CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

bandit, wings folded back like those of a stooping eagle. Mickey had

five more bandits on radar within twelve miles, closing fast, and plenty

more within a thirty-mile radius. “Hey, Dixie!” he said. “We’ve got

bandits all over the sky! I’m not sure I like these odds!”

“You wanna go to Phoenix, man?”

“Damn, I don’t know.” They had weapons free, but the big Phoenix

missiles were long-range, stand-off weapons, designed to knock down

attackers threatening the battle group. The strategic situation was

still murky; just who was attacking whom here?

“Hey, Mickey! You get a good look at that red bird we passed?”

“Sure did, Dixie. Mig two-seven, no bout a-doubt it.”

“Pass the word to ’em back at the farm, will you? I don’t think they’ll

believe me.”

“I think they’ll believe this one, Dixie. Only question is, was it a

Russki or a Uke?”

“I couldn’t see a rounder or a star, could you?”

“Negative. He was going too fast.”

Damn. It was frustrating to be in combat with someone. .. and to not

even know who it was you were fighting! The assumption back aboard

Jefferson–both in the briefings and in the bull sessions in the

squadron ready room–had been that the likely aggressors today, if

indeed anybody came out to play, would be Ukrainians bent on jumping the

gun on the Russians before Boychenko turned the Crimea over to the UN.

The aggressor aircraft appeared to be forming up in a loose-knit cloud

to the west now, moving in a more or less northerly direction. As Dixie

studied the pattern on his Vertical Display Indicator, he had the

impression that he was looking at essentially a defensive formation,

that the attacks he and Badger had endured had been launched by hostile

barrier forces to keep them from breaking through to the main body.

“BARCAP Two! BARCAP Two! This is Dog House!”

“Yeah! Go ahead, Dog House!”

“We’re reading at least ten bogeys in your vicinity! Break off! Break

off and RTB. Repeat, break off and RTB!”

“First sensible advice I’ve heard all day,” Dixie said over the tactical

channel. “It’s gettin’ too damned crowded out here!”

“Roger that!” Badger’s voice came back.

A warbling tone sounded in his headset. Threat warning!

“Hey, Dixie!” Mickey called from the backseat. “They’ve got us painted!”

“I hear it.” That particular warning chirp–and a red light winking on

the threat display on his instrument panel indicated that a hostile

aircraft had just established a radar lock on their Tomcat.

“Okay, Dixie,” Badger called. “The bandits’ve got missiles inbound at

three-zero-two. .. looks like AA-9s. You got ’em on your scope?”

“We have them,” Mickey replied. “Range. .. two-five miles.”

“Yeah, I think they just popped those things to scare us,” Red Burns

said from Badger’s backseat.

“They’re doing a hell of a job,” Mickey said. “Let’s didi out of here,


“I’m with you, brother.” Dixie brought the stick over again, swinging

the Tomcat into a northeasterly course. .. back toward the Jefferson.

AA-9 Amos was the NATO designation for the Russian equivalent to the

Navy’s AIM-54 Phoenix, a large missile with a range of at least eighty

miles and active radar homing.

“What’s the range on the missiles, Mickey?”

“Nine miles.” The RIO sounded tight, and totally focused on his

rear-seat console display. “Let’s go to burner.”

“Zone five, now!”

The Tomcat’s twin afterburners kicked Dixie hard in the back. The

aircraft’s computer swung the wings all the way back as they passed Mach

1.5. Moments later they slipped past Mach 2; the Tomcat’s maximum speed

at high altitude–say, at forty thousand feet–was Mach 2.34. At their

current altitude of twelve thousand feet, the air was denser and sound

traveled faster; Mach 2 was about the best that they could manage.

The AA-9 had a speed of about Mach 3.5, so there was no outrunning the

thing in the short run. The long run was something else again, however.

At Mach 3.5, the missile would cover nine miles in something like twelve

seconds, but its speed relative to the Tomcat was only Mach 1.5–eleven

hundred miles per hour, give or take a bit, at this altitude. At a

closing speed of eleven hundred miles per hour, the missile would eat up

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