[IMAGE]

Excerpt from Flight of the Old Dog by Dale Brown

Copyright [IMAGE] 2000, Target Direct Productions Inc.

Published by Bantam Books

Flight of the Old Dog By Dale Brown

PROLOGUE

ABOARD A B-52 BOMBER

The Strategic Air Command B-52 was ready to begin its final assault. Though half its bomb load had already been expended. one gravity bomb and four Short-Range Attack Missiles (SRAMs) still stood in the bomb bays. So far, the .crew of six had successfully guided their aged bomber through a crucial air refueling; a high-altitude bomb run from thirty-seven thousand feet, with a surprise SA-2 surface-to-air missile attack shortly afterward; and three subsequent bomb runs through a maze of hills and valleys.

Up ahead, closing in on them at a speed of six miles per minute, was the target areaÄdefended by surface-to-air mis- sile sites, radar-guided antiaircraft artillery, and prowling patrols of the most advanced interceptors in the world.

"IP inbound in three minutes. crew." First Lieutenant David Luger announced over the interphone. He was following the B-52's course on a narrow cardboard chart, mentally measur- ing the distance and computing the time to the IP. or "initial point," the start of a low-altitude nuclear bomb run. Time to start reviewing checklists, Luger thought. The action was going to start soon.

He glanced down at the plastic-covered checklist pages, anticipating each step of the "Before Initial Point" and "Bomb Run (Nuclear)" checklists before he came to it. Long years of training had enabled him to fix in his mind the exact details of what he was about to do.

"SRAM missile pre-simulated launch check, completed." he said. "Computer launch programming completed." No one acknowledged him, but he had not expected a reply.

The checklist had been reviewed hours earlier. As Luger reread the checklist items over the interphone to key everyone else that the busiest portion of the ten-hour sortie was about to begin, he found himself squirming in his seat, trying to get comfortable.

"Radios set to RBS frequency." Luger said. He glanced at his chart annotations. "Two seventy-five point three."

"Set," Mark Martin, the copilot replied. "RBS bomb scoring plot is set in both radios. I'll call IP inbound when cleared by the radar."

"Camera on, one-to-four," Luger announced, flicking a small black knob near his right shoulder. A special camera would now record the bomb run and missile launches on thirty- five millimeter film for later study. "E.W. start-counter- measures point in sixty seconds."

"Defense copies." First Lieutenant Hawthorne replied, double-checking his jammer and trackbreaker switch positions. The same age as Luger, Hawthorne was the E.W., or electronic-warfare officer. His job was to defend the B-52 against attack by jamming or decoying enemy surface-to-air missile or artillery-tracking radars, and to warn the crew of missile or aircraft attacks.

"Rog," Luger said. "Checklist complete." He checked the TG meter, an antique gear-and-pulley dial that showed the time in seconds to the next turnpoint. Luger flipped the plastic- covered page over to the "Bomb Run (Synchronous)" check- list, then glanced over at the radar navigator's station beside him. "About one-fifty TO to theIP, radar," Luger said. "Got it together, buddy?"

"Uh huh," Patrick McLanahan said. He was bent over a pile of bomb run charts and radar scope predictions, intently studying his bombing "game plan" as if this was the first time he had seen it. His work area was littered with snippets of paper, drawings and notes. A thermos, which lay underneath several books and papers atop his attack radar set, was leaking coffee over the cathode-ray tube display and the radar controls.

Luger impatiently waited for his partner to begin. The two navigators, representing their SAC bombardment wing in this important competition sortie, were a study in contrasts. Luger was a tall, lanky Texan, with immaculately spit-shined boots, closely cropped black hair, and a penchant for textbook perfection. He was fresh out of B-52 Combat Crew Training after graduating top of his class from both the Air Force Academy and Undergraduate Navigator Training, and was easily the Wing's most conscientious and professional navi- gator. He studied hard, performed his duties to perfection, and constantly drove himself to higher levels of achievement.

McLanahan . . . was McLanahan. He was of medium height and husky build, a blond and tanned Californian who looked as if he was fresh off the boardwalk at Venice Beach. Despite McLanahan's casual appearance and disdain for authority, he was acknowledged as the best navigator in the Wing, and quite possibly the best in SAC. Together he and Luger combined to make the most effective bomber crew in the United States Air Force. And they were about to go to work.

"Well, let's get this over with," McLanahan said finally.

"Good idea," Luger said. He proceeded to run down the remaining items on the checklist, pausing at intervals to check switch positions with the pilot, Captain Gary Houser. Two minutes later, all switches had been configured and it only remained to activate the bombing system and tie all of the individual components together with the bombing computers.

"Master bomb control switch."

"Good," McLanahan said. "I mean, on, light on."

"Bombing system switch."

"Auto." The bombing computers now had control of everythingÄthe steering, when to release the bomb, even when to open and close the bomb doors. McLanahan had only to position a set of electronic crosshairs precisely on a preselected aiming point on the radar scope, and the bombing computers would do the rest.

The computers would translate the crosshair positioning into range and azimuth data and display the target direction on the Flight Command Indicator (FCI) at the pilot's station. The computers fed altitude, heading, airspeed, groundspeed, and drift through a set of precomputed ballistics data, and derived an exact release point based on that information. Even if the airspeed changed slightly, or if the winds shifted, the com- puters would recompute the exact point for bomb release.

"Coming up on sixty seconds to the IP, crew," Houser announced. "FCI centered. Sixty TO, ready, ready . . now!"

"Got it," Luger said, starting a stopwatch as a backup. "Bomb run review."

"Roger," McLanahan replied. "Rocket, rocket, bomb . . . uh, concrete blivet . . . rocket, rocket. This is the live drop over the range. Let's not fuck this one up, ladies. Some joker is going to run out there with a tape measure to see how we score. Nay?" McLanahan said, turning to Luger.

"SRAM fixes will be on the Airport, fix number thirty; target Bravo, fix number thirty-one; and the pumping station, fix number thirty-two. We are running fully synchronous, all computers fully operational, with a drift rate less than."

"What he means," McLanahan said, "is that the SRAM is tighter than that virgin lieutenant Gary's been seeing."

A conspiratorial snicker could be heard over the interphone.

"Thirty seconds to IP," Houser announced. "Defense?"

"Electronic warfare officer ready for IP inbound, pilot," Mike Hawthorne replied. "India-band radar is searching but hasn't locked onto us yet."

"Gunner has back-up timing, radar," Bob Brake, the crew gunner, replied. "Fire control radar is clear. I'll get back on watch after the bomb run and get set for those Air National Guard fighters they told us about."

"Twenty seconds to IP," McLanahan announced.

"Better stay on watch, guns," Houser said. "Sometimes those Air National Guard guys get a little antsy. Remember last year's Bomb CompetitionÄthey didn't wait for the bomb run to finish before they jumped us. The rules committee let them get away with it, too. Realism, you know."

"Okay," Brake said. "I'll still be keeping backup timing until .1 see something." He flipped some switches and returned to his small five-inch square tail radar display. At the tail of the huge bomber, the turret with four fifty-caliber machine guns slowly came unstowed and began a preprogrammed search pattern.

"Guns unstowed, system capable, radar-search, radar- track," Brake reported.

"Ten seconds to IP," Luger said. "Next heading will be zero-one-zero. Airspeed three-five-zero true. Clearance plane five hundred feet."

He turned to McLanahan. His partner had just removed his helmet and was rubbing his ears, then snapping his neck hard from side to side.

"What the hell are you doing?" Luger said.

"Loosening up, Dave," McLanahan replied. "My brain bucket is killing me." Luger answered calls for his partner until the radar navigator finally put his helmet back on.

Houser's FCI slowly wound down. "Coming up on the IP, crew . . . ready . . . ready . . . now!"

"Right turn, heading zero-one-zero, pilot," Luger said. The huge aircraft banked in response.

"Boy, is it flat out there," McLanahan said, studying the radar scope.

"Roger, radar," Houser replied. "I guess that means we're clear of terrain." That information was important to Houser he was handflying the huge bomber only five hundred feet off the ground at almost six miles per minute. Houser used the EVS, or Electro-optical Viewing System, and terrain- avoidance computer to provide a "profile" of the peaks and valleys ahead, but the best warning was McLanahan's thirty- mile range radar and his experience in guiding the huge bomber around trouble. The "Muck"ÄMcLanahan's less- than-flattering nickname wasn't always by the book, but he was the best and Houser trusted him with his life. Everyone did.

"Ten degrees to roll-out," Luger reminded the pilot. "Drift is zero, so heading is still zero-one-zero. Radar, I'll correct gyro heading after roll-out. Pilot, don't take the FCI until it's displayed on the EVS scope."

"We're IP inbound, crew," Luger reported. "Pilot, center the FCI and keep it centered. Pat, I'll check your switches when you"

"Pilot, airborne radar contact at two o'clock!" Hawthorne yelled suddenly over the interphone. "Possibly an F-l5. Breaking apart now . . . there's two of them. Search radar on us . . . switching to target track . . . they've seen us."

"Roger, E.W.," Houser said. The fighter-intercept exercise area was still over eighty miles away, Houser thought. Hawthorne must be picking up signals from some other airplane engaging the fighters. He put the E.W. `s warning out of his mind.

Hawthorne tried to say something else, but he was quickly interrupted as the action of the B-52's bomb run began.

"Copilot, call IP inbound," Luger said. McLanahan had switched off-sets and was now peering intently at a radar return that was almost obscured by terrain features around it.

"Pilot," Hawthorne said nervously, "this is not a simula- lion..."

"Glasgow Bomb Plot, Glasgow Bomb Plot, Sabre Three- three, India Papa, Alpha Sierra," Martin radioed. In a small trailer complex located at a municipal airport fifty miles from the ground-hugging bomber, a set of four dish antennas swung southward. In a few seconds, they had found the speeding B-52 and had begun to track its progress toward the target on a mapping board. Other antennas began emitting jamming signals to the B-52's radar, and other transmitters simulated surface-to-air missile site tracking radars and antiair- craft guns. The scoring operator insured that they had positive lock-on, then turned to his radio.

"Sabre Three-three, Glasgow clears you on range and frequency and copies your IP call. India band is restricted. Do not jam India band radar. Range is clear for weapon release." Just then, the scoring operator noticed two extra targets on his tracking display. He immediately called his range supervisor.

"They're at it again, sir," the operator explained, pointing to the two newcomers.

"Those National Guard hot-dogs," the supervisor muttered as he studied the display. He shook his head, then asked, "Has the next competition plane called IP yet?"

"Yes, sir," the operator replied. "Sabre Three-three, a Buff out of Ford."

"Ford, huh." The supervisor smiled at the mention of the B-52's nickname. Once, decades earlier, calling a B-52 a "Buff"Äshort for Big Ugly Fat Fucker was a sign of respect. Not any more. "You got a positive track on the Buff? No chance of the fighters interfering with the bomb scoring?"

"I don't think so, sir."

He thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Let `em go. I like watching a duck shoot."

"Yes, sir," the operator said.

Mark Martin switched to interphone. "We've been cleared onto the range, crew. Patrick, you're cleared for weapon release."

"Rog, double-M," McLanahan replied. He opened the plastic cover of the release-circuits-disconnect switch and closed the circuit. "Let's go bombin'!" he yelled.

"India band restricted, Mike," Martin called down to Hawthorne over interphone.

"Copy," Hawthorne replied. "Crew, we are under attack. Airborne interceptors at two o'clock and closing fast."

"Mike, are you sure they're on us?" Houser asked.

"Positive."

"Mark, switch radio two to the fighter control frequency and"

"We can't do that," Luger said. "We need both radios on plot frequency."

"Well, we'll call the site and tell them to chase the fighters off the bomb range," Houser replied, irritation showing in his voice. "They can't do this."

"Bob can take `em," McLanahan said. "Go get `em, guns."

"You're crazy, radar," the gunner replied. "It'll mean maneuvering on the bomb run.

"Shoot the bastards down," McLanahan said. "Let's give it a try. If it gets dicey, we'll call a safety-of-flight abort."

"Now you're talkin'," Brake said, turning to his equipment.

"Are you sure, Pat?" Houser asked. "This is your bomb run.

"But it's our trophy," McLanahan said. "I say let's stick it to `em."

"All right," Houser replied, flipping switches on the center instrument console. "I'm taking steering away from the computers."

"The fighters are moving to four o'clock," Hawthorne reported. "They're staying out of cannon range so far."

"Infrared missile attack," Brake said, studying his tracking radar and waiting for the fighters to appear. "Simulated Sidewinders."

"Coming up on the SRAM launch point," Luger said.

"We're going to need to maneuver in a few seconds," Brake warned.

"I've got a safe-in-range light and missiles for launch," Luger said. "We can't maneuver until after these missile launches. Guns, give me a few more seconds . . . Tone!"

"Fighters now four o'clock, three miles and closing rapid- ly..

Luger pressed the MANUAL LAUNCH button. The missile computer began its five-second countdown. "Missile counting down," Luger called out. "Doors coming open It had been hard at first to spot the B-52 down there at low level, the pilot aboard the lead F-iS thought. Radar lock-on had been intermittent at high patrol altitude with all the ground clutter, and then it was nearly impossible because of the heavy jamming from the Buff. Visually, the Buff's camouflage made it difficult to spot and hard to keep in sight if there were any distractions.

Now, though, with its huge white bomb bay doors open, it was like a diamond in a goat's ass. The pilot waved his wingman off to the observation position and began his roll into IR (infrared) missile firing position. At three miles, with the B- 52's eight big jet engines spewing out heat, an infrared lock-on would be easy and he'd be out of range of the Buff's little pea- shooter guns. No sweat. An easy kill. On its bomb run, the Buff wouldn't do much jinking, and it had to jam the ground- based threats, too.

"Missile away, missile away for Sabre Three-three," Martin called to the bomb scoring site.

"Acknowledge tone break," the site replied.

"Missile two counting down," Luger began.

"Six o'clock, two miles," Brake said nervously.

"Missile two away," Luger said. "Bomb doors closed. Clear for evasive action."

"Pilot, chop your power!" Brake yelled. "We'll suck this cocky bastard in."

Houser responded immediately, bringing the throttles back to idle. Simultaneously, Martin raised the airbrakes to max- imum up and dropped the gear. The airspeed suddenly and rapidly decreased from three hundred and fifty to two hundred knots. On the tail gunner's radar scope, the result was exhilarating and immediate. For the fighter pilot, it was a nightmare come true.

The F-15 fighter chasing them had been flying nearly two hundred miles an hoter faster than the B-52 in order to catch up with it from behind and get into an ideal firing position; suddenly, it was as if the huge bomber had just frozen in midair. The fighter pilot was now closing on his target at almost six hundred yards a second. The sight of the massive bomber filling his windscreen froze his trigger finger. The fighter pilot was staring into four fifty-caliber machine gun barrels pointed directly at him.

"Six o'clock, two miles," Brake called out, watching his radar. "Two miles and holding . . . goddamn! one mile, half mile . . . Fox-four! All guns firing! Call Fox-four!"

Up on the attack observation position, well above and to the right of the bomber, the leader's wingman was watching a perfectly executed IR missile run. Suddenly, something happened. Spoilers and airbrakes and landing gear doors and landing gears began to spring out of nowhere out of the bomber's huge frame, and the distance between the two planes was chopped to nothing in the blink of an eye. The wingman thought he'd see his first midair collision.

At the last second, his partner ducked under the bomber's belly, flying his F- iS a mere three hundred feet over the hills of Wyoming. The Buff's fifty-caliber guns followed him all the way. The wingman could easily visualize the guns spitting fire, the three-inch-long shells plowing into the fighter's canopy and fuselage, the F-IS exploding into a billion pieces and crashing into the green hills below.

"Fox-four, Fox-four for Sabre Three-three, Glasgow," Martin called to the scoring sire.

"Roger, Three-three. Will relay Fox-four." The young operator working the bomb-scoring-site tracking radar looked in amazement at his NCO supervisor.

"Holy shit," the veteran NCO said. "That Buff just shot down a goddamned F-15."

"It's a duck shoot, all right, Sarge," the operator said, chuckling. "But who is shooting who?"

"Dead meat," the F-15's wingman said to himself, peeling off and preparing to start his own run at the B-52, keeping a respectful distance away from the fifty-caliber machine gun turret that, he knew, was now looking for him. Luger and McLanahan could easily hear the wild jubilation of the defensive crew upstairs through the roar of the plane's eight turbojet engines.

"One down, one to go," Brake shouted.

McLanahan manually stepped the automatic offset unit to target Bravo and pushed a small button on a console near his left thigh. Over the interphone, he said, "Pilot, I'm in BOMB mode. Center it up. We're gonna bomb the crap outta them now. Dave, check my switches."

"You got it," Luger said. He compared the bomb com- puter's countdown to the time remaining on his backup timing watch. "Two minutes to bomb release on my watch."

"Checks with the FCI, nay," Houser confirmed, carefully watching as Martin reconfigured the B-52 for normal flight.

"Pilot, fighter at two o'clock, five miles," Hawthorne said. "Break right!"

"Radar?" Houser asked. "Should I turn? This is your bailgame."

"One second," McLanahan said. "S.O.B. `s are jammin' my scope." He leaned forward so close to the ten-inch radar scope that his oxygen mask almost touched it, then tried to refine his crosshair replacement. Luger couldn't see how his partner could possibly make out any radar returns through all the strobing and clutter. When McLanahan was satisfied, he shouted, "Go for it!"

"Breaking right!" Houser shouted. He put the huge bomber in a thirty-degree bank to the right, turning so suddenly that charts and paperwork flew madly around the navigator's compartment.

"Fighter now at twelve o'clock," Hawthorne said. "Mov- ing rapidly to one o'clock . . . almost two o'clock now."

"We can't hold this turn long, E.W," Martin, the copilot, reminded him. "The corridor narrows to two miles on this bomb run."

"Fighter now at three o'clock!" Hawthorne shouted. Then, as if in reply to the copilot's warning, he said, "Break left. Guns, stand by for Al at five o'clock."

"Roger, E.W," Brake replied.

"Center the FCI, pilot," Luger said. "Coming up on one hundred TO."

"Checks," Houser replied.

"Pilot, accelerate if possible," Brake said. Houser began push the throttles up. "Stand by to chop power again."

"Do it after the bomb run, guns," Luger said. "Pilot, keep the throttles steady."

"Radar?" Houser queried. "This is your run."

"Bring airspeed up as slow as you can," McLanahan said. Shoving it up too fast will screw the ballistics up, not to mention Dave's precious backup timing. He might get upset vith us."

"Standing by," Luger replied, smirking at McLanahan rough his oxygen mask.

"Pilot," Brake yelled, "fighter at seven o'clock, four miles, ving to eight o'clock. Break left!"

"Do it!" McLanahan said. This time, Houser threw the bomber over into about thirty-five degrees of bank. The forty- year-old aircraft shrieked in protest.

"Fighter moving to seven o'clock . . . now six o'clock.

lot, roll out and center the FCI," Brake said.

The bomber snapped out of the turn and began a slow turn to he right to center the thin white needle in the case of the Flight Command Indicator. Luger, scanning the computer panel before him, pointed to a single glowing red warning light.

`The Doppler is hung up," Luger shouted. The Doppler was the system that provided groundspeed and wind informa- tion to the bombing computersÄwithout it, the computers were useless, transmitting false information to the steering and release systems.

Luger tried recycling the Doppler power switchesÄturning them off and on several times to allow the system to reset itselfÄbut no luck. "Pilot, it looks like the Doppler has gone out. Disregard the FCI. Radar, we need to get out of BOMB mode now!"

"Damned fighters," Martin said.

Luger held up his running stopwatch. "I've got.backup Iming, radar," he said. "Coming up on seventy seconds to release. Pilot, hold the airspeed right here."

Luger was about to read the Alternate Bombing (Nuclear) checklist to McLanahan, but his partner was already accom- plishing the items from memory, disconnecting the computers from aircraft and bombing controls. They were now relying on visual course control, Luger's backup time and heading, and the radar scope to drop the bomb. Instead of the bombing computers sending the release pulse to the bomb racks, McLanahan would send the signal himself with the "pickle." the bombs-away switch.

"Bomb door coming open, guys," McLanahan said. "Al- ternate delivery checklist complete. Dave, check my switches when you get a chance. Where's my coffee cup?"

"D-two switch," Luger called out, reminding McLanahan to find the manual bomb release "pickle" switch. Luger's gloved fingers flew over the SRAM computer panel, repro- gramming it to take a final position update at the same time the B-52 flew over the bomb target.

"Why did this have to happen to us now," Luger said. "We ought to make a formal complaint about those fighters."

"Relax, nay, relax," McLanahan said. He was sitting back casually in his ejection seat, a contented smile on his face. Then, suddenly, he swept every chart, book, and piece of paper off his desk with a flourish.

"Hey!" Luger yelled across the compartment. "What the hell are you doing."

"Nothing partner, nothing," McLanahan said with a grin. "Everything's great."

"Want me to reset the range-coordinate integrator?" Luger asked excitedly, beginning to pull off his parachute shoulder belts.

"No," McLanahan said, loosening his helmet chin strap. "No sweat. Stay strapped in."

"How `bout I just give that damned stabilization unit a kick or something? Anything. Damn those fighters. They screwed up our chances for a trophy!"

"Cool out, nay," McLanahan said.

Luger shot him a look. Had he gone off the deep end? Here they were, on an SAC bombing run with the Doppler on the fritz, and McLanahan hadn't even glanced at the radar scope since the computers failed.

Finally, McLanahan looked at the radar scope, studying it casually. "Five right, pilot," he said. "Nay, how much time on your watch?"

"Coming up on sixty seconds," Luger said. He was still looking at his partner in disbelief.

"Okay," McLanahan said. "Disregard your timingÄit's at least seven seconds off. I'm dropping on release range and bearing. Subtract seven seconds from your timing just in case the radar scope goes out or something crazy like that." He studied the radar scope again. "Four more right, pilot."

"Seven degrees right of planned heading, radar," Luger reminded him.

"Not to worry," McLanahan said. "Check my switch positions and get ready for the overfly fix. Copilot, let me know as soon as you pick up any visual timing points. I know there's not many on this target, but do the best you can."

"I'll try, radar," Martin said. "Nothing so far."

"Okay," McLanahan said. He smiled at Luger. "Ready for the overfly fix, Dave?"

"I'm ready," Luger said. "But you're going."

"Two more right, pilot," McLanahan said. "Bob, my man, where are those fighters?"

Fighters! Luger couldn't believe what he was hearing. His partner probably just had the worst of all possible things happen to him on a Bombing Competition sortie, and he was worried about fighters with less than a minute to bomb release.

"Clear for now," Brake replied.

"Al radar is searching," Hawthorne reported. "They'll be around again in a minute."

"Okay." McLanahan said.

"Pilot, hold your airspeed," Luger said over the interplione. "It's drifting too much."

"Relax, nay," McLanahan said. "We're going to nail this one."

"Nine degrees right of planned heading," Luger said, nervously studying his own five-inch scope. He glanced over at his partner. McLanahan was lounging back in his seat, toying with the pickle switch in his left hand.

"1 missed the final visual timing point, radar," Martin said. The crew was suddenly very quiet everyone but McLanahan.

"Okay, double-M," he said. "Thanks anyway."

"I'm going to bypass this overfly fix, radar," Luger said. They were going farther and farther off course, and McLana- han wasn't doing anything about it.

"Take this fix, nay," McLanahan said, his voice suddenly quiet. He gave Luger the thumbs-up signal.

"But . .

"Don't worry. nay," McLanahan said. "I have a feeling about this one."

Luger could do nothing else but comply. He called up the target coordinates~ checked them, and prepared for the fix.

"Pilot, I want you to just caress that left rudder," McLana- han said. He leaned forward a bit, staring at one of the seemingly thousands of tiny blips tracking down his scope. "One left. Maybe a half left."

"A half a degree?" Houser said.

"Just touch it," McLanahan urged quietly. "Ever so gently . . . a little more . . . just a touch more . . . hold it. That's it . . . still zero drift, nay?"

"No Doppler," Luger replied. "The winds and drift are out to lunch. So is the ground speed and backup timing. I'm working strictly off true airspeed and last known reliable winds." Luger shook his head, bewildered. What was going on? Was McLanahan doing all this for show? Christ, they were eight degrees off heading!

"Okay. Never mind. I forgot. Coming up on release, nay . . . stand by .

Luger looked over at McLanahan's radar. The cathode-ray tube was a mass of arcs and spokes driving through it from the jamming. How could his partner see anything in that mess? McLanahan reached down and flicked the frequency-control knob, and thespikes and streaks of jamming cleared for a few seconds. He smiled.

The D-2 switch was nestled gently, casually, between McLanahan's fingers, his thumb nowhere near the recessed button. "Caressing that rudder, Gary?" was all he said.

Suddenly McLanahan's thumb flashed out, too fast for Luger to see it, and the BRIC flashed once as the last bomb fell into space. Luger counted three seconds to himself and pressed the ACQUIRE button on the SRAM computer. Three seconds after bomb release, at their altitude and airspeed, should put them right over the targetÄif McLanahan had hit the target.

To Luger's immense surprise, the green ACCEPT light illuminated on the SRAM panel.

"It took the fix," Luger said, his voice incredulous.

"We nailed `em, guys!" McLanahan shouted.

"Sure, sure," Luger said. McLanahan was carrying the act a little too far. They were eight degrees off planned heading and seven seconds short of planned timingÄthat equated to at least a ten-thousand-foot miss, and probably even a worse missile score. The bad present position update, combined with the bad velocities the SRAM computer would derive from the fix, would nail the lid down on Bomb Comp for crew E-0SÄwith them inside the coffin. "Tone!" The high-pitched radio tone came on.

Luger flipped the AUTOMATIC LAUNCH switch down.

"Missile counting down . . . doors are already open . . . missile away. Missile two counting down . missile two away. All missiles away. Doors coming closed . . ."

"Missile away, missile away," Martin called to the bomb scoring site.

"Very good, boys," McLanahan said, finally opening his eyes. "Nay, you have nayigatiOn. I'll call post-release informa- tion, and then I'm going to take a piss. Guns, don't let us get shot down. Not now, after all that work."

"Go take your piss, radar," Brake replied. "You're as safe here as if you were in your mother's arms. Or Catherine's arms. Whicheyer."

"Wait a minute, radar," Houser said. "Before you un- strapÄwhich, I might add, is illegal as hell while we're low- level but par for the course for youÄhow about those releases? How far off track were we?"

"Not sure," McLanahan replied. "Might have been two or three hundred feet."

"Keep dreaming," Martin said. "It looked close, but not that close."

"C'mon, really," Houser said.

"I took into account all the turns and the changes in airspeed," McLanahan deadpanned. "I was waiting for the Doppler to go out, you know. I knew it would."

"Case of beer says you pitched it long," Martin said. "Thanks for the confidence, double-M," McLanahan re- plied, "but you're on." He turned to Luger. "What do you think, nay?" he asked.

"I think . . . I think you're way off, radar," Luger said.

Martin laughed. "Want to call it off, radar?"

"It was a shack," Luger said. "Zero-zero. Perfect. Better than the others. I don't know why . . . but it was."

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