Air Canada 857, Heathrow tower, cleared for takeoff, Daventry 2 SID.”
“Heathrow, 857, Daventry 2, rolling,” Ken responded.
I pushed open the taps and the 747 started to roll on runway 10R. Acceleration was rapid as Ken called the standard speed checks: at 114 knots our last chance to abort the takeoff, then at 137 knots “rotate,” and I eased back on the pole. With little wind and a moderate temperature, the performance was standard as we started our climb-out right on the numbers at 144 knots.
“Positive rate of climb,” called Ken.
“Gear up,” I said.
Sitting in the captain’s chair on my left, Ken reached across the throttle quadrant and with his right hand pulled up the lever near my left knee.
I heard the nose gear door open, and the gear started its usual discontented growl upward.
“Oh, Christ,” said Jack, the second officer, seated aft and between us.
I glanced sideways at Ken. His upper torso was lying across the throttle quadrant on the power levers, his arm dangling down below the gear handle.
Apparently he had fainted, and he was now unconscious. Without another word, Jack slipped his shoulder straps and with one heave lifted Ken back into his seat and cinched his seat belt and shoulder harness tight. Ken’s head lolled back against the headrest. We were now at about four hundred feet, and my heart rate took an uptick. I grabbed the taps and eased them back to climb power to avoid breaking our noise maximum on the ground monitor, “Charlie,” four miles off the end of the runway.
Jack hit the flap lever, and the nose dipped forward as the flaps and slats started up their tracks and the wing geometry changed to cleaner configuration for normal climb attitude.
I glanced at Ken again and my heart took another upward leap; his face was ashen and he looked as if he were struggling for breath.
Visibility was good as I did a quick scan of the horizon. I knew instinctively we were not going to Montreal today. My first thought was to dump fuel down to landing weight and get Ken to a hospital. With a near-full passenger load and heavy on fuel for the ocean crossing, we would need some time to get down to landing weight. Takeoff weight is much heavier than landing; landing at this weight could put excessive strain on the gear.
In the worst circumstance, it could cause some deformity of the aircraft structure through bending and twisting forces that the craft is not engineered to handle. I thought we had best get over the water around Land’s End lighthouse or over the North Sea and commence dumping—pronto.
Jack’s voice again. I heard it, but I didn’t want to hear what he was saying.
“Bill, we have another problem.”
To find out what was wrong with the brand new 747, read the book and turn to page 2.