BOB User Stories: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Airdrome

My Spitfire shudders under the impact of several more vicious impacts. Where is your wingman when you really need him I wonder? I find myself quite the odd man out as my trusted Spitfire whirls around in the very midst of 10 or 20 of the Luftwaffe’s best fighters. I seem to be barely holding my own. The truth of it is that the only thing that has saved my sorry hide so far is the obvious fact that there are so many of them. They hold back their fire, as they are reasonably afraid of hitting each other.

A cannon shell bursts in front of me and my bullet-proof windscreen cracks into a myriad of fine spider veins. I instantly break to the left as more tracers miss by inches. That really wakes me up to the danger and the hopeless nature of the situation. I finally am forced to admit that there is nothing for it but to run for my life. I roll inverted and the sunlight streams down at me through so many bullet holes in the floor I cannot count them all. Shards of glass from the shattered hood and instrument panel fly about the cockpit and fall out into space. The wind screams and roars in my ears like a banshee. I frantically split “s” for the safety of the green earth beneath my tortured craft. A broad layer of white cumulus cloud that is lying just below me obscures those beautiful patchwork fields. This cloud may save my life if I can get into it in time.

Cannon shells are cracking all around me as I fall through a hole in the clouds and notice that my poor Spitfire is now streaming hot steaming glycol and the sweating engine heat gauge gives me the good news that I will shortly be flying a glider. It is much harder to maintain level flight for some reason.

Looking down through one frighteningly damaged wing I can see a peaceful contradiction. Far below all seems so green, peaceful and quiet across the breadth of rural England. Cloud shadows race across sunlit meadows and rise up across bright, sun-shafted, greenish yellow hills. Up here it is quite another story. Death surrounds me and I am fighting so desperately to stay alive for even a moment longer. Others are trying just as desperately to deliberately kill me. I manage an uncharacteristically altruistic prayer. May what we do up here preserve forever that peaceful tranquility down below.

An intrusive little voice in my head is screaming, get out, get out! I try with all my might to force open the hood. It is jammed. There is no way out. Tracers begin to flash menacingly just past my shattered cockpit, thus letting me know that I am not alone after all. I had hoped to lose my attackers by continuing to fly along just under the cloud base, dipping in and out.
A few of my tormentors have considerately followed me down to see that my Spitfire and I do not make the long return journey to our airdrome alone. They are playing with me now, like a cat plays with a helpless mouse. They know I am out of ammunition, out of glycol and out of luck.

I force my protesting little fighter to perform one more split “S” to a much lower altitude thus avoiding the deadly tracers for a moment. Leveling off at 500 feet the engine begins missing badly. There is an explosion of black, oily smoke right before me that coats my cracked windscreen with grime and sludge. The straining engine has over-heated and seized. The useless prop spins wildly. I am almost blind and I am going down.

The Spit’s glide ratio is a good one to be sure but not good enough to get me home from this altitude. Even if it were good enough those continuous thuds I hear pelting the rear of my ailing Spitfire mean that it and I will soon be gnawed to pieces. I am too low now even to bail out in safety if I could get the hood un-jammed. Several powerful blows strike the armor plate behind my head. The right wing begins to shred as more shells find their mark. I squirm miserably in my wet, cold aluminum seat waiting for the inevitable. Huddled down as low as possible behind my armor plate and having little else to do but hold the yoke and pray, I steal a glance at my rear-view mirror. It is just long enough to see that only one enemy fighter continues in hot pursuit. This gives no hope of survival to me as I remind myself that one will be more than enough.
That last 109 pilot pulls his mottled gray, shark-like fighter right up beside me and the pilot seems to be surveying my wrecked Spitfire. We fly along in close formation for a moment and I can easily see the yellow nose of the 109 with streaks of oil running back toward the tail from the engine. I clearly see the pilot’s grim face. He shakes his head in wonder, gives me a little salute and then he pulls up and drops behind me. I flinch in fear as the shelling begins again. Large chunks of my riddled craft are torn away to fall into the fields just 100 feet below. Once more the Axis pilot pulls abreast of me. Once more he shakes his head as he surveys my shredded aircraft. As he pulls up and behind once more I brace myself for the final hail of bullets that will send me screaming into oblivion. They never come.

I do not now know, I will probably never know why the final blast of cannon fire never came. Perhaps the enemy took pity on me or simply ran out of ammunition or fuel. There is no time at the moment for such useless speculation. Time to assess the damage I can see and get this thing down as an aircraft and not a coffin. I can see quite a lot of damage and sense the rest.
My engine is gone and continues to stream caustic, greasy, black smoke that flows over and through the gaps in my hood and shredded wings. The Perspex hood is all shot up, the bulletproof windscreen is a mess of oil and cracks. I have lost some of my left tail plane and a large chunk of rudder. The undercarriage appears to be bunged up and useless. I have no flaps and very little wing surface still intact. Other than that we are in perfect flying condition.

In my professional opinion a Spitfire in this condition is not supposed to fly. I will not, however, argue the point. I am in no position so to do. A bit too low and still too fast I coax my poor ailing Spit to climb a bit and I risk pulling up barely inches over a large oak tree and drop down into a small valley. The climb almost stalls the Spitfire and we lose a lot of speed. Nevertheless, just feet below me the ground passes in a blur as I see my shadow race across a little white fence wrapped around a field full of peacefully grazing sheep. The sheep are scattering before me as I pull my Sutton Harness and all my straps as tight as possible. We are swiftly losing momentum now. The ground is rushing up fast and the buffeting is strong. As I touch down amongst the terrified flock several of the poor unfortunate wooly creatures seem to take to the air in front of me. At this moment a funny(odd)thing happened, I manage a second to question my recollection that sheep do not fly well or very far.

And now I have just enough time to scream a prayer and throw my arms in front of my face before there is an ear-splitting, grinding roar commencing as we plow into the soft manure specked pasture. I just remember being suspended in air as my safety harness bites mercilessly into my writhing flesh. A ground loop begins. I am helplessly falling forward and upside down. All the blood rushes to my head as a tremendous force beyond all imagining shakes me toward merciful unconsciousness.

Coming to rest at last, my cockpit fills with the stink of burning petrol, oil and fabric. From somewhere outside there comes a brief whiff of cool grass, sheep urine, humid air and wet earth. My painful universe grows ever darker around me as I silently swing there between agonizing life and a comforting death.

Then, as I numbly feel a single drop of blood or perspiration run slowly down my just broken, swelling nose, I spit out a tooth and everything shrinks to a tiny dot of infinite blackness.

Yes, somehow I survive. And it hurts me to the quick to admit to you that you have just witnessed one of my finest landings to date in a Spitfire. Well, almost.