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       Hawx (2009), p.12

           Tom Clancy
 
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  The radar-guided missiles are good at long range, but inferior to heat-seeking missiles at dogfight range because they use tracking radar to acquire their target and illuminator radar for lock-on. Thus the radar lock has to be locked on from the time the target is acquired until the time the missile connects with it. At close range, this is more difficult. It was probably why yesterday's Frogfoot had resorted to using his cannon against Andy Preston.

  Troy processed this information in about a second and concentrated on turning himself from hunted to hunter ASAP.

  He scanned the sky, trying to get a visual on the Su-25.

  On his scope, the aircraft popped in and out intermittently.

  He was still flying low.

  Troy accelerated upward. The best tactic now was to induce the enemy aircraft to come and get him. As Harris had pointed out to Preston--not that he needed to be told--the Su-25 is a bomb truck, and hence slower and less maneuverable than an F-16. Luring him into a dogfight on Troy's terms was the key to success.

  The Su-25 pilot had no choice but to take the bait. There was nothing else that he could do. He had no place to run.

  Knowing he was low and slow, the Sukhoi pilot now needed to grab altitude. If Troy pounced while he remained low, the F-16 would have all the advantages. If the Su-25 pilot could increase his altitude, he would erase one of Troy's advantages and he could convert altitude to speed using the power of gravity.

  His first move was to run away, climbing as he went. This would either give him a chance to increase his altitude while he was momentarily out of Troy's reach, or lure Troy to dive to attack him; thus costing Troy altitude.

  For a split second, it occurred to Troy that the Sukhoi was escaping, but he saw him climbing and understood that he was planning to fight.

  As much as Troy's adrenaline-fueled eagerness longed for a dogfight, he defaulted to that old adage that says, "He who fights fairly, dies."

  The Su-25 had gotten about five miles away as he ran and climbed, but it was still within the range of the Sidewinder.

  "Missiles hot," Troy whispered to himself as he locked on the still-climbing Sukhoi. His foe was at his slowest as he climbed. It was not really fair, but it was oh so easy.

  He thumbed the trigger, expecting the rocking motion that one felt as a missile left its rail.

  It didn't happen.

  Was the missile a dud, or was something wrong with his fire control system?

  His dilemma cost Troy valuable seconds.

  The Su-25 was now at Troy's altitude and climbing.

  Troy was already headed in his direction, and he pulled back on his stick. As he climbed to match the Sukhoi's flight level, he watched the aircraft turn toward him.

  The two miles of distance melted quickly as the two aircraft closed on one another.

  Troy heard the pinging of a missile lock-on just as he pickled off his other Sidewinder.

  The F-16 jerked slightly as the AIM-9 left its rail.

  Knowing an R-60 Aphid was coming at him, Troy ignored his Sidewinder and broke hard to the right to evade the other guy's missile.

  The Sidewinder was fire-and-forget, so he fired and forgot. Getting out of the way of the Aphid headed toward him was suddenly the only thing on his mind.

  At this range, Troy had the offensive advantage with the heat-seeking missile, but avoiding an incoming infrared missile took a lot of skill--and an equal measure of luck. Having been shot down over Eritrea, he was not anxious for a redo. He had been very lucky that day not to have been killed in the explosion.

  The trick, far easier said than done, is to outmaneuver the incoming missile without straying so far that it can match your evasion maneuver.

  Troy turned and watched the faster Aphid turn with him and gain on him.

  He jerked back on the stick and felt the G-force crumple his body.

  It's funny, the kinds of things you notice at times like this. For Troy, it was that the Gs clinched his jaws so tight that his teeth throbbed. Better that than being blown into a zillion pieces.

  Troy sensed for just milliseconds the ambient glow of the solid-fuel engine flame from the Aphid growing brighter and brighter.

  Troy next sensed for just milliseconds the ambient glow of the solid-fuel engine flame from the Aphid growing dimmer and dimmer.

  Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the Aphid as it arced away from him and raced at supersonic speed toward the Chiapas jungle.

  It had missed him by about fifty yards. For a moment, he felt like a wuss for having let the damned thing worry him.

  Okay. Now that that was over, where was the damned Su-25 and what happened to his Sidewinder?

  Theoretically, the Sidewinder shouldn't have missed. But it had. Its glow, like that of the Aphid, was gone, as the two hundred pounds of ordnance had fallen into the triple canopy below.

  The Sukhoi was still there, and a lot closer than he might have been after the past long seconds of wild maneuvering by the two aircraft.

  Instinctively, Troy grabbed to fire again, but instantly realized that he had shot his only viable AIM-9. All he had left was the dud. He would have to go to guns.

  To use his M61 Vulcan multibarreled twenty-millimeter Gatling gun, Troy would have to close the distance on the Su-25.

  There wasn't much distance to close, but the Sukhoi pilot saw him coming and broke left just as Troy lined up on him.

  Just as he touched his stick, Troy realized that he would be unable to stay inside the Su-25's turn radius. Troy couldn't afford to overshoot the guy's turn. He had to do what fighter pilots call a "yo-yo."

  In the textbooks, they tell you to maintain back stick pressure and slightly decrease bank relative to the other guy. This allows you to arc up your nose. In other words, the effect of gravity on turn and velocity, combined with a turn in the vertical rather than horizontal, enables you to reduce angle-off, maintain your distance, and not overshoot.

  That's what the textbooks say.

  In reality, you don't have time to think about all the physics. You just pull back the stick to bleed off enough speed to be able to turn and still wind up on the other guy's tail.

  He came out of the maneuver just where he needed to be and pressed the red button. Tracers swirled around the Sukhoi for less than a second. The bogie had turned again.

  Once again, Troy turned, and once again he squeezed off a burst of twenty-millimeter cannon rounds. Suddenly, the Su-25 was gone and everything around Troy had turned light gray. The F-16 bucked violently. The cumulus!

  Troy had plowed into the rainstorm that he had seen moving across the jungle earlier in the day.

  "Gotta get out," he whispered to himself as he pulled up.

  There was a sudden flash.

  Was it lightning or another Aphid?

  Seconds later, he was in smooth air and staring at blue sky.

  He banked around to look for the Sukhoi.

  It was nowhere to be seen--except on his radar.

  His foe was somewhere below, somewhere in the clouds, out of visual contact.

  Now was the time for the missiles he did not have.

  Troy took a deep breath.

  The Su-25 driver was taking a pounding down there inside that storm, and sooner or later, he'd make his break. Troy would be waiting, guns ready.

  Chapter 27

  High over the Chiapas-Peten Border

  "FIREHAWK ONE," A VOICE IN THE HEADPHONES crackled urgently. Troy was startled. Communications were supposed to be minimal, and he didn't expect any calls on this frequency while he was operating solo over Chiapas. "Do you read?"

  "Firehawk One, roger," Troy answered hesitatingly, trying to figure out why the Firehawk base would be calling in such an earnest tone.

  "Terminate, Firehawk One. Cancel."

  It was Raymond Harris's voice.

  "Return home immediately . . . no further action .. . over."

  The way that Harris stressed the word over underscored an intense finality to his orders.
/>
  "But--" Troy started to say. He had been involved in--was still involved in--an intense dogfight during which either he or the Sukhoi pilot might have died. Several times over, either of them might have killed the other, and Troy was seconds away from delivering the coup de grace and successfully completing his mission.

  Terminate?

  Why should he stop now? He had almost given his life to get to this point in the battle.

  "Terminate. Now," Harris said.

  Troy wondered. Should he just ignore Harris for thirty seconds?

  He ignored Harris for ten seconds, maintaining his position above the cloud in which the Su-25 was flying.

  He ignored Harris for twenty seconds, waiting and gritting his teeth, ready to dive, open fire, and get this over with.

  "Terminate. Now," Harris repeated.

  He ignored Harris for thirty seconds, and still no Sukhoi.

  "Roger, Firehawk One . . . message received and understood."

  As Troy banked to turn back toward Mundo Maya, he hoped that the Su-25 would suddenly break out of the clouds and come for him.

  But it did not happen.

  AS HE TAXIED INTO THE FIREHAWK HANGAR, TROY could see Joe Turcios and Raymond Harris waiting. Turcios had a sort of bewildered expression, but Harris wore an ear-to-ear grin.

  Troy shut down the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine and popped open the canopy. As he climbed out, he looked down at the black powder stains around the M61's muzzle and thought of what might have been.

  Why was Harris grinning so broadly?

  The mission had not been accomplished. The Svartvand, or Zapatista, or whatever it was, Sukhoi was still there. It was still flying around on the Chiapas-Peten border when Troy left it.

  Maybe Harris thought Troy had downed the aircraft? Maybe he'd better just play along and break the news to him gently?

  "Great news," Harris shouted.

  Troy merely nodded. If the boss was happy, who was he to complain?

  "We're done." The retired general smiled as he patted Troy on the shoulder. "We're out of here. Dinner in town tonight . . . It's on Firehawk . . . We'll celebrate."

  With that, and without asking Troy for a mission debrief, he turned and strode out of the room with Joe Turcios.

  "What was that all about?" Troy asked Andy Preston.

  "I'm not sure," Preston replied. "He was pacing the floor for about an hour after you launched this morning, then he got a phone call. He had the driver take him somewhere. He came back all excited, ran into the radio room, and contacted you to stand down."

  "Why?" Troy asked. "I was in the middle of fighting that guy in the Frogfoot."

  "We're not here to ask questions, man," Preston said. "We're here to follow orders, and my last orders from him were to pack my gear and get ready to move out tomorrow. He said that the same applies to you."

  RORY'S STEAK HOUSE, AS ITS AMERICAN-ACCENTED name implies, is one of those places that caters to gringos and to the members of the Guatemalan elite who find themselves in the provincial city of Flores. If nothing else, the prices on the menu--printed in English and Spanish, with English first--keep the riffraff at bay.

  As with all such places in less-than-stable corners of less-than-stable banana republics, Rory's has high security, with razor wire atop the pinkish, hacienda-style wall that surrounds the palm-studded compound.

  Subtly armed security welcomes guests, and the only people carrying weapons inside are bodyguards who have been prescreened by Rory's and issued photo IDs.

  Beyond the perimeter, Rory's is just a typical Spanish-colonial style restaurant, with ceiling fans and heavy, dark wood furniture.

  Harris had booked a private room in the back. Margaritas had already been poured when Troy and Andy Preston arrived, whisked from the Firehawk hangar in one of the bulletproof cars leased by the company. In all their weeks in Guatemala, the short drive from Mundo Maya was the only time that either of them had seen anything that could be construed as the "real" Guatemala. Certainly Rory's could have been anywhere in Florida or Southern California.

  A dozen people were standing around in the room. In addition to the two pilots, Harris, and Turcios, there were four other Firehawk employees, including two mechanics, the radio operator, and another man to whom Troy had never been introduced. The four others were men whom Troy had never seen:

  "Nice party," Troy said, approaching Joe Turcios. "I hear that we're headed out tomorrow."

  "Yes, the steaks are really good here in this place." Turcios nodded. "Really a cut above what we're used to out at Mundo."

  "So are you pulling up stakes tomorrow, too?" Troy asked.

  "I expect so," he said, glancing at Harris, who was across the room talking to one of the men whom Troy had not previously seen. "My orders haven't quite been finalized."

  "This deployment sure ended kinda suddenly, didn't it?" Troy asked, hoping to elicit some sort of clarification from Turcios.

  "It sure did." Joe nodded as he stepped away to refill his margarita glass.

  The head waiter entered the room, announcing that it was time for everyone in the room to take their seats and open their menus.

  Troy picked the bone-in rib eye, which was listed a few price points below the one he'd eaten on Firehawk's tab in Las Vegas, and turned to the man seated next to him to make idle conversation. His name was Aron Arnold, and he was from near Orlando, Florida. He was a slender man with dark, short-cropped hair who looked to be about Troy's age. They had gotten past exchanging pleasantries and had ascertained that they both had served in the U. S. Air Force as pilots when Raymond Harris stood up from his place at the head of the table, tapping the back of his steak knife against his water glass.

  "I'd like to thank all of you for coming tonight." He smiled. "But I think the prospect of a free steak dinner was ample inducement."

  Everyone chuckled at the lame humor. The Firehawk people were there under orders, and yes, the prospect of a free steak dinner was ample inducement.

  "Some of you know already, but for the benefit of all concerned, I'd like to take this opportunity to announce the merger of Svartvand BV and Firehawk, LLC. From this point forward, Svartvand will be known as the Svartvand Division of Firehawk, LLC. Let's all raise our glasses in celebration."

  Troy was stunned. Less than seven hours earlier, Fire-hawk and Svartvand had not merely been competitors, they had been at war. Troy had been on the front lines, risking his life.

  "With this turn of events, I'm pleased to announce a full cessation of air combat between Zapatista forces and the Guatemalan government. If diplomats could cut deals as easily as we do in the private sector, there would be a lot less war in the world."

  There was a murmur of chuckles around the room at Harris's second attempt at lame humor, although on second take, the Firehawk people realized that he meant it.

  "I'd like to introduce Enrique Girarcamada of Svartvand, who has a few words."

  Another Enrique? Troy growled to himself. He had bad memories of the other Enrique in Culver City, and he had bad recent memories of Svartvand, the company that had tried to kill him.

  "Thank you so much, Raymond; it is such a pleasure to be here with you and your people tonight," this Enrique said in polished but accented English.

  Pleasure? Troy couldn't get out of his mind all of what this guy represented.

  "The merger of our two PMCs is an important step forward for us, but especially for our customers. The diversification of capabilities brought about by this . . ."

  Troy tuned out and took another sip of his margarita. Enrique sounded like he was reading from a press release. He probably was.

  Soon the blah-blah-blah was over and there was a polite but halfhearted round of applause.

  "This is a good steak," Aron Arnold said as he and Troy dug into their dinner. "I haven't eaten like this in months. Sure hits the spot."

  "Don't you know it," Troy said, savoring a slice of the nice, lean beef. "How long you been with Firehawk? I have
n't seen you around."

  "Oh, I've been with Firehawk for about seven hours," Arnold said. "And you?"

  "About four months," Troy said. "So if you've been with Firehawk for seven hours, that means that . . ."

  "Yeah, I'm a Svartvand guy. I've been working up in Chiapas."

  Troy stopped chewing and just stared at the guy. Svartvand? Pilot? Chiapas?

  "We met earlier today." Arnold smiled. "Now that we're both on the same side, I look forward to flying with you someday."

  Chapter 28

  Headquarters, Firehawk, LLC, Herndon, Virginia

  "TROY LOENSCH TO SEE JENNA MUNROUGH."

  She surprised herself by how quickly she was on her feet when she heard his voice in the outer office. In the eight months since the Svartvand takeover and the termination of operations in Guatemala, Loensch had been on two high-profile assignments for which he had become somewhat of a legend within Firehawk.

  "Hail the conquering hero." Jenna smiled, stepping out of her private office.

  There he stood, the tall, muscular hunk who had become the worst enemy of Cambodian MiGs over the Gulf of Thailand during those past few months.

  "I heard you were in the building," she said, giving him a hug. "How come y'all didn't send me an e-mail lettin' me know you were coming in from the field?"

  "Wasn't sure of my schedule," he said. "Didn't really know until yesterday when I'd be coming in."

  "Well, your reputation precedes you," Jenna said. "I want to hear all about it. Let's go get a cup of coffee."

  In those eight months, she had sat at her desk and at boring meetings over at the Pentagon, reading the communiques of his exploits and jealous that she was at the controls of nothing more powerful than a Porsche 997 Carrera. Of course, a car that can do zero to sixty in less than five seconds is not just a car.

  "Mr. Loensch," Jenna's secretary said timidly as her boss and the famous fighter pilot started to walk away. "Could I get you to . . . ummm . . . y'know . . . sign this . . . autograph this?"

 
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