“Takahashi, take your flight up high and watch the Limey top cover,” Joe said. “Call it in if—” Stopping in midsentence, he squinted toward the British planes left around the zep. The radio clicked as four Kestrels climbed out of Inconstant‘s formation. He set his radio to Emma’s channel and said, “You see two engines on those bandits?”
There was silence, and Joe could see Emma leaning over in her cockpit for a better view. After a moment, she replied, “Looks like.”
“Copy that.” Burr set her headset down and said, “Looks like they’ve got bombers out, skipper. That’s the last of our fighters launching now.”
Cannon stepped aside as a young crewman set a marker on the plotting table. “Hold the bombers for now.”
Before he could say more, Jane Tomlin slid down the ladder, breathing hard, and passed him a slip of paper.
“Thank you, Ms. Tomlin,” he said, glancing over the information she’d copied from Jane’s. As he’d thought, HMS Sparrow had been built in late 1921, and the state of the art had come a long way since then. Further down the page, Tomlin had taken notes on the Starling-class to which Sparrow belonged. She sported bow planes, but only two von Rubenstein cells—helium trim tanks, more or less—to Inconstant‘s six, and neither was fitted with a helium generator. Aware all eyes were on him, Cannon folded the note and limped aft to the gondola’s rear windows. “Binoculars,” he said. The lookout handed them over, and Cannon focused them on Sparrow. Sure enough, she held at least five degrees nose up above the angle of her climb. Her engines would be straining to push her to high altitude. Without more von Rubenstein cells or generators, she had only the lift from her tailfins and bow planes to hold her above her trim altitude.