CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

closer look. “Target Sierra One is down!” he radioed, exultant. “Scratch

one Hind!”

“Roger that,” Batman replied. “Good spotting, Dixie!”

But Dixie didn’t respond, not immediately. As he passed low over the

valley, he had a clear view of the downed helo. Most of the main cabin

directly beneath the engine compartment and the twisted, shattered

rotors was gone, crumpled up in a fire-blackened skeleton that was

rapidly being consumed by fiercely burning flames. The tail section was

more or less intact, however, extending out of the fireball at a jaunty

angle. He could just make out the words UNITED STATES ARMY stenciled in

yellow on the olive-drab paint.

Nearby, a Russian-made Hip Mi-8 was settling to the ground, and figures

were running from the open rear door. Then the F14 was past the valley,

and he couldn’t see anymore. .. couldn’t see if there were survivors,

couldn’t see the flames.

“Oh, my God!”

Cat’s words over the ICS said it all. Dixie felt a cold, hard lump in

his chest and throat, felt sweat sticking the skin inside his helmet,

felt the hammer of his heart beneath his safety harness.

Years of training, years of work, years of battling idiocy and prejudice

to get him his one golden chance as a Navy combat aviator.

And it had just ended with a downed U.S. helicopter.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No!”

0954 hours (Zulu +3)

Tomcat 201 One mile abeam U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson “Tomcat Two-oh-one,

Charlie now.” The voice of Commander William Barnes, Jefferson’s Air

Boss, sounded over Batman’s headset, giving the order to commence his

final approach to the carrier.

Batman pulled the control stick over, guiding the Tomcat into a 4-G turn

toward the carrier deck. He cut back on the throttles and hit the

Tomcat’s speed brakes to slow the fighter to below three hundred knots.

The computer started to reset the position of the wings to a forward

position to compensate for the reduced speed, but Batman overrode the

controls without really thinking about it. Most naval aviators liked to

come in with the wings in their swept-back position, claiming the

computer’s preferred wing setting made the Tomcat look like an oversized

goose. Batman’s actions were virtually automatic after years of handling

carrier landings, but this morning he was doubly distracted.

He still couldn’t believe that he’d just scored an own goal downing an

American helicopter. Damn damn damn! How in hell had that happened?

He forced himself to concentrate on the approach. Batman flicked on the

switch to lower the Tomcat’s landing gear as he continued the turn. His

HUD display showed his speed falling below 230 knots, and Wayne dropped

the wing flaps to further reduce the speed of the aircraft. He scanned

his console readouts, noting the rate of descent, 615 feet per minute,

and the range to the carrier, just over three-quarters of a mile. His

angle-of-bank was twenty degrees as he finished his turn and lined up on

the flight deck, making his approach from astern.

Jefferson was making fifteen knots, steering east through relatively

calm waters under a clear blue sky. Landing conditions were almost

ideal, and for a pilot who had made landings in the most difficult

weather conditions–and, worse yet, at night–it should have been an

easy approach. But Batman Wayne was finding it hard to stay focused, and

on something as tricky as a carrier landing that could be deadly. From

his vantage point behind and above the carrier, the flight deck seemed

an impossibly small target set in the wide blue expanse of the sea.

He could see the ship’s Fresnell landing system mounted on the squat

tower on the port side of the carrier, the “meatball” that helped a

pilot estimate his glide slope. “Tomcat Two-oh-one, seven point one,

ball,” he radioed. Calling the ball was the signal that he had the

meatball lined up and was starting his final approach with 7 1 00 pounds

of fuel on board.

“Roger ball,” Barnes acknowledged. That passed control of the approach

from Pri-Fly to the Landing Signals Officer stationed on a platform just

below the Fresnell lens.

“Glide slope’s a little steep, Batman.” The voice of Lieutenant Gene

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