Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"He Watched the Mortal Combat That Unrolled Before Him"

SOME DETECTIVE FICTION authors have found the prospect of a crime aboard an airplane to be practically irresistible, Agatha Christie being foremost among them (Death in the Clouds, 1935). In today's story, a veteran aviator becomes an almost helpless witness to what happens in . . .

"The Death Window."
By A. S. Gregory (?-?).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, June 1, 1930.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     ". . . there's going to be murder!—in our plane!"

It's a race against time when word comes that an important witness has unexpectedly boarded an airliner with at least one, maybe two, men who intend to shut him up—permanently . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Britten:
  "They think I'm nuts!"
~ Hughes:
  "Another bubble goes flooey! The murder plane!"
~ Harris:
  "Why didn't you lower us a note, or something?"
~ Whitberg:
  ". . . the copilot slid a compartment window open and thrust his head out. What he saw caused his eyes to bulge."

Comment: Too many exclamation marks!!!!!

Interesting verbiage:
  "Britten squinted his eyes until they appeared like the glittering edge of a cavalry sword."

References and resources:
- "thirty-passenger, four-motored airliner": The illustrator doesn't seem to have read the text. The plane in the illo accompanying the story is supposed to be the classic Fokker F.VII Trimotor (Wikipedia HERE), but notice that the cockpit windows are placed too far forward and the third engine that should be in the nose isn't there. Leave it to that engineering genius Igor Sikorsky to design and fly the first four-engined aircraft in history (Wikipedia HERE). (HOWEVER: See Comments below.)
- "It's a man's life we're racing for to-day": Aviation exploits were daily news in the '20s and '30s, when air racing was all the rage. (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The Pitots gave the air speed at one hundred and ninety": A useful flying instrument as long as it doesn't ice up; fatal crashes have resulted when it did: "A pitot (PEE-toh) tube, also known as pitot probe, is a flow measurement device used to measure fluid flow velocity. The pitot tube was invented by the French engineer Henri Pitot in the early 18th century and was modified to its modern form in the mid-19th century by French scientist Henry Darcy. It is widely used to determine the airspeed of an aircraft, water speed of a boat, and to measure liquid, air and gas flow velocities in certain industrial applications." (Wikipedia HERE).
-"they shot into my slipstream": Often called "propwash": "Spiral slipstream (also known as spiraling slipstream, propwash in the US, or just slipstream in the U.K.) is a spiral-shaped slipstream formed behind a rotating propeller on an aircraft. The most noticeable effect resulting from the formation of a spiral slipstream is the tendency to yaw nose-left at low speed and full throttle (in centerline tractor aircraft with a clockwise-rotating propeller.) This effect is caused by the slipstream acting upon the tail fin of the aircraft: the slipstream causes the air to rotate around the forward-aft axis of the aircraft, and this air flow exerts a force on the tail fin, pushing it to the right." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "the deaf and dumb language": "Sign languages are full-fledged natural languages with their own grammar and lexicon. Sign languages are not universal and they are not mutually intelligible with each other, although there are also striking similarities among sign languages." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "changed the center of gravity and threw the plane off equilibrium": "The center of gravity may change over the duration of the flight as the aircraft's weight changes due to fuel burn or by passengers moving forward or aft in the cabin." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "no faster than about two hundred and some miles an hour": Otherwise called "terminal velocity": "Higher speeds can be attained if the skydiver pulls in his or her limbs (see also freeflying). In this case, the terminal speed increases to about 320 km/h (200 mph or 90 m/s), which is almost the terminal speed of the peregrine falcon diving down on its prey. The same terminal speed is reached for a typical .30-06 bullet dropping downwards—when it is returning to the ground having been fired upwards, or dropped from a tower—according to a 1920 U.S. Army Ordnance study." (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The taut flying wires sounded like a thousand steam whistles": "In aeronautics, bracing comprises additional structural members which stiffen the functional airframe to give it rigidity and strength under load. Bracing may be applied both internally and externally, and may take the form of struts, which act in compression or tension as the need arises, and/or wires, which act only in tension." (Wikipedia HERE).
- We don't know much about A. S. Gregory; we do know that he or she had a penchant for flying stories, publishing 22 aviation tales (including today's) from 1928-37 in magazines like Air Trails, Air Adventures, Sky Riders, and others; see FictionMags (HERE).


  1. I love aviation mysteries.

    If you want a really bizarre aviation mystery then the weirdest of them all has to be C.Daly King's OBELISTS FLY HIGH. I'm not saying it's a good aviation mystery but it sure is a strange one.

    1. I have a copy of OBELISTS somewhere around here—been meaning to get to it for years. I wonder if there are enough aviation mysteries to qualify as a subgenre.

  2. If you look at the illustration, the artist did read the text. The aircraft has a twin engine push-pull configuration - so 2 engines per wing = 4 engines.

  3. Hmm, a quick Google and ... it's a Fokker F32

    1. Oops! Thanks, Dave. I stand correctible. It WAS an F-32:

      As Roseanne Roseannadanna would say: "Never mind."