"Mes trois grandes courses"
My three long runs.
Page 6

  into the haze of the horizon. All around the vast metropolis shines a tangled network of railways, converging upon the heart of England, resembling a great spider's web.

This wonderful vision, absorbed in a few seconds, is so striking that it will for ever remain an indelible memory.

A little beyond London, I recognise the reservoirs of Hendon through the flashing disc of my propeller. They are located hard by the airfield. My engine is now running with such force that I am compelled to throttle back several times. I land in the middle of a welcoming crowd.

I am driven to my hangar. There, with a programme in hand, seated on a chair, unencumbered by my overalls, I try to consider the future and my race. I do not make a particularly interesting spectacle. Yet it is a vain hope. Post cards are produced to me by the hundred, and I pay one of my tributes of the aviator. I have no peace until a new pilot arrives; my companions gaze for an instant and then stream away… those troublesome cards in their hands.

Soon twilight covers the earth and no more pilots are to be expected. Thus the short Brooklands - Hendon stage comes to a close; a vast spectacle put on for the enjoyment of Londoners on their doorstep one Saturday afternoon - that is to say, at a moment when work ceases everywhere.

My day is over and I very much wish to get back to London. But first it is necessary for me to wait for my valise, forgotten on one of the automobiles; not least because I need to retrieve my ill-fated course itinerary. Only one place will definitely have enough space for us. At 9 o' clock in the evening, I return to the Savoy.

The following day, the 23rd, I return to the airfield. At Hendon, I accept the hospitality of M. Petitpierre, the clever chief technician at the Blériot School. We shall have to get away on the next stage on the 24th, at four o' clock in the morning.

I have to leave, in second place, at exactly 4 h. 0' 15”. However, due to a misunderstanding, I am given the signal to take-off twenty seconds too soon at 3 h. 59' 51”. My mechanics can hardly have seen me raise my hand, but they respond instead to the time-keeper lowering his flag and let go of the machine. I set course in the calm, transparent, fresh air at an altitude of 300 metres, carefully following the railway track which passes the aerodrome. A good 20 kilometres from Hendon, I abandon the railway and immediately pick up the road to Bedford as my new guide.

Subsequently, I fly over some low hills and then, without warning, the earth disappears from my view: I pass into the dense cotton wool of morning fog. I am forced to make a manoeuvre which is essential in this sort of situation. It is dangerous from the point of view of flying, but certain with regard to direction. I glide down to just 30 metres above the ground, where at last I am able to pick up contours and some landmarks. Alas, the blanket of fog descends ever lower! So low and so thick that I become unable to make out the white ribbon of the road. Forced to climb back up straight away, I resign myself to practising aerial navigation by means of compass, watch and an estimation of my speed. A strange phenomenon helps me find my way. Great plumes of smoke appear, piercing the fog bank below me and blooming out over the clear, sunlit surface. Evidently, there are the chimneys of some factory below, of an industrial town. My map provides me with its name.

It is at this stage that Védrines overtakes me. He is flying wide zigzags, appearing sometimes on my right, sometimes on my left as he searches for the right way.

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