CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

There’d been a time, not so many years back, when Batman would have

howled with derision at the thought that he could ever be anything other

than a naval aviator. He loved flying, loved it with a passion that put

flight at the very core of his entire life. He’d joined the Navy in the

first place precisely because, in his opinion, naval aviators were

better than any other military pilots; they had to be, to let themselves

be hurled off a pitching flight deck at 170 knots. .. or to trap on the

carrier deck after hours in the air, often in the dark and in stormy,

wet, or visibility-poor weather.

But after more than ten years in the Navy, he was beginning to look for

something more than the heart-pounding slam of acceleration when he

pushed the throttles to Zone Five burner.

He was beginning to realize that Sunny Tomlinson might just be that

something more.

Ahead, another F-14 waited on Cat Three as the dance on the deck

continued, White Shirts completing their safety checks, red-shirted

ordnancemen checking the aircraft’s weapons, making certain the arming

pins with their red-tagged wires were pulled, making double-certain each

of the F-14’s missiles–Sidewinder, AMRAAM, and Phoenix–was secure.

Then the jet blast deflector, the JBD, slowly rose from the deck into an

upright position squarely behind the Tomcat, obscuring it from Batman’s


In less than a minute, however, the F-14 ahead thundered off the angled

flight deck, its F110-GE 400 engines glowing like twin bright orange

eyes as the catstroke hurled it off the waist and into the sky,

following the Hornet. In a swirl of steam, the JBD folded back down to

the deck, and Batman eased Tomcat 201 forward, guiding it over the slot

where green-shirted hookup men ran the catapult shuttle back to the


Everywhere on the deck around him, the dance continued, an ant-heap

scurrying of rushed but purposeful behavior. Four to five hundred men

were working together on the deck, moving in close synchronization, the

entire production directed by the Air Boss in his glassed-in aerie high

up on the island, in Pri-Fly. Things were moving fast this morning, as

if to compensate for the unexpected interruption in flight activities

last night. With the survivors of the sunken Victor III’s crew aboard

now and with the Jefferson well into her operational area in the eastern

end of the Black Sea, the launches and recoveries were going like

clockwork, the carrier flexing her airborne muscles.

A Green Shirt standing to the starboard side of the F-14 held up a board

reading 62500, providing Batman with verification of the Tomcat’s total

weight in pounds–aircraft, fuel, and weapons. He nodded agreement; the

same weight would be fed to the catapult officer in his domed-over

hideaway on the deck, letting him know just what settings to call for

from the cat crew below. Get it right, guy, Batman thought with a flash

of gallows humor. In fact, every man and woman aboard the ship knew his

or her job as well as he knew his.

But there were so many things that could go wrong. Not even the

instruments were fast enough to keep up with everything that happened

during the catstroke; launch was a supreme gesture of blind faith in

shipmates and in technology.

A Red Shirt held up a bundle of wires, each with a red tag fixed to one

end. There were six of them, representing two AIM-9M Sidewinders and

four AMRAAM radar-guided missiles. .. correct. A clatter of chains

beneath Batman’s feet told him the hookup men were securing his

nose-wheel to the cat shuttle.

The final checklist run-through proceeded swiftly and with a taut

economy of motion. The launch officer held his hand high, circling

tightly, and Batman eased his throttles forward to full military power.

He checked the motion of his stick, forward, back, left, right. .. then

the rudder pedals, left, right. All clear, all correct. A red light high

on the carrier’s island next to Pri-Fly winked over to green.

“Green light,” Malibu called.

“Hang on to your stomach, buddy. Let’s find us some elbow room!”

“Roger that.”

The launch officer, standing to the F-14’s right, was taking a last look

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