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Authors: J.B. Hadley

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BOOK: Cobra Strike
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The three Americans crawled on their bellies away from die firefight. The Russians, disciplined and trained, were moving to
the slicks quickly and methodically, covering their rear. The mountain tribesmen were whooping and yelling and firing wildly.
All the same, they nailed at least four of the Russian soldiers, whose companions dragged them away by the armpits, their
heels leaving long lines in the dust.

Turner and the others found the asses farther along die path, being watched by an Afghan kid with a World War II
British Enfield rifle. Turner pointed at him and then back toward where Sayad Jan was. The two choppers had lifted off, and
the tribesmen were firing up at them with their rifles. As the kid left to go back the three gunships came in for rocket runs.
After ripping up the terrain for a while, they left without spotting the place where the six asses stood immobile.

Baker was impressed by the animals’ wisdom in not moving. “A horse would have panicked and bolted. You think they’re trained
to keep still or is it instinct?”

Winston said, “I think they’re scared so stupid, they’ve plain forgot how to run.”

Turner was already moving out, poking the lead animal in the ribs with his rifle muzzle. When this ass moved, the other five
obediently followed him. The Americans just kept going, leaving everything that had happened behind them.

But this was too much to hope for. Where the path rounded a big block of smooth, bare rock, they saw Sayad Jan and nine or
ten men ahead of them, just like they had seen him before, with one of the tribesmen on his belly off to one side, training
his light machine gun on them. The asses marched on. The Americans cocked their freshly loaded AK-47s. No one spoke a word.

Once again Sayad Jan let the six animals pass and stopped the three Americans—but this time to shake their hands, embrace
them, and kiss their cheeks. He nodded to three of his men, who immediately went alongside the asses. The Americans waved
farewell and hurried to catch up with the asses and their three-man escort.

One of the Afghans who was to travel with them gave Turner a toothy smile out of his unkempt beard. Turner nodded to him in
recognition. He was the one Turner had held hostage in the middle of the knight with a knife to his crotch.


What Mike Campbell knew about jet fighters could fit on the head of a pin. But Glasseyes McGee told him to keep his mouth
shut and look wise. That would impress everyone. Mike was Glasseyes’s guest aboard the U.S.S.
, listed as “a civilian aviation consultant.” The big Navy aircraft carrier was some hundreds of miles out in the Pacific
from San Diego. Mike was just along for the cruise, as was his friend McGee. Commander Carlton McGee wore his nickname “Glasseyes”
on the breast patch of his flight suit when he was in Arizona, but here on the carrier he wore regulation khakis. It wasn’t
hard to figure that McGee had earned the name from the fact that his eyes were about as warm and expressive as those of a
long-dead fish from the deep freeze. He had flown carrier-based Navy fighters in Vietnam, but Mike hadn’t known him there.
They’d met when McGee was commander, as he still was, of the Bandits, a squadron that used Soviet tactics in mock combat with
Navy flyers over the Arizona deserts. The Bandits used Soviet MIGs, which had come into American hands in various ways; French
Mirages; rented Israeli Kfir-
Cis; old F-5s and A-4s; anything unfamiliar in order to give the pilots the feel of operating against strange aircraft with
unknown capabilities.

“Some of the hotshot young pilots think they can take on anything—until they meet us,” McGee had once told Campbell. “We kinda
go a little out of our way to give ‘em a surprise or two.”

Campbell had once picked up a lost pilot in the desert who had ejected before crashing as a result of one of McGee’s “surprises.”
The commander thanked him personally and, a few months later, telephoned Mike at his trailer-camp home to join a desert search
for another downed pilot. Mike found him. Since that time Glasseyes had used Campbell’s extensive knowledge of the desert
terrain in many of his mock combats and genuine rescues. This “cruise” on the carrier was the Navy’s way of saying thanks
to Mike, even if the Navy was not informed that it was doing so. Since Glasseyes himself was a guest also, with no duties
to perform, Mike was company for him.

Although the two men had gotten to know each other well over the years, McGee never questioned Campbell about what he did
with himself. He knew, of course, that Campbell had been a colonel in the Green Berets and had made a name for himself in
‘Nam, only quitting the armed forces in disgust at the fall of Saigon. Mike guessed that McGee knew all about his activities
as a mercenary. He suspected that McGee, like some other military personnel he knew, was playing it cool for the time being
with the intention of joining Mike on some missions after retirement. Mike knew how men like McGee feared the emptiness of
their lives after being put out to pasture by the armed forces. If he had ever said anything, Campbell would have told him
he was fooling himself to think he could be a mere. No doubt McGee would have his own strong opinions on this subject, but
since he never gave Campbell any indication that he had heard rumors of him being a soldier of fortune, Mike said nothing.

Mike Campbell was tall and lean, maybe in his late thirties or early forties. His face was deeply tanned and heavily lined,
and his calm gray eyes were in contrast to his
active, restless manner. Most of the small, sharp scars on his neck and arms had been caused by shrapnel. A career officer
in the Special Forces, Campbell had done back-to-back tours in Vietnam. As a colonel, he had led special missions and search-and-destroy
forays all over Southeast Asia, earning the name “Mad Mike.” in the process. When Saigon had been threatened after the main
U.S. troop withdrawals, Campbell had energetically campaigned to go back in and this time do it the soldier’s way instead
of the politician’s. He was ordered to shut up and shine his buttons. Instead he resigned and went free-lance.

Mike’s first mission as a mercenary also ended in disaster. He fought against Cubans and local communists in the African republic
of Angola, which had recently gained its independence from Portugal after a long struggle. Campbell had been lucky to escape
alive after the CIA gave up on Holden Roberto and withdrew its support. Jonas Savimbi, who was not dependent on the CIA, continued
to fight against the Cubans, but Roberto’s men were scattered and killed. After that Mike swore he would work for no one but
himself, and he saw that he had to scale down his operations so that he could keep them under his control. And he had stuck
by these hard-earned decisions. He had stayed away from big, ambitious, heroic, but doomed efforts, concentrating instead
on goals achievable by a small force. He had been in other parts of Africa, Central and South America, the Middle East, Asia—even
back to postwar Vietnam. Nowadays his legend as a soldier of fortune was even greater than his rep had been as a Green Beret
colonel. Mike cared for none of this. He was publicity-shy, an undercover operator—his idea was to be in and out with the
job done before anybody realized what was happening. The last thing he needed was his picture in the paper.

The sun was completing a magnificent setting below the Pacific horizon as an elevator platform near them lifted an F-14 Tomcat
from belowdecks. Five more Tomcats followed, then six F/A-18 Hornets, which were tiny in comparison to the Tomcats.

“Those big Tomcats show up real good on enemy radar,” Glasseyes told Mike. “The Hornets are much harder to
detect and are much more recent. That Tomcat wingspan is sixty-four feet, though, of course, it’s a swing-wing aircraft.
Those variable-sweep wings have small, movable foreplane surfaces housed inside the leading-edge roots of the fixed portion
of the wings, and these can be extended forward into the airstream as the main wings swing backward during flight, which eases
the pressure. I’ve flown Tomcats a number of times. Along with the Hornets, they’re the Navy’s official fighter planes. They
would intercept any aircraft threatening this carrier.”

“What’s the Tomcat’s combat radius?” Mike asked.

“About four hundred and fifty miles. It’s armed with one M61-A1 Vulcan 20mm multibarrel cannon with six hundred and seventy-five
rounds, in the port side of the lower front fuselage. Pylons beneath the fixed portion of the wings and recessed stations
under the fuselage carry the air-to-air missiles.” He pointed out the various locations to Mike. “It carries Phoenix, Sparrow,
and Sidewinder in various combinations; for example, four Sparrow and four Sidewinder, or you could have six Phoenix and two

“Six Phoenix?”

“Sure,” McGee said. “The computer-controlled radar and weapons system can take on six separate airborne targets simultaneously
and can detect targets out as far as a hundred miles. The pilot could shoot down six enemy aircraft all at once and become
an air ace in a matter of seconds.”

Mike laughed. “I’ve heard talk that the Phoenix is not all it’s cracked up to be. They say it hasn’t been tested properly
under combat conditions.”

“The missiles cost a million bucks each, so the guys ain’t exactly encouraged to pop ‘em off to see how well they work. The
Sparrow is radar-guided, and it costs an arm and a leg too. So it all comes down to the heat-seeking Sidewinder for normal
use. It was Tomcats using the Sidewinder that knocked those Libyan jets into the Mediterranean.”

While Mike circled one of the big fighters admiringly, McGee came to him with someone, introduced them, and said, “Bill will
be our LSO.”

“LSO?” Mike asked.

“Landing signal officer,” Bill said, obviously surprised at Mike’s puzzlement.

Mike remembered what McGee had told him about shutting up and looking wise. “Of course,” he said, shaking his head at himself
for not remembering something as simple as LSO.

It truly did not dawn on Campbell that McGee intended to night-fly one of the Tomcats with Campbell along as his crew until
McGee suggested that they suit up and head for the ready room where the pilots wait for their call. Then he began to fully
understand the banter Glasseyes was exchanging with some of the pilots. It seemed that McGee and sorpe of his experienced
pilots in the Bandits had given some of the carrier pilots a rough time in mock combat over the Arizona desert. Now the carrier
Tomcat pilots had challenged McGee to show his stuff by making a faultless night landing on the carrier. This was the supreme
test of a Navy flyer, something that was not expected of any Air Force pilot. Mike fully understood the term LSO now. Bill,
as their landing signal officer, would be guiding them in to the carrier by radio. It did not take much imagination for Mike
to visualize the mess a high-speed jet could make of itself and its crew in a botched landing on the carrier deck. McGee was
out of practice. What was he trying to prove by taking on these younger guys who flew off the carrier every day? This was
just the sort of reckless bravado that Mike avoided. If he could have walked away from it, he would have. Trouble was, he
had no place to walk away to on a ship, even a big one like this carrier. He had to see it through. He could not back out

“You said you’ve flown Tomcats before this?” Mike asked hopefully.

“Sure. When they’re not on carrier duty, they’re based at Miramar, near San Diego, and I’ve taken them up from there. I haven’t
flown one from a carrier, though, and it’s been years since I’ve done a night carrier landing.”

That was what Mike was afraid of hearing. He cursed McGee silently and wondered whether this whole thing had just come up
after they had come on board, or whether it
had been a long-standing challenge. If it had been premeditated, why the hell hadn’t McGee taken one of his Bandit pilots
along instead of Mike? Maybe none of them would go.

Campbell hardly knew what was going on during takeoff. He was forced back in his seat as the plane rocketed off the carrier,
saw lights slide by in a blur, and heard meaningless instructions over his headphones. Suddenly they were up in the night
sky, the carrier lights receding beneath them. He heard the familiar knocking sound of the landing gear being retracted. McGee
was silent, concentrating on his flying, familiarizing himself with his instruments, increasing speed, slowing, swooping about
in the pitch blackness. Strapped into his seat, with no landmarks out over the dark ocean, much of the time Mike had no idea
which direction was up or down. But he was gaining confidence in Glasseyes’s powers as a pilot. He had never been aloft with
McGee before and also had never felt the head-lightening, body-pushing maneuvers of a jet fighter. Yet Campbell could feel
the smooth motion and confident handling that McGee gave the plane. It was not unlike being in a Ferrari bucket seat with
the wheel in the hands of a professional. This was not something Mike would have done from choice, yet now that he was here,
he was enjoying it.

“What’s the Tomcat’s top speed?” he asked Glasseyes over the intercom.

“About 1,450 m.p.h. above 36,000 feet. But that’s not the name of the game tonight, Mike. We gotta land this bird on an area
about the size of your average carpet, and we do it in darkness at regular airport jet landing speed, from 110 to 135 m.p.h.
In order to touch down on that exact spot, I got to come in at exactly the right level. Too high, I won’t have enough room
and I’ll have to abort the landing. Too low and we’ve got a class A mishap.”

“Class A?” Mike inquired.

“Half a million bucks or more damage and/or death.”

“When you come in too low—”

“You hit the ramp.”

Mike decided to change the subject. “What did you mean when you said you fly Soviet-style tactics over the desert?”

“Well, you have to understand the difference between the American training and the Soviet. Every U.S. fighter pilot has to
be very skilled with high-technology aircraft and weapons. He’s taught to fly in pairs and to confront any number of enemy
aircraft with just these two planes, using his talent, brains, and the latest hardware. The Russians don’t take this approach.
They put up a dozen aircraft against two. Their planes may not be so sophisticated, but there’s more of them. Their pilots
may not be so well trained, but they’re closely monitored from the ground and blindly follow orders instead of using their
own initiative. So we fly kinda dull and uninspired attacks against the hotshots in their Tomcats and Hornets—that’s what
makes it sting all the more when we beat them.”

BOOK: Cobra Strike
8.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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