Iím not yet feeling anger, not sure how to behave. How one learns in a hangar: whoís a king, whoís a slave? Who is bad, who is good, who is weaker, whoís stronger? Who will win at the end? Who will break, who will bend? A test pilot? A plane? Or is it near the same? On the ground, a machine is at rest, acting holy. Well, tomorrow Iíll learn where my future resides, In the meantime I lean on my airplaneís steep sides. On the ground we are equal, is it true in the air? Hands feel chill on these slopes, Iím suppressing a cough; Iím not making false hopes since I lived long enough: This machine is a beast, an unridden old devil. Yes, tomorrow my strength will be tripled, And my horse is superb even now. If itís worth it or not, she is riddled, To work hard by the sweat of her brow. I have known you since drawings like since the crib bed, You were off with your turning, you went straight ahead, And you sailed the high seas of the secret science sector. The constructor-in-chief did indulge you, my friend, At the technical bureaus you got out of hand, But today youíre at last in the hands of a tester! Hereís a different play, weíre a difficult bunch. So, you will have to pay, but do not lose too much: In our business a serious loss is unpleasant. You have left all behind, and the timing is ripe, And Iíve been in a bind with your treacherous type, - Thus, backtracking will make us both sinners at present. All the same, my suspicions are growing: What to do if it doesnít go as planned? What to do if the plane will start stalling, Disobeying her masterís command?
* * *
We would take off like mallards from a water-soaked field. We crammed skies, rushing upward. That was funny indeed! In a day twenty missions, what a practical joke! In the steam bath conditions we were flying through fog. Clouds were scattered like feathers from a patchwork at home. Tracers stitched them together into parachutesí domes. We returned with no cover, with no gauges, at night. With my radio-gunner who was shot in the fight. Damage taken is haunting, bullets riddled both wings. Center stickís not responding, giving me the cold chills. It was shaking in fever, it was dancing its dance, It was drumming the meter of a circus stunt act. It still gives me sick thrills to remember How we managed to fly and to land. Yes, our airplane was showing its temper By refusing to follow commands. Well, tomorrow, if lucky, weíll be singing our tune. But today, my old buddy, we are flying on fumes. Donít you dare to attack me with a knife in my back! There will be other takeoffs, food for both when we land! We should try a tad harder, do you hear me, machine? Since abandoning partners does sound foreign to me. Well, I have a gut feeling and itís not a closed book: My bifacial wingman has a dangerous look Of a player whoís hiding his ambitions from sight. But Iíll never be frightened by this ominous sign: There are limits for engines, but I reach for the sky! One will sing in ascension and another will cry! If we manage to live through this journey They wonít write us off to reserve. Who will question a plane thatís still worthy? Who will say itís not eager to serve?!
© Kirill Tolmachev. Translation, 2022