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Jack Black ran up the hill and paused at the top to catch his breath.
Before him lay the airfield with its rust-colored airstrip, wooden buildings, canvas
tents, herd of sheep (to keep the grass short) and tall mooring mast. Looming over it all was the giant airship hangar. The hangar was five hundred feet high and more than one thousand feet long. It was so huge it could create its own weather, but even so, it was only just big enough to house the Bellerophon, the largest airship in the world. Five times bigger than the biggest blimp and faster than an ocean liner, the Belle was magnificent. It was hard to see her full glory, housed in the hangar as she was with men swarming about her, obscuring her with their scaffolds and ladders. But Jack had seen' her when she'd been out on test
runs, when the helium in her gas cells lifted her high above the airfield. Then the sun had bounced off her silver skin and dazzled all who'd seen her. She was an aweinspiring sight, almost a thousand feet long and three hundred feet high, and, best of all, Jack's father, Captain Henry Hugo Black, was to be her captain.
Jack set off down the hill, but the sudden roar of a plane overhead made him stop and turn sharply.
The plane, a bright yellow Berger 17, shot past.
"Gadfly!" yelled Jack, waving frantically at the famous aviator's plane. "Gadfly's back!"
The yellow plane landed neatly, red dust from the airstrip rising behind it. By the time Jack reached the hangar, the yellow plane was taxiing to a stop.
Jack caught up with it and jumped onto the wing. He clung to the edge of the cockpit and laughed as he tried to pull the goggles off the pilot's face.
"Gadfly, ya varmint," he yelled at the top of his lungs. "I'm commandeering this plane. Hand it over!"
"Why, you little rotter," laughed Gadfly. "I'll teach you to go climbing on my plane." He grabbed hold of the back of Jack's belt, pulled him into the cockpit headfirst, and began to wallop him on the backside with his big gloved hand. "Putting your footprints all over the Viper's pretty wings. Blunt won't be happy having to clean this off."
With an effort, Jack pulled himself upright and shot a glance at Gadfly's mechanic, Blunt, who sat in the rear cockpit bundled in flying jacket, helmet, and goggles. All Jack could see of Blunt's face was his sour, down-turned mouth.
"Hello, Blunt," said Jack cheerily. "Didn't see you there. How are you?'
Blunt just stared through Jack as though he didn't exist. Jack shrugged and leaned close to Gadfly's ear.
"Blunt wouldn't be happy if he won a diamond tiara in a raffle."
"Shhhh, hissed Gadfly. "He's the best mechanic in the world, and I'm not going to lose him just because you don't like his looks. Besides, you never know, a tiara might suit him."
Jack burst out laughing again.
As Gadfly brought the plane into the shadow of the giant hangar, Jack jumped down and ran to see the Belle. He knew every inch of her by heart: the twenty-four engines arranged twelve along each side, the four tail fins, the main gondola suspended beneath her belly. He stared up at the men climbing over the hull and tried to imagine what it would be like when the airship was thousands of feet above the world, cutting through the clouds. The rudders on her tail fins would shift slightly, and the Belle would respond by turning in a wide, graceful arc. Jack smiled. Fast planes like Gadfly's were his first love for sure, but the Belleropbon was special in a different way.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves by Carol Hughes Copyright © 2001 by Carol Hughes. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.