tagSci-Fi & FantasyMistress of the Air Ch. 04

Mistress of the Air Ch. 04


It was a momentous day in this sleepy, rural backwater of Yorkshire. The enormous zinc-plated shed erected many months ago, and the mysterious comings and goings beyond the perimeter fence had aroused the curiosity of the locals. Few local people were engaged in the construction of Lady Sally's airship, and those who were had been sworn to secrecy. The steady flow of deliveries and visits from a succession of tweed-suited scientists, designers and engineers had caused much speculation. The local labourers believed it was a giant wheat harvesting machine that would put them out of work. Others believed it was a secret weapon for the war threatening to break out across Europe.

There was no hiding something special was to be revealed on this day. Lady Sally had engaged every shire horse from farms for miles around. Word spread like wild-fire that the giant shed doors would open to expose the unknown contraption. Work on nearby farms stopped for the day. Everybody dressed up in their finest Sunday clothes, the men in their best suits and ladies in dresses and bonnets. They brought picnics with them; huge baskets laden with freshly baked bread, butter churned that morning, chunks of cheese and the finest cuts of ham. The men brought barrels of the strongest ale and their pewter tankards. There were no children in school as every child from far and wide appeared. The event topped every fair, wake and celebration held in the area for decades. The huge throngs sat outside the perimeter fence enjoying themselves, eagerly anticipating what might be revealed when the doors of the giant shed finally opened.

There was great excitement when Lady Sally arrived. She came in a chauffeur driven charabanc laden with trunks and hat boxes, accompanied by her strange transvestite maid. The midday sun reflected off the vehicle's olive-green paintwork and polished chrome, dazzling all who followed its passage through the gate of the airship works. The side of the charabanc was decorated with Lady Sally's coat-of-arms, a purple and black shield with the letters 'L', 'S', 'R' and 'C' in its quarters surmounted by two crossed whips.

Captain Wyndham waited at the road-side to greet Lady Sally with Barnes-Wallis, the chief designer of the airship. Victoria opened the door for her and she alighted from the charabanc. She looked elegant and summery in a fine cream cotton-linen dress and magnificent wide-brimmed hat tied under her chin in an extravagant bow. The farm workers strained to catch a glimpse of Lady Sally, whose reputation had spread before her; and they were not disappointed. Her perfect hour-glass figure enhanced by the tightest of corsets was striking, even from the distance of the perimeter fence.

Despite wearing stiletto heels in cream calf-skin she glided effortlessly towards Captain Wyndham and stretched out her hand towards him.

"It's good to see you again captain, you may kiss my hand."

Wyndham leant over to take Lady Sally's hand into his and offered a gentle kiss. He was no longer surprised by her flamboyant behaviour. Her hand was also offered to Barnes-Wallis, who was more embarrassed at kissing Lady Sally's hand but who nonetheless did not hesitate in deferring to her wishes.

"I am thrilled. It's wonderful to see my project come to its fruition. I take it everything is ready for the maiden flight of my airship."

"Yes, Lady Sally," replied Wyndham, "she's ready. She's a magnificent machine; I'm convinced your ladyship will be impressed by her."

"I don't doubt that, captain, after all the interior fittings have been made to my exacting specification and design."

"I see you've brought your luggage, madam," said Wyndham, gesturing towards the charabanc laden with trunks.

"Oh, but that is merely one or two trifles, my corsetry and some of my antique whips and canes. I have engaged the services of several horse and carts for the remainder of my wardrobe, and the heavier bondage and domination equipment is already installed. My maid has spent several weeks packing for my escapade, haven't you Victoria?"

"Oh, yes madam, I certainly have!"

"Come Victoria, don't pretend it hasn't been anything but a labour of love for your mistress."

Victoria's wistful look conveyed that it had indeed been just that.

"Follow me Lady Sally," said Wyndham, leading the way. "Barnes-Wallis is going to give you a tour of the airship and explain the technique of its construction. It uses many unique materials and design features, but he's the expert on that."

As they entered the shed Lady Sally gasped. She had a vision of how her dirigible might look, of course, but her breath was taken away by the sheer scale and magnificence of her creation. The airship was the size of an ocean liner and dwarfed the diminutive figures as they stood on the ground gazing up in awe at the vast expanse of linen fabric enclosing the gas bags and duralumin frame. Barnes-Wallis led them onto the walkways from which they could view the intricate internal structure.

Now in his element, the normally diffident Barnes-Wallis began his enthusiastic explication of the construction of the airship.

"Each transverse frame consists of a hard girder in the form of a stiff, sixteen-sided polygon with the flats at top and bottom; this massive hard girder is twenty-seven inches deep and up to a hundred and thirty feet in diameter. Sixteen steel cables penetrate the centre of the polygon to the corner points, bracing the polygonal girder against deflections and making it erect..."

"... And, of course, erect girders are essential to the structure, are they not?"

"... One half of the transverse frame is divided by a vertical plane passing though the axis of the ship, consisting of a stiff arched rib with oiled ends that are free to slip towards each other, and this arched rib is braced by eight radial wires, which go flaccid through the deflection of the arched rib under the applied loads. Normally four or five wires remain in tension...

"And how have you calculated the torsional load bearing capacity of my airship?"

"The forces and bending movements in the members are calculated by the solution of a lengthy simultaneous equation containing up to seven unknown quantities. In the solution, we had to find the correct compression force for the radial wires to achieve the required load bearing. This geodetic type of construction for the airframe makes use of a space frame formed from a spirally crossing basket-weave of load bearing erect members. The principle is that two geodesic arcs can be drawn to intersect on a curving surface in a manner that the torsional load on each, cancels out the other...

"... Well that is simply amazing," commented Lady Sally, "but perhaps I ought to take a look at the living quarters now..."

"... but I'd love to show you my calculations, your ladyship..." called Barnes-Wallis waving a wad of foolscap sheets with closely pencilled figures at the three receding figures.

"Oh, fascinating I'm sure," she called back, "but I've such a busy day ahead of me and I ought to be moving on."

Captain Wyndham smiled as Victoria bustled Lady Sally away.

"He's a genius you know. From my knowledge of aeronautical design, I know the construction of this airship is truly remarkable."

"Indeed, I chose him for his brilliance in structural engineering, captain, though I must confess the 'how' is not always my strong point. I merely tell people what I want and they do it for me... isn't that so Victoria?"

"Oh yes, madam, indubitably, yes."

Captain Wyndham continued the tour by taking Lady Sally to her personal quarters and dressing room. They walked through her sitting room lined with teak panelling and brass fittings with a solid oak writing desk in the corner and opened a set of doors.

"This is your dressing room, Lady Sally..." Wyndham gestured with his hand into the room.

"Oh really, I thought it was the ballroom," muttered her maid.

"Very droll, Victoria. For that piece of impertinence, I expect you to have my trunks unpacked and my clothes put away whilst we are on the test flight."

Wyndham couldn't help but wonder whether that was what Victoria wanted.

Lady Sally cast her eyes across the expanse of teak doors and took one of the shiny brass handles in the shape of a unicorn's head into her hand and opened one to look inside.

"Besides, you know the extent of my wardrobe. It would never do to be unprepared. We are venturing to far-flung corners of the continent, and one can never predict what one might need."

"Of course, madam," Victoria concurred.

The briefest of tours of the airship having been completed Lady Sally was led to the door of the vast shed from which the dirigible would emerge for its official launch. The assembled crowds around the perimeter fence looked on in eager anticipation of the hanger finally revealing its secret.

The doors parted and, pushed by the bulbous tip of the airship, gradually opened as the head of the ship became slowly unsheathed. The crowd expelled a collective gasp. Connected by wires to the bridles of scores of shire horses the airship was pulled out of the manufacturing shed to the nearby mooring tower.

Revealed in all its magnificent glory, the airship was a wonder to behold. Its length was massive, its girth huge. Its surface was covered with lines of ribs formed by the duralumin framework of the ship. It stood firm and erect on the field, globules of black, engine oil hung from its bulbous tip, glistening in the May sun before dripping onto the ground.

It was an object of beauty. Its linen outer cover was painted silver and was lined by wires around the circumference to prevent the material from blowing off.

Written proudly along the length of the airship was her name, The Corseted Domme.

The crowd watching from the perimeter fence looked on in amazement. Nothing like it had been seen before. The rumour spread that this contraption was intended to be a flying machine. Wise old codgers nodded sagely muttering that such a thing would never get off the ground. A group from the local Primitive Methodist Chapel exclaimed it was an abomination and a challenge to God, saying that man was never meant to fly and this would end in disaster.

The children had no such reservations. They loved it. They believed it would fly, and Lady Sally's flying machine, a game in which children ran around with airship shaped objects, became a popular playground pastime in local schools for many years. They would never forget the momentous event they were witnessing. For decades, even after they had become parents or grandparents themselves, they would still tell the tale of when Lady Sally's giant flying machine was launched. On that one day Lady Sally's name became written into local legend, never to be forgotten.

The name of the airship created confusion. Ignorant of Lady Sally's sexual predilections they did not know what to make of it.

"Corseted Dome? And a' thought 'er ladyship'd know 'ow to spell now wouldn't thee? Eeeh, even I know 'Dome' is spelt wi' one 'm' and, 'ow can a dome have a corset?"

"Eeh, I dunno, Jack, it's fair flummoxed me," replied his friend, who was somewhat worse for wear, having drunk a gallon of strong ale.

The moment finally arrived when the airship took to the air for the first time. Lady Sally and her maid Victoria stayed on the ground for the launch ceremony while Captain Wyndham took his place in the control car with Clarissa, his automaton co-pilot, and crew. The airship was going on a test flight on a circuit of several miles around the villages then flying along the estuary of the River Humber to the North Sea before turning back.

Lady Sally's voice boomed out across the air field.

"Today is a momentous day. Today is a day you will remember for the rest of your lives. Today the age of airships reaches the zenith of its achievement. Today you are witness to the largest and most magnificent flying machine ever to take to the skies. May the Goddess bless her, and all who sail in her."

With that, Lady Sally Rudston-Chichester smashed a champagne bottle against the side of the passenger coach. The crowd waited expectantly. The power cars fired up, the engines hummed, and the propellers whirred. The wires were released from the mooring tower and docking station and the massive dirigible took off from the ground. Some ran away in fright believing the devil himself had been unleashed, others gasped in amazement. The children leapt up and down in sheer delight. Gradually a ground swell of astonishment and approval rose up amongst the farmers and their families as they stood and gave an almighty cheer, throwing their hats up into the air as the airship soared up to several hundred feet.

Lady Sally Rudston-Chichester was right. They had just witnessed one of the wonders of the age.

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