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Thirteen-year-old Scott MacLeod has been an underage pilot since his dad, a Korean War-era ace and flight instructor for Vietnam War jet pilots, secretly let him take the stick of his Cessna at age 12. Now, dad's letting him take occasional control of a "Tweet," the two-engine jet trainer he uses to ready "fresh meat" for duty in beefier aircraft. Though Scott, a quick study, handles the airborne aircraft well, he's never had to do the most difficult thing-land a jet aircraft. That changes suddenly when a fluke occurrence forces him to land a damaged plane himself, possibly ending his father's career. The incident arouses the interests of NASA officials who, in a top-secret program, have been sending chimps into space as a rehearsal for manned Apollo missions. The agency thinks that the diminutive Scott would be a perfect candidate to accompany two trained chimpanzees on a scaled-down test mission to orbit the moon in preparation for the upcoming Apollo 11 moon landing. In order to save his dad's career-and to satisfy his own thirst for adventure-Scott convinces his reluctant father to allow him to serve as the first tween-aged astronaut. Accompanied by two endearing primates, he will do everything the adult astronauts are scheduled to do-except actually land on the moon. Unless, that is, he decides to go the distance and take the mission into his own hands. Allusions to things like sneaking cigarettes, beer, and peeks at Playboy magazine are authentic and realistic. This is a gripping and well-researched piece of space-age historical fiction.-Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI
"Isn't this something?" said Dad.
"It's great," I said.
"How many thirteen-year-old kids do you figure ever get to do anything like this?"
"I dunno. Not many, I guess."
"I'd say less than not many. I'd say you're the only one, Scotty. Wanna take over for a while?"
"You have control of the aircraft," he said, and let go of his stick.
"I have control of the aircraft," I said, taking hold of mine.
It was probably the best that I had ever flown, a real dollar ride. I did an aileron roll and a loop and a perfect figure of eight. Then I took the Tweet up to thirty-four thousand, which was the highest I'd been in any aircraft. The sky up at that height was the bluest blue -- the most perfect sky I'd ever seen outside of that picture of the air above the Island of Skye that was hanging on my bedroom wall. I felt like an angel. I could hardly bear the idea that I was about to give all this up.
"Like I always say," said Dad, "you're a natural stick-and-rudder man. Something born, not made. A true MacLeod."
I whipped the Tweet the length and breadth of Harris County for about an hour before I felt him on the brakes and he said it was time to head for home. I wondered when I would ever again feel such monumental power through my hands.
"You have control of the aircraft," I said.
"I have control of the aircraft," he said, taking the stick and pushing it forward.
Dad dropped down to about seven thousand feet, just above the cloud layer, and then radioed the tower controller at Ellington, who advised him that he was clear to land. So he throttled back and began banking gently to the right, flying in a big wide circle that would bring us in to land from the southeast. Completing his turn, we dropped through the cloud and prepared to make our final approach.
Suddenly, without warning, we found ourselves faced with a flock of about a dozen snow geese flying in a V formation and coming right toward us. There was no time to get out of the way. We were going too fast for that. For me there was no time to do anything except yell and then duck as one of the geese hit the right side of the Tweet's canopy. The Tweet rocked like it had been hit by a surface-to-air missile, and the Plexiglas shattered into a dozen fragments as the goose came hurtling right through the canopy and collided heavily with my dad. The cockpit was filled with a smell like singed hair as another bird, perhaps, or even part of the same bird, was ingested by the air-breathing intakes of one of the two engines.
There was blood and feathers and pieces of Plexiglas everywhere. It was impossible to know how much of the blood and guts spread all over the right-hand cockpit seat was the bird's, and how much was Dad's. The shark pictured on his helmet looked like it had made a fresh kill. Its pointy teeth were dripping with red. It was hard to believe that an ordinary bird could cause such destruction to a jet fighter aircraft. It was equally hard to believe that we were still airborne. But we were. For the moment, at least.
"Dad?" I shouted desperately. "Are you okay?"
His chin stayed on his chest, and his hands remained motionless on his lap. He wasn't holding the stick. He didn't look like he was even awake.
"Dad?" I took him by the shoulder and shook him hard. Restrained by its harness, his body stayed put, but his head lolled alarmingly. I couldn't see his eyes behind his visor, and when I tried to push it up, I found that it was stuck, as if the impact had damaged the hinge. So I reached across and unbuckled his oxygen mask. His mouth was open and full of blood. His tongue was hanging out. A terrible feeling took hold of my stomach. For a moment I felt like throwing up. I was terribly afraid that he was dead. "Dad!"
For a moment I saw his lips move and in the earphones inside my helmet I heard him utter one word: "Eject." Then he was silent.
Instinctively, I reached down beside my thigh, took hold of one of the ejection-seat handgrips, and raised it to the full up position, exposing the trigger the way he had shown me. I felt the shoulder harness tighten. I needed only to squeeze the trigger to launch myself out of the aircraft. Except that I couldn't do it. Despite what he'd said earlier, there was no way I could eject.
For one thing, I could only eject myself, and that would have been like killing my dad. For another, the canopy was a mess. It was supposed to blow off a split second before the seat ejected. But looking at it now I had my doubts about that happening. It seemed just as likely that my seat would be fired straight through the damaged canopy, killing me outright. There could be no question of ejecting. Our only chance was for me to take control of the aircraft and land it myself -- something I had never done. I grabbed the stick as the Tweet gave a little shudder and began to dip to the right.
"I have control of the aircraft!" I yelled at him.
The trouble was, I didn't. Not by a long shot.
They say your whole life passes in front of your eyes in the moments that precede your own death. But this isn't what happened. Not for me, anyway. Being only thirteen years old, I guess there wasn't that much to remember. Instead, I remembered the last time I'd been really scared. That is, scared enough to think that I might be about to die. It was six months ago, in Miami, before I ever started flying with my dad. Before my life really got started. Copyright © 2008 by P. B. Kerr
Posted January 24, 2014
Posted November 12, 2008
Scott MacLeod is about to become the youngest astronaut in NASA, only no one is supposed to know about it. His mission is a secret one that not even NASA will talk about or the other astronauts know about. <BR/><BR/>It all started when Scott's dad, who is an Air Force pilot, started teaching Scott to fly. Scott is only twelve, so when he is able to crash land an Air Force plane, one he shouldn't have even known how to fly, NASA takes notice. <BR/><BR/>NASA is trying to land a man on the moon, but many things could go wrong and there are still lots of questions that need to be answered before that ambition can really take off. So, before the real astronauts left on the Apollo missions, NASA had been sending secret test missions into space. These missions, which used chimps as astronauts, were called Caliban. <BR/><BR/>When the chimp pilot for the latest Caliban mission goes crazy, NASA recruits Scott to fly the shuttle. The shuttles are made smaller, so who better to pilot them than a twelve-year-old boy? But, NASA has secrets about the training of the chimps and Scott isn't sure he can go along with the mission as planned. <BR/><BR/>Several times during the reading of this book, I had to remind myself that this was fiction and not a true story. There is a lot of adventure, from Scott's Air Force flying to the space program. There is a lot of technical jargon as well, dealing with Scott's training and then his mission in space, which might turn off some readers. If you're a fan of space exploration this book provides an interesting perspective on the 1960's space race.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 26, 2009
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