Orissa had not been at all nervous over the event at Kane Park until the hour when she entered the field and noted the tremendous throng assembled to witness her brother’s much heralded flight. The band was playing vigorously and many gay banners waved over the grand stand and the big hangar wherein the aircraft was hidden. Then, indeed, she began to realize the importance of the occasion, and her heart throbbed with pride to think that Steve was the hero all awaited and that his name would be famous from this time forth.
This was the 17th of December, and on January first the great International Aviation Meet was to be held at Los Angeles, with such famous aviators present as the Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, Hubert Latham, Arch Hoxsey, their old friend Willard, Parmalee, Ely, Brookins, Radley and many others. Mr. Cumberford had entered Stephen Kane for this important meet and the young man was booked to take part in the endurance 140and speed tests and to make an attempt to break the world’s record for altitude—all in his own flyer, the Kane Aircraft. So swift a transition from obscurity to popularity—or at least to the attention of the civilized world—was enough to turn the head of anyone; but as yet Steve seemed all unaware of his own importance.
Disregarding the crowds, which were eagerly seeking a glimpse of the young aviator but did not know him, he quietly made his way to the hangar and was admitted by Wilson, who guarded the doorway from an insistent group demanding a peep at the aëroplane.
Steve took off his coat, made a thorough inspection of all the working parts, and then put on his close-fitting cap and goggles, buttoned a sweater over his chest and nodded to his men to throw back the entrance curtains.
Two policemen cleared the way and as the aviator drew back his lever the aircraft rolled out of the hangar into full view of the multitude. A shout went up; handkerchiefs were waved and the band played frantically. On its big wheels, which were almost large enough for a motor car, the aëroplane sped across the field, turned, passed the grand stand, and with accelerating speed dashed away to the farther end of the field.
A murmur arose, in which surprise and disappointment 141were intermingled. One fat gentleman, who had been patiently waiting for two hours, exclaimed: “Why, it’s only a sort of automobile, with crossed airplanes set over it! I thought they claimed the thing could fly.” Those who knew something of aviation, however, were the ones astonished at Steve’s preliminary performance. They realized the advantage of being able to drive an aëroplane on its own wheels, as an automobile goes, in case of emergencies, and moreover the “crossed planes”—a distinct innovation in construction—gave them considerable food for thought. Usually the two surfaces, or floats, of a biplane are exactly parallel, one above the other; but in Steve’s machine the upper plane ran fore and aft, while the lower one extended sidewise. At a glance it was possible to see the advantage of this arrangement as a duplex balance, which, with the swinging wing-ends, comprised the safety device that the inventor believed made his aëroplane superior to any other.
From the far end of the field Steve swung around and started back, straight for the grand stand. He had nearly reached it when he threw in the clutch that started the propellers and at the same time slightly elevated the front rudder. Up, like a bird taking wing, rose the aircraft, soaring above the grand stand and then describing a series 142of circles over the field. Gradually it ascended, as if the aviator was ascending an aërial spiral staircase, until he had mounted so far among the clouds that only a grayish speck was discernible.
The spectators held their breaths in anxious suspense. The speck grew larger. Swooping down at a sharp angle the aircraft came suddenly into view and within a hundred feet of the ground resumed its normal position and began to circle around the field again.
Now a mighty cheer went up, and Orissa, who had been pressing Sybil’s hand with a grip that made her wince, found herself sobbing with joy. Her brother’s former flights had been almost as successful as this; but only now, with the plaudits of a multitude ringing in her ears, did she realize the wonderful thing he had accomplished.
But on a sudden the shout was stilled. A startled, frightened moan ran through the assemblage. Women screamed, men paled and more than one onlooker turned sick and faint.
For the Kane Aircraft, while gracefully gliding along, in full view of all, was seen to suddenly collapse and crumple like a pricked toy balloon. Aëroplane and aviator fell together in a shapeless mass toward the earth, and the sight was enough to dismay the stoutest heart.
But Steve’s salvation lay in his altitude at the 143time of the accident. Fifty feet from the earth the automatic planes asserted their surfaces against the air and arrested, to an appreciable extent, the plunge. Had it been a hundred feet instead of fifty the young man might have escaped without injury, but the damaged machine had acquired so great a momentum that it landed with a shock that unseated young Kane and threw him underneath the weight of the motor and gasoline tank.
A dozen ready hands promptly released him from the wreck, but when they tried to lift him to his feet he could not stand. His leg was broken.