was sitting on the bench, watching calmly.
– It’s okay, mum, he said. It’s amphibious. It’s a boat and a plane. Let’s see what happens.
What happened was that my father picked up and regained control of the RCU just as the ShinMaywa US-2 reached the edge of the pond, went into the water and powered across the surface with a combined buzzing and hissing sound. When it reached the other side it motored out of the water onto the grass without a noticeable pause. It then continued to taxi along the path until it was less than twelve feet from my mother.
– I mean it, she said sharply, taking a step towards my father.
My father pressed a button and the aircraft’s engine cut out. The ShinMaywa US-2 came to a halt less than six feet from my mother.
– I told you I’d got everything under control, my father said, clearly relieved that the aircraft had obeyed his electronic commands.
He handed the RCU back to my brother.
– Here, he said. Have this. That’s a really good plane you’ve got there.
– And apart from its other functions, it makes some good sparks when it hits metal and it can trim lilac.
– They were minor mishaps, my father said. Anyone could have done that.
– True, but you did it.
– Think of it as a test.
– Oh, I do, my brother said. I really do.
by R J Dent
Copyright © R J Dent (2014)