Somehow the follow-up reports never managed to carry the exultation of

air-to-air combat. Or the terror. “Break left, Army!” Taggart called.

“Roger. Left.”

“Watch out, Tombstone!” Dixie called. “Twelve o’clock! We got two

taking us head-to-head!”

Tombstone saw the MiGs streaking toward his plane dead ahead. “Rog! Let

’em come!” In an instant they swelled from specks in the distance to

aircraft flashing past. The combined speeds of MiGs and Tomcat amounted

to better than Mach 2.

One of the strange effects of combat which Tombstone had noted before

was the almost surreal slowing of time. At Mach 2 there was no way for

an aviator to see any detail at all in the other aircraft … yet as he

turned his head to follow the passing MiGs it felt as though he could

count every rivet. He could see the J-7s’ mid-fuselage delta wings,

could see the arrow-slim heads of their Aphid and Atoll missile loads,

could actually see into the cockpits and see two red-helmeted heads with

the black sun visors canted up, looking back at him.

Then they were gone, vanishing into the blue distance behind him.

“Eagle Leader,” he called. He pulled back on the stick and the Tomcat

climbed. “I’m on them. Going for a vertical reverse.”

“You want to let me off at the next stop?” Dixie asked.

“Just keep your eye on those MiGs,” Tombstone replied. The F-14 was

climbing straight up now, but Tombstone kept the afterburners off. The

plane was losing speed. “Where are they?”

“Going into a turn, Tombstone. Range one mile.”

The vertical reverse was the modern equivalent of the stall turn

sometimes employed by fighter pilots in the age of prop planes. The

aircraft climbed straight up, losing speed until it threatened to stall

out completely, then turned toward the ground. The plane’s low speed

made it possible to turn in an extremely tight radius, but there was a

very large risk that the fighter would lose control.

Tombstone brought the Tomcat’s swept-back wings forward and engaged the

flaps. The F-14 bucked, stress vibrating through the hull, but the

airspeed indicator showed less than one hundred and forty knots as he

kicked in the rudder and brought the stick over. For one shuddering

moment, the F-14 fought and bucked, and the stall warning light on his

caution/ advisory panel flashed once.

Then they were arrowing toward the ground once more. Tombstone cut the

flaps and brought the wings back to full sweep, trading altitude for

speed in an all-out dive for the deck. Two miles away, the MiGs were

halfway into their turn, barely visible as a pair of black specks almost

touching one another as they broke left in unison.

He pulled the F-14 out of its dive and hurtled toward the MiGs at almost

five hundred knots. He selected the targeting display for his HUD and

saw the small box symbols appear over the specks as the plane’s computer

identified potential targets. “We’ll go for a Sidewinder launch,” he

told his RIO. He brought the targeting pipper on his HUD across one of

the specks, saw the square flash into a circle with the computer graphic

“M” for missile displayed.

His fingers closed on the firing button, and an AIM-9J Sidewinder slid

clear of its rail. “Fox two!” Tombstone called, warning of a

heat-seeker launch. “Fox two!”

The MiGs held their turn as the all-aspect heat-seeker arrowed toward

the left-hand target. Both J-7s began popping flares, bright orange

pinpoints of light which arced away from their hulls like Roman candles,

trailing smoke.

“Two more bandits,” Dixie warned. “Coming on our six. Range three


“Let ’em come.” Tombstone pulled the stick left, turning inside the

MiGs ahead, hoping to line up a shot at the second plane. He saw the

contrail brush the MiG. There was a flash, and the J-7’s wings folded

toward one another, the fuselage disintegrating in white flame.

Secondary explosions ate their way through the burning wreckage as fuel

and munitions exploded.

Burning debris scattered smoking trails into the jungle below.

“Splash one MiG!” Dixie called. “Chalk one for Tombstone!”

Tombstone began lining up for his second shot. The target was weaving

and jinking now, aware that the American was closing fast inside his

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142

Categories: Keith Douglass