CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

not really listening in. So far, their flight had been singularly

routine. Glancing back over his right shoulder, he saw that his wingman,

in Tomcat 218, was in position twenty meters off his wingtip at four

o’clock. The helmeted figure in the other aircraft’s pilot’s seat must

have seen the movement, for he raised one hand and touched his visor in

a bantering salute.

Lieutenant Tom Mason, “Dixie” to the other aviators in Viper Squadron,

was a nugget, a new arrival aboard the Jefferson and CVW-20. The kid

seemed to know his stuff. He’d been teamed up with one of the women

aviators in the squadron, Lieutenant Kathleen Garrity, as his RIO, and

so far they seemed to be working well together. Batman hoped, though,

that this deployment wasn’t as rough as the last one; nuggets tended to

get excited in real combat, like the furballs the Vipers had

participated in over Norway and the Kola. They could do something

harebrained, like leave their wingmen, or they could freeze up. Either

way, the statistics relating to their surviving that first taste of

combat weren’t all that good. Cat Garrity had proven herself over the

Kola, though, and ought to provide a good, steadying influence if

anything nasty went down this time out.

He glanced left. The Georgian coast was just visible to the eye, a

gray-and-purple smear on the horizon beneath the rising sun. It would be

so nice if someone would explain, just once and in terms that people

other than State Department policy wonks could understand, what

America’s strategic interests in this part of the world could possibly

be. Thanksgiving was just three weeks away, but it looked as though

Jefferson’s crew was going to spend the holiday season away from homes

and families. And for what? To enforce the UN’s no-fly zones in the

Black Sea? It was hard to think of that as vital to the national


He wondered if the incident with the Russian sub might change things.

Scuttlebutt aboard the Jefferson had it that the Russians fished from

the sea last night might be returned home soon. .. and that the

agreement being worked out with Russian officials might even lead to a

down-scaling of the hostilities in this region. One rumor floating about

VF-95’s ready room had it that the Russians were about to surrender the

whole damned Crimea to the UN.

If that happened, maybe they wouldn’t need a carrier out here anymore.

The no-fly zones could be enforced by Air Force planes operating out of


Not, Batman reminded himself, that things ever worked out that smoothly.

“Contact, Batman,” Malibu said from the backseat. “We’ve got a bogey in

the NFZ, probable helicopter. Watch Dog is vectoring us in.”

“Roger that.” He opened the tactical frequency with Mason. “Bird Dog

Two, this is Bird Dog One. Did you copy that contact? Over.”

“Ah, roger,” Cat Garrity’s voice came back over the radio. “We copy.”

“And it’s about time,” Dixie’s voice added. “I was starting to doze off

up here.”

“Well, it’s time for reveille, people,” Batman said. “On my mark, come

to zero-eight-five, and ready. .. break!”

He brought his stick over to the left and gave the Tomcat some rudder,

dropping his left wing as he slid into a hard, tight turn. Dixie and Cat

followed, the two Tomcats turning into the sun in air-show perfection.

“Update coming through from Watch Dog,” Malibu said.

“Okay. Patching in.”

“Bird Dog Flight, this is Watch Dog,” the voice of the Hawkeye’s air

controller said. “Listen, we have two contacts now. We’ve IDED one as UN

Flight Two-seven, out of Poti. He’s being followed by a bogey,

designated contact Sierra One. Negative IFF on the bogey. Repeat, bogey

is not transmitting IFF.”

“Roger that, Watch Dog,” Batman said.

IFF–Identification Friend or Foe–was the means by which ships and

aircraft could recognize one another across distances or in conditions

where visual identification could be a problem. Back in the old glory

days, when air-to-air combat was a matter of getting close enough to the

other guy to use your machine guns on him, target identification was a

matter of recognizing a silhouette. Nowadays, though, when a Tomcat

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