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Authors: Richard Herman

The Warbirds

BOOK: The Warbirds
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The Warbirds
Richard Herman, Jr.

For Sheila, who waited

Contents

1

Grain King

2

The Wing

3

The War

Epilogue

Cunningham had to walk. The protocol officer at Stonewood had…

This novel is a work of fiction and is based on my experiences and extensive research. My goal was to tell a story with realistic scenarios using facts available in the public sector. As an author, I did take the liberty of changing things around and putting them together in new combinations, creating fictitious places, organizations, weapons systems, etc. There is no RAF Stonewood, Ras Assanya, Watch Center, Outpost, RC-135, Stealth reconnaissance aircraft, etc. as described in this story. They are composites based on ideas and facts that I picked up while doing research and are a product of my imagination. If they seem realistic and add to the story, so much the better.

ACT
: Air Combat Tactics; dogfighting.

ACTIVE, THE
: Main runway in use.

AILERON ROLL
: A rolling maneuver along the longitudinal axis of an aircraft induced by the aileron controls on the trailing edge of the wing.

AIM
: The designation for a U.S. air-to-air missile, e.g., AIM-9.

AIRCRAFT COMMANDER
: The pilot in command of an aircraft regardless of the rank of any other officer on board.

ALCE
: Airlift Command Element. A small command post in MAC used for controlling the movement of cargo and aircraft.

ATC
: Air Traffic Control or an air traffic control agency.

BACKSEATER
: A Weapon Systems Officer.

BANDIT
: A hostile aircraft.

BARREL, THE
: Slang for alert duty, being on alert, or the alert facility.

BARRIER
: Arrestment cables stretched across each end of a runway. The hook of a fighter aircraft can be lowered to catch the cable for an emergency stop, much like an aircraft carrier landing.

BDA
: Bomb Damage Assessment: a post-attack evaluation of results.

BM
-21: Soviet-built, truck rocket launcher. Carries forty 122-mm unguided rockets.

BOGIE
: An unidentified aircraft.

BRICK
: Nickname for a small hand-held radio; a walkie-talkie.

CAP
: Combat Air Patrol. A protective umbrella of fighters.

CBU
: Cluster Bomb Unit. An aircraft-delivered anti-personnel weapon that spews baseball-sized bomblets over a wide area.

COIC
: Combined Operations Intelligence Center.

COMM OUT
: Communications out. Operating without radio or telephone communications.

DEFCON
: Defense Condition. A state of warning/alert. DEFCON ONE is highest.

DIA
: Defense Intelligence Agency.

DM
: Deputy for Maintenance.

DO
: Deputy for Operations.

FEBA
: Forward Edge of the Battle Area, i.e., the front, the battlefield.

FEET WET
: Flying over water.

FIR
: Flight Information Region.

FLOGGER
: NATO code name for the Soviet-built Mikoyan MiG-23 fighter. Comes in different models, e.g. Flogger B, Flogger J, etc.

FOX ONE
: Brevity code for a radar-guided air-to-air missile.

FOX TWO
: Brevity code for an infrared-guided air-to-air missile.

FOX THREE
: Brevity code for an aircraft’s cannon.

FRAG ORDER
: The operations order that sends aircraft into combat.

GCA
: Ground Control Radar Approach. The GCA controller “talks” the aircraft down.

GCI
: Ground Control Intercept.

HSI
: Horizontal Situation Indicator: the main instrument the pilot uses for navigation. Incorporates a compass rose, bearing pointers, and range indicator.

IFF
: Identification, Friend or Foe: a radar transponder used for aircraft identification by ground-based radars.

IG
: Inspector General.

INSPECTOR GENERAL
: A specific organization in an armed service that conducts inspections and investigates complaints.

IP
: Initial Point: a small, easily identifiable, easily found point on the ground close to a target. It serves as the last checkpoint and points the way to the target.

JINK
: Continuous random changes in altitude and heading to defeat tracking by an enemy.

JUDY
: Brevity code for the aircrew taking over an air-to-air intercept from a GCI controller.

JUSMAG
: Joint United States Military Advisory Group. They are in charge of U.S. military aide and advice in a foreign country.

LOX
: Liquid oxygen.

MAC
: Military Airlift Command. Formerly MATS.

MARK-82
: Designator for five-hundred-pound bombs.

MAVERICK
: An electro-optical guided anti-tank rocket.

MC
: Mission Capable: an aircraft ready to fly its mission.

NOTAMS
: Notice to Airmen. Published notices warning pilots of hazardous or unusual conditions.

NOSE GUNNER
: Nickname for pilot in two-place fighter aircraft.

NRO
: National Reconnaissance Office. Manages U.S. spy satellite program.

NSA
: The National Security Agency. The largest and most secret Intelligence agency. It uses satellites, huge computers, and other sophisticated technological means of gathering intelligence. Also breaks codes.

OB
: Order of Battle: listing of hostile armed forces by type, strength and location.

OER
: Officer Effectiveness Report: the report card issued on an officer by his commander, critical to promotion and career advancement.

PITTER
: Nickname for a Weapon Systems Officer.

PUZZLE PALACE
: The Pentagon.

ORI
: Operational Readiness Inspection: an inspection of a unit’s ability to carry out its assigned wartime mission. Conducted by the IG.

PSI
: Fictional. Abbreviation for People’s Soldiers of Islam, the military arm of the Iranian Communist Tudeh Party.

RADAR CONTROL POST
: a Ground Control Intercept (GCI) site that controls and reports on aircraft.

RAMP
: The concrete or asphalt apron used for parking aircraft; the sloping entranceway for loading an aircraft.

RDF
: Rapid Deployment Force: a highly mobile, quick-reaction, combined-unit combat force.

RECCY
: Slang for reconnaissance.

RED FLAG
: A recurring exercise at Nellis AFB, outside Las Vegas, Nevada, that tries to create a battlefield environment, simulating combat. Used for training aircrews in the disorientation and sensory overload of combat.

RHAW
: Radar Homing and Warning: Equipment that warns aircrews about radar threats.

RTB
: Return to base.

SA
: Designation for a Soviet-built surface-to-air missile, e.g., SA-3.

SAM
: Any surface-to-air missile.

SNAKEYE
: Five-hundred-pound high-explosive bomb that can be selected in flight for either “slick” or “retarded” (high-drag) delivery.

SPO
: Special Project Office: A specific organization in the Air Force responsible for developing a specific weapon system, e.g. the F-15.

STINGER
: U.S.-built, shoulder-held, surface-to-air missile. Extremely effective.

SUU-21
: A dispenser hung on a wing pylon carrying six practice bomblets for use on a gunnery range.

TAC
: Tactical Air Command.

TAC EVAL
: A NATO Tactical Evaluation, similar to an ORI but much more focused on results.

TDY
: Temporary Duty: assignment away from home station for short periods of time—supposedly.

TLP
: Tactical Leadership Program, NATO’s version of Red Flag.

TOT
: Time over target.

TRASH HAULER
: Slang for cargo aircraft or aircrews that fly them.

TRIPLE A
: Anti-aircraft artillery.

TWEAK
: Slang for tune-up, or to slightly improve.

UAC
: Fictional. Abbreviation for United Arab Command, the military arm of a political alliance between Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait.

VOQ
: Visiting Officers’ Quarters.

WEAPON(S) SYSTEMS OFFICER
: Flies in backseat of fighter. Combination radar operator, bombardier, electronic countermeasures operator, radio operator, observer, and co-pilot. By nature a very trusting soul.

WEAPONS TIGHT
: An air defense term ordering air defense weapons to only engage targets positively identified as hostile.

WIZZO
: Slang for WSO (Weapons Systems Officer).

ZSU-23
: Soviet-built 23-mm Triple A, an excellent air-defense weapon. ZSU-23-2 is two-barrel version. ZSU-23-4 is mobile, radar-laid, four-barrel version—to be avoided.

12 July: 1130 hours, Greenwich Mean Time 0730 hours, Washington, D.C.

Every man and woman was standing at attention well before the general entered the small briefing room next to his office in the Pentagon. The general’s aide still called the assembled generals and colonels to attention as General Lawrence M. Cunningham, the Air Force’s chief of staff, invaded the room and swept it with a hard gaze before sitting down. The colonel giving the briefing stood behind the narrow podium next to the screen, wishing he were anywhere else. Anxiety twisted the knot in his stomach tighter as Cunningham said, “Please be seated.” The “please” was an order.

“Good morning, sir,” the colonel began, amazed that his voice seemed under control. “I’m Colonel Fred Perkins, sir, and I’ll be giving this week’s Situation Report on the—”

“Perkins, I
know
who you are and that this is the SIT REP on the Middle East. We’re not all retards here. Get to it.”

The colonel pressed a button on the side of the podium three times, causing three introductory thirty-five-millimeter slides to flash in sequence on the screen in front of the general. He paused at the fourth slide. “The Grain King food relief flights in the southern Sahara are going smoothly. Our C-130s are moving in excess of one hundred fifty tons of foodstuffs daily into the drought-stricken region. Please note the exact tonnage delivered by type of food and date.”

Cunningham had started the first Grain King flights three years before when he was commander of MAC, the Military Airlift Command.

Click. The colonel keyed up the next slide of Libya.
“The Libyan situation remains unchanged. We have nothing new to report.”

“Perkins, are you telling me that Libya’s nut-case colonel isn’t up to something? He’s been chewing nails since our F-111s bombed him in April of ’86. He needs to even the score.”

Perkins could feel the sweat trickling down his back. “Sir, he apparently hasn’t found an opportunity as yet. We believe he will move against us, but right now he is facing some stiff political opposition at home and is putting on a front to look like a rational leader. We are monitoring Libyan communications for any indication that something is about to go down. So far, though, the situation is normal.”

“Who’s doing the monitoring?”

“The 6096th Reconnaissance Squadron out of Bergstrom AFB has a RC-135 on station over the Mediterranean. Its crews are staging out of Athens, which allows a short turnaround time. They are backed up by Outpost, a surveillance site in Egypt. Their information is fed to the Watch Center here, where it is correlated with intelligence from the National Security Agency and the CIA. So far, the five-day rule seems to apply.” Perkins regretted mentioning that last even as he said it.

“What
is the goddamn five-day rule?”

Perkins slowly answered the general, fully expecting Cunningham to live up to his nickname, “Sundown,” by relieving him of duty on the spot and ordering him to clear out of the Pentagon by sundown. “The Libyans must stay focused on a subject or idea for at least five days before we consider it a serious matter. Otherwise, we assume it is customary rhetoric. Words, not action—”

“You
believe
that, Perkins?” There was danger in the softly spoken words.

The colonel plunged on, feeling suicidal. “It seems to work, sir. We are dealing with Arabs. They prefer to make us act without taking action themselves…”

Cunningham reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigar. He rolled it between his fingers before fitting it unlit into the left side of his mouth. “Perkins, kindly get out of here and be gone by sundown.” Cunningham
turned to the three-star general sitting behind him. “Beller, get someone up here to finish this brief. Make sure he doesn’t make dumb-assed assumptions. Five minutes.” He lit the cigar and settled back into the leather armchair. His aide handed him a folder containing proposed budget figures to study while he waited.

General Beller half-ran out of the briefing room, grabbed the nearest phone and called the Watch Center, telling them to get the top Middle East analyst on duty to the briefing room in three minutes. Four minutes later Captain Sara Marshall was standing behind the podium recently vacated by Colonel Perkins. Her face was flushed from the run to the briefing room. She glanced at the slide of Libya that was still on the screen and looked at the general. “Anymore questions on Libya, sir.”

The general shrugged, a response that Sara took for “none,” and she keyed up the next series of slides on Egypt, Israel and Lebanon. With each slide she quickly summarized the current situation. She continued until the briefing’s last slide of Iran flashed onto the screen. “The Ayatollah’s power base is being parceled out among the other Ayatollahs. This is due to his advanced age and failing health, long rumored and now true. While he still has tremendous influence and prestige as the Shiites’ lawgiver, he is becoming increasingly a figurehead.”

Cunningham took the cigar out of his mouth and stared at the screen. “If fighting should break out in the Gulf again and the president wants a force projected into the region, how soon can the Air Force react?” The question was not directed at the captain; however, no one else volunteered an answer. The memory of Perkins was too fresh.

Sara pushed the button on the side of the podium and brought up the first slide of the Situation Report, a map of the entire Middle East, and broke the heavy silence. “The Rapid Deployment Force can have three squadrons of F-15s from Langley AFB in place within seventy-two hours for an active role in the air defense of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Two AWACS can be in place and operating out of Saudi Arabia within twenty-four hours.”

Cunningham leaned forward in his chair, impressed with the captain. “And what if the president wants to drop iron
bombs on the enemy? F-15s and the AWACS can’t do that. Does the Navy get the honors—again?”

“Not this time, sir.” She tapped the map at Alexandria, Egypt, with a pointer. “The 45th Tactical Fighter Wing is now operational at Alexandria South Air Base. They report that they are capable of deploying two of their three F-4E squadrons within twelve hours. They can one-hop it into the gulf without refueling.” She paused and thought for a moment, “Approximately two hours and fifteen minutes flying time, sir.”

“When did the 45th change their combat-status rating?”

“This morning, sir,” Sara quickly replied, determined that she would answer the questions she could. “They are still reporting an overall ‘two’ because they are not current in air-to-air combat, only air-to-ground, and can only mobilize and deploy two of their three squadrons within twelve hours.”

“When will they be a ‘one’ and fully mission ready?”

“Sorry, sir. I can’t answer that. There will be an answer on your desk within the hour.”

Satisfied, the general stood up abruptly, all five feet of him, and barreled out of the room, tossing the budget folder at his aide. “The captain did good, Dick,” he muttered.

13 July: 0610 hours, Greenwich Mean Time 0810 hours, Alexandria, Egypt

Locke’s name was right there, correctly spelled and underlined in the Security Police report. The wing commander reread it slowly, savoring what was between the lines. He could just picture the tall, ruggedly handsome pilot sowing some wild oats. But he could also picture real trouble, and that was something he didn’t need.

He read on. The girl’s name hit him. Colonel John Shaw’s face flushed with anger and he bolted in his chair, his square chin hardening as he reached for the hotline to Locke’s squadron. Then he thought better of it. He needed time…time to sort out what had suddenly become a very real problem.

Air Force protocol dictated he should pass the incident on to his deputy for Operations (DO) since it involved a pilot in one of the three flying squadrons that made up the business end of his wing. But his deputy, Colonel Sam Hawkins, was taking a much-needed leave in Cairo. Shaw shook his head and wondered how much longer he could carry Hawkins. He liked the tall, cadaverous colonel and respected his ability as a fighter pilot, but the man let too many details slip through the cracks. And the last thing Shaw needed was to be left holding the bag.

Back to Locke. Shaw decided to handle this problem himself. He knew what had to be done. He hadn’t become a colonel and earned the command of the Air Force’s newest base at Alexandria, Egypt, by being slow or stupid.

Shaw understood the system well and knew that perhaps one out of every hundred colonels was qualified to command a combat-ready wing. But all were motivated by their inner fires to order and lead. It was for the generals to consult their crystal balls and decide who should be given the chance to command and prove his ability. However, the same generals kept a stable of colonels in reserve, ready to take over the reins from their fellow colonel who faltered or drew up lame.

And Shaw knew that the activities of Lieutenant Jackson D. Locke had the potential to get him relieved of duty.

He picked up the hotline to Locke’s squadron, and made a mental note to count the rings before the duty officer answered. The phone had not even completed its first ring when it was picked up; all very satisfactory.

“Have Lieutenant Colonel Fairly report to my office ASAP,” he ordered. “And have Lieutenant Locke in my outer office on the double.”

 

Jack Locke buffed at his boots with unusual ferocity, bringing them to a high shine.

“I don’t think that’s going to save your butt this time,” the duty officer, Captain James “Thunder” Bryant, observed.

Jack looked up at his friend and grunted before returning to his task.

“Have you told Colonel Fairly yet? The boss doesn’t need any surprises this early in the morning.”

“He isn’t in yet. He flew late last night with Johnny Nelson. He should be here in five minutes or so.” Locke’s dark blond hair flew back and forth to the beat of the brush strokes. He tried very hard not to sweat, even though he had reason to…Thunder picked up the rhythm and beat a tattoo on the desk, adding to Jack’s discomfort. “Knock it off,” he said, throwing the brush into its box. “I think I’ve really stepped on it this time.” He glanced out the window toward the empty spot reserved for the squadron commander’s car, biting his lower lip.

A group of pilots and their backseaters straggled up to the duty officer’s station, a chest-high counter in front of a scheduling board, garnering Thunder’s attention. While Thunder gave the crews a last-minute update on the weather and field conditions, Jack focused his gaze on the concrete ramp in front of the building, studying an F-4 waiting on the expanse of concrete that reminded him of a beach without sand or water, with the hint of its purpose hidden over the near horizon and lost to his view. “God, I love that beast,” he muttered. “How the hell did I ever let last night happen?”

Getting into the cockpit of a Phantom had been a long and tedious road for Locke. Now it was all in jeopardy. Jack’s turn in Egypt had been less than a success. Within a month, he had been thrown out of the Officers’ Club for practicing carrier landings on a beer-sloshed table; arrested for speeding on base in a dilapidated Ferrari he had recently bought from an Egyptian; and reprimanded for being too aggressive on the gunnery range while practicing dive bombing. He prayed everything would blow over in a few days. Other things in his life had…He had been washed out of the Air Force Academy because he flunked military science. He still couldn’t take the subject seriously. But he had learned from it, and pushed himself even harder at Arizona State, where he enrolled to finish college. It had been a walk-through after the discipline of the Academy. The Air Force’s ROTC program at Arizona had opened another path into pilot training. The advice of his ROTC instructor, an unrestrained fighter pilot, had
proved good so far; “If you keep your boots shined and your hair cut short, you can screw off until you make captain. After that, you’ll have to play the game.”

Locke had thrown himself into pilot training and finished at the top of his class, but when the assignments came down, all the choice F-15 and F-16 slots went to Academy graduates. Locke went on a drunk, in the privacy of his apartment, but didn’t give up.

Another instructor, a cynical, overweight lieutenant, kept him on track. “Bide your time and use the F-4 to your advantage. It’s an old fighter but a good one. If those pricks that got the F-15s and 16s can’t fly, being a Zoomy isn’t going to help them. You can fly better than any student I’ve trained. Use the Phantom to prove how good you are and work into the F-16.”

Upgrade training in the Phantom had come shortly after that, then an assignment to Alexandria South Air Base where he and Thunder, a big, affable black man, were teamed on the same crew. An immediate rapport sprang up between the two.

Jack complained to Thunder, whose attention was free since the last of the crews left the squadron to fly. “All I want to do is fly. Why do we get hammered for what we do on our own time?”

“There’s more to the Air Force than just flying and chasing around, man. Hey—Fairly just drove up. Catch him quick.”

Locke darted out. Lieutenant Colonel Mike Fairly, squadron commander of the 379th Tactical Flying Squadron, listened to Jack’s story on the drive over and had also decided that was the reason behind the phone call, but it escaped him why the Old Man should be bent out of shape because some fighter jocks were whooping it up at a party. Everyone knew Shaw had raised hell in his time. But Fairly knew from personal experience what a discrete phone call from some general in a higher headquarters could do to a wing commander’s disposition.

Fairly knocked on Shaw’s door. Colonel Shaw waved Fairly to a chair and handed him the incident report with a curt, “Read that.” Before the younger man had read
half of the report, he could hardly control his grin. The Security Police had received a noise complaint from the BOQ (Bachelor Officers’ Quarters) at 0207 hours that morning. A team consisting of Technical Sergeant Robert Kincaid and Sergeant Irene Bush (the last name being underlined) had responded to the call and upon entering the BOQ, heard loud music and the sounds of a party. They found the door to Lieutenant Locke’s room fully opened (again, underlined) and the room occupied by approximately fifteen people. The people were shouting and clapping for a couple dancing on a table in the middle of the room. The woman was totally nude and the man was wearing a pair of shorts. The woman was taken into custody by Sergeant Irene Bush (again underlined).

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