THE moon was coming up in the east, behind me, and stars were shining in the clear sky above me. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was happy to be alone high up above the sleeping countryside. I was flying my old Dakota aeroplane over France back to England. I was dreaming of my holiday and looking forward to being with my family. I looked at my watch: one thirty in the morning.
‘I should call Paris Control soon,’ I thought. As I looked down past the nose of the aeroplane, I saw the lights of a big city in front of me. I switched on the radio and said, “Paris Control, Dakota DS 088 here. Can you hear me? I’m on my way to England. Over.”
The voice from the radio answered me immediately: “DS 088, I can hear you. You ought to turn twelve degrees west now, DS 088. Over.”
I checked the map and the compass, switched over to my second and last fuel tank, and turned the Dakota twelve degrees west towards England.
‘I’ll be in time for breakfast,’ I thought. A good big English breakfast! Everything was going well — it was an easy flight.
Paris was about 150 kilometres behind me when I saw the clouds. Storm clouds. They were huge. They looked like black mountains standing in front of me across the sky. I knew I could not fly up and over them, and I did not have enough fuel to fly around them to the north or south.
“I ought to go back to Paris,” I thought, but I wanted to get home. I wanted that breakfast.
‘I’ll take the risk,’ I thought, and flew that old Dakota straight into the storm.
Inside the clouds, everything was suddenly black. It was impossible to see anything outside the aeroplane. The old aeroplane jumped and twisted in the air. I looked at the compass. I couldn’t believe my eyes: the compass was turning round and round and round. It was dead. It would not work! The other instruments were suddenly dead, too. I tried the radio.
“Paris Control? Paris Control? Can you hear me?”
There was no answer. The radio was dead too. I had no radio, no compass, and I could not see where I was. I was lost in the storm. Then, in the black clouds quite near me, I saw another aeroplane. It had no lights on its wings, but I could see it flying next to me through the storm. I could see the pilot’s face — turned towards me. I was very glad to see another person. He lifted one hand and waved.
“Follow me,” he was saying. “Follow me.”
‘He knows that I am lost,’ I thought. ‘He’s trying to help me.’
He turned his aeroplane slowly to the north, in front of my Dakota, so that it would be easier for me to follow him. I was very happy to go behind the strange aeroplane like an obedient child.
After half an hour the strange black aeroplane was still there in front of me in the clouds. Now there was only enough fuel in the old Dakota’s last tank to fly for five or ten minutes more. I was starting to feel frightened again. But then he started to go down and I followed through the storm.
Suddenly I came out of the clouds and saw two long straight lines of lights in front of me. It was a runway! An airport! I was safe! I turned to look for my friend in the black aeroplane, but the sky was empty. There was nothing there. The black aeroplane was gone. I could not see it anywhere.
I landed and was not sorry to walk away from the old Dakota near the control tower. I went and asked a woman in the control centre where I was and who the other pilot was. I wanted to say ‘Thank you’.
She looked at me very strangely, and then laughed.
“Another aeroplane? Up there in this storm? No other aeroplanes were flying tonight. Yours was the only one I could see on the radar.”
So who helped me to arrive there safely without a compass or a radio, and without any more fuel in my tanks? Who was the pilot on the strange black aeroplane, flying in the storm, without lights?
— Frederick Forsyth
National Council of Educational Research and Training (2006). Beehive. The Black Aeroplane - Frederick Forsyth (pp. 37-42). Published at the Publication Division by the Secretary, National Council of Educational Research and Training, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi.