“Racely Special Manufacturing, how may I direct your call?’ a female voice on the other end of the line announces. I give her the extension for unique orders, “one moment please”. With any luck, I won’t have to speak to the old man. Disguising my voice wouldn’t help, he’s an expert speech analyst. Lucretia could have made the call, but that would mean I’d be distracting the crew; that just isn’t my bag, baby.
A workaholic, my father goes into the shop early, many mornings to tinker, and field the occasional call. “James here, what can I design for you?”, apparently, this is one of those mornings. “Um, hello, dad”, I offer, “I need to place an order”. While always an uncomfortable conversation with my father; when discussing business, to his credit, he’s never let me down. “I need two of your Jetpacks”.
The Racely SM Jetpack, while very similar in design and operation to the commonly available Martin Jetpack, employs a proprietary Hydrazine and Nitrous Oxide fuel system to nearly double the range to 100 kilometres. “I’m fresh out, seriously. I had an order for eight units last week for, well, never mind. I do have a trainer unit, it’s new, and it will hold two, a flight instructor and the student” dad reports.
“I’ll take it” I respond quickly. I give him my current position, 36.361145,-20.170898, the ship’s Maritime Mobile Service Identity number, and speed. Delivery needs to be about 75 kilometres east of Gibraltar at 36.032664,-4.833984. I know requesting a night time stealth delivery to a moving ship will arouse his suspicions, but I have no choice. If the crew hears a chopper nearby, someone is going to get curious.
“We recently developed a new sea delivery method called “The deadliest cache”, my father explains, “the cargo is packed into a watertight container tethered to a float by 30 feet of cable. The shipment is dropped into the sea a couple hundred yards in front of your ship, all you have to do is snag the cable and winch it aboard” I know the unit will arrive fuelled up and ready to fly.
Nothing to do now but wait. I’ll keep watch on the weather while Lucretia keeps track of the crew. Planning our escape, originally I was going to head north to Marbella, Spain. From there I can get to Menton, France via charter boat. With two of us on the jetpack, even with the extended range, it would be very close. The Poniente wind predicted for the next several days could very well prevent us from making landfall.
I sneaked into Mohammed’s lair, just to see what he was up to. The plans for his operation are complete and with the inert gas generators already diverted, he can proceed at will. Mohammed reserved a life jacket for me before dumping the rest overboard two nights ago. “I cannot take you with me, but you might be able to swim the fifty miles to Pylos, Greece; it’s the best I can do”, he offers. I take it, you never know, We chat about Greece’s chances in the next world cup.
The latest weather forcast confirms my suspicions, the Westerly Poniente wind will make flying North too hazardous. We decide the best course is to fly the jetpack due south for a short while, the as we pass the wind shadow of Morocco, we’ll swing in to Ceuta from the south.
Four days have past since my call to Pop. It is 02:00 hours, Zulu, in the Mediterranean Sea, about seventy kilometres East of Gibraltar. Our escape vehicle should be in the water by now; having been dropped by helicopter about one half mile in front of the ship. Lucretia and I have readied one of the ship’s derricks and I’ve fashioned a grapple using steel bars from the repair shop.
The Force 9 wind kicking up 23 foot waves will make seeing the floating cask, much less retrieving it, difficult. Both the float and the cargo cask will have flashing strobes to enhance detection. At least the volume of the waves against the hull should drown out the noise of the derrick and our activity. I figure we will have about twenty minutes to retrieve and ready the jetpack before the watch change.
It is now 02:17 hours, Zulu. No sign of the cask or the helicopter. I turn my head toward the stern to check the pilothouse for activity; none. I tilt my head back in exasperation when I see it; two flashing lights in the sky. Is that the bird? No, the lights are too far apart. The lights, by the way, are rapidly getting closer, look out! With a loud clang, a meteor, the size of a small car, crash lands on deck.
Landing on the deck, briefly, then bouncing up and threatening to vault right over the side. The attached buoy whips itself around the unsecured derrick boom, violently jerking the boom 180 degrees astern. I can hear the steel cable stretching to nearly the snapping point before the recoil wrenches the cask airborne again and whips the jetpack cask around the elevated product transfer piping; like a bolas wrapping around its victim. I might be using Mohammed’s life-jacket after all.
“Someone must have heard that!”, Lucretia shouts to be heard over the howling wind. I agree, we need to move quickly. We pick our way through the tangled mess of broken and severed piping to retrieve the jetpack; or what’s left of it. The titanium alloy shell is badly dented, we unhook the latches and prise open the case, fearing the worst. The first thing we notice is that the just under 400 lb jetpack is upside-down.
The second observation is the odour of high octane fuel. It takes us a few minutes to wrestle the jetpack out of its cocoon and into an upright stance. The fuel leak ended up being only a small crack in the composite fuel tank. I usually keep a few feet of duct tape in my pocket, it is useful for emergency repairs on equipment and humans; I used about three inches worth to repair the petrol tank.
Like the Martin Jetpack, the single flier Racely SM Jetpack employs two turbofan engines to produce lift and thrust. This, the trainer model, uses three turbofans and also utilises two small rockets. The rocket boosters will provide the extra lift needed to overcome the added weight of two people during take-off, thereby maximising the craft’s range. Final checkout; the GPS is broken but the bubble compass is intact.
There is a break in the weather, this is both good and bad for us. There is activity in the pilothouse, I can see pointing and waving. Someone just switched on a spotlight. “We have to go now”, I command Lucretia, I initiate the start-up sequence, put on my helmet, and strap in. Lucretia dons her helmet and secures her harness, in the position in front and about a head lower than me. The turbofans are at 80 percent.
The deafening roar of the three turbofans and 5 cylinder engine drowns the sound of the slackening wind. If anyone aboard hadn’t heard our activities before, they surely must now. I hesitate to use the booster rockets, considering the broken petroleum pipes everywhere; probably not a good idea. Ramping up the engines to 100 percent, we lift off; slowly. There are men running toward us, carrying sticks, um no, guns.
We’re moving too slowly to get out of bullet range in time; I have no choice but to fire up the rockets. Igniting the boosters provided both the desired effect as well as the dreaded one. Petroleum vapour escaping the otherwise empty cargo tanks via the broken transfer pipes is ignited by the rocket blast. We turn southward, to my right I see among the muzzle flashes of automatic weapons, a huge fireball.
By this point we’re at about 1000 feet, about a half mile away from the ship; out of small arms reach. The altitude affords us a grand view of the havoc we initiated. We watch as the fire appears to extinguish as quickly as it started After a few seconds the ship disintegrates in a series of explosions that hammer us with shock-waves from the blasts. What’s left of the ship disappears below the waves.
With the GPS not working, we decide the best bet was to fly directly Southwest. The wind has severely diminished and visibility is getting better, but the cloud cover remains. I see lights in the distance, the coast of the Cueta peninsula, I hope. Without star or moon light, discerning where the land starts is difficult. I wonder if we’ll make it, the fuel indicator tells me we have seven minutes of flight time left.
Lucretia and I have been in constant communication via the 2-way radios in our helmets. I advise her of our situation. I figure that if we maximise our altitude, when the fuel runs out I’ll deploy the ballistic parachute and glide the remainder of the way. That was the plan. The fuel computer lied to me, as we were climbing, the fuel supply ran out and the motor, predictably, died. We were going down.
The ballistic parachute deployment toggle switch is equipped with a safety cover to prevent accidental deployment. The plastic cover was partially dissolved, probably by the earlier fuel leak, and resisted my efforts to flip it open. Prying desperately at the cover, I knew I succeeded when I felt the small explosion, behind me, of the ballistic system deploying the parachute. That is when things got interesting.
The charge ejecting the parachute out the back of the jetpack, also ignites fuel vapours from the jetpack’s ruptured fuel tank. Not a huge explosion, but enough to ignite the parachute and thus hasten our descent. With the nearly 400 pound jetpack strapped to the two of us, we didn’t stand a chance. Our only hope of survival is to abandon the vehicle and take our chances in free fall. I’m thinking, not again…
Lucretia’s final words to me as she releases the buckle of her harness are “Mandy is alive and she ssssfffft”, her sentence cut-off as she falls out of the 2-way’s range. Wait, what! No time. I release my harness and push the jetpack away from me seconds before hitting the water. Fighting my way to the surface I hear the jetpack splash into the water. I reach the surface, the night is pitch black, I can see; nothing.