The Ornithopter

I put down the manual and looked around the room for a few moments before my gaze settled on the mess of parts in the center of the workshop. It was almost done. All I had to do was to mount the engine, attach the wings and bolt the harness on. I felt proud with myself for being able to build this in 3 days with only PVC pipes, canvas, metal rods, an old engine, gears, and parts from a wheelbarrow- all without dad knowing, too!

I almost tripped over a pipe as I jumped about in joy.

Back to work.

The last bolt. Being the clumsy oaf I was, I dropped the wrench on my foot, nearly swearing as the pain shot up my ankle. Oh well – no pain, no gain, as they say. Soon, the craft was complete. I stood up and looked proudly at my handiwork. It was a beautiful thing; 2 sleek canvas wings attached to a simple motor that hung above the harness, with PVC pipes connecting the tail rudders to the cockpit. Beneath it all were 3 wheels to support the flyer when she was on land.

I hauled my masterpiece out of dad’s workshop and started my journey up the hill. As I neared the summit, I saw two figures running towards me: Emeret and Daniel. I had asked them to meet up here to see the ornithopter in action. After setting up the broad wings when I reached the top, I strapped myself to my masterpiece and put on layers of protective gear. Oh, and don’t forget a parachute. The view was stupendous; you could see the entire island from here. My skin tingled with anticipation.

Ready for take-off. My friends looked on eagerly, excited to see my first flight.

For the first time, anxiety began to creep up my throat. I was nervous: what was the price to pay for this? I could possibly get hurt, dad would scold me, mum would go hysterical, Miss Anne would be disappointed at her favourite student and that grumpy old Mr. Albert will go on and on about how the youth these days aren’t supervised enough. But perhaps it’s worth the risk. I’ve always dreamed of flying ever since dad took me to that air show way back when we lived on the mainland with Uncle Johannes.

Daniel called my name, snapping me out of my thoughts.

It’s time.

I emptied my head of thoughts and fears. All I needed now was to remember how this thing worked to actually fly it.

“All systems go!” I shouted to my friends, and they pushed me down the hill. I felt a sudden jolt as the wind began to blow past my ears.

The old wheels rattled and clunked as they carried my craft down the hill. The machine zoomed down faster and faster, almost enough to get airborne. I turned on the engines so the wings would start flapping. Adrenaline pulsed through my body. After a few wing strokes, I felt the wheels slowly easing off the ground.

Soon, I was flying. Nose up. Bank left. Increase speed of wing flaps. I was airborne. I left the ground behind and headed for the open sky; I gained enough altitude to start gliding.

Cut engines. Switch to manual flight. I tugged on the two handles hanging above me that controlled the wings. My feet controlled the rudders and ailerons. I was on my own now, gracefully soaring above the island, tail and wing under my control.

Looking down, I saw everything. Tiny people scuttling around the roads, houses and forests, sailboats leaving the port. I could imagine soaring ever higher. I could see an airship in the distance, lazily drifting through the atmosphere towards the island. Wind whipped past me as I glided along with the clouds in the bright blue sky.

For once, I truly felt alive. I was living my dream. I didn’t care anymore if I would get in trouble or if anyone would think less of me. It was sure worth it. Nothing could go wrong now, I thought.

Too late, I’m afraid.

I was too distracted to notice the flock of seagulls that were straight ahead of my ornithopter. We swiftly collided, one of them clipping the tail and rudder. Immediately, the craft banked to the right before plunging down to the ground. Without hesitation, I switched on the engines to gain lift. The wings flapped furiously, trying to achieve flight; hopefully before we smacked into the earth.

Losing altitude. I looked behind to see the problem. The rudder was jammed. I braved myself to unstrap the harness and climb to the tail. With a hefty tug, the rudder unfurled and the entire craft suddenly jolted upwards. I held on tightly, lying on my stomach with my feet faced to the front of the ornithopter.

I had 2 options: climb to the front and slowly strap myself to the craft or control the tail from here.

No time to choose. The ornithopter flew dangerously close to the ground towards the town. With a swift maneuver, I banked the craft to the left. I zoomed past a tall man drinking his tea, knocking him over. I really hoped it wasn’t Mr. Albert. I tried to control the thing and land safely in a clearing or field.

In case you hadn’t guessed, it is extremely difficult to fly something backwards with your bare hands.

Fortunately, luck was on my side as I wasn’t far from the park. I managed to steer towards it and positioned my ornithopter for landing. Unfortunately, luck decided to ditch me right then and there, for as I was about to land, a gust of wind blew the craft off course. Even more unfortunately, the already tired engine began sputtering and coughing before it gave up, ceasing the oh-so-important flapping that gave my flyer lift.

My masterpiece spiralled towards the ground beside a pond. Remembering I had a parachute strapped to my back, I decided to let go of my handiwork in favour of dear life. It might not work this close from the ground, but it was worth a try.

I let go, then I was in freefall. The ground rushed towards me as I deployed the parachute. My body jerked up as the parachute opened at roughly 40 meters above the ground. My luck returned as I landed in the pond with a splash. The ornithopter crashed beside me, unfortunately missing the pond. It was reduced to a smoking heap of canvas, metal and PVC. I fared better with only a sprained foot, an extremely aching back and cramped arms.

I heard voices and footsteps coming towards me as I climbed out of the pond, taking off the soaking wet parachute. Looking up, I saw a few people running towards me. They consisted of Emeret, Daniel, a police officer, a worried woman who might have seen what had happened, and a furious chap with tea stains on his shirt who – coincidentally – happened to be Mr. Albert.

They all had to speak at once.

“Woah, that was cool!” said Emeret. “Oh my gosh, are you okay?” said the lady.

Mr. Albert then spontaneously erupted into a rage. “Why you little rascal! I will call your parents at once for your disgusting behaviour! Don’t you know this shirt,” he shouted as he pulled it furiously, “-is a gift from Paris?! It’s practically priceless! And just what do you think you’re doing; flying about dangerously in a crudely made aircraft?! They’re only for trained professionals, do you understand?! Kids like you should be WHIPPED! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!”

We all exchanged glances, too distracted by the red faced screaming man to remember why we were even here in the first place. He continued his endless ranting. “Oh, the state of the youth these days! I tell you, every parent must be EXTREMELY STRICT, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!”

The policeman stepped in. “Sir, would you please calm down? I’ll talk to the boy myself.” Albert The Nuclear Explosion settled down for awhile, although I could hear him muttering swear words under his breath.

A familiar-looking man came toward us. He was my dad.

“Felix Lee Coleman! Just what have you been doing in my workshop?!”

Oooh boy, was I in trouble.

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