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Authors: Richard Herman

Force of Eagles (9 page)

BOOK: Force of Eagles
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The young captain sitting in the pit of Locke’s two-place F-15E Strike Eagle was like a kid with a new toy—he couldn’t get enough of the systems he had to play with. Like most wizzos, Weapon Systems Officer, Furry was fascinated by the capabilities of the Hughes-developed APG-70 radar and what it could do when used with their mouthful-named Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared System for Night as well as on-board computers. No wonder they shortened the system to LANTIRN.

Furry kept playing with the four video screens in front of him. The missionized cockpit had been developed using state-of-the-art electronics and presented all the information the wizzo needed. Furry controlled the left two screens with the hand-controller on the left console and the right two screens with the right-hand controller. He was uninterested in the stick in front of him and would only fly the jet reluctantly. He figured that Locke only existed to drive him around the sky so he could do his job.

The Tactical Situation Display, TSD, an electronic moving map that was tied in with the ring laser gyro in the inertial navigation system, scrolled on the far left MultiPurpose Color Display, the MPCD, constantly updating their position and showing them their route. The next screen in was a MultiPurpose Display without color and it was blank. Furry had selected air-to-ground radar for that screen, and as they were flying a limited electronic-emission profile, the radar was in standby. The third screen, an MPD, was programmed to show the pilot’s Head-Up Display, HUD, and Furry was seeing what Locke was seeing through the wide-angle twenty-one-by-twenty-eight inch HUD. Unfortunately he did not have the holographic effect that could be projected onto the pilot’s HUD. Furry had the far right MPCD slaved to the Tactical Electronic Warfare System.

“Cosmic, ab-SO-lutely cosmic,” Furry mumbled to himself.

Locke agreed—the instrument panel in front of him hardly re-sembled a traditional cockpit. Three video screens and the Up Front Controller dominated his main panel. Actually the UFC was a computer keyboard that controlled the Strike Eagle’s systems and was located directly underneath the HUD. Locke could call up the different menus with his left hand and never take his eyes off the HUD. Underneath the UFC, the Tactical Situation Display showed Locke where they were on a color display. The right MPD was tied into the Terrain Following Radar in the LANTIRN navigation pod hung underneath the right intake. His left MPD was tied into the air-to-ground radar. The only concession to tradition was in the lower left-hand corner of the instrument panel, where five small back-up gauges were nestled.

Locke squeaked the F-15 down another fifty feet and tweaked the throttles, riveting the airspeed on 480 knots groundspeed. He checked the Terrain Following Radar and decided it was being honest and the presentation jibed with the desert terrain he saw in front of them. Things happened fast below three hundred feet. Locke could have coupled the autopilot to the TFR but chose to manual Terrain Fly because he liked to hand-fly the jet. Furry was right, the fighter was sweet but its low wing loading and high gust response gave them a much harsher beating than the F-4 did at low level. Sometimes he missed the old bird.

“Turn point in thirty seconds,” Furry told him. “New heading 198.”

Locke waited for Furry to tell him when to start the turn. Once they overflew the next turn point, the TSD would program the command steering bar in the HUD to the next steer point. But he preferred crew coordination. Locke wanted to use the equipment, not rely on it. Combat had taught him some hard lessons about what battle damage did to the magic in black boxes.

“Turn…now, 198.”

Locke loaded the F-15E with four-and-a-half Gs through the turn and rolled out. Furry had led the turn and they were right on track…

Locke and Furry were on a single-ship mission working their way south through the mountains of northern Nevada heading for Tolicha airfield, a target on one of Nellis Air Force Base’s numerous bombing and gunnery ranges. Tolicha was set up to resemble an eastern European air base for U.S. aircrews to practice on during Red Flag exercises. But for the mission Locke was flying it was a friendly field and Locke was the intruder. Somewhere along the route he could expect a Combat Air Patrol of two F-15s to jump him. Their job was to find and intercept him before he reached the target; his job was to get past them and drop a bomb on the airfield.

“Okay, Amb, start looking for Snake. He’ll CAP someplace around here.” Locke had a healthy respect for Snake Housennan’s abilities. It was going to be hard to sneak by the Snake and as long as the Eagle’s pulse Doppler radar was working, Snake should be able to find them. Locke inched lower. That’s not the answer, he told himself. Maybe some terrain-masking might do the trick—get some mountains between him and Snake. “Hey, Amb. I want to get out of this valley. Everyone flies down it. Reprogram the turn points so we go down the western side of Stillwater Range and over Carson Sink. We’ll turn over Salt Wells and dogleg back to our original course.”

Locke could hear Ambler Furry mumbling as he picked new turn points out of his Eagle Aid and punched them into his up-front controller. “Roll out on a heading of 182 on the other side of the ridge. You have steering to Salt Wells…now.” The command steering bar on the HUD swung and the miles to go counter rolled to 78. Furry was fast, Locke thought, but not as fast as Thunder Bryant, his old backseater in F-4s.

They were still on the wrong side of the mountain range if he intended to fly over Carson Sink. “When I hop us over do a quick search for bogies,” Locke said. He scrolled the TFR presentation off his left MPD and called up the air-to-air radar. The screen showed only guidelines but would come to life when the radar was turned on.

“Inverted again? Don’t do this to me,” Furry complained, his fingers flying over his hand controllers and UFC.

Locke turned the Eagle to the west and headed for the mountains they were paralleling. He gently stroked the throttles and the new F-100-PW-229 engines responded crisply. He lifted the jet up the slope, rolled it upside down as they crested the ridge and pulled the velocity vector back down to the steering box in the HUD, keeping them at two hundred feet, their clearance-set limit. Locke, using gravity to help reduce his exposure time when they were above the mountains, didn’t worry about the overload warning system talking to him about pulling excessive Gs. They were stressed for nine Gs throughout the flight regime. Now he rolled upright as they came down the western slope and turned onto their new heading.

When they crested the ridge Puny hit the EMIS LIMIT switch and brought the high volume radar to life. When Locke rolled out on the down slope, Furry hit the EMIS LIMIT switch again and returned them to silent running. During the few seconds the radar was operating it had swept the horizon for hostile aircraft and fed information into its processor. The results showed up on the screens in the cockpit—they had four aircraft in front of them and Furry had a frozen radar picture on his display.

Someone had it very right when they called the F-15E Super Eagle.

“Got the primary target on the TSD,” Furry told Locke. “They’re over Salt Wells. Want to look again?”

Locke glanced down at his TSD and saw a red aircraft symbol right over Salt Wells. Puny hit the EMIS LIMIT switch again, allowing the radar a single sweep before returning to silent running. The same targets reappeared on the radar scope, still over Salt Wells.

“Probably some Navy birds out of Fallon,” Locke said. “Snake’s a flight of two and he’d never set up a wheel to circle a target. That’s dumber than dirt.”

“If it’s below average headwork it must be Navy,” Furry agreed. “Oh, oh, just got a tickle on the TEWS, we’ve got an interceptor sweeping the area with a pulse Doppler. That’s Snake. Looks like he’s to the east of Salt Wells. We would’ve flown right under him on our old track.”

“He’ll still find us,” Locke said, again lowering his altitude, searching for a way to out-fox the Snake. “Go Guard, front radio.”

Without looking, Furry’s right hand dropped down on his up-front controller and rotated the present channel selector on the left until G appeared, switching the UHF radio switch to GUARD, the preset emergency channel on 243.0 MHz. One of Furry’s jobs in the back seat was to be an audio-commanded radio-frequency shifter.

Locke pushed the radio transmit button on the throttle quadrant forward with his left thumb. “If you Airdales over Salt Wells would like some action, come up 356.0.”

Furry pushed the channel-manual button on his UFC and switched them to 356.0. Snake Houserman was on the same frequency.

Almost immediately, Pedro flight checked in on 356.0 with a flight of four.

“I think we’ve got ourselves four F-18 Hornets in the area,” Locke said.

“Pedro flight, this is an Air Force assigned frequency,” Snake radioed.

“Rog,” Pedro flight lead acknowledged. “We’re in a wheel, beating up the old emergency field near Salt Wells, practicing a little dive bombing. Please stand clear.”

“Almost perfect,” Locke told Furry, heading straight for Salt Wells. “If Snake wants us, he’s going to have to go through a nest of Hornets.”

“Pedro flight,” Locke radioed, “this is Dobo. I’m transiting the area underneath you. Please hold your altitude until I’m clear.” He could clearly see the F-18s through his HUD along with digital readouts on his own altitude and airspeed. He didn’t need to look inside the cockpit.

“A radar’s got us,” Furry said, monitoring his TEWS. “Still east of Salt Wells. Must be Snake.”

“That’s fine as long as the Navy is between us and him.”

“Pedro flight, please clear the area,” Snake transmitted. “I intend to intercept Dobo.”

Pedro lead answered, “This is our airspace and we like Dobo.”

Locke flew his dark gray F-15E down the valley, heading straight for a small collection of buildings surrounded by a cyclone fence near Salt Wells. The four F-18 Hornets were breaking out of their wheel pattern and zooming toward the east.

“Pedro one and two are on the left F-15,” the Navy pilot radioed. “Three and four take the right man. Both are dead meat”

“Rog, Pedro. This is Snake and Jake. Keep the flight above five hundred feet AGL and everything is copacetic.”

“Screw you, flyboy. Fight’s on.”

“I think Snake’s got his hands full,” Locke told Furry. He pushed the throttles up, touching 540 knots as he headed toward Tolicha.

*

“We got two of ’em and scared the other two so bad even their laundress knows for sure,” Snake said. Locke and Furry had met Snake and his wingman Jake in one of the 461st’s briefing rooms for a debrief when they had all recovered at Luke AFB. A debrief with Snake Houserman after a flight was always a colorful affair.

“Amb, what was our bomb score on Tolicha?” Locke asked, his blue eyes serious.

“A bull.”

“Who gives a rat’s ass about iron bombs.” Houserman grinned. “Like the sainted Baron von Richthofen said, roaming your allotted airspace and destroying other fighters is our job. Anything else is rubbish. That’s the trouble with you friendly clowns,” Snake said, pointing at Locke’s 461st squadron patch, the black and gold of the Deadly Jesters, “you forgot what the fighter business is all about”

“You sure about that direct hit, Amb?” Locke could be like a bulldog and wanted to make his point that dropping bombs was an important part of their mission. Like Snake, he hadn’t a clue, yet, that he would soon have a chance to prove it.

“Sure am. That would have been one busted air patch.”

“Get a grip, Furry.” Snake smiled, leaning back in his chair, banging against the wall of the small briefing room. “Wizzos ain’t shit.”

“We accomplished our mission, Snake,” Locke said. “You can’t say the same.”

“What do you call two F-18s?”

Locke saw he couldn’t reach the young pilot. He stood up and motioned Furry to follow him out.

“I think we lost that one,” Furry said.

“Nope,” Locke told him. “We got our bomb on target and that was what we set out to do.” He looked at his dejected backseater and slapped him on the back. “Hell, Amb, the air-to-air pukes make movies, us air-to-ground jocks make history. Cheer up, you don’t win an engagement in the debrief. Besides, if that had been Snake’s home airfield he would have had to divert somewhere else after shooting down the Hornets because we blew the hell out of it.”

“One thing,” Furry said, “how come you were so sure that Snake would be in a CAP near Salt Wells?”

“That collection of buildings we turned over at Salt Wells is a whorehouse, Amb. You got to know the opposition. Where else would you expect to find Snake?”

“Or the Navy,” Furry added.

*

 

The Pentagon

 

“Rupe, I don’t know if Cunningham will give you F-15s to CAP for the C-130s. You’ll have to sell him on it.”

Dewa Rahimi sat behind the computer console listening to Stansell and Mado. They were buried in a small office deep in the Pentagon’s basement, hidden behind the guarded doors of the Air Force’s Directorate of Operational Intelligence. She scanned the screen again and decided they needed to see the incident report from the Office of Special Investigations.

“Colonel,” Rahimi said, breaking into their conversation, “I think you need to see this. There’s an OSI incident report on a Sergeant Raymond Byers.”

“Excuse me, sir. Byers is one of the sergeants who pulled me out of Ras Assanya.” Stansell looked over Rahimi’s shoulder reading the report, distracted by her perfume until he saw Byer’s statement about hearing the men speaking Arabic.

“General, you had better read this.”

Rahimi spun the screen to face Mado, who read it and gave a noncommittal “humm.”

Stansell knew what he had to do. “If some Arabs are going after Byers, they might be after me. I think you may need a new mission commander.”

Mado quickly arranged to see Cunningham. “Bring your map, Rupe. We can kill two birds while we’re up there.” Mado stopped when he reached the door. “You come too,” he told Rahimi. “It’s time you met Sundown.”

BOOK: Force of Eagles
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