“Just pump back and forth a few times.” Toby told Eileen.
He was standing beside the SE5, looking up at the cockpit. From this angle, he could barely see the top of Eileen’s head. Her hair bounced around as she grasped the hand pump lever, and did as he commanded.
The hand pump pressurise the fuel tank, filling the pipes all the way to the engine as Eileen opened the valve. Ginge dabbed a finger at newly damp fittings, and sniffed it to confirm delivery. Once the engine was running, a mechanical pump would keep the pressure up, and the fuel running.
There was one more step to priming the motor. Ginge closed the cowling over the engine, and slid across the wing. He took hold of one blade of the propeller, and moved it slowly and steadily around. When it was out of reach, he moved to the other blade, which had come around to replace it. Two full turns had oil pumped around the engine block, and the fuel levels topped up.
“I’m ready to give it a spin when you are.” Ginge announced.
Eileen popped straight up in the cockpit. It looked like she was standing on the seat. Leaning over the edge of the fuselage, she beckoned to Toby. “I think you should be in here for that.” she said. “It would be my first time starting an aeroplane, and I would hate to do something wrong and break it after all the work we have done on it.”
Toby appeared ready to say something gallant, affirming his faith in Eileen’s abilities. But then he must have thought about having her sitting on his lap as the engine fired, and its power vibrated throughout the airframe. “Shuffle over,” he said, “and I will come up and join you.”
When the work on the SE5 had been completed, Eileen, Toby, Ally, and Ginge had returned to the house for a revitalising cup of tea, and to round up people to help wheel the plane from the hangar, then watch as it was started up. Clive, just returned from his sad drive with Maude, had joined them, along with one of the footmen, Lynes, Lucy and Annette. Godfrey had stayed in the office, guarding the diaries and letters, and shuffling filing cards into chronological order, but Jiggles and Erin had eagerly headed out to join the fun.
The old plane had been rolled out of the hangar, and pointed down the runway. Chocks under the wheels, and a rope around the tailplane, tied to stakes, held it in place. It shouldn’t move, but Ginge was the only person brave enough to stand directly in front of it.
Toby clambered up the side of the aeroplane, and stepped into the cockpit. There was a bit of awkward contorting, as he took the seat, and Eileen had to hang almost all the way out of the plane. When he was satin place, she slid down his body to sit in his lap. A giggle suggested that there were now two sticks in the cockpit. She pressed her derrière against one, and grasped the other with both hands. All the aeroplane’s control surfaces moved as she gave them a quick test.
“Ready?” Ginge asked.
“Ready.” Toby and Eileen answered together. Both their voices had gone up in pitch now they were squeezed so intimately together.
“Throttle up.” Ginge commanded.
“Throttle up.” replied Eileen.
“Contact!” Ginge grasped the blade that pointed toward the ground. He held it at arm’s length, standing off so that he could move quickly out of its way once it started turning.
“Contact. Yes, contact.” Eileen sounded more confident the second time she said it.
Ginge heaved on the propeller, quickly stepping out of its way. There was a cough from the engine that made the whole airframe twitch, and black smoke puffed out of the exhausts. But the engine didn’t start.
When he was confident that there wasn’t going to be a delayed leap into life by the engine, Ginge stepped forwards again. He turned the propeller until the blades were pointing as they had been before, then braced himself. “Take the throttle back, just a little. Say, slightly less than a quarter of the way.” he suggested.
“I have taken the throttle back.” Eileen told him.
Ginge heaved on the propeller again. There was another cough from the motor, and more black smoke. But this time, there was a second, then a third cough, then the engine was firing on all cylinders. The black smoke became white, then disappeared altogether. The propeller span at high speed, pushing enough air back that the aeroplane strained against the restraints of the chocks and the stakes holding it back. The roar of the revitalised beast drowned out the applause from the onlookers.
Eileen pushed the engine up to full throttle for a moment, then eased it back slowly. Ginge held his hand up, and moved an outstretched finger in horizontal circles. Spotting his message, Eileen slowed the engine until it was barely ticking over. A touch less throttle, and it spluttered to a stop.
Eileen jumped up from her seat, and made a happy squeal. “It worked! That was incredible! When can we fly it?” She looked from Toby to Ginge.
“Let’s do it tomorrow, when we are all fresher, I think.” Toby suggested.
“I can’t argue with that. It’s always best to avoid flying when stressed or tired.”Ginge said, walking around the plane. But, while we’re about it, shall we fire up the Fokker as well? You said it was working?”
Toby put his hands under Eileen’s buttocks, and helped her lift herself up and out of the cockpit. As she slid down the side of the aeroplane, he watched until her feet were on the ground. “It should only need some fresh fuel putting in it. Shall we fetch it out?”
About fifteen minutes later, the red triplane had been brought out, and parked in front of the SE5. With chocks under the wheels, and the tail tied down, it was ready to start. Ginge turned to Toby and Eileen, and gestured toward the cockpit.
“Oh no, old chap. I think you should get to start this one.” Toby told him.
“I can do that. But who is going to turn over the prop?”
“This one had an electric starter fitted when it was built. The battery is charged up, so you should just have to hop in, flick the switches and press the button.” Toby said.
“Well, let’s see how this goes.” Ginge climbed up into the Fokker’s cockpit, and settled into the seat. “Okay everybody. Stand clear.”
There was a low whine as the fuel pump started working, then a grunt as Ginge pressed the starter button. The propeller kicked a half turn around, then another. The engine fired up, and the propeller span. Ginge tested the throttle, pushing the motor faster and harder. He let it run at a steady pace for a while, giving a thumbs up to the watching crowd, then throttled back until it stopped.
“It looks like you have an air force.” Ally said to Toby.
“Carstairs Airs.” he joked in return.
“Shall we put them away again?” Ginge asked, as he dropped out of the Fokker.“No, let’s leave them here for the night, shall we. I think we’ve done quite enough work for today.”