The weather remained uncooperative for a test flight for several days. During this time Pop Pickering spend countless hours rehearsing procedures while sitting in the cockpit of the aircraft. He also traded ideas with the design team for future improvements and changes should the aircraft proved a viable one. The weatherman was forecasting clearing weather in the next twelve hours so preparations were being made to have the escort aircraft on hand for the launch as well as a target aircraft.
A Mosquito fighter bomber and a Hurricane fighter were assigned to accompany the rocket interceptor on its first flight. The Hurricane would fly observation a low altitude while the Mosquito would fly high altitude chase because of its speed.
“What is the top speed I might expect Professor.” Pop asked the designer.
“Four fifty knots. We have a speed governor set so if the aircraft goes any faster than that it will shut off the igniters and slow the aircraft. We can adjust it, but we felt we should keep it below five hundred knots for safety purposes.” Responded the Professor.
The little interceptor was wheeled out from its barn hanger and towed about a half mile to a section of roadway that had been leveled and widened. The rock pile walls that lined this roadway were moved back away from the road forty five more feet. All of the other obstructions were removed including several trees and two sign posts. From the air it probably didn’t look like a secret airstrip. There was only one real hazard, drainage ditch about a third of the way down crossed the road. There were no sides or rails to the bridge but one had to be definitely centered on the roadway when crossing that point.
As the fuel Lorries drove away leaving just a support jeep the Hurricane signaled its arrival by buzzing the roadway. On board the interceptor Pop switched on the master switch and the newly installed radio transceiver. This addition would allow him to talk to not only the accompanying aircraft but the ground team as well.
Carefully Pop ran down the checklist in preparation of launching this bat like aircraft on its maiden flight. Unlike maiden flights of other aircraft there were no spectators or press on hand to document it.
“Ready here.” Pop radioed.
“Tally Ho!” Replied the pilot of the Hurricane as he banked towards Pop’s aircraft.
Pop ease the throttles forward and the motors barked to life. The little ship started rolling gaining speed rapidly, as it crossed the bridge on the roadway Pop push the throttles to full power and pulled back on the stick. The aircraft literally leapt off the ground and started climbing. Pop retracted the landing gear and they indicated their closing with a thump. Pop eased back on the power, the Hurricane never stood a chance, it was already being left behind as the aircraft continued to accelerate and climb higher.
“Chase Two, Tally Ho!” Said the Mosquito pilot. He too had his throttles to the firewall trying to close the distance between them.
With the motors just above idle Pop put the aircraft through a series of turns, rolls and loops. The aircraft was a little heavy on the stick, but manageable. His limited fuel load limited how much time he could spend aloft. So he decided to see how fast he could go from fifteen thousand feet to forty thousand. With that he pushed the throttle lever all the way forward and pulled the stick back. Upward the ship soared leaving the Mosquito in a streak of vapor from its four rocket motors.
At forty thousand feet Pop cut the throttles and the little craft continued to climb. Rolling inverted he pointed the nose into a shallow dive and began a spiraling descent. He cut the power and tested the aircraft’s gliding performance. It wasn’t a glider but it was definitely nimble even at this altitude.
Descending down he continued to try different maneuvers including stalls. The canard never let the little ship break; it would just give a little slight tremble and sink a little. Even in accelerated stalls it never wanted to spin, Pop had to really work hard at inducing one, but it amounted to nothing that wasn’t recoverable from with just a couple hundred feet.
Allowing himself to get a bit distracted as he put the ship through its paces, he realized after a concerned call from the Mosquito pilot he had strayed outside his box of airspace. He religthed the motors using the last bit of fuel streaking across the sky back towards his starting point again passing both the Mosquito and the Hurricane in the process. He signaled his attention that he was going to land.
Descending down he lined up with the roadway. “Gear going down.” He stated. The Hurricane pilot was now able to match pace with the little craft.
“Gear appears full down.” Stated the Hurricane pilot.
“Roger. Setting flaps. Purging.” Pop stated as he completed items on his checklist.
The elevons both dropped, sagging to increase lift. A puff of white vapor indicated the purging of the propulsion system which startled the Hurricane pilot. He gave the aircraft a bit more room just in case this was an indication of something disastrous about to happen.
“She’s a bit sluggish and heavy feeling.” Pop reported. He aimed for touch down at the point on the roadway where the bridge was. This way if the little craft decided to veer he would be safely past it. As the wheels touched the ground he pulled the handle to release the drag chute, making sure to only pull it part way. The little chute deployed and as it did it pulled the nose wheel firmly to the ground and gently slowed the aircraft to a snails pace. A light tap on the brakes and Pop brought it to a complete stop.
The Hurricane pitched up and did a slow aileron roll in celebration of a successful first flight as it departed back towards its home airfield. Pop slid the canopy open and sent a thank you over the radio to the two chase plane pilots.
Two jeeps quickly arrived. One pulled in front to attach a tow bar the other from the rear to gather the drag chute and tail cone. In an hour the little aircraft was back inside the barn being closely inspected by the technicians. Pop was going over the flight with both the Professor and the Test Director. All three agreed that everything noted was minor and could be corrected.
The next step was to fly it again this time fully fueled and with its full compliment of ammunition. A call was placed to order an aircraft configured as a target tug. It was time to test its ability as a gun platform.