Book Spotlight ~ Wings of a Flying Tiger by Iris Yang
“Get the hell out of there, Jack. Now!” Danny Hardy barked into the radio.
Through the debris that erupted from the enemy plane he’d shot down, he gazed at a flaming aircraft emblazoned with tiger’s teeth. God, please, he silently prayed, hoping to see his wingman pop out of the airplane any second.
Danny hadn’t heard Jack’s voice on the radio since he’d been hit, but that didn’t stop him from calling out again: “Jack, bail out!”
Minutes ago Jack Longman had sent two Japanese aircraft spinning down to earth, but now his plane was on fire. Two Zeros flanked him. He’d been hit from both sides. Fire blazed from the fuselage tank of his P-40 and roared into the cockpit. His airplane remained level for only a moment then plunged, nose down, toward the earth. Rolling back the canopy, Jack leaned left and tumbled out of the plane, which was now wreathed in smoke. When he opened his parachute, part of his body was on fire.
Danny let out a relieved breath when he saw Jack’s tall figure drop out of his airplane. One corner of his lips tilted upward. But before his smile had formed completely, to his horror, a Japanese fighter dropped on Jack, firing a heartless spray of bullets.
“No!” Danny cried. His heart thundered. Waves of panic spread throughout his body. It all had happened too fast. He wasn’t close enough to catch up with the Japanese. Helplessly, he watched as his best friend was strafed to death while strapped in his parachute.
“Jack!” A lump formed in the back of his throat and burned as Danny tried to choke back tears. He couldn’t let the enemy get away. He roared after the Japanese. His P-40 wasn’t as versatile as the enemy airplanes, but it was faster in a dive. Flying Tigers were trained to exploit that advantage. Within seconds, he caught up with one of the two fighters that had killed Jack. He brought his guns in line for a shot from the rear. Before the Japanese pilot realized his fate, Danny poured a salvo directly into his cockpit. Flames erupted from the Zero. A fireball spun earthbound.
This maneuver exposed Danny’s P-40 to the other Japanese fighter, who fired at him from the left. An explosion blasted his left wing, and the plane shook. At the same time, bullets riddled his cockpit. One of them grazed his scalp; others buried themselves in the instrument panel. Blood gushed from his forehead, covering his goggles and blocking his sight. Red spots spattered the white scarf around his neck.
Pulling his stick with his right hand, and lifting his left to wipe the blood off his goggles, he realized that his left arm and leg had been injured by shrapnel. In the midst of the white-knuckled fight, the excruciating pain hadn’t hit him until now.
Switching to his right hand, Danny pulled off his goggles. Once he could see, he checked his left wing. What he saw made his blood run cold. The explosion had left a hole two feet in diameter, halfway between the wingtip and the root. He was astonished the wing was still attached.
The shock didn’t last long. No time to waste. He was trained as a fighter pilot, and fighting was second nature.
Ignoring the throbbing pain, Danny hauled his P-40 into a tight turn. Advancing the throttle, he flew toward the enemy fighter who had shot at him. His engine roared. The force jammed him into his seat. Bullets ricocheted through his plane, flashing like firecrackers. But nothing deterred him. Swooping toward the fighter, he thumbed on the gun switch and opened fire. His tracers strafed the front of the Zero.
The Japanese seemed startled by the American pilot’s comeback. The bravery of the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers, was well known by this time, the summer of 1942, but this Tiger was completely insane. The little airman flinched, yet held his course.
“If you don’t ram into me, I’m going to ram you!” Danny shouted, sweating beneath his sheepskin-lined jacket. He knew he shouldn’t do this—the Japanese pilots were disciplined flyers; they were not cowards. And Danny had no intention of dying. However, this Zero was the one that had shot Jack down. Revenge was the only thing on his mind. He had no plan to turn around.
Might as well take someone with me if my number is up…
Although he had lived only twenty-seven years, that was long enough to destroy twelve enemy airplanes. “Let’s make this one the thirteenth!” he shouted, his hand on the trigger and death in his eyes.
The two planes were so close that Danny could see the stone-faced Japanese pilot glaring at him. For what seemed like an eternity, they stared at each other. Time slowed as their planes closed in. It was a contest of wills.
A split-second before the crash, the wide-eyed Japanese pilot lost his nerve and tried to peel away from a head-on collision, a maneuver which left him vulnerable.
Danny jumped at the chance and blazed with everything he had. His hand never left the trigger. His tracers tore the Zero to pieces.
He watched the enemy plane turn into a fireball. It streamed black and white smoke, went into a rapid spin, and plummeted to Earth.
Danny had no time to celebrate his success. Hits that he’d sustained during the death match made his plane wobble like a drunkard. He had to abandon his P-40. As he prepared to jump, he glanced down at the exotic highlands unfolding below him. Yunnan Province of China was composed of magnificent mountains and sweeping plains. He was over a mountainous region carpeted by lush green trees. Somewhere beneath the shady canopy lay his best friend’s body, burned and riddled with Japanese bullets.
Suddenly, Danny changed his mind. By now, fewer and fewer of their aircraft remained intact. God knows we need every single one. Their air-worthy planes were already outnumbered—today four P-40s had had to fight two dozen Zeros. Now, with Jack’s death, two airplanes would be gone if he bailed out.
Danny felt exhausted. He grimaced. The injuries to his head, arm, and leg were nasty, but something else was wrong. Could it be the cold he’d come down with during the past few days? No matter how tired he was, Danny refused to let his plane go down. Not without a fight. Not until he’d tried everything he could. With one last look at his damaged left wing, he took a few deep breaths and forced himself to lean back against his seat. His hand clutched the stick in a death grip, and with what seemed like a superhuman effort, he fought to stabilize the aircraft.
He didn’t think about dying, he was too involved in keeping his P-40 in the air. Setting his course toward Kunming, Yunnan’s capital, he tried to level the plane. But it was so crippled, he could barely maintain control.
He had managed to fly for twenty or thirty minutes, but the mental pain of losing his best friend from childhood, the physical ache of his wounds, as well as that mysterious illness―whatever it was―all crashed in on him, and before long the aircraft would not respond to his commands. The stricken P-40 snapped into a spin, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t recover it.
Now he had no choice. With his last ounce of strength, he slid back the canopy. The wind screeched and plastered the skin over his face. He was barely conscious when he tumbled, head over heels, into space.