CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

unlucky enough to stray into its line of fire.

Neither man spoke for a long moment. Then Cole looked across at

Dombrowski, scowling. “And just what the hell do you mean by ‘probably,’

anyway?” he demanded.

Dombrowski laughed.

0929 hours (Zulu +4)

Tomcat 218 UN No-Fly Zone, Republic of Georgia The blip winked onto

Dixie’s Vertical Display Indicator with the suddenness of a thrown

switch. .. a hard signal from the Tomcat’s own AWG-9 radar, not a data

link feed from the Hawkeye. “Contact!” he yelled. “I’ve got him now!

Bearing oh-one-oh, range four miles.”

“I keep losing him in the ground clutter,” Cat added. “Getting an

eyeball on this guy’s going to be tough.”

“Yeah. Tell me about it.” The typical helicopter cruised at less than

150 miles per hour, a snail’s crawl to a Tomcat howling in at just below

Mach 1. And with the helo flying down on the deck in these rugged

mountains, spotting would be that much harder.

Mason craned his neck, straining to get a visual on the bogey even

though he knew they were still too far out. At four miles, an aircraft

was a speck when it was back-lit by the sky; this clown would probably

be wearing camouflage, and he’d be down on the deck. But at almost six

hundred miles per hour, they would cover four miles in just twenty-four

seconds. In that same period of time, the bogey would cover just about

another mile; thirty seconds and he and Cat would be smack on top of


Mountains rose to left and right, gray granite walls, some cloaked with

pine trees, others barren. He was following a river valley now,

relatively flat and a couple of miles across but bounded by sheer cliffs

and woods-cloaked slopes. Snow flashed at the highest elevations.

“Hey, Dixie?” Cat called from the backseat. “Maybe we should back off

from the wall a bit.”

She wasn’t referring to the valley wall, he knew, but to their speed.

Flying slower would be safer. .. give them both a chance to see


But he was eager. He wanted to get there, now.

“Just another few seconds, Cat. We’re almost there.”

The radar contact vanished off the screen, less than two miles ahead.

Dixie could see why–the valley took a sharp turn to the left up there,

and the slopes to either side went vertical, turning the valley into a

tight, rock-walled canyon. The bogey must have just gone around the


“Keep your eyes sharp,” he told Cat. “The bastard’s just around-”

“Radar contact!” Cat cut in. “We’re being painted!”

“The helo?”

“Negative! Negative! I read it as Gun Dish!”

“Christ!” Dixie swore. “A Shilka!”

Shilka was the Russian name for the quad-mount ZSU-23-4. Dixie’s first

instinct was to haul back on the stick and grab some sky, but he held

the Tomcat’s altitude steady as he eased into the dogleg of the canyon.

Shilkas were relatively short-ranged and couldn’t reach targets at

altitudes of more than a mile or so, but Dixie knew that he would offer

a perfect sighting picture if he suddenly popped his Tomcat up out of

that valley.

Instead, he increased the speed a notch, whipping around the twist in

the canyon, coming up just a little to give himself some more

maneuvering room if the ground rose sharply around the bend. ..

… and there was the contact!

He had only a glimpse, and from a difficult angle. The Tomcat was coming

up on the helicopter from behind, about in the seven o’clock position,

but he had time enough to see the heavy weapon pods mounted to port and

starboard, the long, low, smooth curve of the fuselage. It was painted

in a green-and-brown camo pattern that blended well with the valley


“I see him!” Dixie called. “Target is a Hind gunship!”

Then he pulled the stick back, rammed the throttles all the way forward

into Zone Five afterburners, and kicked his Tomcat into open blue sky.


Saturday, 31 October 0930 hours (Zulu +4)

UN Flight 27 UN No-Fly Zone, Republic of Georgia “Jesus H. Christ!” Cole

shouted, jerking the control stick over and banking sharply as a silver

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