— From Fearkiller (Volume 1), available now at Amazon.
Navy One enters the traffic pattern, an invisible, spiraling-downward, racetrack oval that runs counterclockwise in the air around the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.
Normally, this flight pattern would be filled with other jets, each descending in its own semi-circular left turn. Each jet forty-five seconds behind the one in front of them, all spiraling downward, centered on the aircraft carrier.
Eventually, every jet reaches that final turn downwind from—to the rear of—the aircraft carrier, for their final approach to land. Right now, Navy One, a four-seat Navy jet called an S-3 Viking, is the only jet in the pattern.
The pilot and co-pilot are in the two front seats. Their passenger is sitting in the back, in the seat where the sonar operator normally sits.
“Hey, since this is a fighter jet, I need a call sign. And where’s the turret gun? A squadron of Y2K-Infected Barbarian Sex Cannibals riding Y2K Fire-Breathing Flying Brontosauruses could swoop in.”
“Got it covered, Mr. President. For your call sign, how about—”
“How about Donkey-Horse Cock Bowling-Ball Testicles? It conveys that my package is—what’s the word—large.”
“Doesn’t really roll off the tongue, sir—”
The control tower on the Lincoln radios in. You and the pilot need to jot down a few quick notes, last-minute details on wind, deck conditions, etc. Standard routine.
The President takes a break from his controls, looks up at you two in the front seat working at your own set of controls. He looks back at his set of controls. Back at your set of controls. Back at his set of controls.
“Wait a minute…I haven’t hit any of my buttons…but we are still flying…Don’t make…me…get…elliptical…here…”
You and your pilot look at each other.
Navy One passes up the starboard side of the ship, tailhook down, descending. Final pass upwind. At a point past the bow of the ship—out in front of it a quarter of a mile, the pilot will make a hard left turn called the break turn, throttle back to idle, extend the speed brakes. Then, he’ll extend and lock the landing gear as the plane U-turns back and makes its final pass down the port side of the ship.
The break turn’s purpose is to kill your speed by turning your airframe perpendicular, into the incoming jetstream. Turn the plane’s physical surface sideways, so instead of shooting on a knife-edge into that jetstream, your wide surfaces are at right angles to it. Counteracting all of the laws of physics you were obeying to stay in the air.
Kill airspeed quickly, glide in to the deck.
After the break turn, Navy One will make one final pass down the port side to a point past the stern of the carrier, before that final ninety-degree turn downwind. When the jet rolls out of this final turn, the deck will be straight ahead out of the cockpit windshield.
Eventually, the theory goes, the tailhook protruding from underneath the plane will grab one of four arresting cables at the stern of the ship.
It’s a delicate act, never the same flight twice. Directional conditions, aircraft weight, time of day, windspeeds—all of these vary. Fly long enough, this becomes a personal competition: how to line your aircraft up more precisely each time, letting gravity and airspeed slow your descent. You’re not flying anymore, you’re gliding. Those properties you depend on to stay aloft, you reject in order to land—
“Hey! Watch this—”
He grabs the plastic steering wheel taped to the control panel in front of him and cranks it back and forth about twenty times.
Navy One continues its slow left-veering course, not even a small jolt.
“I knew it! You…”
You and your pilot look at each other.
Passing up the starboard side of the carrier.
“For the sake of National Job Suck-Curity, I…,” his eyes narrow, “order…you…those… airplane…controller…plane-flying…things dotdotdot—”
Your pilot is at a loss, too.
Navy One passes the bow of the carrier. Break turn, less than twenty seconds away.
What does one do? Disobey a direct order from The Commander In Chief of The United States of America? That sounds like a court martial-worthy offense.
… What happens next? Who will land the plane? This vignette was an excerpt from “Fearkiller (Volume 1)”, $3.95, Kindle. Available at Amazon. It is a story about 2000–2010, a decade no one saw coming. Buy it now.