CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

machine down after you popped one of his blades.”

“Army? Shit, what’s the Army doing over here?”

“Damfino. I thought the Canal was just carrying Marines this time. We

don’t have the full story yet, but Ops is working on the theory that we

weren’t given all of the IFF computer recognition codes. .. which would

explain why they registered as a hostile.”


Someone rapped on the door, then stuck his head in. It was Lieutenant

Randolph Wojiewski, one of the assistant LSOS. He held a clipboard in

one hand. “Commander Wayne?”


“Okay, got your scores, sir. Two bolters. Mr. Lassiter says it happens

to the best of us.”


“On your landing pass, you were still a little high, a little tight. You

were showing a tendency to over-correct when the LSO fed you the word.”

Wojiewski continued ticking off the flaws in Batman’s trap. This was a

routine that followed every landing aboard a carrier, and the results

were posted on the big greenie board outside each squadron’s ready room.

It was a way of showing each aviator where he stood with all the others,

and giving him instant feedback that would let him improve his


“All in all, not too bad, though,” Wojiewski concluded. “Mr. Lassiter’s

giving you a ‘fair.’ Okay?”

Batman scowled, and for a moment Coyote thought he was going to lash out

at the ALSO. In the highly competitive world of carrier aviation, each

landing could receive one of four possible grades. Best of all was

“okay,” and a green square on the greenie board. Next was “fair,” with a

yellow square. “No grade” and no color on the board meant the trap had

been dangerous to people or to aircraft on the deck. Lowest of all was a

red square with the letter “C” marked in, for “cut.” That grade was

reserved for a landing so dangerous it could easily have ended in


Batman, Coyote knew, carried a fierce pride in his abilities as an

aviator. It would take a while to wash that yellow from the record book

he kept inside his skull.

“So, what happened?” Coyote pressed him, after Wojiewski had left the

compartment. “What’s your side of the story?”

“Mason happened. Shit, Coyote, I don’t know what went down out there.

The kid IDED the bogey as a Hind. I got weapons clear and went Fox two.

Next thing I know, I’m hearing about a downed American helo over the

radio and I’m being ordered back to the bird farm.” He managed a wry,

drawn grin. “And two bolters to get me down.”

“We all have our day inside the barrel,” Coyote said, using the

expression that referred to an aviator who made pass after pass on the

deck but couldn’t connect with the arresting wire. .. each failure

making the next failure that much more likely. “But this own goal you

scored, that’s serious, even if the crew’s okay. Stoney’s about to go

ballistic. He was over on the Shiloh when word came through, conferring

with Admiral Tarrant. He was not pleased, let me tell you!”

Batman didn’t reply right away but continued changing to his uniform.

“How did you handle it, Will?” he asked after a long moment. “Being

skipper of the squadron, I mean. How did you know when to get tough and

when to go easy?”

Coyote raised an eyebrow. “Are you asking me if you should cover for

Mason and Garrity?”

“I didn’t say that,” Batman said.

“You want to tell me what happened up there? I mean exactly.”

Batman shrugged. “Dixie was eyeball, I was shooter. He led the way in by

three miles or so. Watch Dog wasn’t picking up IFF on the target.

Neither did we, when we got close. Then Cat reported that they were

being painted by a Zoo, and I guess she was busy turning knobs about

then, because she didn’t see the target. Dixie reported a Hind.

“About that time, Malibu picked up something about the UN flight being

under attack. Since the bogey was trailing UN Two-seven, I assumed, I

mean, it looked like the bogey was after the UN bird, right? Anyway, I

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