CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

general’s guests. We can stay here at the palace, or return to Yalta.”

“Somehow,” he said, “I don’t think that’s going to be good enough. If it

was Dmitriev who tried to knock the general off here, he must know by

now that he didn’t succeed.”

That, in fact, was the best explanation Tombstone could think of for the

attack on the helicopter. Abdulhalik had said the would-be assassins

were Tatars; had they killed Boychenko, the murder could have been

blamed on Tatar nationalists. There would have been watchers, however,

who would have reported by now that Boychenko was still alive. The air

strike had probably been set as a backup plan, a way of keeping the

general from escaping Yalta for the relative security of the Thomas


But that meant that hostiles were probably already on their way to

finish the job the Tatars had botched.

“Tell the general,” Tombstone said, “that we don’t have much time. I’m

going to round up the Americans and UN people. Tell him to get his army

personnel assembled. I figure we have an hour, maybe less, before all

hell breaks loose.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sir,” the aide, Fedorev, said, as Natalie spoke to the general. His use

of the honorific was immediate and natural, unthinking. “Is there

anything special you need?”

“Access to a radio,” Tombstone replied. “I’d better talk this over with

the Jefferson.”

He was beginning to formulate an idea, but he couldn’t develop it

further until he knew what was happening at sea.

One thing he did know: The Jefferson battle group and the men and women

aboard were in a war zone once again, and God help anyone who tried to

get in their way!


Thursday, 5 November 1041 hours (Zulu +3)

Tomcat 218 The Black Sea Dixie frowned. “Hey, Badge? I got another

problem here.”

“What is it, man?”

“My wings won’t swing forward. Can’t tell whether it’s the computer or

the wing hardware, but they won’t budge.”

The F-14 Tomcat’s variable geometry wings were designed to fold back at

higher speeds to increase maneuverability and decrease drag, and swing

forward at low speeds to provide additional lift for takeoffs and

landings. Normally, the aircraft’s central air data computer, or CADC,

began swinging the wings forward when the plane’s speed dropped below

three hundred knots. They were at 275 knots now as they circled in the

Marshall stack, but Dixie’s wings stubbornly remained folded in the

full-back position.

“Try the override.”

“I did. No go.”

“Shit. How do you feel about a negative-turkey landing?”

Dixie chuckled nervously. “I think I can handle that.”

Some Tomcat pilots overrode their computers during the final approach to

the carrier, subscribing to the popular and loudly voiced belief that a

Tomcat with its wings extended forward looked like a big, ugly,

long-necked bird–“turkey mode,” as they called it. A Tomcat could land

with its wings folded back but had to maintain a landing speed of 145

knots on the approach and touchdown instead of the 115 knots of a

wings-out landing.

“Two-one-eight” called over his headset. “Deck clear. Charlie now.”

That was the signal for him to break from the Marshall stack formation

and start his approach for the trap. They’d kept him in the

racetrack-shaped loiter course for nearly twenty minutes while they

brought other aircraft down; now it was just him, Badger, and Batman

still up, with the other two Tomcats staying aloft both to provide

security for the ship and to help talk him down if necessary.

God, he wanted to be down. His Tomcat had begun shuddering ominously

during the long flight back, the vibration growing worse and worse as he

descended to five thousand feet and becoming especially pronounced when

he worked the flight controls, opening the flaps or spoilers. Normally,

his CADC handled all such minor flight adjustments from moment to

moment, as well as controlling his wing geometry, but he was having to

make all corrections by hand now. According to his instrument readouts,

his CADC was still operational, but its commands weren’t reaching his

wings. .. and each manual input seemed to increase the vibration from

his left control surfaces. Sweat was pooling inside his oxygen mask now;

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