I haven't done one of these in a couple of years, so, here goes.
I've got some events coming up this year that I plan to hit, as photographer, worker, or just staring geek.
February 13-16: Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour - Tampa
February 14: Bon Jovi's THINFS Tour at the Ice Palace
March 4: An Inconcievable Evening with Cary Elwes
March 11: TICO Warbird Airshow featuring the USAF Thunderbirds
March 12: Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg
March 18: Kennedy Space Center Early Space Tour - first possible date
March 25: Bond at the Miami Auto Museum -possible first date
April 2: Festivals of Speed St Petersburg
April 4: Sun N Fun featuring the Patrouille de France
April 8: Celebration Exotic Car Festival
April 9: Sun N Fun featuring the US Navy Blue Angels
April 15-16: Star Wars Celebration Orlando
Both the KSC tour and Bond in Miami WILL happen this year, whenever I have the free time!!
Events later in the year I'm still working on the logistics for.......
August 5-6: Star Trek Las Vegas
I also need to slide a trip to NYC in there, maybe a road trip once I have a full week of vacation time, up, hit DC and other sights on the way back.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Author's Note: I remember that, in 1992 when I wrote this, 2017 seemed so far in the future. Man, have times changed. This was my second ever full story in the ETF world, and, while obviously a little dated, still isn't terrible. I should probably pull a Lucas and put out a "Director's Edition" lmao. Anyway, Enjoy
Clash of Titans
An ETF Saga story
Brian R. Kupfer
June 24, 2017
In controlled airspace above Nevada
High over the dusty sands of Nevada, a lone, battleship gray, F-15E Strike Eagle circles, awaiting it's prey.
On the outside surfaces of her twin vertical stabilizers is the tail code EE in white outlined black.
On the Eagles nose are the words "Eagle One", painted in blue, with a white shadow.
Beneath these words is a painted picture of the American flag, with a bald eagle, wings spread, holding a Sidewinder in its talons, superimposed on it.
Just beneath the canopy of the Strike Eagle, are the marks of this bird's victims. Twelve red stars you will find there, and forty-five rising suns. Six tank silhouettes you will find here also, and a row of numerous benchmarks, counting radar sites, SAMs, and bridges destroyed. Under each of these markings, or, in the case of the stars and suns, on them, are dates of destruction and types of vehicle or emplacement destroyed.
Obviously, this bird has seen some action.
On the canopy frame is painted the names of the cockpit's occupants.
The first, for the pilot, says: Col. Wahren "Wolf" Morast.
The second, for his WSO: Col. Aaron "Valder" Fieldman. The two Colonels converse as Aaron watches his radar, waiting for their rendezvous to arrive.
They are veterans of the recent World War III. This pair are the undisputed champions in the Strike Eagle in all of the southern, and central, U.S.
* * * * * *
A white, black, and gray camouflaged F-15E streaks west out of Utah towards Nevada, the large black AK on it's twin tails telling all where it once came from.
The Strike Eagle roars at twenty feet, flying over uninhabited land at an eye-watering Mach 2.5.
On the nose of this Eagle is painted a cartoon character, Warner's Tazmanian devil, but for some reason, this one's arms have been painted raised above it's head. This cartoon also has the American flag as a backdrop.
Everyone at the base in Alaska has nicknamed this Eagle "The Tazmaniac", after it's WSO, Lt. Col. Anthony "Vyper" Wakefield.
The pilot, Col. Matthew "ElTito" Bendix is the reason for the figure's arm gesture. It is his trademark, to all who know him.
This dynamic pair has been tearing up all competition in Canada and the northern U.S. in the past few months.
They had also fought in WWIII, in the same unit as Aaron and Wahren, but they often flew the B-1, B-52 or EF-FB-111's then.
Ryan had been known to fly the odd sortie in the F/A-18 Hornet during the war, as well.
Therefore, this Eagle only has three suns and four stars on it.
Good enough to give both of them ace status.
Matt pulls the F-15E into a rapid climb, rising to 35,000 feet, once they cross into Nevada.
He has come to this altitude for one purpose, against his normal instincts.
He has come here to be seen on radar.
Soon, a circling blip appears on Ryan's radar screen.
* * * * * *
At precisely the same time Ryan sees the blip on his screen, Aaron sees the blip of Matt and Ryan's aircraft.
"ElTito and Vyper are on station." Aaron calls up to Wahren.
Wahren checks his radar, and, sure enough, another Strike Eagle has entered the area.
Aaron calls up Ryan on the radio.
As soon as he ends his transmission, Wahren kicks in the afterburner and dives for the deck, quickly speeding past the sound barrier.
* * * * * *
"Vyper, this is Valder, game's on, repeat, game's on." Aaron's voice comes over the radio, into Matt and Ryan's headsets.
While Matt dives the '15E for the deck, Ryan adds some encouragement.
"Let's do it." He yells.
Matt ends the screaming dive at just under twenty feet above the hard desert floor, a place where one mistake can cost you your life, a place Matt and Ryan have lived their whole careers.
Matt points the nose of his Eagle at the canyon in front of him. This is the arena for today.
They can't touch us, he thinks, this is our playground, and they'll never beat us down here.
While his pilot roars them into the canyon, Ryan turns on the gun cameras.
* * * * * *
Moments before, Aaron had done the same thing as he and Wahren entered the canyon at fifty feet above ground. Wahren looks at his radar and sees Matt at twenty. You aren't showing me up, Bendix! He growls mentally, and drops another thirty feet. The two fighters hurtle towards their objective, an empty storage bunker, from opposite ends of the canyon. Wahren and Aaron have a slight lead on Matt and Ryan as they rocket towards their objective.
* * *
Though Eagle One is slightly ahead of The Tazmaniac, Matt is much more at home than Wahren. Guided mostly by the feel of the rock around him, he isn't using his terrain following radar. But, then again, neither is Wahren. Their mutual rules in this contest won't allow for it. This should be a battle of skill, not automation. Using occasional encouragement from Ryan, Matt skillfully roars around corners and over the larger boulders, only climbing far enough to clear them. Ryan arms the Durandals under the Strike Eagle's wings, just to be ready.
* * *
Wahren rockets Eagle One around a bend, and sees a pair of fifty foot tall boulders ahead, separated by just ten feet. Wahren slips the Strike Eagle into a knife edge pass and shoots between the rocks. As he comes out from between them, the bunker is in his sights, two miles ahead!
"Aaron..." he calls.
"I know." Aaron replies, arming their pair of Durandals.
Matt and Ryan choose that moment to bring The Vypermaniac roaring over a huge rock formation, inverted! As Aaron and Wahren watch, Matt rolls the '15E over as Ryan releases the twin Durandals from beneath it's wings. Matt then pulls his Eagle into a climb.
Score one for Vyper and Tito Aaron acknowledges grimly as he releases his Durandals on the now smoking bunker, relieving his and Wahren's Eagle of their dead weight.
"Hey, Valder, how's that?" Matt asks mockingly over the radio.
"Just wait, Tito, we're not done yet." Aaron responds.
"You might as well just give up." Ryan remarks.
Wahren pulls his '15E up beside Matt's, slowing down as they have done. Matt and Ryan are openly grinning at them.
"Just watch Vyper, who knows, you might just learn something." Wahren hisses. He signals to Matt, who gives him the "You first" signal back. Aaron and Ryan exchange signals. No radar. So, they want to dogfight! Aaron surmises as he tells Wahren. Shrugging, Wahren rolls his Eagle over the top of Matt's, and climbs for the clouds, afterburners blazing.
"Fucking lunatic!" Matt exclaims as he pushes open his afterburners and roars off in pursuit. As Wahren puts his aircraft through a series of Immelmans, loops, tight and wide turns, Matt sticks to him. Wahren flips his Eagle over and dives, spinning, into a cloudbank. Aaron and Wahren are pushed deep into their seats by the G forces. So are Matt and Ryan, starting a pursuing dive. Inside the cloud, Wahren levels out, does a tight turn, and exits back the way he came in. Matt roars into the cloudbank after Wahren, and, figuring, logically, that no one would be stupid enough to make a blind turn in a cloud, roars right back out the other side.
"Where the fuck are they?" Ryan yells as the burst out of the cloud, following...nothing.
Meanwhile, Wahren had flown under the base of the cloudbank and was sneaking up on Matt and Ryan, albeit two hundred feet lower.
Ryan, checking all around him out the canopy, cannot see them, as they are directly below them. Wahren slowly Aaronngs his plane closer to Matt's. Ryan turns on the radio, and stops looking around to operate it. As he does so, Wahren slows down, so that he is a hundred yards behind them, and climbs to Ryan and Matt's altitude.
"Sneaky, guys. Now, where the fuck are you?" Ryan sends.
"Check six, Vyper." Aaron replies as the missile lock alarm starts blaring in Matt and Ryan's ears.
"Mutherfucker!" Ryan exclaims as he looks over his shoulder. Wahren and Aaron are close enough so that he can see their eyebrows.
"We take round two." Wahren comments. "The score, I believe, is even."
"You never would have had us if it wasn't for those clouds." Matt growls.
"Even so...." Aaron begins.
"Fuck you, Fieldman." Ryan cuts him off.
"Whassamatter T, desperate for a date?" Aaron chides.
His only response is a low growl.
"Yeah, lets see how hot you talk after Multiple Bogeys." Matt starts up.
Eagle One pulls ahead of Vypermaniac, and the two buzz the base in close formation, doing a pair of synchronized aileron rolls. They land and grab a bite to eat, waiting for their planes to be refuelled, and to be loaded with missiles. They take off and circle on station, as Nellis sends up the Adversaries. The Adversaries are surplus aircraft, left over from the military drawdown of the 1990s, and are being used as drones. They fire paint pellets, while the Strike Eagles' ordinance are real. Many will be sent up for this engagement.
Twenty-five of them, to be exact. Seven A-4 Skyhawks, eight F-5E Tiger IIs, and ten F-16C Fighting Falcons.
The two Strike Eagles keep in formation. They will fight as a team on this one. They cannot begin until the Adversaries reach 15,000 feet. The whole sky, from a deck of two hundred feet, will be their battlefield.
"Bogies up!" Ryan yells, watching as the twenty blips pass fifteen thou on his radar. The radars will be left on for this test.
But, there could be a problem here. Between the two Strike Eagles, there are eight Sparrows and eight Sidewinders. That's sixteen missiles for twenty-five aircraft. Problem? For most crews, maybe, but for these? We'll see.
At a signal from Ryan, Wahren and Matt break formation. Wahren pulls off to the left, under Matt's aircraft, which he is pulling into an Immelman. The fight has begun.
Ryan and Aaron arm their missiles, selecting their first targets.
Eagle One roars after an F-16 painted in Desert camo, and with prominent red pipe lettering declaring "56".
Vypermaniac rolls off the top of the Immelman, lining Ryan up for a head-on shot with a blue on blue A-4.
The F-16 in front of Eagle One climbs into an Immelman, and, rather than follow it, Wahren turns tightly to the left and comes out Matteath it, raises the nose, and Aaron releases a Sidewinder. The '16 explodes satisfyingly. One down, Twenty-four to go.
As Vypermaniac closes on the A-4, Matt rakes it with cannon fire. He then executes a half Cuban-eight to end up behind it, lining up for a blast that shears off the A-4's tail. Two down. While Matt and Ryan have been intent on this A-4, two F-5s have snuck out of the clouds behind them, and are now lining up for a shot, at max range, about ten miles. Ryan yells off a warning to Matt.
"Two Bogies, six-o-clock high!"
Matt starts evasive maneuvers. The F-5s open up with their cannons. Paint pellets rain all around the F-15E as Matt snap rolls it. Then, just as he levels out, and it appears the F-5s will get a lock, a battleship gray form screams over Matt and Ryan's Eagle, and the F-5s disappear in twin fireballs, thanks to a pair of Sidewinders.
An all-black F-16 chases the form, screaming in pursuit of Eagle One. Wahren starts evasive maneuvers as Aaron tries to come up with a Aaronght idea. Suddenly he finds one.
"Wahren, you see those A-4s up ahead?"
"Yeah, they're heading right at us!"
"Do your Lead Weight move."
Wahren's face lights up. "Perfect." He responds.
Wahren opens the throttles and aims his Eagle straight at the onrushing Skyhawks. At the last moment, Wahren flips the '15E onto it's back and dives for the deck. The F-16, caught by surprise, slams into the A-4s in a gargantuan explosion, and a mass of molten metal drops from the sky, all that is left of the three aircraft. That's seven!
* * *
Matt has yet again picked up a tail, but Wahren and Aaron aren't around this time. This time, he has the F-16. Matt decides to test it's guts as he slams the control stick towards the instrument panel. The Strike Eagle picks up speed as it goes into an almost vertical dive. Ryan is starting to turn a little green as the G forces assault him. Three more aircraft have joined the chase. Two F-5s and an A-4. Matt starts to pull out of the dive and levels out a scant five feet above the hard desert floor. The A-4 learns exactly how hard that floor is as it becomes a smoking crater. One of the F-5s and the F-16 have leveled out at fifty feet, just high enough to avoid the dust storm Vypermaniac is kicking up. The other Tiger II, however, has leveled out at fifteen feet in it's attempt to acquire a lock. It's intakes soon fill with dust, and the F-5 buries itself in a stall-induced belly landing. Matt smiles at his new record of low altitude as the Strike Eagle disappears from sight, dropping into the nearest mouth of the canyon.
PARTY TIME!!! Matt and Ryan think as one.
Matt has a ear-to-ear grin on as he takes the Eagle around corners at breakneck speeds. He roars under a thirty foot high rock Aarondge, and the F-16 streaks over it, still following them. The Aarondge disappears in a puff of rock and metal, as the second F-5 slams into it, not able to dodge it quickly enough.
* * *
Meanwhile, Aaron and Wahren are having their own problems in Eagle One. They are being chased across the cloud studded Nevada sky by a flight of six Fighting Falcons! As they race for their lives at Mach 2+, Wahren spots a particularly large cloudbank to his left. As he heads towards it, he warns Aaron.
"Time for the ol' cloud trick." He drawls.
Oh, Shit!! Aaron curses mentally. This stunt had almost gotten them killed numerous times during the war. Aaron checks all his straps and harnesses, tightening a few, just to be safe, and makes sure his ejection seat is armed. He hates this move, and Wahren knows it.
As Wahren enters the clouds, he pops the airbrake and roars into one of the tightest Immelmans ever attempted. As he exits the clouds, Wahren is depressing the cannon trigger, and performing a series of rolls. A wall of deadly lead pours out of the 20mm Vulcan, chewing up it's targets. One F-16 loses it's left wing, another takes a round through the cockpit. One unfortunate Falcon swallows ten rounds into it's intake. Two more Adversaries collide, trying to evade the lead wall. The last Falcon arms a missile as Wahren puts Eagle One on it's tail and kicks in the 'burners. Wahren then rolls the Eagle inverted, diving back into the same cloudbank. This time, however, he flies straight through it, and Aaron, checking six, is amazed to see Falcon shrapnel falling from inside the cloud.
* * *
Matt screams through the canyon, hurtling through the ever narrowing walls, trying to lose the F-16 that seems dead set on destroying him. A Sidewinder arches off the rail of the Strike Eagle as Ryan fires it at the base of an upcoming overhang. The '15E streaks underneath the overhang just as the missile explodes. Ryan had given it a delayed detonation. The Fighting Falcon behind them is buried under forty tons of rock, as it tries to follow them under the overhang.
"Nice shot, Vyper."
"Yeah, he'll have one hell of a headache in the morning." Ryan quips.
Matt rockets the Eagle skyward, searching for yet another Adversary to prey on. He spots the Falcon tailing Eagle One, and launches a Sidewinder into the clouds. The blip on Ryan's screen disappears as the F-16 joins it's fellows. Seventeen down, eight left.
"Thanks for the assist, Tito." Wahren calls over the radio.
"Call it even, Wolf, you waxed those F-5s for us."
As Matt and Wahren congratulate each other, more level heads are targeting the remaining Adversaries. Ryan locks all four of his Sparrows, as does Aaron. A volley of eight long range missiles roar from under the wings of their Strike Eagles.
Ryan's Sparrows ring true, Aaronnging down three A-4s and clipping the wing of an F-5, sending it spinning to the earth below.
Aaron has a little worse luck with his, destroying the last F-16, while his other three Sparrows are avoided.
Three aircraft left. Two F-5Es, one A-4.
Matt and Wahren split, going after the remaining aircraft.
Matt chases an F-5E across the heavens, finally Aaronnging it down with thirty rounds to the tailpipes. An F-5 doesn't fly well without engines.
Ryan has targeted the last A-4, and lets loose a Sidewinder. Now he has only one missile left.
Unbeknown to Ryan, Aaron has targeted the selfsame A-4 with his last missile, also a Sidewinder. Both Sidewinders hit the hapless Skyhawk at the same time. It is reduced to vapor. Matt chases the last F-5, firing his last Sidewinder at it as it enters a cloudbank. Then he follows his prey in, to assure it's death.
Eagle One had just entered the cloud from Matt's blind side. The A-4 explodes not fifty feet in front of Wahren and Aaron. Time advances in slow motion for the two men, as Eagle One's moveable surfaces are welded to the wing, tail, and fuselage. Time slows ever more as the canopy's glass melts and bubbles in the intense heat.
Time almost stops as Matt and Ryan watched Eagle One hurtle out of the fireball straight at them at well over Mach 2. Matt and Ryan instinctively duck as the two aircraft close at over Mach 5. At the moment of impact, Matt feels like he is going deaf as he hears the shriek of metal slicing through glass. Matt and Ryan are showered with pieces of glass as Eagle One's wing shears off the top of their canopy. There is a massive jolt to both aircraft as Eagle One's wing imbeds itself into Vypermaniac's twin vertical tails. The wing stops and is ripped from the fuselage of Eagle One. The now one-winged aircraft goes into an uncontrollable spinning dive, and time is suddenly back on track, and, to the pilots, it seems to be in fast forward. Aaron's hand tightens on the ejection handle to fire the canopy off, but it had been welded to the fuselage by the explosion. Too late, Aaron realizes the damage is done as the rocket Matteath his chair fires. Aaron is slammed through the canopy, shattering it. However, the resistance from the canopy glass has tilted his flight path, and the supersonic wind clutches at him, bouncing him down Eagle One's fuselage. His last sight is of the Strike Eagle's left vertical tail as he hits it. Everything turns black....
Wahren's seat fires instants after Aaron's, and, since the canopy glass is gone, his seat flings him above the Eagle's twin tails. His parachute opens, as does Aaron's, and the wind fills the chute, pulling his limp body off the tail of the hurtling bird. The F-15E dives into a lake far below, amidst an explosion of foam and a geyser of water.
Matt and Ryan aren't exactly having it easy, though. Their plane's controls have turned to mush, and it takes both of them to line Vypermaniac up with Nellis' main runway. Both Matt and Ryan are now wearing their oxygen masks, and have their blast shields down on their helmets, preventing the wind from peeling their skin off.
Ryan calls for the Alert Osprey as he sees the twin parachutes touch down.
He and Matt manhandle the aircraft onto a straight and level heading and land, joltingly, on the tarmac at Nellis. The nose gear on the F-15 is torn out of its housing, and the Eagle's nose slams into the concrete. Matt and Ryan quickly unstrap their harnesses, anxious to get out of this aviary time bomb. The Strike Eagle explodes as Ryan unclasps the last securing. He is thrown thirty feet in the air on a pillar of fire, landing over a hundred yards from the doomed plane. The lights dim as he hits the hard pavement, but he struggles to hold on to his consciousness.
Matt is still inside as the Eagle explodes. Watching in horror as the skin melts off of his fingers, he unhitches the last of the straps and runs from the aircraft, trailing fire. He is thrown five feet as he is hit by the powerful water cannon atop the base's rescue truck. He, however, is thankful for the darkness enveloping him, it takes away the pain. These are his final thoughts as he blacks out.
* * *
The V-22 Osprey arrives two minutes after Ryan's call, picking up Wahren and the comatose Aaron from the north shore of the lake. They are rushed to the infirmary, where Wahren is treated for a broken leg.
Matt is released after two months recovery, badly scarred from the third degree burns that cover a fourth of his body. Ryan spends a two day observation period there, as his five broken ribs heal, and as he recovers from a severe concussion, never mind the two hours each of them spent getting glass shards removed from their upper backs and lower necks. Wahren leaves the infirmary one week after entering, his leg in a cast. Aaron is in a coma for six months, and awakens to find he cannot remember his own name. Eventually his memory returns. He had had three broken ribs, but these had healed long ago. Aaron is diagnosed with severe head trauma, and eventually released.
On the fourteenth of April, 2020, almost three years after their mid-air collision, the four men are retired in a gala celebration. Among the most celebrated and decorated men in USAF history, Ryan, Wahren, and Matt retire as Major Generals, while Aaron, for being a Task Force leader in the war, ends up with a full four stars.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
1st half of 2015 events list. All events tentative except SnF and Megacon
February 7 Boggy Bottom Auto Fest
February 17 Mr Big concert
February 21 Planes Trains and Automobiles
March 1 Kennedy Space Center and VAC
March 8 St Pete Festivals of Speed
March 15 TICO Warbird Airshow
March 21 Melbourne Air and Space show.
March 22 St Pete Grand Prix
April 3 Fast 7
April 10-12 MegaCon
April 22 and 26 Sun N Fun
May 8 VE Day 70th in DC (If in any way possible)
May 24 Omni Con
June 7 Star Wars Weekends
July 25-26 Fanboy Expo
August 1-2 Tampa Bay Comic Con
February 7 Boggy Bottom Auto Fest
February 17 Mr Big concert
February 21 Planes Trains and Automobiles
March 1 Kennedy Space Center and VAC
March 8 St Pete Festivals of Speed
March 15 TICO Warbird Airshow
March 21 Melbourne Air and Space show.
March 22 St Pete Grand Prix
April 3 Fast 7
April 10-12 MegaCon
April 22 and 26 Sun N Fun
May 8 VE Day 70th in DC (If in any way possible)
May 24 Omni Con
June 7 Star Wars Weekends
July 25-26 Fanboy Expo
August 1-2 Tampa Bay Comic Con
Monday, December 22, 2014
The Concorde Incident:
The Ultimate Edition
A New Experience in Flight and
The Last Mission of the 137th TFW
Friday, September 30, 1988
United States, 1500hrs local
Aaron, Wahren, Kristine "Golden Eagle" Vermes, and Alayne "Phantom" Engleslause wait on the capitol's lawn for their mysterious contact to arrive.
Aaron received a call this morning from someone at British Airways, who wanted to hire his team for a job. They had been told to wait on the front lawn of the capitol building, under a certain statue.
"Steve Johnson?" Asks a man coming across the lawn.
He is really quite short, only about four-seven, with thinning gray hair combed straight back over his head. He also wears glasses. Aaron notices this immediately, as he himself had worn the wretched things for just over eighteen years before having laser surgery to correct for his natural near-sightedness.
"Yeah, that's me." Aaron replies nonchalantly, used to replying to the pseudonym listed in the TOP SECRET files, usually labeled one of three things: "Steven A. Johnson & Associates, International Military Consultant Corporation or IMCC", or "The ETF", or, in the case of the file in the NMCC in the Pentagon, "The 137th Tactical Fighter Wing."
"Steve Johnson" is actually a variety of people.
Matt Hunter, one of the ETF's founders, originally used the title back in Kiev. He, Wahren, and Aaron have all been "Steve Johnson" on various occasions since.
"I'm here to talk about the BA job." The man continues, "will you follow me, please. Ladies." He motions to Kristine and Alayne.
"Of course" Aaron replies, then to Wahren in barely a whisper, "I've got a strange feeling about this guy, he's already sweating."
"I noticed, and its not even warm out here, actually, its a bit cold."
"And you were born WHERE, exactly?" Aaron chides.
"So I is born in Minnesota. Shut up. It’s still cold out."
"I told you that you shouldn't have worn shorts." Alayne adds, joining in.
"Hmmph" Wahren replies.
"Nice comeback." Aaron whispers.
Wahren glares at him.
The short little man leads them across the lawn and in a side door of the capitol. They all promptly sit at a table obviously more suited to little old ladies than Black Ops warriors.
The little man sits quite comfortably at the table with Kristine and Alayne, who aren't near as small as he, but neither are they as large as Aaron or Wahren.
"Let's get down to business.", The little man begins, taking off his spectacles and rubbing his eyes, "How about the figure of two million dollars for this job?"
"Overall?" Wahren asks.
"Each." Is the reply.
Wahren's eyes light up immediately.
Now, the ETF are officially a military organization, but only in the loosest sense of the term, as tended to be apparent in Wahren's shoulder length hair, Aaron's goatee, as well as both men’s earrings in the left ear, a gold hoop for Aaron and diamond stud for Wahren. The military, or more correctly, the Department of Defense, on orders from the Commander in Chief, only use them for special jobs, and if they can make a little money on the side, hey, that is okay with them, but they still have to clear it through their government contacts.
"Oh, your government's already agreed to the price."
Ahh, the magic words. Aaron thinks.
"We'll take it." Wahren replies automatically
"Good, then here's what will be involved......"
"So, what exactly is the problem?" Wahren asks, not knowing if he really wanted the answer.
"The problem, Captain," Dave Brants replies, (They have learned the little guy's name.), "Is that we have had threats from the Japanese, a little known terrorist cult calling themselves the Rising Sun, saying that they will steal and destroy a Concorde if we flew to New York for any reason. At first we didn't take them seriously, but once they learned we don't scare easily, they killed the pilot and his navigator for the October 7th flight, which has been chartered by a college group who raised enough money to take a research and relaxation trip to the United States. We found the two at their homes, their throats slashed ear to ear. Same for their wives and kids. That, as you say, is the problem. We've heard, trough our SAS, among others, that you're the best unknown anti-terrorism force in the world, and we'd like you to stop them." Then Brants looks over the four people in front of him.
"You certainly don't look like a military organization." He mutters.
"Black Ops, thanks," Wahren mutters, "and we're not supposed to look military. That's the point."
While Wahren and Brants are having their verbal fencing match, Kristine leans over to whisper in Aaron's ear.
"Sounds like a bad version of Arthur Haley’s Airport, if you ask me."
"Yeah, it is a little corny at that. Keep your eyes open." He replies, then, louder, "All right, Mr. Brants, this is what we'll need for this mission....."
* * *
The four Eagles climb back into Aaron's Plymouth Horizon after their meeting is concluded, and drive back to Alayne and Hera "Shorty" Steel's apartment, where the rest of the team is assembling to discuss the details of this operation.
While they are poring over a computer mock-up Matt has programmed, a flight simulator for the Concorde, the phone rings.
Hera picks it up, listens for a minute, then motions to Matt.
Matt gives her a quizzical look.
"It’s your duty officer in Tonopah." She replies to his unspoken question.
Matt picks up the handset and speaks into the phone for about five minutes while the rest of the team haggles over ways to subdue their foes.
After Matt hangs up the phone, he looks over at the rest of the team with a look of resignation on his face.
"What's wrong, Shaba?" Wahren asks, using the nickname Matt acquired from his squadron the year before, and the ETF have adopted.
"Looks like I'm not going with you, guys." Matt replies, "The Air Force is getting edgy about all the photos of the Senior Trend people have been leaking to the press. I'm supposed to go to Tonopah to help the USAF come up with a way to make the bird public."
The team all look at Matt questioningly.
The Air Force is going to take the stealth fighter PUBLIC? They all think as one.
Matt has been involved with the project since flying the original Have Blue test bed in 1977, so it is logical to choose him as the Air Force representative to diffuse the situation.
"The AF has had the Trend flying in a squadron at Tonopah since 1983, and has managed to keep it secret this long. Why go public now?" Terry Carson asks him.
"I guess one of those guys who camps out near the facility got a REALLY nice shot of one of the black jets coming in for landing, so Lockheed and the DOD are having a tough time keeping him from going to Aviation Week with it. So, I get to go find out what he has, talk to him, and make him delay long enough for the USAF to go public first." Matt replies as he starts to pack his duffel bag
So now their team is sixteen for this mission, four on the ground and twelve in the air.
* * *
The next day, October 1, all twelve members of the aerial team board a British Airways 747 to London.
The ground team had left the night before on a C-21 Lear Jet to Lakenheath. On arrival, the air team checks into their temporary lodgings, mainly speaking, eight dorm-sized rooms in an RAF barracks. The ground team has already begun interviewing British Airways employees, the ground crews, airport security, other crew that might have known the murdered crew, the food services company and custodial companies that service the airport, and the ramp rats that help load the aircraft to see if they have seen, heard, or learned about anyone or -thing suspicious going on with the Concorde fleet. They have also gotten lodgings in the same barracks as the flight team, which will allow the ETF to touch base and compare notes throughout the London portion of their mission. Luckily, they are the only people in their building.
Right away, as the Eagles are settling in and unpacking their luggage, a British Airways van appears and whisks Aaron, Wahren, and Doug "Matrix" Danko away to the Concorde simulator at Filton, where the three flight crewmen will learn over the next week everything there is to know about Concorde and its operations, a course that usually takes six weeks for the pilot and First Officer, and eight for the Flight Engineer.
The crew also fly five circuits in the Concorde to get used to her unique feel and handling, as compared to the normal fourteen. These circuits include touch-and-go landings, engine-out sequences, and full procedures to supersonic flight. At first, the three Eagles have trouble with the touchy and difficult Concorde flight parameters, that is, up until Wahren pulls out his portable CD player and hooks it into the SST’s interphone system, filling the cockpit with Bon Jovi’s "New Jersey" album, a particular flying favorite of the group being "Lay your Hands on Me", and the difficulties they have been having up to this point cease. Whenever jamming to their favorite music, the ETF flight crew maneuver the tricky SST around the sky of the British Airways training area like twenty-year veterans. Their instructors are obviously amazed by the Eagles’ quick turnaround, and the three men have hit upon a secret that will soon become something of a trademark with the ETF pilots.
The week flies by amazingly quickly for the three men as they learn about such things as the special center of gravity fuel shifts, the variable geometry nose, supersonic corridors, noise restrictions, high-AOA, high thrust landings, and all the other wonders that make up the Concorde.
The rest of the team spend the week surveying the area and checking whereabouts and backgrounds of each of the passengers for this chartered flight.
Also during the week, Alayne, Terry, Kristine, Hera, Eric Wayne, and Melissa Pana all go through Cabin Crew training, as the ETF feel it will be too risky to place a British Airways cabin crew in such danger.
Finally, the week of waiting is over, and the guys, Wahren, Terry "Tron" Carson, Doug, Mitch "Maverick" Vannell, Aaron, Joe "Apache" Strano and Eric "Red" Wayne, so called mainly because of the color of his hair, decide to go look around downtown London.
That leaves the five women, Carmen "Mikki" Ritter, Hera, Alayne, Kristine, and Melissa "Mel" Pana, behind in the barracks, as they feel it wiser to get some sleep before the 10 am flight the next day.
So, the guys find a local pub, and, needless to say, got smashed to celebrate their new wealth. (Normal military pay is not very high, Black Ops pay nominally higher, but this.....this is a genuine windfall for the team.)
Wahren, knowing his friends quite well, doesn't drink anything, and is the only one in enough control of his wits to drive the guys back to the barracks at around 11:30 that evening.
Hence the start of a few very bad headaches, for European beer is much stronger than the American equivalent.
* * *
Saturday, October 7, 1988; London, England, 6 am.
Big Ben tolls once, twice, then six times overall.
Seconds later, the alarm clock on the desk takes over where Ol' Ben leaves off, chattering away in all its electronic fury.
Aaron Fieldman slowly rolls out of bed, the covers all askew as he has tossed and turned in the night, as he often does, then gets up to his full height of six foot two, wishing the hammer blows in his head would stop.
He wanders across the room to where the alarm sits on a its desk, and bashes it with his left hand.
He sighs blissfully as he shuts the alarm clock off, then wanders to the shower. The man nicknamed Valder turns the water on scalding hot, hoping to burn the last vestiges of the alcohol out of his system.
Wahren Morast, in the other bed in the cramped barracks room, raises an eyebrow when the alarm clock goes off, cracks one eye open, then closes it again.
Peace and Quiet He thinks as Aaron bashes the thing into shrapnel.
Wahren goes back to bed, or valiantly tries to, until, less than three minutes later, Aaron walks back into the room, toweling off his somewhat long, moppish-looking dark brown hair.
"Come on, Wahren, We don't want to be late. We are getting paid for this job after all."
Wahren looks like he is about to argue.
Aaron, looking down at his friend's slightly more muscular five-eleven football player's physique, considers his own condition at the moment, and groans.
The job, this is how he came to get his splitting headache.
Wahren grins wolfishly up at his friend as he notices Aaron's condition. "I told you...."
"Don't even start on me, Wolf." Aaron mumbles, using Wahren's nickname within the group.
This all started eight days ago, Wahren remembers as he walks down the stairs to find breakfast, shaking his head of curly, dirt-blond hair at his friend's pitiable condition.
Wahren starts the coffee maker, knowing it will be sorely needed this morning.
After breakfast the team load into the van they had been loaned, and drive the fifteen kilometers to Heathrow International Airport.
This is where their mission is to begin.
They walk into the airport, show the guard their British Airways credentials, and walk into the pilot dressing rooms. It is here that the team splits up, going three different ways.
Aaron, Wahren and Doug go to the crew dressing rooms, for they will be Pilot, First Officer, and Flight Engineer, respectively. Once changed, they head straight out to the waiting Concorde to begin pre-flight checks.
Terry, Alayne, Melissa, Eric, Kristine, and Hera all change into Cabin Crew garb before being given a briefing over the passenger manifest and the in-flight food and movie.
Joe, Mitch, and Carmen, however, are already booked as normal passengers, in different locations on the aisle.
All twelve have weapons hidden in various places, a practice which has come in handy in the past.
The group don't have to worry about security, as they use their credentials to pass the metal detectors without going through them.
Joe, Mitch, and Carmen sit with the normal passengers waiting for their flight as the Cabin Crew pile on to the waiting Concorde, the fastest commercial aircraft ever built.
* * *
Adam Mason, known to the ETF as Mayhem, holds his left hand up, fist closed.
On that silent signal, Robbie "DoughBoy" Sandler, John "Wizard" Terrance, and Neal "Mukey" Hirsch halt in their tracks, standing as still as statues in the crisp London air.
The four men, dressed in overall medium gray fatigues, blend seamlessly into the buildings and streets surrounding them.
They all know that Adam, who is on point, must have heard or seen something ahead to make him pause.
Whatever it is soon passes, however, for Adam opens his fist and moves his open hand forward.
The four men slip through the shadows like wraiths, hunting down a tip that Hirsch has uncovered about a possible meeting place of the Rising Sun terrorists poised to hijack the Concorde in a few hours.
In a few more minutes, the four Eagles are outside a warehouse in London’s famous Whitechapel district, their personal firearms out, safeties off.
Though most criminals in England do not carry firearms, as their U.S. counterparts do, not having a weapon nearby is something that neither Mayhem, Mukey, Wizard, or DoughBoy feel is acceptable, and, after all, their foes are not Englishmen.
Using hand signals, Mason splits the team in half, sending Hirsch and Terrance around to the back of the warehouse, as he and Sandler enter the front, hoping to catch whoever is inside in a crossfire, and prevent anyone from escaping.
As the four men burst through the only doors to the warehouse, two Asiatic-looking men dive for cover, leaving the third man in the room, a Caucasian, leaning over a large table in the center of the room, his head hung as if in acknowledgment that the game is up.
It is because of the man’s passive stance that Adam is suddenly wary. The two Asiatic men have disappeared, and this is never a good thing.
Adam holds up two fingers on his right hand, points to his eyes, and moves them in a motion that simulates scanning the warehouse.
From the other side of the building, Neal nods and relays the information to his partner, John.
No sooner has the signal been passed than the two Asian men spring from behind a stack of shipping crates, their hands and feet a blur of motion as they attack Robbie and Adam with a furious combination of kicks and punches.
With surprising speed for a man of his size, Robbie Sandler blocks many of his opponent’s blows, and only a few glancing punches get through.
Robbie returns the attack with an uppercut to the jaw of his opponent that the smaller man tries to block, receiving broken arm as Robbie’s strength carries the blow straight through the man’s bones.
However, the broken arm seems only to anger the man more, and he redoubles his efforts to take the man known as DoughBoy down.
After another thirty seconds, Robbie has had enough playing around and decides to put his opponent down for good. After blocking a side-snap kick aimed at his ribs, Robbie grabs the M-16 on his back by its sling, and, in one fluid and amazingly fast movement, swings the machine gun at his opponent with his left hand.
While the Asiatic man diverts his attention to compensate for the swinging rifle, Sandler unloads with his right fist, swinging a roundhouse to the man’s left temple that would make Muhammad Ali proud.
Robbie’s foe slumps to the ground like a sack of broken glass, and doesn’t move. He is either unconscious or dead, judging by the blood flowing from his ears and nose, and Robbie doesn’t particularly care much either way. As his opponent slumps to the floor, Sandler looks over to see how his partner is faring.
Adam, too, has gotten sick of trading ineffectual jabs and blocks with his combatant, and throws a left cross at his man, who moves to avoid it, running solidly into Adam’s right foot in his groin. As the man doubles over, Mason throws a massive uppercut with his right fist that lifts the man off his feet, and he, too, crumples to the floor.
While all this has been happening, Neal and John have been keeping the man at the table covered with their rifles, as well as being ready to dispatch Robbie or Adam’s foes, if need be.
Now quite pissed off, Adam and Robbie advance towards the table, stepping over their non-moving former combatants on the way.
The man turns around, his hands over his head. As he straightens an makes his turn, all four Eagles recognize him, and reflexively make a surprised inhalation of breath.
The five-ten man, probably topping out at 185 pounds, with light blond hair and brown eyes, looks a little different than the last time they had seen him, as he has grown out a beard and now sports a distinctive Black Adder tattoo curled around his upper left bicep, visible since the man is wearing a muscle shirt. He used to be one of them, back when the team was first formed, though the man had disappeared during the early stages of battle in Operation Valiant Response, and was presumed dead.
Recognizing David Marquette, Adam grabs the former Army Ranger by the throat, lifting him off the ground with just his left arm.
"You’ll probably want to talk fast before you either run out of air, or Mayhem here looses his patience." John Terrence adds helpfully to the man squirming in Mason’s grasp.
"Too late again, Mason, just like in Lebanon. The weapons are already aboard. I always seem to be one step ahead of you." Marquette croaks.
"Only asking you this one time, bub. Who are you working for?" Robbie asks quietly, the threat evident not only in his words and Adam’s grasp, but in the deadly tone of his voice.
None of these men take kindly to traitors.
"Same people that helped me walk you into that field near Beirut...never thought you’d walk away from that one. Pity. And that’ all you’re getting from me." David wheezes as he starts taking on a purple tinge.
"Sure about that, ‘cause I’m thinking that’s not enough of an answer for Mason. Me, I’d rather just let him kill you and figure it out on my own." Neal states.
"I’m.....not.....talking." Marquette gasps as he starts to asphyxiate.
"Pity." Is all Adam Mason says as he pulls his .45 out of his waistband and places it just above his left hand, against the man’s throat, just below his jaw on the right side.
Feeling the cold metal of the pistol’s muzzle, Marquette grins at Mayhem as he pulls the trigger. Blood erupts from the back of the man’s head as the bullet passes through him, and Adam drops the traitorous former Eagle to the floor of the warehouse.
"Let’s see you walk away from that." John comments to the prone form as he and the other three men head back to their waiting Ecoliner, four block away, and to Heathrow to search the Concorde for the alluded-to terrorist’s weapons.
Though they comb the entire aircraft for the next few hours, doing everything short of tearing the stuffing out of the seats, the ETF ground crew only find three handguns and two packets of semtex, either of which had enough plastic explosive to destroy the entire aircraft, but not enough weapons to make them believe they have found everything.
They have barely finished putting the supersonic transport back in order when the Food Services crew arrives o stock the galley and prepare the aircraft for the flight crew’s arrival.
After checking each of the three-man crew for weapons, and examining the carts they have brought on board, Adam, Robbie, John, and Neal exit the aircraft to take up positions around it on the tarmac.
* * *
Prior to letting the passengers board, Doug, as Flight Engineer, exits the aircraft and performs the British Airways standard walk-around, checking the Concorde's two main, one tail bumper, and one front landing gear and subsequent twelve tires, the four massive engine intakes, and the aircraft's drooping elevons at the rear of the wing, which droop before engine ignition due to the lack of hydraulic pressure that keeps them level.
All ninety-five tonnes of fuel have been loaded into Concorde's thirteen tanks.
Nearing the end of his walk-around, Doug sees Adam Mason, the leader of the four man ETF ground team, walking towards him from beneath Concorde's large delta wing.
"Matrix, we've had no one suspicious enter the area, just the normal certified ground crew, and the boys and I watched them to be sure they didn't do anything out of the ordinary." Adam reports to Doug. "Whoever tries something will be a passenger."
"Kinda guessed that, but thanks for the head’s up." Danko replies.
Doug looks around Airport Terminal Four, where the Concorde is parked, and sees Robbie "Doughboy" Sandler, John "Wizard" Terrance, and Neal "Mukey" Hirsch scattered around the tarmac, watching everything from strategic positions.
The four-man ground team has been in place at Heathrow for the past week as British Airlines ground crew, learning the schedules and faces associated with keeping Concorde flying, and working twelve hour rotating shifts so that there are always at least two men on site.
They have gone all over the terminal in their guise as ground crewman, still managing to stay near Concorde tail number G-BBDG.
If Adam says no one has tampered with the plane, Doug knows without a doubt that no one has even moved funny in the well-armed ground team's presence. The four men tend to have that effect on people.
"All right. We'll see you guys back in New York?" Doug asks.
Adam grins mischievously. "We'll be there, but we have something to take care of first." he replies.
Doug lets that slide, figuring he really doesn't want to know what kind of errand the team has. Knowing the quartet, it probably has to do with some of the British Airlines stewardesses and their well-known hospitality.
Doug heads back into the cockpit to join Aaron and Wahren just as they are finishing up recording information on their notebooks.
Doug looks at one of the transponders in the cockpit and sees it tuned to 121.85, the setting for the Heathrow ATIS recording.
Doug tells the other two men what Adam said as he settles into his station. Hera pops her head in from the cabin.
"All ready?" she asks.
"Yeah, start boarding." Wahren responds.
Hera walks down the moveable jetway to the terminal, and tells the women at the gate’s counter that they are ready to begin boarding. Soon, the passengers are all loaded and the doors locked.
Aaron starts the two inboard engines on the Concorde and puts them at idle thrust as the tractor pushes them back to pre-taxi position.
Starting all four engines will break the tow bar. and possibly put Concorde through the terminal.
While Aaron does engine start ups, Wahren is on the radios, having tuned to 121.9, the Taxi/Ground control channel, after talking to Clearance Control at 121.7.
As they receive clearance to taxi, Aaron brings all four engines online, increases thrust, and slowly rolls the big jet out onto the taxiway. As he does so, he and Wahren are going through their pre-flight checklists.
While they start to taxi, Aaron reaches over and retracts the high-speed visor from the cockpit windows and angles the nose downwards at 5 degrees to be able to see the runway from their elevated position seventeen feet in the air.
Aaron revs the Concorde's engines, then brings them back to idle as he slows the aircraft to a stop on the hold line for runway 27-9.
Wahren dials up 118.7 on the transponder and calls Heathrow's tower for takeoff clearance.
"Heathrow Tower, Speedbird Concorde zero-zero-one requesting takeoff runway two seven left."
Finally, they receive takeoff clearance from the ATC tower.
"Speedbird Concorde zero-zero-one cleared for takeoff runway two seven left." The controller replies.
"Roger, cleared for takeoff two seven left, Speedbird Concorde zero zero one." Wahren acknowledges as Aaron positions the sleek plane on the edge of the threshold. All the checks are now complete.
Now the fun of the kick-ass takeoff begins.
Aaron sets the brakes and revs the engines, then looks over at Wahren and Doug.
"Three, two, one, NOW!" he says.
At the word "now", Aaron and Wahren advance the throttles while Doug starts his stopwatch.
As he releases the brakes, the Concorde gains speed, hurtling down the runway.
"Speed building, 100 knots." Aaron calls out.
"Power checks out." Doug calls as his instruments report each engine using fuel at the rate of 20 tons per hour while giving out 38,000 pounds of thrust in afterburner.
"Vee One." Wahren calls out as they pass V1 speed, the decision speed where the Concorde can safely be brought to a stop. Aaron nods and Wahren removes his hand from the throttles. There is no turning back now.
"Rotate." Aaron calls, and Wahren pulls back on the control column. The Concorde rotates to a thirteen degree angle above horizontal.
Takeoff comes instants later as the main gear leave the runway at 217 knots or 250 mph.
The Concorde lifts gracefully from the runway and into the air, shock waves of disturbed condensation billowing off the wings.
The Concorde looks almost swan-like as she bites into the air over London.
"Vee Two." Wahren calls as the Concorde roars past the safe climbing speed in the event of engine failure.
"Positive rate of climb" Doug calls out from the Flight Engineer's position. This indicates to Aaron that there is at least twenty feet of air between the wheels and the ground.
"Gear up." He calls.
Wahren raises the landing gear.
Then Wahren flips on the intercom and starts doing his intoned speech to the passengers and crew.
"Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen...."
Aaron half listens as he pulls back on the M-shaped control column.
"Two Forty." Wahren calls as the Concorde passes 240 knots. Aaron pulls back on the column at that call, raising the Concorde's pitch attitude from 13 degrees to 20 to maintain 250 knots.
Looking at his stopwatch, Doug calls out, "Three, two, one, noise."
At "noise", the afterburners are switched off and the angle of climb reduced to maintain 250 knots.
Wahren brings the aircraft to 12 degrees of pitch to keep the speed up. The afterburners have to be turned off to comply with the noise restrictions around Heathrow. The procedure is even more complicated at JFK International.
At seven nautical miles out from London, the Concorde roars over a radio beacon near the town of Reading at 4,000 feet, and Concorde's speed is allowed to rise again.
As the big jet accelerates past 250 knots, Wahren calls out "Nose up."
In response, Aaron moves the variable geometry nosecone into its cruise position and the visor rises into place.
"Speedbird Concorde zero-zero-one, climb and maintain flight level two eight zero." Calls Heathrow Departure.
Wahren acknowledges the call as Aaron sets the altitude into the autopilot.
While climbing to altitude, the Concorde is at 400 knots, its max allowable speed between six and twenty-eight thousand feet.
At 28,000 feet the auto throttles kick in and take the bird up to Mach .95.
"Speedbird Concorde zero-zero-one flight level two eight zero." Wahren calls to Heathrow, "Requesting clearance cruise climb to flight level six zero zero."
"Speedbird Concorde zero-zero-one cleared cruise climb flight level six zero zero."
"Jeezus.." Doug mutters, "Sixty thousand feet. That's twelve miles up!"
Then he checks his panel.
"Checks complete to afterburners. One mile to go." He says.
Aaron pushes the throttle fully forward. The engines kick in as the counter reads zero miles to go.
"Inboard reheats." Wahren calls as the inboard afterburners kick in, and the plane nudges as the thrust is increased by 20 percent.
"Outboards." Aaron calls as the airliner nudges again, the Mach meter hovers at 1, then a few of the instruments fluctuate as the shock wave passes the static pressure ports on the fuselage. The Mach meter reads 1.01.
They are supersonic.
Aaron turns to Wahren.
"So far so good."
"Yeah, let's hope it stays that way."
* * *
Fifteen minutes after the Concorde lifts off, the ground crew is back at the warehouse, which is completely empty. There are no bodies and no traces the building had been recently used.
In frustration, the team pile back into their van and race back to the airport, where the requisition a second Concorde.
Within three-quarters of an hour of the first aircraft’s departure, a second delta-winged SST is airborne and headed for New York at more than its maximum published airspeed, racing across the ocean at a blistering Mach 2.7 in an attempt to catch the other aircraft.
* * *
1 1/2 hours into the flight, 60,000ft over the Atlantic, Mach 2.04
Joe Strano looks around the cabin at the passengers, mostly college students of multinational backgrounds, marking possible Rising Sun terrorists, as he has been doing throughout the flight, and motioning subtly to Vannell, beside him, as the SST cruises through the mid-Atlantic air.
Seeing Kristine and Hera pushing the drink cart down the isle, Joe nudges Mitch, sitting beside him, then waves an arm at the two women.
"Stewardess! I could use some more coffee!" He comments with a smirk.
"Be there in a second, sir." Kristine comments in a slightly-too-sweet voice, and Mitch can tell Joe is starting to annoy her.
"Forget the coffee, sweetie, I really just want you over here." Joe comments with a mischievous grin.
"What an asshole." One of the college women on the flight mutters to the person beside her, who happens to be Carmen Ritter, three rows behind the two ETF men.
"Glad we don’t have to deal with him." Carmen comments back, wondering what Joe is up to.
Kristine looks as if she is about to go strangle Strano in his chair, and Hera taps her on the arm and moves past her in the aisle, grabbing a pot of coffee off the cart as she heads towards the two ETF operatives.
"Hey, honey, I wanted the blondie!!" Joe comments as Hera approaches.
"I have your coffee, sir, and a question." Hera tells him.
Joe arches an eyebrow, and Mitch edges as far away from his teammate as he can while still remaining in his chair, expecting what is coming.
"Did you want this in your cup, or your lap?" Hera queries sweetly as she holds out the coffee pot.
At this, Joe looks injured as he holds his coffee cup towards her, brushing his index finger across her thumb as she takes the cup, and seeming to loose his grip on the handle, and she knows to grab the cup by the bottom instead of the handle, as Strano has told her with that movement that there is a note under the cup. In a single fluid movement, which Mitch, who is watching he exchange, can barely detect, Hera pulls the scrap of paper off the bottom of the cup as she fills it with the caffeinated beverage, then hands the cup back to Joe, pocketing the note as she turns back to the serving cart.
As they continue on their route down the aisle, Hera reads the note, and passes it off to Kristine, who comments to her fellow attendant, "We’re getting low on Danish, I’ll go get us some more.", and heads back to the galley, where she passes the note to Terry, who is working the front of the cabin with Alayne.
After reading the list of seat numbers Joe and Mitch have drawn up as to threats, Alayne heads for the cockpit to ask the crew if they need any coffee.
A few moments later, Wahren breaks off his conversation with Alayne, who has come into the cockpit to tell them of the situation.
Doug looks up as the cockpit suddenly becomes quiet.
As he looks in Doug’s direction, he notices that there is a gap between Doug's console and the bulkhead. Wahren wanders over to the Flight Engineer station to talk with Doug. As he does so, he sticks his hand into the gap he has noticed.
"That wasn't there before." Wahren comments nervously.
"Relax, the Concorde grows with the heat of supersonic passage." Doug replies.
"Yeah, about eight inches overall. You must have missed that lecture." Doug jibes.
"I was probably zoning again. Or sleeping." Wahren responds with a wink. Strangely, Aaron hasn't joined in on the vocal jousting.
Aaron seems impatient, possibly even angry. They can all see that. And that makes him dangerous.
"This waiting is driving me nuts." He finally mutters.
"I hate to admit it, but its getting on my nerves, too." Wahren admits.
"Same here." Alayne adds.
"Then let's do something about it." Danko states.
"Good idea, Doug. Alayne, will you tell the others that something big is coming up and to get into their seats and hang on!"
"O.K. But what are you going to do?"
Alayne groans on her way back to the passenger area. She'd heard "You'll see" too many times in the past not to. She warns all the Eagles in the cabin that Aaron is up to another of surprises. This makes them all buckle in faster and tighter than they would otherwise have done.
In the cockpit, Aaron flips on the intercom switch.
"Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you are having a nice flight. I know that some of you on this plane are wound pretty tight right now, and I ask the ones of you that aren't one crucial question: Are you ready to face the Rising Sun and roll with the 137th TFW??"
"......and roll with the 137th TFW??" Aaron's voice drones over the intercom.
"Oh, no," groans Kristine, "Now he's done it. He's forced the RS to show themselves."
"Let's get ready for a fight." Melissa warns as she digs in her thigh holster for a 9mm Beretta.
Hera nods at Joe, who signals to Terry, Carmen and Mitch. The signal comes back. They are ready.
Aaron reaches over and flips on the seat belt sign. Then he again turns to the intercom.
"Now, if some of you are mystified as to the meaning of that last announcement, let me clarify. I am the leader of a group. That group, the 137th Tactical Fighter Wing, are the good guys, while the Rising Sun are the bad guys. Now, just call us the Eagles to make it easy." Aaron grins at Wahren, who gives a thumbs up.
Aaron turns to Doug, who crouches by the cockpit entrance.
Aaron turns back to the intercom.
"Now, to make it easier on everyone involved, will the Rising Sun please stand up and surrender?"
"Is he nuts?" Hera mutters to Pana. "They'll never fall for that."
"Look again, Hera." Melissa advises. Four men have stood up and placed their weapons on the floor. "Let's go round them up. But be careful!"
As soon as Hera and Melissa step into the aisle, three more men stand up from their seats and begin firing their weapons, which they have pulled out of their seat cushions, from hidden compartments deep inside that each man used a pocketknife to access during the flight.
Melissa is hit in the left chest, but manages to return fire before falling backwards, unharmed, as her bulletproof vest has taken the worst of the impact.
Mitch and Joe catch two RS members in a crossfire.
The passengers, having a reasonable fear for their lives, have all gotten into crash positions.
Alayne runs down the aisle towards the cockpit, shooting a Rising Sun member full in the forehead as he tries to stop her.
Hearing the gunfight behind him, Doug explodes out of the cockpit door, a gun in each hand, diving into the aisle like Superman, both pistols firing as he hits the floor in a roll, coming upright, firing away with his twin .45s.
Alayne is hit a glancing blow in the knee not five feet from Doug, who drags her into the cockpit, laying down covering fire all the while. Alayne is fine, Doug surmises after a quick glance, but the cut looks quite nasty, though it has cauterized itself with the bullet’s passage. An inch farther inward, however, and her kneecap would have been shattered.
Aaron looks behind him as he hears bullets ring out.
Doug is out the door and back in a matter of two seconds.
Aaron grabs the intercom and says two words into it.
"HOLD ON!" Comes over the intercom.
Carmen is in the middle of a firefight with a six-foot Rising Sun member when she hears that warning.
She dives to the floor and grabs a chair as the Concorde goes into a barrel roll, exerting 3.4 G's on the passengers. It also loses altitude quickly, not being designed with such maneuvers in mind.
The unfortunates who aren't quick enough to heed Aaron's warning are dashed against the roof of the plane as he puts her into an inverted dive through 10,000 feet.
Most of the ETF are able to grab support during the roll and dive, except for Mitch and Terry. Mitch flips over, and, in an amazing feat, runs along the ceiling and walls as the Concorde rolls. Terry is not quite as quick, and only half-flips before his maneuver is halted by an overhead bin. Terry is momentarily stunned, but recovers quickly, and manages not to drop his firearm.
Luggage flies everywhere as the compartments pop open.
There is also an eerie screeching noise as Aaron and Wahren fight to pull the Concorde back into a level position.
They succeed, not 200 feet above the water, trailing a plume of spray the engines are kicking up off the ocean.
The members of the Rising Sun that remain conscious readily surrender, once they are able to regain their footing. The others are tied up so that they cannot create a problem when they awake.
The rest of the flight is uneventful, and Wahren sets the Concorde up for landing, pulling the throttles back and dropping out of Mach as they descend through 35,000 feet.
Suddenly a loud computerized bugle call warbles through the cockpit as the autopilot disconnect is engaged. Doug moves the center of gravity of the aircraft forward to keep the aircraft in trim as it sets up for approach. This is done by transferring fuel among Concorde’s fuel tanks to offset shifting items and changing weight.
Wahren receives approach clearance from New York at 127.4, then keys the mike to acknowledge.
"Roger New York, cross three-five miles south-east of Sates at one two thousand feet, altimeter two nine eight four."
Aaron sets 29.84 in the altimeter window from the standard 29.92 they had been cruising at.
Aaron decides to let Wahren handle the landing.
As the Concorde's speed falls, the angle of attack (AOA) must be raised to maintain lift.
By the time the Concorde has slowed to 250 knots, the angle of attack is over 9 degrees and the visor must be lowered, and the nose is dropped to its fully down position of 12.5 degrees.
Kristine comes up to the flight deck.
"All secure back there...." She reports, which tells the crew that all the passengers and prisoners are strapped in and ready for landing.
"All right. Go strap in and we'll commence landing." Aaron tells her.
"Whaddaya mean 'We'?" Wahren jokes as he sets his transponder to 119.1 to receive Kennedy Tower and ask for landing permission.
At twelve miles out, the Concorde is stabilized at 190 knots, and they are right on glide slope.
At nine miles, Aaron calls out "Gear down and landing check list."
Doug reads off the checklist as Wahren sets up the Concorde for landing.
There is a double "THUMP" throughout the aircraft as the main gear lock down in harmony. Four green lights appear on the instrument panel, telling Wahren that all four gear, front, two main, and rear, are down and locked.
"Nose?" Wahren asks.
Aaron checks his instruments.
"Down and in the green."
"ILS engaged." Doug calls as the Instrument Landing System takes over the throttles.
"One thousand feet radio." Doug calls out again as his radio measuring device bounces a radio wave off the ground and back. There are only 1000 feet between the ground and the main gear.
"Speedbird Concorde zero-zero-one, cleared to land four right, wind zero one zero at five knots." Kennedy calls.
"Cleared to land Speedbird Concorde zero-zero-one heavy." Wahren acknowledges.
"Five hundred feet." Doug calls out.
"Stabilized." Aaron calls as the Concorde stabilizes at 163 knots, with an angle of attack of fourteen degrees and a eleven degree pitch angle.
"Three hundred feet." Doug states.
"Decision height." Aaron comments.
"I know. I didn’t sleep through all the training. Continuing." Wahren responds as the Concorde closes the gap between tires and earth.
At this angle of attack, the pilots are thirty-seven feet higher than the main wheels, as is apparent as they near landing.
Matthew Hunter stands on the rear of a day-glow-green painted fire truck, waiting for his first glimpse of the large, white, delta-winged aircraft he knows is on its arrival leg.
Behind him, near the British Airways terminal, a small army awaits the Concorde’s arrival as well.
Somehow, the world’s media have become privy to the fact that an anti-terrorist operation is about to be concluded, and everyone seems to want a piece of the story.
Through a light fog and slight drizzle, Matt can see the sky start to lighten to the south-east, and knows his team are about to land.
"Alpha team, roll." The man once nicknamed "Temnota" calls into his portable walkie-talkie, and the three rescue vehicles nearest him start to roll towards the taxiway, lights flashing.
Matt thumps twice on the roof of his vehicle, and it accelerates to follow the others.
The fog seems to be sucked away from the area of the landing lights, and Matt can see the supersonic airliner, painted in British Airways livery, swooping in to land.
"One hundred feet." Doug calls. "Fifty....forty....thirty...twenty...fifteen." he states as the runway looms in the windshield.
The main gear float parallel to the runway a moment, in ground effect, then, with a puff of smoke, make contact. The smoke is blown into spirals by the wingtip vortices of the Concorde.
Now that the main gear are down, Wahren selects reverse thrust and pushes down on the stick, bringing Concorde's nose gear down.
The massive aircraft floats for a moment, seeming to hang suspended in the air like some futuristic Pterodactyl, as it fights ground effect.
The aircraft’s gear kick up a small cloud of steam as it passes Matt’s position, and the vehicles around him emit a rumble as they start to roar down the runway in pursuit.
"Bravo team, keep the press back while we bring her in." Matt calls as he slaps a fictitious nametape onto the front of his BDUs.
The DOD has sent one of the USAF’s elite Special Operations units to secure the plane once it has landed, and Matt pulled some strings to come along, as he had been in D.C. helping along the declassification of the Senior Trend/F-117A program.
The fire truck beneath Hunter bounces over the medians between taxiway and runway as the Concorde turns towards the terminal.
"Oh, shit." Doug mutters over Wahren’s shoulder as the Concorde turns onto the taxiway, and the three-ring media circus swings into view.
"Things are about to get ugly." Wahren replies before he flips on the intercom.
"Valder, get up here, we’ve got a teensy problem."
In the main cabin, Aaron winces as he hears his friend’s synopsis. He glances over at Kristine, who nods, then he sprints to the cockpit, knowing Vermes has everything in the cabin under control.
"Aw, Hell." Is Aaron’s reaction to the sight before them.
Wahren slows the aircraft to twenty miles an hour and taxis to their designated terminal after contacting approach control. It is then that the three men in the cockpit notice their peculiar escort of crash/fire trucks. Looking out the left side window, Wahren can see Hunter waving in their direction from his perch atop one of the trucks. Their teammate flashes a series of hand signals to them, telling them to stop just shy of the terminal.
Acknowledging the signals, Wahren taxis the Concorde to within a hundred yards of his designated terminal and shuts down the engines. Off to their right, the three men can see another Concorde being serviced, steam still rising off its fuselage. Wahren looks out the window at Matt, who gestures in the direction of the terminal and winks.
An air stair is rolled up to the Concorde, and the wounded are transferred to the waiting ambulances. The rest of the passengers, all a little shaken up, are then surprised to see a seven-man assault squad rush onto the aircraft and begin ushering them out.
Matt enters the airliner and nods at the other Eagles still in the aircraft, receiving an overt nod in reply.
"Its a damn zoo out there. Every press agency in the world seems to be here, and they want to interview the rescue team." Matt tells them.
Wahren throws on a pair of mirrored sunglasses and grins.
"But they’re not going to get a chance. General Louron is already trying to herd them away from the aircraft for a press conference." Matt continues with a look of slight annoyance in Wahren’s direction.
Lt. General Giles K. "PITA" Louron, a three-star with USSOCOM, the United States Special Operations Command, fields questions in front of one of the windows overlooking the two Concordes on the tarmac below.
"Now, I’m sure all of you can understand the sensitive nature of these kinds of missions, and I’, hoping you understand that to allow interviewing members involved in this mission will put them, and their families, in danger, not to mention destroy their usefulness as covert operatives." He states as the press watches the passengers and the airliner’s crew exit the aircraft behind him, their cameras rolling to try and get the SpecOps commandos as they leave the jet.
The fifty-year-old General, who, at five two and a hundred sixty pounds, looks more like a Marine Drill Sergeant or Olympic weightlifter, summarizes the nature of the just-completed mission and describes some of the history of the Concorde and U.S. Special Operations.
Hunter and his crew owe me for this one, Giles thinks as he wraps up his impromptu briefing. The Lt. General is one of the ETF’s main supporters within the military hierarchy, and one of a handful of people outside the team that know of their existence.
The Eagles have all changed into civilian attire and mixed themselves into the ranks of the passengers as they disembark the aircraft.
Aaron, Wahren, and Doug have exchanged uniforms with three of the commandos Matt has brought on board, and they act as escorts for the "passengers" getting off the Concorde.
As she nears the end of the air stairs, Kristine is the first of the team off the aircraft, and hears a low whistle to her left.
She squints into the shadows and sees two Airborne Express vans beneath the terminal’s overhang, surrounded by grinning, and very heavily armed, men in civilian attire.
Adam Mason glances at the overhanging terminal, then tilts his head slightly.
Kristine nods, and waits until she is out of sight of the people in the building before walking into the shadows to join the ETF’s ground team. Wearing his trademark gold-tinted Oakleys, Adam grins at Kristine as she walks over to them.
"We barely beat you guys here. That pilot British Airways loaned us pulled everything he could from the girl." Adam tells her, a slight gleam in his eye.
Kristine catches the look and grins as the rest of the team exits the aircraft and joins them.
"Don’t get me wrong, I still hate to fly." Adam is quick to tell her.
Vermes nods solemnly, trying to keep a straight face.
The ETF members all climb into the waiting vans, one driven by Adam and the other by Robbie Sandler, two of the best wheel-men in the crew. The two vans stick to the shadows for as long as possible, before cutting across the airport and merging with city-bound traffic.
Later that night, the team is all gathered in a CIA safe house in the woods near Florence, New Jersey, after a grueling four-hour debriefing. They are watching a replay of the day’s top news stories, of which they are one, when the phone rings, at just about the time they see the camera zoom in on Wahren and Aaron exiting the aircraft, escorted by Matt.
On the second ring, Matt picks up the phone’s handset, listens for a few moments, then hangs up.
"Well, its official, gang. We’ve been ‘disbanded’ after the publicity surrounding today’s mission." He comments, "We’re supposed to separate and re-join our former occupations. I’m supposed to leave for Tonopah tomorrow, and a courier will bring a dispersal and departure schedule for the rest of us in the morning. We’re not even supposed to maintain contact with one another. This comes from the DOD brass on high." Hunter finishes.
This news is greeted with confusion by the members of the Eagle Task Force.
The team has been together for five years, and the unspoken question of "What do we do know?" hangs in the room like fog on an English moor.
None of the Eagles look forward to going their separate ways and breaking up the family they have become.
Sitting in an easy chair in the corner, Terry Carson grins and flips a look at Matt as a plan starts to form in the back of his mind. From the answering look Hunter gives him, he has had the same idea.
So the 137th Tactical Fighter Wing is no more, long live the ETF. Wahren Morast thinks, looking at Aaron and knowing it is time for the two of them to check out the newest Air Force fighter.
* * *
Three months later, after a review by the Pentagon of the whole affair, the 137TFW is officially disbanded by the President, and the members went their separate ways, meeting only occasionally and fading into the background. To this day, they are still TOP SECRET, and some people deny they ever existed. Though the 137th is disbanded, the ETF lives on, and still receives government funding, as shall be shown in subsequent actions.
* * *
T H E
E N D
or is it?
* * *
Brian R. Kupfer
and based on the characters created by Brian R. Kupfer and Jye R. Meier for their book,
The ELITE EAGLES