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Old 04-25-2019, 07:56 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Location: Auberry, CA
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A 335th flight finds a flak trap-the hard way:



335th TFS, Sheppard AFB, TX: 0915 Hours Central War Time:


Rock music played from the CO's radio as Shadoe Stevens' morning show played on AFN, and Major Wiser found himself humming along as Katrina and the Waves did their version of We Gotta Get Out of This Place. An appropriate song for this time and place, the CO thought as he went over some papers. He put them in his OUT box, and for the time being, his desk was clear. Satisfied so far, he got up and went to his office window. Just the normal sights and sounds of an air base at war, the CO said to himself, watching as F-4s and F/A-18s took off or landed, and the occasional muffled explosion in the background. EOD blowing unexploded ordnance in place, he knew, as that stuff was often too dangerous to move, and not every booby trap left by the Cubans had been found-yet. With that happy thought in mind, he went back to his desk, then there was a knock on the door. “Yeah? Come in and show yourself.”

Goalie came in. “Boss, we've got a little problem. Thanks to the R&R Rotation, we'll be short two GIBs come first of the month,” she said. Though she was only a First Lieutenant, she was the senior WSO in the squadron. That was a slot that, in peacetime, was normally filled by a Captain or Major, but this being wartime, and Guru wanting someone he knew and trusted in the slot, meant that Goalie was getting her own time at the School of Hard Knocks.

“What do you mean? Digger comes back in two or three days, and Jang goes back to the pool.”

“That's the problem: Digger is one of the guys getting his two weeks, and Judge is the other one.”

The CO grimaced, then put his hand to his head. “Lovely.” He thought for a minute. “Okay, I'll talk with Tenth Air Force, and see if we can get a couple GIBs here on TDY.”

“Even if we have to pry them out of the TransPac Ferry Run?” Goalie asked. “Plenty of those guys would jump at the chance to get in some combat time.”

“Even if,” Guru said. Then there was another knock at the door. “Yeah?”

Squadron Leader Dave Gledhill came in. “Guru,” he said. “And Goalie. Came by to pick up those notes, so they can go with the mail.” One of the RAF crews had gone down the day before, and along with the missing-in-action form, Gledhill had to write the letters to the next-of-kin. And Guru had offered to write a couple of notes as well. Though the two downed crewers were RAF and not 335th, they had been flying with the 335th....

“Here you are,” Guru said, handing Gledhill two envelopes. “All typed up, signed, sealed, and ready. Hate to say this, but the two of us are going to get used to doing this. Still got a ways to go before it's over.”

Gledhill nodded. “Thanks, Guru. I appreciate this, and I'm sure the families will as well.”

“Not much you can tell someone when their loved one is MIA,” Guru said. “With me, all Colonel Rivers could tell my Mom was that I had gone down with my GIB, and there were two chutes. Next thing anyone knows is when we came out of the mountains, and 7th ID notifies the Air Force. Mom was at work, and the casualty officer came to tell her. She was on Cloud Nine the rest of the day.”

“One way to get two weeks at home,” Goalie said. “Dave, Guru's told me the full story of his E&E, and I'm only one of four people who know it.”

“Who are the other three?” Gledhill asked. “Out of curiosity, mind.”

“Colonel Rivers, rest his soul,” Guru replied. “Then the Intel who debriefed me. And one other. Mom.” Gledhill looked at him. “Had two weeks' leave at home after coming out, and I told her one night.”

“There are times when you do have to talk to your Mum,” Gledhill said sympathetically. “And this was one of them.”

Guru nodded. “It was,” he said. “And I made her promise not to tell another soul until this is all over. You'll hear some of it while you're here.” A knock on the door followed, then his secretary came in. “What's up, Trish?”

Staff Sergeant Trisha Lord said, “Major, phone call for you. It's General Tanner.”

“This about the mission we're cooking up?” Goalie asked.

“Let's hope so,” the CO said as he picked up the phone. “Sir, this is Major Wiser.”

“Major, glad to talk to you again,” Major General Robert Tanner, the Commander of Tenth Air Force, said. “General Olds is in my office, and he's told me a lot of things about your squadron. All of them good, by the way.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“How's the RAF detachment doing?”

“General, they're good people. They got a couple of MiG kills yesterday, and sir, both of them were MiG-29s. But they also had a bird go down with the crew MIA. Two chutes seen, but the bad guys were closing in on the chutes.”

There was silence on the other end, then Tanner growled, “Damn it. Well, part of the job, sad to say.”

“Yes, sir,” Guru replied.

“All right. Major, my legal officer tells me a certain snotty officer who'd been a PITA to you and your predecessor is now the proud recipient of an Article 15,” Tanner said. “If this was peacetime, his career would be over.”

“Yes, sir,” said the CO. “But General, we're going to have to wait until this war's over, and that first postwar RIF. If he makes it to the end, that is.”

Hearing that, Tanner chuckled. “Well, Major, that factor has to be taken into account. Now, General Olds has briefed me on a mission concept you're cooking up. You and your GIB want to put the hurt on Ivan's Su-24 force, he tells me.”

“Yes, sir,” Guru said, glancing at Goalie. “We'd like to pull those bastards north, a regiment at least. We get them to hit some decoy target, and after that, when they're at their staging field, whatever it is, I bring a dozen of my birds with some Marine and RAF support, and catch them like the Israelis did to the Egyptians in '67, or the Navy did to Nagumo's carriers at Midway.”

“I like that, Major,” Tanner said. “General Olds said pretty much the same thing. Now, Major? Don't be surprised if you get a message in a few days. I want to hear from you and your GIB on this. Bring her, your briefing materials, and your own self. And if you have to take your own bird to come out west? The orders will say 'fastest available transportation'.”

“Which, sir, are widely open to interpretation,” Guru said. “We'll be there.”

“Major, my ops people will look at this before then, and they may have recommendations of their own. It's your mission, and you're free to adopt, modify, or ignore said recommendations as you see fit,” Tanner told the CO. “I know from what General Olds told me; the people who plan it will be the ones flying it.”

“Sir, I was about to say the same thing,” Guru said. Then there was a knock on the door. “Excuse me, sir.” The door opened and Kara was there. His wingmate and Deputy Ops Officer had a grim expression on her face. “What's up?”

“Boss, Ops just came back, and his flight ran into a buzz saw. Two birds down, one crew MIA, and one recovered by the Army,” Kara said. “They're in the main briefing room, and Sin's trying to help sort this out.”

“General-” Guru said.

“I heard, Major. You take care of this, and if you need anything, let me know. I'll get out of your hair, and you get on with business at hand.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Major?” Tanner asked. “Good luck.”

“Thank you, sir,” Guru said, then he heard the General hang up. He did the same, then asked Kara, “What happened?”

Kara shook her head. “Don't know for sure.”

“Okay, get the briefing folder for their mission, and get over there. Find Dave Golen if he's back, and get him there, too, because I want his opinion. Call Colonel Brady, and ask that he come over at his convenience. Dave? You're mainly an air-to-air guy, but if you see anything that smells fishy, call it. Goalie? Same with you.”

“Got you,” Goalie said.

“I'll do my best,” Gledhill nodded.

“All anyone can do,” Guru said. He turned to Kara. “I want you there as well: you think outside the box, and if you see anything that smells? Call it.”

“I'll be there,” Kara said as she went out the door.

Guru nodded, then turned to Goalie and Dave Gledhill. “We have someplace to be.”


When they got to the main briefing room, Don Van Loan was there with his GIB, Capt. Craig “Gimbal” Tyler, along with Rabbit and his GIB, 1st Lt. Eric “Cav” Stafford, along with Sin Licon, the SIO. “Don,” Guru asked. “What the hell happened?”

“Don't know, Boss,” Van Loan said, gulping a cup of coffee. “We went out after what the ATO said was a FROG missile unit near Brazospoint, and the next thing we know as we're rolling in? Flak by the ton, several radars up, and SAMs-radar and heat-seekers. Tread and Notso went down,” the Ops Officer said, referring to Capt. Mike “Tread” Safuley and Capt. Gary “Notso” Swift.

“Any chutes?”

“Two, but we never saw them land, Major,” Cav said.

“Okay. And what about Rascal and Redeye?” The CO asked about Capt. C.J. “Rascal” Taylor and 1st Lt. Eric “Redeye” Wallace. He knew there'd be two letters written....

“They got shot up, but made the fence before punching out,” Van Loan replied. “Army found 'em, and they should be back later today.”

Guru nodded, then Kara came in with the briefing folder. “That the briefing folder?” When she nodded, the CO added, “Let's see it.”

Photos and maps came out onto a table, and people began looking at them. “Here's the FROGs,” Sin Licon said. “Imagery's dated noon yesterday. And the cover sheet says they RON here, then move to fire, then come back.”

“Swell,” Goalie spat. She was looking at a photo of the town of Brazospoint-which was more a group of ruins than a town. “Hey, there's a vehicle here. Looks like a Shilka.” That meant the ZSU-23-4.

“We were briefed to expect those,” Van Loan said, and Rabbit nodded. “Two to four, plus some MANPADS.”

“They were waiting for you,” Goalie said.

“They were,” Guru agreed, as a knock at the door came, followed by Dave Golen, their IDF “Observer.” “Dave, ever run into any flak traps?”

“Twice: once in 1973, and again in Lebanon in '82,” Golen replied, wondering what the CO was asking about. Then it came to him. “Wait, someone here just ran into one?”

Van Loan nodded grimly. “Had a bird and crew down at the target, another crossing the fence. Those guys are lucky-they'll be back later. All for a suspected FROG battery,” he spat.

“East Germans set up a FROG unit in the open, knowing we'd spot it on overheads,” Guru said. “They probably set up fakes, then moved in the ZSU-23s and SAMs. Whoever put the ATO together fell for it.”

“And we paid the price,” Van Loan said angrily.

“Hold it, Don,” Guru said as one of Sin Licon's NCOs came in. “Yeah?”

“Major, got some new imagery of this area. Came in a half-hour ago with the eastbound C-130,” the male Staff Sergeant said.

“Thanks, Sarge,” the CO said. He started looking at the photos, and passed them around. “Anything jump out, folks?”

“FROG launchers-at least the FROG-7s, are eight-wheeled, right?” Dave Gledhill asked.

“They are,” Sin Licon replied. “Sir, what are you getting at?”

“Here's a picture from yesterday afternoon-and it's got a missile on top of a six-wheeled truck,” the RAF officer said as he pointed to a vehicle on the photo. “And I'll bet any amount of money the missile is a phony one.”

“A Quaker Cannon?” Goalie asked.

“The same,” Sin Licon nodded. 'Sir, I think you're right.”

Kara ignored the talk, and concentrated on some photos. “Got something here. Have a look at Brazospoint.”

“The town?” Guru wanted to know.

“Yeah,” Kara replied. “On yesterday morning's imagery? There's nothing leading into the ruins-and that's all the town is. But the stuff we just got?” She pointed at what was likely a photo from an SR-71 pass. “There's vehicle tracks leading to the ruined buildings.”

“Same here,” Goalie said. “Want to be that's where they're hiding their ZSUs, and the SA-13s?”

“Not taking that bet,” Kara said. “That's where I'd put them.”

Guru and Dave Golen looked at the photos. The CO asked, “What do you think, Dave?”

“It's what I'd do,” Golen said. “Syrians did it last time I had this,” he added. “Now, where are the SA-8s?” Golen was referring to the SA-8 Gecko SAM launchers.

“Good question,” the CO said. “Any ideas?”

Sin Licon nodded. “Major, there's enough ranches around with intact buildings that could hide a Gecko launcher-or a Gopher, let alone a ZSU-23,” the Intel pointed out.

Kara and Goalie looked at each other, and nodded agreement. “I'd do the same thing,” Kara said.

“So how do we do this?” Goalie asked.

“Ambushing the ambushers is out,” Dave Golen nodded.

“We smack the town,” Guru said. “And we bypass the flak trap. They'll think we're headed south for someplace near Lake Whitney, if not Waco.”

Kara grinned. “And we do a 180, come back, and lay it on them,” she said. “I like it.”

“Good, because you and I will be packing Mark-82 Snakeyes and M-117Rs. Sweaty and Hoser? They get ten BLU-27s.”

“Napalm,” Van Loan observed. “We going with you?”

Guru shook his head. “Negative. Don, you guys just came back from a buzz saw. Not to mention having one go down there, and one crew's coming back via Army helo. After we brief everybody, go to the fitness center-and that goes for all four of you-” the CO nodded at the survivors of Van Loan's flight. “Get rid of the stress, get yourselves something to eat after, then come back ready to go. And Don?”

“Boss?”

“Find yourselves a mission that calls for a two-ship. Comprende?”

“Got you.”

“Got room for us?” Dave Golen asked. He meant himself and Flossy.

“Yeah,” Guru said. “As soon as we hit Brazospoint, they'll be flushing the survivors. You two? Kill anyone moving with Mavericks.”

“We'll be there.”

“And Dave?” Guru motioned to the RAF Squadron Leader. “You guys hang back behind us, maybe a mile. Set up a TARCAP, because the one thing that can throw a monkey wrench into this is MiGs.”

Gledhill nodded. “Understood,” he said.

“Now, where's Colonel Brady?” Guru asked. Just then, the door opened, and Digger showed the MAG-11 CO in.”Sir,” Guru said.

“Major,” Brady said. “What's going on? Captain Thrace said you had a mission go bad.”

“We did, sir,” replied Guru. “Don, you and Sin tell the Colonel what you told me.” They spoke for five minutes, “And sir, something needs to be done about those bastards.”

“And you've got something in mind, Major,” Brady said. It wasn't a question from his tone of voice.

“Yes, sir,” Guru said. “We've had a talk.” The 335th CO outlined what he had in mind. “Sir, all we need is four Hornets for HARM shooting and to add to the TARCAP.”

“And clearing the air with Tenth Air Force,” Brady nodded. “This is your mission, Major, but you've all contributed in some way?” He asked those in the room, and heads nodded. “How do you want the Hornets loaded, Major?”

Guru thought for a moment. “Sir, Two Sidewinders and two Sparrows air-to-air, two wing tanks, full gun, and two HARMs.”

“Done, Major,” Brady nodded. “I'll get 451's people rolling on this, and I'll call General Tanner. You might be talking with him yourself, but by the time I'm on the phone with him, you're taxiing out.”

“Yes, sir,” Guru said.

“Boss,” Kara said. “I just thought of something.”

“What is it?”

“Any chance we can pry loose a couple of Weasels?”

“F-4Gs,” Gledhill nodded. “Would be nice to have for something like this.”

“They would,” Goalie agreed. “Any chance?”

Colonel Brady shook his head. “Not on this short notice, but keep it in mind for the future.”

“Yes, sir,” Kara said.

“Let's get going, Major. I'll talk to 451's people. When do you want them here?”

“Sir, would thirty minutes be good enough?”

“They will be,” Brady said. “Don't worry if the Hornet lead' has rank on you, Major,” He told Guru. “Your mission, you're commanding in the air.”

“Thank you, sir.” Guru replied.

Brady then said firmly, “Then let's get with it, and get this done.”


Half an hour later, with the aircraft either armed or in the process of being armed, the various crews gathered in the 335th's main briefing room, along with Colonel Brady, and the mascot of the 335th, Buddy. Much to the relief of the 335th people, the dog simply curled up and went to sleep. “All right, people, whatever you had tasked under the ATO? It got thrown out, and this one's going instead,” Colonel Brady said. “You're probably wondering what this is all about, so I'm turning it over to the 335th's CO,” He nodded at Guru. “Major?”

“Thank you, sir,” Guru said as he got up. “I'll cut to the chase. We had a 335th flight this morning run into a flak trap around what was supposed to be a FROG-7 battalion down in the East German sector. Instead of the FROGs, they hit a buzz saw of SAMs and Triple-A. One bird and crew down at the target, and another bird went in after crossing the fence, and that crew's OK. What we're going to do is make the East Germans pay for that.”

“How, Boss?” Sweaty asked. “We going after the same target?”

“Negative,” Guru replied. He nodded to Sin Licon, and a photo of Brazospoint came on an overhead projector. “This is the target we're going for. It's the town of Brazospoint, and is more a collection of ruins than a town. Note the vehicle tracks leading into some of the ruined buildings, and chances are, that's where the EG air-defense vehicles are hidden.”

“Nice,” KT said. “Somebody rolls in on the FROG site-and that's a phony?” Seeing Guru nod, she went on. “And they back out of the ruins and open up.”

“Somebody's got a case of the smarts,” Sweaty nodded. “So we get to kill that somebody?”

Guru nodded. “That's right. Kara? You and I go in as we talked earlier. Six Mark-82 Snakeyes and six M-117Rs.”

“And we walk our bombs across the town, and some of 'em will land on those ruined buildings,” Kara said.

“What about us?” Sweaty asked.

“You guys follow up. With BLU-27s,” Guru said. “Make them burn.”

Sweaty looked at Preacher, her GIB, and both nodded. Napalm? Been a while since we carried that. “Our pleasure.”

“Good. We'll have the usual air-to-air loadout besides our air-to-ground ordnance.” That meant four AIM-9Ps, two AIM-7Fs, full 20-mm gun, two wing tanks, and ECM pods. “Now, Dave?” Guru nodded at Dave Golen and Flossy. “You and Flossy have AGM-65. As soon as Hoser clears the town, surviving vehicles will get flushed.”

“And we kill them,” Flossy said. “That leaves us with just two Sparrows, the pods, and gun.”

“Dave Gledhill will watch our backs,” said Guru. “Now, Hornets?” He nodded at Marine Major Alan Pritchett, who would lead VMFA-451's Hornets. “You guys have the HARMs. Any SA-8s show? Shut them down-and for good.”

“Will do,” Pritchett replied. “And after we shoot the HARMs, we're a TARCAP.”

Smart guy, Guru thought. “You are. Back up the Brits. Speaking of which, Dave?” Guru turned to Gledhill. “Follow us by about a mile to a mile and a half. When I call PULL? Climb and assume a TARCAP.”

The RAF officer nodded. “And keep our eyes out for MiGs,” he replied.

“Do that,” Guru said. “Now, here's the ingress. Hit the tankers, then we go in following the Brazos River-and before you say 'What the hell'? The East Germans will think we're headed someplace further south-around Lake Whitney, or even Waco.”

“So they won't give themselves away by shooting at anyone not directly threatening them,” Colonel Brady nodded. “Good thinking, Major.”

“Thank you, sir. Now, we go down to Lake Whitney, and do a ninety to the right,” Guru said, continuing. “When we get to Meridian, we do another ninety to the north. It's still eighteen miles to the target area. Twenty seconds from the target, I'll give the command to pull, and we all go in.”

Colonel Brady nodded. “Sounds good, Major. And egress?”

“Just follow the river back north to the I-20, sir,” Guru said. “Sin?” He turned to his SIO. “Anticipated air-defense threats and MiGs, if you please.”

Sin Licon went to the projector. “Folks, you can expect ZSU-23-4s, SA-8, and probable SA-13s in the target area, along with small-arms fire and MANPADS, and that's just from the East Germans. The Libyans are just across the river, and they have a 57-mm battery at their end of the Brazospoint bridge, as do the East Germans. They may have seen the excitement earlier, and want to join in. There's also ZU-23s at the phony FROG site. The missiles may be fake, but the guns sure as hell aren't.” The intel paused, took a drink of water, then went on. “MiGs are as follows: MiG-21s and -23s at the old James Connolly AFB at Waco, along with -21s at Waco Regional. More 21s and -23s at Temple Regional, with -23s and -29s at Gray AAF, Fort Hood. More Fulcrums and also Flankers at Bergstrom AFB.”

“Who's driving the MiGs?” Flight Lt. Susan Napier, Gledhill's wingmate, asked.

“Good question,” Guru said. “Sin?”

“Most of the MiGs I've mentioned are Soviet. A few of the -21s may be Cuban, and some of the MiG-23s at Connolly are known to be Libyan. All of the Fulcrums and Flankers are Soviet,” Licon answered.

“That answers that,” Napier said.

“It does,” said Guru. “Weather and bailout areas?”

“Weather's unchanged since this morning,” Licon replied. “As for recommended bailout areas? Anywhere rural and away from roads,” the Intel added.

“All right, Sin,” Guru said. “We meet up at ten grand overhead, and my birds? We're Mustang Flight.”

“Hornets are Warlord,” Pritchett added.

“Good,” Guru said. “Sir,” he turned to Brady. “I think that covers it.”

“I think it does,” Brady agreed. “Get yourselves geared up and ready, and wait outside.” That wasn't necessary for the Marines, as they were already in their flight gear, but the 335th crews and the RAF would need to do so. “I'll be on the phone to Tenth Air Force and get the mission cleared.”

“Sir, my office phone is at your disposal,” Guru said. “No need for you to go halfway across the base.”

“Thanks, Major, and I'll do just that. Once I get the go-ahead, I'll let you know, then get to your birds,” Brady said. People got up to leave, and Brady added, “One last thing: Good Luck.”

“Thank you, sir,” Guru said. He glanced at Buddy, who was still sound asleep. “Hope Buddy's right.”

“He was this morning,” Don Van Loan said as he got up to leave. “He was awake the whole brief. Should've known something was up.”

“Too late now,” Guru said. “Just remember what I said, Don. Be ready to go again after lunch.”

“Will do, and Boss?” The Ops Officer said. “Be careful yourself. Don't want to be Exec.”

“And I don't want to be Ops yet,” Kara reminded the CO.

“Point taken, you two,” Guru nodded. “Let's get this done.”


The 335th people went to their locker rooms to gear up, and when Guru came out of the Men's, Goalie was waiting, as usual. “Ready?” He asked his GIB.

“Let's get it over with,” Goalie replied. “Haven't had a hairy one for a while.”

“Our turn,” the CO replied as they went outside, and found the others-AF and Marine, waiting. The crews were making small talk, and playing with Buddy, when Colonel Brady came out of the office. “Sir?” Guru asked. “Do we have a go?”

“We have a go,” Brady said. “And before anyone says a word, I did ask about getting some Weasels. Sorry, but no joy on that.”

“Let me guess,” Kara shook her head. “Too many requests and not enough assets.”

“Captain,” Brady said. “Those were General Tanner's exact words. But, he did release an EF-111 to us. It's lifting off from Cannon in fifteen, and by the time you're over Lake Whitney, it'll be doing some standoff jamming.”

“Well, now,” Dave Golen said. “That's good to have.”

“It is,” Brady said. “Majors?” He pointed to Guru and Major Prichett. “A word?” Both flight leads went to the Colonel. “Both of you, bring everybody back.”

“Do our best, sir,” Guru replied. “No guarantees in this line of work.”

“Can't promise that, sir,” Pritchett added. “And you know it as well as we do.”

Brady knew it as well. Still....”Just do the best you can.”

“All we can do, Colonel,” said Guru.

“I know. Good luck,” Brady said, shaking the hands of both flight leads. Then he said to the crews. “Good luck, and mount your birds.”

The crews headed to their aircraft, and the AF and RAF crews gathered at 512's revetment. “Usual on the radio, Boss?” Sweaty asked.

The CO nodded. “Call signs between us, mission code to the Marines, AWACS, and other parties,” said Guru. “Any other questions?”

Jang asked, “Any chance of a nice, quiet couple of hours after we get back?”

“Maybe,” Guru said. “Unless someone starts hollering for CAS.”

“Don't say it,” Hoser said. Everyone there despised CAS runs, preferring to leave that to the people in A-4, A-7, and A-10 squadrons who lived, breathed, and existed for that mission.

“Someone's got to,” said the CO. “Anything else?” Heads shook no, then he clapped his hands. “Let's make it happen, people. Time to hit it.”

The crews headed to their aircraft, as Guru and Goalie went to 512, their Crew Chief was waiting, and he snapped a perfect salute. “Major, Lieutenant, Five-twelve's locked and cocked,” Staff Sergeant Mike Crowley said.

“Thanks, Sarge,” Guru replied as he and Goalie did their preflight walk-around. Satisfied everything was proper, Guru signed for the aircraft, then he and Goalie climbed the crew ladder and got into their respective cockpits. After strapping in, they went through the preflight checklist. “Been a while since we've done something like this,” Guru said.

“Denver, back in March. Took out some 100-mm that was shooting into the traffic pattern for Stapleton,” Goalie said, recalling a strike against some of the flak batteries that threatened the Denver Airlift. “And a few others after that. Ejection seats?”

“Armed top and bottom, check yours, and yeah, anything we could do to take the heat off the transports,” replied Guru. “Arnie?”

“Arnie and INS all set,” Goalie replied. She meant the ARN-101 DMAS and the INS system. “Preflight complete and ready for engine start.”

“That we are,” Guru said. He gave a thumbs-up to his CC, who replied with the “Start Engines” signal. One, then both, J-79 engines were soon up and running, and just before the warm-up was complete, Guru called the tower. “Tower, Mustang Flight with eight, requesting taxi and takeoff instructions.”

“Mustang Lead, Tower.” A controller came back. “Clear to taxi to Runway Three-Five-Lima. Hold prior to the Active, and you are number one in line.”

Number one? When's the last time that happened? Guru shook that thought out of his mind as he replied, “Roger, Tower. Mustang Lead rolling.” He gave another thumbs-up to Sergeant Crowley, who motioned to the ground crew. The chocks were pulled away from the wheels, and Crowley gave the “Taxi” signal. Guru then released the brakes, and taxied 512 out of the revetment. As he cleared the revetment, Crowley snapped another perfect salute, and both pilot and GIB returned it.

Guru then taxied to Runway 35L, and as he did, the rest of the flight followed him. When he got to the holding area, the armorers removed the weapon safeties, then it was time to call the tower. “Tower, Mustang Lead requesting taxi for takeoff.”

The Controller replied immediately. “Mustang Lead, clear to taxi for takeoff. Winds are Two-seven-five for eight. And good luck.”

“Roger, Tower, and thank you,” Guru called back. He taxied 512 onto the runway, and Kara followed in 520. A quick cockpit check showed everything set for takeoff, and a glance at 520 had Kara and Brainiac giving the thumbs-up. Guru and Goalie returned them, then it was time. “Tower, Mustang Lead requesting clear for takeoff.”

The tower didn't reply over the radio, but gave the usual response, by flashing a green light. Clear for takeoff.

“Canopy coming down,” Guru said, pulling down and locking his canopy, and Goalie did the same. He glanced at 520, and saw Kara and Brainiac having done the same. It was time. “Ready?”

“Let's go,” Goalie said.

“Here we go,” said Guru. He applied full power, released the brakes, and 512 rumbled down the runway and into the air, with 520 right with him. Thirty seconds later, it was Sweaty and Hoser's turn, then came Dave Golen and Flossy, with the RAF F-4Js bringing up the rear. The Marine Hornets followed the RAF, and all aircraft met up at FL 100. Then Guru flashed his formation lights, and the strike force headed south for the tankers.
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