Sunday, May 18, 2014

Avoid. Negotiate. Kill. - Chapter Three

We're just a four short days away from the release of AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL. on May 23rd, 2014.  Here's the final sample chapter.  This sequel to SPECTRE RISING will be available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo Books, iTunes, Sony eReader, and in paperback. 

Chapter Three

5 Miles West of Sinjar, Iraq

“Chariot 11 and 12 are airborne,” Shorty announced over the secure radio, breaking a long silence.  Spectre had been orbiting at medium altitude as he watched the two helicopters refuel from an Iraqi Air Force CH-47 Chinook at the improvised Forward Operating Base through his Night Vision Goggles.

Despite the Scorpion Helmet Mounted Display he wore that allowed him to wear Night Vision Goggles and still have mission data displayed in his visor, Spectre hated night missions.  It was a hatred he had picked up from hours of droning over Iraq at night in the F-16.  The Night Vision Goggles were bulky and usually gave him a headache.  Spatial Disorientation had been a real threat in the F-16, even causing one of his former squadron mates and several other F-16 pilots to eject after losing relative orientation to the horizon.  It just wasn’t comfortable.

But most of those issues had happened on moonless, horizonless nights.  Tonight, the moon was full and the forecasted illumination was nearly one hundred percent.  With the NVGs, the moon was as bright as the sun, nearly turning night into day.  Even without them, it was still bright enough to see the desert terrain below. 

“Magic 31 is Showtime,” a female voice said over the secure radio.  Spectre looked out and saw the datalink circle projected in his visor over the flashing covert strobe out in the distance.  It was the Pilatus PC-12, piloted by “Jenny” Craig and a crew of sensor operators.  She had made the call to indicate she was crossing into Syrian Airspace and was en route to locate the chemical weapons and any potential surface to air threats in the area.

Spectre was glad to have the PC-12 on this mission, but he was hoping the intelligence reports were right and it wouldn’t be necessary.  The Syrian Army had reportedly moved all of its short range, mobile Surface-to-Air Missile systems to Damascus after saber rattling from the Israelis over destroying the chemical weapons caches in country.  The Syrian Air Force had also set up most of its alert fighters to the west, leaving the area Spectre and his team was flying in mostly unguarded by Syrian forces. 

Spectre reached forward and flipped the Master Arm switch to ARM as he escorted the helicopters into Syrian airspace.  They were flying a nap-of-the-earth profile, barely fifty feet above the desert and terrain as the two teams of four hung on the skids of the small helicopters.  The Super Tucano’s sixteen hundred shaft horsepower turbine engine droned effortlessly as Spectre maintained a 250 knot racetrack pattern around the slower helicopters at just over one thousand feet above them.

Checking his Situational Awareness Display on the multifunction display above his right knee, Spectre toggled through the various menus.  He checked to ensure that this Radar Warning Receiver and Threat Indicators were showing ready.  These systems would alert him if any enemy radars, airborne or ground-based, were targeting him, as well as alert him if it detected a manpad launch.  The system integrated with his Counter-Measure Dispensing System, allowing the aircraft to react with chaff and flares as appropriate against various threat systems.

Satisfied that his self-protection suite was ready, Spectre switched to his Stores Management Display Page.  He was loaded out with two five hundred pound GBU-12 laser guided bombs, two Israeli made Python 5 air-to-air heat seeking missiles, a rocket pod, and two hundred rounds of .50 caliber bullets. 

“Chariot flight, five mikes,” Shorty announced over the secure radio, indicating they were five minutes out from dropping the eight-man team off at the Landing Zone.  The team would then have a short one-kilometer hike to the small rebel outpost where the chemical weapons were in the process of being transferred. 

“Magic 31 has a fix on Mary Jane, sending now,” the female voice replied.  They were all using a common tactical datalink through which they could pass coordinates and secure messages.  Spectre’s screen flashed briefly to notify him that he had a new message.  Using the toggle on his throttle, he cycled through the pages, loading the coordinates for the chemical weapons.  He created a steerpoint in his system and a green diamond appeared in the desert on his display in his visor.  He slewed the targeting pod in the A-29’s nose onto it and the MFD showed a clear, black and white infrared image of four trucks.  The Intel had been dead on. 

As Spectre slewed the targeting pod around the trucks, looking for other vehicles and hostiles, he was suddenly alerted by a low pitched beeping in his headset.  His heart sank as he flipped to his Situational Awareness Display. 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he said as the exhale valve on his oxygen mask began to click faster with every breath. 

Using the cursor on his throttle, Spectre scrolled to the threat indicator symbol on his display and pressed down on the threat icon.  Moments later, “MiG-21” popped up in red.  His aircraft was being targeted.

“Venom 21, spiked 270, Fishbed,” Spectre said, letting the other members know that his radar warning receiver was showing the MiG-21 air-to-air fighters in the area. 

“Magic 31 shows same,” Jenny responded from the PC-12. 

“No way,” Spectre mumbled to himself.  He didn’t want to believe it.  The Syrians used the MiG-21 Fishbed as an interceptor.  They had just moved them all to Damascus.  Based on what Spectre had been briefed, there was no way they were this far east on a scramble order - especially not with the threat of the Israelis doing a strike from the west.  It just didn’t make sense. 

The low-pitched beeping stopped as Spectre turned back east on his racetrack orbit around the two helicopters.  He intensely watched his display to see if his rear Radar Warning Receiver antennas would also pick up the spike.  He loved the Super Tucano and its capabilities for Close Air Support, but now he desperately wished he were in a fighter with a radar and long range radar guided missiles.  He felt as if he were flying blindly into a thunderstorm with an ultralight.

Spectre held his breath as the two helicopters passed underneath him on the way to their LZ.  If they really were being targeted by Syrian fighters, there would be no time to waste in making the call to scrub the mission and high tail it back to the Iraqi border.  As the escort fighter, it was Spectre’s call to make.

“Magic 31 spiked, 270,” Jenny reported.  The MiG had swapped lock and was targeting the Pilatus.  Time to make a tactical retreat.

“All players, Retrograde!  Green east!”  Spectre called, using the codeword to indicate that the area was no longer safe due to an air-to-air threat and directing all aircraft to leave the area toward friendly territory.

“Chariot copies Retrograde,” Shorty responded calmly, seemingly unphased by the notion that an air threat was looming.

Spectre watched as the blue circles on his display representing the PC-12 and two helicopters turned back toward the east.  He made a hard turn to the west to pick up the PC-12 visually and hopefully the nearby MiG-21.

“Magic 31 hard spike!” Jenny exclaimed.  The MiG-21 was now locked on to the PC-12 inside of ten miles and had become an imminent threat.

Spectre looked out into the night sky where the locator line and segmented circle on his helmet-mounted display showed Magic to be.  He picked up their covert strobe through the NVGs and firewalled the throttle, immediately causing the Allison PT-6A turboprop to roar to life from its previous steady drone. 

“Bug out east!”  Spectre exclaimed as he dashed toward the PC-12.  It had been flying higher than Spectre and the two helicopters in order to find the chemical weapons trucks. 

“Music on!”  Jenny replied, letting everyone know that the PC-12 had engaged its self-protection jammer to attempt to break the lock of the MiG-21 and counter any radar guided missiles.

Spectre scanned for the enemy fighters as he headed for the PC-12.  The datalink distance showed that he was five miles away and closing as Jenny and her crew headed toward friendly Iraqi airspace. 

“Tally one!”  Spectre exclaimed as he picked up the flashing strobe of the MiG-21.  He slewed the targeting diamond of the Python-5 heat-seeking missile in his visor onto the flashing strobe and uncaged it.  A solid tone sounded in his headset to let him know that the missile had locked on and was tracking. 

Spectre’s heart was racing.  He had only been in one air-to-air engagement before, and it had been against two MiG-29s he engaged after flying a stolen F-16 out of Cuba.  It had been the most thrilling and terrifying experience of his life, but that had been during the daytime.  Dogfighting at night was exponentially more frightening – especially in an aircraft that was never built to fight in the air-to-air arena.

He held his right thumb next to the red “pickle button” on the stick and waited as he closed the distance.  He didn’t want to take a shot with the PC-12 between him and the MiG and risk the missile guiding and fusing on the wrong aircraft.  He needed a clear shot.

The PC-12 merged with Spectre as he continued toward the MiG.  As the PC-12 passed him, it suddenly let loose a string of self-protection flares that washed out the image on Spectre’s Night Vision Goggles, causing him to lose sight of the incoming MiG.  Spectre recaged his missile as the solid tone in his headset changed, indicating the missile had lost track through the string of Jenny’s flares.

“Missile in the air!”  Jenny exclaimed as she started a hard left hand turn with the aircraft.
As the image in his goggles once again became clear, he looked over his shoulder to see the MiG’s missile guide on a flare and explode several hundred feet behind Jenny’s aircraft.  Spectre immediately turned back to see the MiG-21 merging head on with him with another MiG following in trail.  Two of them!

In the split-second he had to make the decision, Spectre chose to turn with the lead aircraft.  He knew it would cost him the advantage by putting him between the two aircraft, but it was the only way to save the PC-12 from the pursuing MiG-21.  He had to deal with the nearest threat first.
Spectre took a deep breath as he started the hard left turn.  It was an old habit from his F-16 dogfighting days to prepare for the 9G turn.  Pulling 6Gs in the A-29 was much more gentlemanly, and although the NVGs and Scorpion display weighed down his head, it was significantly more comfortable than he remembered fighting in the F-16.  His G-suit inflated in response to the building G-forces as he craned his neck around and pulled straight back on the stick.

The lead MiG-21 continued closing on the PC-12 as it made its left turn.  Although the A-29 didn’t have the thrust to weight ratio he would have liked, it had a significant turn radius advantage, and in seconds, he was able to get his helmet-mounted sight on the MiG-21. 

With the Python-5’s targeting diamond on the MiG-21, Spectre uncaged the missile again and waited for the solid tone.  Once the missile indicated it was tracking and satisfied that he was targeting the right aircraft, Spectre pressed the red pickle button on the top of the control stick with his thumb.  The aircraft rocked slightly as the air-to-air missile went flying toward its target in the moonlit sky.  Spectre’s NVGs once again washed out as the rocket motor burned bright en route to its target.

“Fox two!” Spectre called.  The missile guided on the lead MiG-21, piercing through its narrow body and exploding in a brilliant and bright fireball behind the turning PC-12.

“Splash one!  Bug out east!”  Spectre directed as he searched for the other MiG-21.  The hair on the back of his neck was now standing straight up as he continued his tight turn and further bled down airspeed.  He knew the second MiG wasn’t far behind.

“Green east!  What’s your status?”  Jenny asked.

Spectre searched frantically for the second MiG.  He transitioned to a no-sight defense, continuing his tight turn as he descended toward the desert floor.  As he looked up, he suddenly saw the muzzle flash of the MiG-21 attempting to employ the gun from high to low.  Unable to follow the tight turn radius of Spectre’s Super Tucano, the Syrian pilot had elected to use its excess power to create vertical turning room.

“Venom 21 is engaged, get out of here!”  Spectre said as he attempted to jink to avoid the volley of 23MM bullets.  The MiG-21 swooped down from above.  Spectre tried to jink, but the controls were too sluggish as the Super Tucano’s large, straight wing struggled to maintain lift and stalled.  The aircraft shuddered as a stray bullet hit the fuselage.

Pushing the stick forward to unload and regain airspeed, Spectre rolled out of the tight turn.  The MiG-21 made an aggressive pull back to the vertical in an attempt to reposition and try again.  With the MiG’s nose off him, Spectre traded in the airspeed he had gained as he planted the stick in his lap and pulled the nose straight into the vertical.

“Fade away jump shot,” Spectre said to himself with a soft chuckle as he uncaged the Python-5 on the bright afterburner plume of the MiG-21 and hit the pickle button.  The aircraft rocked as the missile was sent screaming toward the MiG-21.  Like the first, it guided and fused right through the center of the MiG’s coke bottle fuselage and exploded, creating a bright fireball.

“Chariot is Millertime,” Shorty called, using the codeword to indicate his flight had reentered Iraqi airspace. 

“Venom, status?”  Jenny asked.

The nose of the Super Tucano was still pointed straight up as Spectre unloaded and rolled the aircraft onto its back to recover from the nearly vertical nose-high attitude.  As he did, he heard 

“WARNING” in his headset as the caution panel in front of him lit up. 

“Venom is bugging out east,” Spectre said as he reached level flight and rolled the aircraft back upright.  He quickly scanned his instruments.  His oil pressure and engine indications seemed to be good.  As the turbine engine shuddered, he noticed the fuel quantity was now reading less than two hundred and fifty pounds. 

Regaining his orientation, Spectre started a hard turn back to east and initiated a steady climb.  The MiG had pierced his fuselage fuel tank.  His fuel quantity was low and the fuel pump would soon start to cavitate.  He reached up and pushed the EMERGENCY JETTISON BUTTON with his left hand.  The jet rocked as the two five hundred pound bombs and rocket pod fell from the wing pylons.  His only hope was to set up a good glide profile and hope to make it into friendly territory before having to eject.

“Venom 21 is wounded bird,” Spectre declared.  “Ten miles west.”

“Venom 21, status?” a concerned Jenny requested again.

“Venom 21, wounded bird,” Spectre replied.

“Venom, do you hear me?”

Spectre checked his radio.  He was receiving her fine, but no one seemed to be hearing him transmit.  The round that had pierced his fuel tank must have also damaged his communications equipment.  That would also mean that they weren’t seeing him on the datalink either.

Spectre shook it off and focused on flying the airplane.  Aviate, navigate, and then communicate.  There was no reason to worry about the lack of communication at that point.  He was still in a hostile country with a motor that was starting to surge.

As Spectre climbed through eight thousand feet, the reliable Allison turboprop finally flamed out due to fuel starvation.  Spectre immediately feathered the prop to reduce drag as he pushed over to catch his best glide airspeed.  He had a fairly stiff headwind, but his calculations indicated he would at least make it to the border before having to bail out.  Things could have been worse.  

Spectre raised his visor and removed his night vision goggles and Scorpion helmet mounted sight.  His goal now was to make his ejection as survivable as possible.  He briefly considered landing the aircraft, but with soft sand and unknown terrain, he realized his most survivable option would be to eject.

“In the blind,” Spectre said, keying his radio, “Venom 21 is bailing out.”

Spectre tightened his harness and secured all of his kneeboard cards and maps as his Super Tucano glided toward the Iraqi border.  The drone of the turboprop had been replaced by the eerily quiet wind whistling across the canopy.  Spectre stared at the moving map display as his aircraft’s magenta icon approached the border.  With the radar altimeter showing two thousand feet and the aircraft showing just beyond the jagged Iraqi border, Spectre said a small prayer as he grabbed the yellow ejection seat handle between his legs with both hands, put his head against the Martin Baker Ejection Seat’s head box, and pulled the handle. 

Spectre Series