The comment made in passing by the woman outside the aerodrome haunted Stanley's thoughts. How had he fallen out of an aeroplane? What stunting manoeuvre could throw a pilot to his death? A loop?
William Stanley had been dared to loop and he was not the sort of man to go back on a bet, but he was haunted by the mental image of a body falling through the air. Arms and legs flailing helplessly.
As it was, bad weather stopped flying for a few days. Instead, students were subjected to lectures that bored William tremendously. He was sure that the engineers found the principles behind aeroplane propellers interesting, but he was a man of action and cared only that the spinning fan did its job. Lectures on the principles of reconnaisance were better, to Stanley's mind. Of course, much of it was familiar ground from his days in the cavalry, but the clues to look out for differed in the air.
If the weather should prove flyable, pilots who had completed conversion at Doncaster were mainly engaged in cross country flights. Using a map, and commonly a pocket Bradshaw guide, the intrepid young fliers would try to travel from one destination to another. This was to gain experience in flying hours and practice the navigational skills that Stewart had half listened to in lectures.
On one occasion Stanley resolved to fly north east to the coast near Hull. The reason for his choice was simple; the navigation was very easy. The river Don flowed north to meet the Ouse at Goole, just before the confluence of the Ouse and the Trent formed the Humber estuary. So long as you could see the rivers, anyone could find their way.
As his BE2 rattled its way above scattered clouds, William reflected on the loop. He reasoned that it would be better to practice out here, away from the instructors' disapproving gaze.
So it was that a BE2 came to be stunting over the Humber estuary.
Stanley's first attempt at a loop led to nasty feeling stalls as he failed to bring the aeroplane over fast enough. The nose suddenly dropped and Stewart was scared that the BE2 might spin, but the biplane was highly stable and recovered quicker than even the gentle Shorthorns at Reading.
The next attempt slipped out to the side as he failed to correct with the rudder. But after a while, Stanley was able to bring his aeroplane around on the vertical plane after a starting dive. He couldn't be sure if it looked good from the ground but it felt exhillarating to come back to level flight again in a controlled manner.
A few days after the trip to Hull, Stanley sent Barnstaple to inform the student pilot who had challenged him to make a loop that he should watch Stanley's flight with interest.
As he circled the aerodrome at three thousand feet, Stanley hoped that he had a good audience. "And I hope that I don't give that woman anything to talk about," he added.
Starting with a short dive for speed, Stanley pulled up in a series of zooming climbs. After warming up in this fashion, he dived again to begin a spiralling corkscrew known as the side somersault.
After this first stunt, Stewart righted his aeroplane and flew level for a little while before coming back around to fly over the aerodrome once again. He dived.
With a steady pull back on the stick and his feet gently holding position on the rudder, William Stanley pulled his BE2 into a climb that grew steeper until the machine was inverted.
Stanley felt an increasingly familiar shift in weight as the g-forces battled with natural gravity for his soul. He pulled back on the throttle to stop the engine racing and the BE2's nose came down again, completing the circle and winning its pilot £50.
William Stanley was rather pleased with himself.
On the ground student pilots applauded and slapped Stanley on the back in congratulations. Ground crew shook their heads at the wanton risk being taken with their precious aeroplanes.
Moller took Stanley one side after things died down. William thought he was in for a dressing down. "Not bad," the instructor admitted. "You need to ease off the stick near the top of the loop in order to get a good circle. What you did was more like an egg shape. Still, not bad." "Oh? Thank you sir." Stanley was a little surprised by this advice. "So good in fact," Moller continued, "that I think that you can take part in a Doncaster tradition." "What would that be sir?" "Glad you asked. As you know, there is usually a gaggle of civilian onlookers on flying days. We like to give them something to talk about, so every now and then we shove a dummy out of an aeroplane." The instructor saw the look on Stanley's face. "A tailor's dummy. We dress it up in flying gear. When it lands we make a big fuss, send the ambulances over quick so nobody sees. Good show all round!
"Anyway, it takes a bit of skill to drop a mannequin close enough to be seen but not so close as to give the game away. Are you up for it?"