Authors: Stephen Coonts
Bob Cassidy was down to five hundred knots when he saw the enemy fighters. There were five of them, parked in a row on the ramp. At least he hoped they were Zeros. They might have been Russian iron, but he didn't have time to make sure. Cassidy turned hard to get lined up, checked to make sure he had the ball in the center, and glanced at the altimeter.
The row of fighters was coming at him fast. And Paul Scheer appeared out of nowhere in his left-frontal quadrant, no more than fifty feet away. Paul was going to strafe these guys, too.
Cassidy throttled back still more. He was down to three hundred knots now.
Scheer opened fire, walked a stream of shells across the parked planes, and broke left. Smoke poured from one of the planes.
Cassidy walked his shells across the planes, too, and broke right.
“Make a pass at the hangars, Paul, and we're out of here. I'll join on you.”
Cassidy circled to the south as Scheer shot up the hangars. The pilot could see several missile batteries sitting in plain sight. He snapped four fast pictures of the base area with a digital camera. When he got back to Zeya, he could plug the camera into a computer and print out the pictures: instant aerial photos.
Paul headed west after his second strafing pass and Cassidy joined on him. They lit burners and climbed away.
No one had fired a shot at the Americans.
Dick Gvelich was ten miles behind his intended victim and closing at Mach 1.8 when the bogey dot on the HUD moved left. The guy must be turning, he thought.
He dropped his left wing to compensate and centered the dot.
There, he could see him, just a speck slightly above the horizon, turning left. Five miles, four, now the Sidewinder toneâ¦and Dick Gvelich squeezed off the missile. It leapt off the rail in a fiery streak and disappeared into the blue sky, chasing that turning airplane ahead.
A flash on the enemy airplane! Got him.
Hudek pulled off right and watched the Zero. It rolled upside down, its nose dropped, and then the ejection seat came out.
Lee Foy's Zero was potting along straight and level. Foy's ECM was picking up enemy radar transmissions, but the Zero was pointed in the wrong direction to see the F-22s. Precisely what the Japanese pilot was doing, Foy couldn't imagine. He just prayed that the enemy aviator kept doing it for a few more seconds. At four miles with the enemy in sight, Foy was closing fast, overtaking him with maybe three hundred knots of closure.
Half a world away from the warehouse, Foy decided not to waste a missile. He clicked the cursor on the gun symbol on his main MFD and pulled off a gob of power.
His speed bled down quickly. The enemy pilot kept flying straight and level.
Foy checked his tac display. Nobody around except Gvelich, stalking his victim six miles to the west. Because he didn't have religious faith in these gadgets, Foy checked over both shoulders to ensure the sky was clear.
The Zero was still potting along like an airliner going to Newark. One mile away, a hundred knots of closure.
A half mile, seventy knots.
Now, Foy reduced power, put the crosshairs in the bull's-eye made by the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. The center of the bull's-eye was the exhaust pipe.
Foy was coming up from dead astern.
he entered his victim's wash and began bouncing around.
Closer still, no more than three hundred yards.
At a hundred yards, Foy stabilized. Although his plane was bumping along in the Zero's wash, the crosshairs in the heads-up display were skittering around on the enemy plane's tailpipe.
I should have used a Sidewinder! This isn't aerial combatâthis is murder
Unable to pull the trigger, he sat there staring at the Zero. At ninety yards, he could wait no longer.
The Gatling gun hammered at the enemy plane, which seemed to disintegrate under the weight of steel and explosive that was smashing through the fuselage from end to end.
As the Zero faded in a haze of fuel, an alarm went off in Lee Foy's head. He released the trigger as he pulled back hard on the stick. The F-22 responded instantly, climbing away from the gasoline haze just as the Zero caught fire.
The fire ignited the vapor trail, which became a flame a hundred yards long. Then the Zero blew up.
Lee Foy bit his lip, glanced at his tac display to see where Hudek was, then turned that way.
For a moment there, he had flown with his heart, not his head, and he had almost paid the price. He had come very close to dying with the Zero pilot.
“Sorry, pal,” Foy Sauce whispered.
Cassidy, Gvelich, and their wingmen were fueling from a bladder on the ground at Chita when four Zeros came hunting late in the summer evening. The Zeros were radiating, searching for airborne bogeys. The F-22 raid on Zeya had caused a seismic shock in the war room in Tokyo.
Two sergeants had just finished setting up a Sentinel battery twenty miles east of Chita on a dirt road that ran through the forest. It had taken every minute of two hours to make that journey over the ruts of a terrible road. They feared the Sentinel would be damaged from all the bumps and jolts.
Finally, the GPS said they were twenty miles east, so they stopped, disconnected the trailer from the Humvee, and activated the unit. First the solar panels had to be turned to the south, then five switches thrown and a key removed, so the unit could not be turned off by anyone wandering by. The whole deal took about a minute, and most of that involved setting the solar panels.
The sergeants had just gotten back into the Humvee and were trying to get it turned around when the first missile leapt upward from the battery, spouting fire. With a soul-shattering roar, the rocket engine accelerated the missile upward too fast for the eye to follow. By the time the sergeants were looking up, all they could see was the fiery plume of the receding missile exhaust.
Even as they craned their necks, too awed to move, the second missile ignited.
As the thunder faded, the sergeant behind the wheel gunned the Humvee's engine and popped the clutch. He careened past the battery, still on its trailer, and shot off down the rutted road toward Chita.
The pilot of the Zero that took the first missile never even saw the thing coming. He was checking his displays, scanning the sky, and keeping an eye on his flight lead when the missile detonated just a foot away from the nose cone of his aircraft. The shrapnel sliced through the side of the plane, sprayed the nose area where the radar was housed, and shattered the canopy. Shrapnel cut through the pilot's helmet into his skull, killing him instantly. He never even knew he'd been hit.
The second Sentinel missile had been tracking the same radar as the first missile, and when the radar ceased transmitting, the second Sentinel tried to shift targets. It sensed other radars emitting on the proper frequency and selected the strongest signal. The canards went over and the missile began its turnâ¦far too late. The flight leader was looking toward his doomed wingman, the flash of the detonating warhead having caught his eye, when the second missile streaked harmlessly between the two planes.
“Missiles coming in!” He said it over the air.
“What kind of missile?” That was Control.
“I don't know. One just struck my wingman, though, and the plane appears to be out of control. He is going down now. Eject, Muto! Eject! Get out while you can!”
Muto was past caring.
The three remaining Zeros were trying to get it sorted out when a Sentinel missile struck another Zero. The pilot lived through the warhead detonation, but his plane was badly crippled. He pulled the throttles to idle to get it slowed while he turned back toward Khabarovsk, where these planes were based.
The flight leader was mighty quick. He turned off his radar and ordered the surviving wingman to do the same. Few pilots would have correctly diagnosed the problem in the few seconds he devoted to it.
Three seconds later, another missile went sailing past a mile away, out of control.
“Beam-riders,” the leader told Control.
He initiated a turn to the east, intending to make a 180-degree turn and head for home.
Halfway through the turn, Dixie Elitch and Fur Ball Hudek came roaring in with their guns blazing. The wingman lost a wing on the first pass.
The leader rolled upside down and pointed his nose at the earth. He had his head swiveling wildly when he caught a brief glimpse of afterburner flame coming from a barely discernible airplane; then the plane was gone.
He had no idea how many planes he faced, and he correctly concluded that the time had come to boogie. He punched out chaff and decoy flares as the Zero rocketed straight toward the center of the home planet.
One of the flares saved his life. Hudek triggered a Sidewinder, which went for a flare.
“Let's not waste fuel,” Dixie said over the air, calling Hudek off.
“Gimme a break, baby. Let me kill this Jap.”
“You heard me, Fur Ball. Break it off.”
Hudek could see the Zero pulling out far below. “And to think I could be selling used cars in Hoboken.” He flipped on his radar, tried to get a firing solution for an AMRAAM. Ahhâ¦there it was! The radar was looking right at it.
Should I or shouldn't I?
“Get off the radio, Fur Ball.”
“You bet, sweet thing. I'll get my CDs going again.”
“Muto and Sugita were hit by missiles. I think they were guiding on our radar beams. When I turned the radar off, several missiles went by, striking nothing. Then we were jumped by fighters. I do not know how many. I think they killed Tashiro then. I ran for my life.”
“Do not be ashamed, Miura. You are still alive to fight again.”
“Colonel, I have not yet told you the most unbelievable part. Do not think I am crazy. Believe that I tell you the truth.”
“Captain Miura, give us your report.”
“I could not see the enemy fighters. They were invisible.”
The colonel looked shocked. Whatever he had been expecting, that was not it.
“Are you sure, Miura? It is often difficult to see other airplanes in a dogfight. Light and shadow, cloud, indistinct backgroundsâ¦”
“I am positive, sir. I got a glimpse of one, saw the afterburner plume. The plane was shimmering against the evening sky, barely visible. It was there and yet it wasn't. Then the angle or the light changed and I lost it. The enemy fighter was there,
but I couldn't see it
In the silence that followed this declaration, Jiro Kimura spoke up. “That would not be impossible, Colonel. I have read of American research to change the color of metal using electrical charges.”
The colonel was not convinced. “I have heard of no such research by the Russians.”
“I doubt if the Russians could afford it, sir,” Jiro answered. “These may be planes from the American Squadron that we have heard about. If so, they are American F-22 Raptors.”
“Write up your report, Miura,” the colonel said. “I will forward it to Tokyo immediately.”
In the ready room the other pilots had a tape going on the VCR, a tape of a broadcast on an American cable channel. Jiro merely glanced at the television as he walked byâ¦and found himself looking at Bob Cassidy.
He stopped and stared. Cassidy's voice in English was barely audible, overridden by a male translator.
Cassidy! Oh my God!
“Hey, bitch! You cost me a kill. I could have got that Jap.”
“You call me a bitch again, Fur Ball, and you'd better have a pistol in your hand, because I'm going to pull mine and start shooting.”
Aaron Hudek's face was red. He shouted, “Don't ever pull another stunt like that on me again. Got it?”
“As long as I'm the flight leader,” Dixie Elitch said heatedly, “you're going to obey my orders, Hudek. In my professional opinion, we didn't have the fuel to waste chasing that guy. We had another hour of flying to do before we could land to refuel. You knew that as well as I did. At any time during that hour we could have been forced to engage again if more Zeros had come along.”
“All I had to do was squeeze the trigger. I had a radar lockup.”
“Then you should have fired.”
said not to.” Hudek's voice went up an octave.
“Well, what's done is done. You should have potted him, then joined on me.”
“Aah, sweet thing, I'll bet you didn't want me to shoot the little bastard in the back. Not very sporting.”
“Second-guess me all you like, Hudek, but in the sky, you'd better do what you're told.”
“Or what? You gonna waste some gas shooting me down?”
“No,” Bob Cassidy snapped as he walked over. “She won't have to do that. Everyone in this outfit is going to obey orders, you included. Disobey an order and your flying days are over. You'll be walking home from here. I guarantee it.”