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September 16 , 2008

The Flying Reporter


Jimmy Donnelly had just arrived at the hangar at the Long Island flying field where his plane was housed. To be sure, the plane really wasn’t Jimmy’s, because it belonged to the New York Morning Press; but Jimmy was its pilot, and had flown it ever since that great newspaper had decided that it must have a plane of its own. And Jimmy had piloted it so long, and had taken such loving care of it, that he felt as though it were his very own. Indeed, he could not have lavished more attention on the plane if it had been his own. He was forever polishing and cleaning it, and checking over the engine, and keeping it tuned up to concert pitch.

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On its second edition, this book is meant to help the Philippine local government units (i.e., barangays, municipalities, cities and provinces) formulate their economic/enterprise development plans as serious guideposts to achieving self-reliance or autonomy: the ultimate objective ordained by the Local Government Code of 1991. Intended for use…

But just now Jimmy was not thinking about his plane. The morning mail lay before him on the table in the little hangar office. There were the daily papers, some circulars, and several letters. Jimmy had already slit the letters open. The one he picked out of the bunch was a rather bulky letter that bore, in the upper left hand corner, this return address: Warren Long, Hadley Airport, New Brunswick, N. J. But Jimmy did not need to read this return address to know from whom the letter came. He recognized the handwriting instantly. That was why he selected this letter in preference to any other letter, to read first.

He knew perfectly well that it was from his old friend Warren Long, dean of Air Mail fliers, the pilot who had helped him to get into the U. S. Air Mail Service as a “grease monkey,” and who had afterward assisted him up the ladder, rung by rung, until he, Jimmy, had attained his present enviable position as a flying reporter for the New York Morning Press.

Jimmy wondered why Warren Long had written to him. He opened the envelope eagerly.

Out dropped what looked like a white silk handkerchief. Jimmy was more puzzled than ever. With growing curiosity he pulled the letter from the envelope, spread it out on his desk, and read as follows:

Dear Jimmy:

Last night I had occasion to join the Caterpillar Club. It is odd how a fellow’s brain works at such times. As I was on my way to the ground I thought of you. Why I should think of you at such a time I do not know. But I did, and I said to myself, “Jimmy would like a piece of this parachute. He’s always collecting souvenirs.” So when I got my feet on solid ground once more, I cut a piece of silk out of the ’chute, which was already badly torn by the bushes, and here it is. You may like to add it to your museum.

I suppose you’ll read in the daily paper about my losing the mail. I’m all cut up about it. This is the first cargo I ever lost in ten years of flying the mail. I tried to save it, but it was impossible. You see, my plane somehow caught fire. I tried to extinguish the flames; but the fire must have been in the crank-case or somewhere where the extinguisher fluid couldn’t touch it. Then I tried to reach the nearest emergency landing field; but my engine went dead. The flames were spreading fast and shooting back into the cockpit in sheets. There was nothing to do but step out. My, how I hated to abandon the mail. But I had no choice. So I disconnected my head phones from the instrument board, picked up my flashlight, and stepped out.

The instant I did so the plane turned on her side and dived straight after me. It was interesting to watch it. I was evidently falling head down, for I could see everything without even turning my eyes. My ship plunged like a rocket stick. She was just one long streak of fire. I thought sure she was going to hit me. I tried to crowd over and get out of the way. You can’t imagine what a funny, helpless feeling a fellow has when he can’t touch anything with either his hands or his feet. Anyway, the ship just grazed me, but a miss is as good as a mile. The instant she was past I started to pull the rip-cord. I found my flash-light was in my right hand. I had to shift it to my left hand. That didn’t take very long, but I was then so near the ground that every second counted. I made the shift and gave the rip-cord a quick jerk. It wasn’t a moment too soon, either. While I was floating down the rest of the way to the earth I thought of you.

While I was still in the air, my ship hit with a terrific explosion. It was utterly consumed. Everything about it was burned. Much of the metal was melted by the terrible heat. The place where I came down was nearly half a mile from the spot where the ship landed. There was a thick woods between me and the ship. I could see the glare of the fire plainly, and I hurried right over to the spot. A lad from the neighborhood helped me. Some farmers were already there.

I am sending this bit of my ’chute for you to add to your collection, as I said, and I also write to tell you that if you ever have to step out of your ship at night, be sure to take your flashlight. I found mine more than useful. For I landed in a scrub patch on a hillside. It was rough country and I was far from being at my best. But with the aid of my flash-light and the help of the lad I mentioned I had no trouble in getting to my plane, and later in reaching a town.

I hope everything is going well with you. The best of luck to you.

Ever your friend,

Warren Long.

Jimmie stared at the letter incredulously. For a moment he was silent. Then, “Thank God Warren wasn’t hurt!” he cried. “I wonder where it happened. And I wonder where Warren is now. And how in time did he get that letter to me so quickly?”

For a time Jimmy was silent, thinking the matter over. Presently he thought he had solved the problem. “Warren left Hadley with the 9:35 p. m. section of the mail,” he muttered. “The fire probably occurred before he had been flying more than an hour or so. He was likely near some town where he could catch a late train, and he probably got back to Hadley early this morning. He must have written this note at once and got it into a mail for New York. It was mighty quick work, no matter how he did it. And it was just like Warren Long. He wanted to tell me about the flash-light and was afraid he would never think to mention it when he saw me. Gee! I am sure glad to have this piece of his ’chute. You bet I’ll put it in my ‘museum,’ as he calls my little collection of aviation keepsakes. Who wouldn’t be glad to have a piece of Warren Long’s parachute?”

Jimmy picked up the little square of silk and smoothed it lovingly. The fabric was creamy white, beautifully woven, with a lovely sheen. It was thin and delicate and almost gauzy in effect, and one could hardly believe that so delicate a fabric could possibly have withstood the terrific strain imposed upon it when it suddenly opened by Warren Long’s two hundred pounds—for with his heavy flying suit and the ’chute pack itself, the pilot must easily have weighed as much as that.

In one corner of the square of silk was a dark, scorched space.

“Gee!” said Jimmy. “That fire was a lot nearer getting Warren Long than he intimated. But that is like him. He would hardly have mentioned it if he had had a leg burned off. If his parachute got scorched like that, he certainly had a close call himself. I know that, all right.”

Jimmy spread the square of silk on his desk and smoothed it out with his hand. It had evidently been roughly and hastily cut from the parachute. The edges were jagged and uneven. “I’ll get some woman to trim these edges and overcast them,” thought Jimmy. “Then the silk can’t unravel. And if I ever should want to use it as a handkerchief, I could.”

A sudden thought came to him. Hastily he folded and thrust the bit of silk into the envelope. Then he reached for the Morning Press.

“I wonder what the paper says about the affair,” he muttered.

The item he was searching for Jimmy found on the front page, near the bottom of column six. It was a brief story, hardly three inches long, telling how Long’s plane had caught fire and how the pilot had jumped from the burning ship, after finding that he could not extinguish the blaze. Jimmy read the story and frowned.

“Some country correspondent who doesn’t know a good story when he sees one sent that in,” growled Jimmy, indignantly. “Why, it’s evident from Warren’s letter that he had a most startling experience, with that flaming ship diving straight at him, while he was utterly powerless to help himself. That’s great human interest stuff. It ought to be good for half a column any day. And if we had the details, I’ll bet there’d be a front page spread in it.”

With Jimmy, to think was to act. He reached for the telephone.

“Please give me the Morning Press,” he told the telephone operator.

A moment later he was talking to the city editor of that paper.

“Mr. Davis,” he said, “I have just been reading the story about Warren Long’s parachute jump last night. I have had a note from Warren Long, too. It seems that when he stepped out of the burning plane he fell head first, and in that position he watched the plane as he dropped. The ship turned over almost as soon as he stepped out of her and dived straight at him, like a flaming arrow. Warren didn’t dare open his ’chute for fear the plane would foul it and he would be killed. So he just kept on falling head first, watching the blazing plane as it tore after him, and hoping the thing would pass him clean and in time. For he wasn’t very high up when he jumped. The ship barely missed him as it shot by. The instant it was past, Warren yanked his rip-cord, and it wasn’t a moment too soon, either. The ’chute opened and kept him up in the air for a few seconds, while the ship hit the ground with a tremendous explosion. The fire that followed was terrific. Fortunately, the wind blew Warren well to one side. But he must have been burned some before he jumped, for he sent me a bit of his parachute, and the silk is badly scorched.”

“Do you know where Warren Long is now?” asked the city editor.

“No, sir. But I suspect he came back to Hadley Airport on a train, and is probably at his home in Plainfield.”

“The story we printed is an A. P. despatch,” said Mr. Davis. “All the papers will have it. Likely that is all the story any of them will carry. We ought to be able to get a good exclusive follow-up story. I’ll send a man over to Hadley to get into touch with Long and get all the details from him. Meantime, I wish you would fly over to Ringtown, where the crash occurred, get all the facts you can there, and take pictures of the burned plane, the spot where the plane crashed, and anything else that will help the story.”

“All right, Mr. Davis. I’ll be off as soon as I can get my plane warmed up. Be sure to tell the man you send to see Warren Long that I want Warren to give him the whole story. Otherwise he won’t talk. But he’ll do anything for me. Good-bye. I’m off.”

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