Still the wind blew, and still we defied it. We changed to a new propeller and ensured the batteries were bursting, as we might need to wring every Coulomb of charge from them. The mission was simple, to fly three laps around the runway, but with the cargo bay full of wooden blocks. A further challenge–assemble the cargo and the plane within five minutes.
Xavier and Veronica did so with time to spare. But the plane was not to be outdone, soaring through the mission in less time than it took to assemble. Which is not to say that the fearsome winds gave up and let that happen. We took in a deep breath, and held it in anticipation.
The wind rustled. The propeller answered with a growl. The wheels rattled, bounced, and finally lifted. Tarmac waited patiently for one false move, ready to dash the frame to pieces if given the chance.
Being loaded to capacity meant greater stability, and the wings did not wobble as much as they had in the last trial. But, the challenge was to do three laps, and we had only done two in the last mission. Worse, our motor struggled to carry on, pulling forward only just faster than the winds were pushing back. Only just, but just enough.
The turns were easier, with with less fear of rolling over. The trip back, with the wind at our backs, was again the easiest leg of every lap. And again, it was landing that put gray hairs on all our heads.
Have you ever seen a propeller plane hover when flying against headwind? There is something inherently wrong about the sight. It seemed suspended, like a cartoon character that hasn’t looked down yet after walking off a cliff. Then it fell, too fast! But wait, the pilot jammed the flaperons just in time, and the plane squeaked away from a hard landing. Only now it was careening forward, inches above the tarmac.
Finally, a landing. Wheels scrabbled, rattled, and swerved. The rudder made a few final twitches as it guided the plane to rest in safety. The team collectively exhaled, not sure if we had breathed at all in the intervening four minutes. Yes, the mission was over in less time than it took to assemble the plane.
Tomorrow, once more unto the breach. We should have videos of our flights up soon as well.