the break. Once the enemy pilot was committed, he slammed the stick

back to the right, at the same time pulling back on the throttles and

cutting in the flaps. The maneuver, a split-S, was designed to force

the pursuing plane to overshoot.

“No good, Stoney!” Dixie said. “He’s still back there!”

Tombstone brought the stick back left again, waited for the MiG to

commit … then boosted to full military power and pulled into a climb,

rolling inverted at the top of a short climb, then dropping toward where

the bandit should have overshot.

“No good again! He’s still coming’!”

Damn! This guy was too good.

“He’s got lock!” Dixie called. “He’s going for launch!”

Tombstone heard the tone of a radar lock. He went into another climb

and kept pushing. “Hit the chaff, Dixie!” he yelled.

“Launch! Launch!”

“Keep punching out chaff!” He held the Tomcat’s climb, then dropped

into inverted level flight. “Where is it?”

“Still coming! There it goes!”

He saw the missile pass astern of the Tomcat, a white streak scratched

vertically into the sky. He caught only a glimpse of the missile

itself, a pencil balanced on orange flame. Quickly, Tombstone pulled a

half roll, then started climbing again. The MiG was still climbing,

sticking to his six with a grim and deadly determination.

“Keep an eye on him, Dixie,” Tombstone said. He eased the throttles

back, cutting power. The Tomcat slowed, still climbing. At one hundred

fifty knots the wings slid forward and the plane began shimmying,

threatening a stall.

“Gettin’ close, Tombstone! Range one thousand.”

“A little more …”

“Shit, I think he’s going’ for guns, Stoney!”

“A little more …”

The Tomcat hung at the peak of the climb. The port engine coughed and

the stall warning light flared. Tombstone let the Tomcat fall onto its

side, kicking in rudders and flaps as the F-14 fell sideways, then slid

into a tight vertical reverse.

The MiG pilot was good … no question there. But Tombstone was

capitalizing on the advantages in maneuverability the F-14 had over the

MiG-21. His pursuer couldn’t match that turn in a MiG-21, not without

stalling out or falling out of control.

The Tomcat was plunging earthward now. Tombstone watched the MiG swell

until it filled his HUD. He flashed past head to head, picking up speed

rapidly. In that frozen-instant of passage, Tombstone saw the MiG

climbing past him, the number 612 prominent in red on the nose.

The MiG that had eluded him earlier … and downed Price and Zig-Zag.

As soon as he was past, he brought the stick back and cut in his

afterburners. G-forces pressed him down in his ejection seat, draining

the blood from his brain and threatening him with unconsciousness. Then

he was hard into a right break, twisting his head back in an attempt to

locate his opponent.

“Where is he, Dixie? Do you see him?”

“One-two-zero, Stoney. Three o’clock high.”

There he was. Tombstone held the turn, climbing slightly now, rising

under the other plane. The MiG driver was trying to turn inside

Tombstone’s break, but the Tomcat’s position was perfect.

One Sidewinder left. Tombstone got the lock and triggered the launch.

“Fox two!”

The missile arced away toward the enemy plane, drawing closer … closer

… No! The MiG was twisting away, scattering dazzling pinpoints of

light in its wake. Tombstone watched as his last Sidewinder curved

away, uselessly following a flare.

“Let him go, Tombstone! We’re almost bingo fuel, man! We don’t have

the gas!”

“Just a moment more!” At full military power he closed the gap between

the Tomcat and the MiG.

“We’re out of missiles, Tombstone.”

“Switching to guns.” He thumbed the selector switch on his stick. The

concentric rings of the M61 target reticle appeared on his HUD. The MiG

was turning again, trying to break right. Tombstone anticipated the

turn, leading the MiG by a generous margin. They crowded in closer …

closer …

He brought his thumb down on the firing switch. The F-14’s

four-barreled Gatling cut loose with a buzzsaw shriek, pumping out 20-mm

shells at the rate of one hundred per second. The MiG was jinking, the

pilot throwing the delta-winged aircraft back and forth, up and down,

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Categories: Keith Douglass