About the Book
Book 2 in the military/political espionage thriller SPECTRE series finds Spectre with a new job – and a new set of problems. His latest mission will force him to confront political deception, international terrorism… and devastating personal loss.
When fighter pilot Cal “Spectre” Martin is recruited by an unacknowledged government organization named Project Archangel, he believes the demons of his past have finally been laid to rest.
But when a top-secret mission to secure chemical weapons in Syria goes horribly wrong, Spectre finds himself thrust back into civilian life. Within days of his forced retirement, an unknown agent attempts to assassinate Spectre and his friends. Although Spectre escapes the assassination attempt, one of his friends is killed, and Spectre’s world is shattered by the loss.
Still hunted by the mysterious assassins and tormented with a need to exact vigilante justice, Spectre must decide whether to Avoid, Negotiate or Kill.
What They’re Saying…
“IR Verdict: AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL. is a tale that lovers of military thrillers won’t want to let pass them by…Lemoine’s style is a match made in heaven for readers with a Tom Clancy-shaped hole in their hearts.”
“Military Thriller fans looking for the next Brad Thor have found their savior in C.W. Lemoine’s Spectre series. “
Read the Excerpt
10 Miles Northeast of Al Hasakah, Syria
Avoid. Negotiate. Kill. They were the three basic tenets of Krav Maga that his Sensei had instilled in him since day one of his training.
First, he was to avoid confrontation. Some even called it the “Nike Defense.” Running away was generally the preferred option. Living to fight another day was the highest priority, regardless of what his ego said. He had already spent the last two days practicing the art of avoidance by evading and hiding. It hadn’t worked. The commandos of the al-Nusra Front captured him after he made initial contact with Iraqi Security Forces. He had exhausted that option.
His next priority was to negotiate. Sometimes a person could talk his way out of a situation. Maybe the attacker hadn’t fully resolved his will to fight. Maybe the attacker wanted something that wasn’t worth risking life and limb over. Or maybe a person could buy enough time for help to show up. As Cal “Spectre” Martin stared down the barrel of his own confiscated Beretta 92FS 9MM at point blank range, he realized that option was also no longer on the table. The man before him, in his torn and worn out camouflaged jacket and military pants, didn’t appear to be willing to negotiate as he shouted for Spectre to read the paper the man had given him. All Spectre could do now was kill.
His ribs were sore and his face was swollen. They had not been gentle in transporting him from his holed up location in the desert of Iraq to their small village, although from what he had noticed, it wasn’t much of a village. The locals had likely been driven out as the Syrian Opposition fighters had taken it over as a base of operations. It was mostly just a few small huts, war torn buildings and small trucks with bed-mounted machine guns.
“Read! Read!” the man holding the gun to his temple shouted from behind his black wiry beard. Spectre could feel the man’s spit and hot breath hit him as he pushed the cold gun barrel into Spectre’s temple.
Spectre picked up the piece of paper and looked into the tripod-mounted camera in front of him. He was kneeling in his desert khaki flight suit. His survival vest and radio had long since been stripped from him. The zippers of his flight suit pockets were starting to dig into his knees, adding to the pain.
“I can’t read this chicken scratch,” Spectre said, holding up the hand written piece of paper. He watched as the man sidestepped in front of him to see the paper. The hammer on his Beretta 92FS M9 wasn’t cocked and the safety was still on. Amateur.
“What? What you say?” the man asked in broken English as he sidestepped again and repositioned the gun to Spectre’s forehead. He was now standing between Spectre and the camera.
“You read! No excuse! Or you die!”
Spectre brought the paper up to his face as if to get a better look. It was time to kill. As his hands reached his eye level, he dropped the paper and instantly grabbed the man’s right wrist with his right hand and the barrel of the gun with his left. Falling to his side while securing the weapon, he flicked off the safety, squeezed through the double action of the fourteen-pound trigger, and fired at his shocked captor. The bullet struck the man in the throat and sent him stumbling back into the camera as he gasped through his last breaths.
Spectre reset his aim for the door. The small hut had only one door, and he remembered an armed guard standing watch as his captor, presumably a leader, had taken him in to make the propaganda video. Seconds later, the door flung open as a screaming attacker rushed in. Spectre sent two rounds to the man’s chest and followed up with a round to the head as the lone man fell forward.
Scrambling to his feet, Spectre rushed to the guard’s lifeless body. He grabbed the AK-47 from his hands and found two extra magazines and a fragmentation grenade in his pocket. Shooting his way out of the village had a low probability of success, but Spectre resolved to go down fighting. He wouldn’t make the mistake of being captured again.
Spectre put the extra magazines in his flight suit along with the Beretta and readied the AK-47. He had no idea how many men were alerted by the sounds of his gunshots, but he assumed the worst. He took a deep breath and stepped out into the crisp night air. Taking cover behind a burned out car in front of him, he watched as a group of men advanced toward his position.
He tried to get a feel for his surroundings as he waited for a clear shot. He was still unclear of exactly where he was in the village and what the best route of escape was. They had kept a burlap sack over his head as they had walked him from his initial holding location to the small building where he had been held. The sack had been just worn out enough that he could barely make out guards as they shuffled him into the building. He knew he was roughly one hundred paces from his original location, but that was it.
He looked around as he crouched behind the car. He could see clear night air behind him and more huts to his left and in front of him. Fight or flight. Spectre had a decision to make. It was time to revert back to avoidance until that option was once again exhausted. He would never be able to hold his position with the combined one hundred rounds of 7.62 x 39 and 9MM for his AK-47 and Beretta 92FS.
Holding his rifle low and ready, he took off in a sprint toward the rear of the long building. As he reached the corner, rounds began peppering the walls as the men saw him. He took cover and assessed his new position. It was completely dark. Desert. He could tell by the dark abyss behind him that he had been held near the edge of the village.
Spectre held up his rifle as he peered around the corner. As one of the men reached the burned out car in front of the building, Spectre fired off two rounds that sent the man running for cover. Spectre sprinted to the opposite corner of the building. The other two men were attempting to flank his position from the opposite side. He pulled the pin on the grenade and tossed it in their direction. The grenade landed between the two men, sending shrapnel and debris everywhere as it exploded.
He sprinted back to the opposite corner and took aim at the man behind the burned out car. As the man peered around the rear bumper, Spectre fired a round, hitting the man in the forehead and instantly dropping him face first into the dirt.
Spectre could hear vehicles in the distance as more men approached. He took off into the darkness, his boots kicking up sand as he sprinted through the soft desert. He could hear the yells of the rebel fighters behind him as the vehicles got closer. At this rate, he would be overrun before he reached civilization.
Clearing the first sand dune, he turned around and dropped to a prone position while taking aim toward the village. He could see two vehicles with mounted machine guns and spotlights quickly approaching the edge of the village. They were firing wildly in his direction, but in the darkness, their un-aimed shots were in vain.
Spectre cleared his weapon and checked his magazine. They would surely run him down if he kept running. It was time to make his last stand and go down swinging. At least he had made it this far.
Qayyarah Airfield West
30 Miles South of Mosul, Iraq
2 Days Earlier
“Alright, gents, we got the call,” the man said, standing in front of their makeshift briefing room. It was an assortment of folding chairs in front of a white sheet being used as a projector screen. The dusty room had raised wooden floors and stucco walls. They had been using it as their operations center since arriving in country two days prior.
Spectre took his seat in one of the front folding chairs as the other dozen men gathered around. They were a mix of special operators with full beards in desert tactical clothing and clean shaven pilots in tan flight suits with shoulder holsters supporting their issued M9 9MM handguns.
The man waited for everyone to sit down as he quickly reviewed his notes. Although Charles “Ironman” Steele was nearly fifty-five years old, he didn’t look a day over forty. He had spent most of his career flying F/A-18s for the Navy, with a brief tour embedded with the SEALS as an Air Liaison Officer and embedded Joint Terminal Attack Controller. Despite being the director of the organization and spending most of his time behind a desk or mission-planning computer, Ironman was still able to keep up with even the most lethal operators of the group.
He was in charge of an elite group called Project Archangel. Comprised of former pilots and Special Operations Forces members from all services, Ironman reported directly to the Secretary of Defense. Officially, they were Department of Defense contractors. Unofficially, they were the SECDEF’s go-to unit when the President needed plausible deniability in matters involving delicate foreign relations. Specializing in self-sustained surgical strike and counterterrorism operations, the group could be deployed anywhere in the world without a need for U.S. Military air or ground support.
In fact, Project Archangel was best known for its ability to provide its own Close Air Support and Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. With a fleet of Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos, MH-6 Little Bird Helicopters, UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopters, Pilatus PC-12s configured as U-28s, and MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Project Archangel employed some of the best combat pilots in the world.
A former F-16 pilot, Spectre had been hired by Project Archangel a year prior. Ironman approached him at the funeral of Spectre’s ex-fiancée after he and his friends infiltrated an abandoned air base in Cuba and recovered an F-16 that had fallen into the wrong hands. Six months later, Spectre found himself in the cockpit again, flying the A-29 Super Tucano after completing a rigorous training program. The group required all pilots to receive comprehensive armed and unarmed combat training before beginning the aircraft checkout. Despite Spectre’s black belt in Krav Maga, an Israeli fighting system, he was required to demonstrate proficiency in the same tactics and techniques as the former Special Operations Forces operators.
“As you know, five days ago, a team of U.N. Chemical Weapons Experts was captured by Syrian Opposition Forces along with the Sarin and VX gas canisters they were attempting to destroy,” Ironman said as he advanced the PowerPoint slide on his laptop.
Spectre remembered all too well the gruesome images of the four team members – three men and one woman – being tortured and killed by supposed “Freedom Fighters” of the al-Nusra Front. The video had been broadcast by Al Jazeera hours after it had been uploaded. In it, the rebels accused the inspectors and international community of taking the side of a despotic ruler who had used those same chemical weapons on his own people. They vowed to take the weapons themselves to fully ensure they could never be used again.
The problem with that, in the eyes of the United States Intelligence Community, was that it was widely believed that the Syrians had never used chemical weapons against their own people. The Opposition Forces, infiltrated by al-Nusra and Al Qaeda, had used them in an attempt to draw the United States into another regional conflict – this time against the Syrian government.
Knowing the U.S. didn’t have the stomach for putting boots on the ground in another drawn out regime change, the leaders of the al-Nusra Front would use American and coalition airpower as its own air arm. Once the regime toppled, they would be able to install a more sectarian, Islamic government as they had done in Egypt and Libya.
“This morning, we managed to locate the four transport vehicles just north of Al Hasakah in Syria. This is a stronghold of al-Nusra and Syrian Opposition Forces. We believe that the weapons will be transferred tomorrow to separate transport vehicles and be distributed throughout the region. HUMINT sources also suggest that some of those weapons will be smuggled into Iraq and Turkey for use against the U.S. Embassy.” He advanced past slides showing possible routes through Syria.
“Tonight, we will secure the weapons,” Ironman said, pausing as he advanced to the next slide. The screen had changed from a black and white aerial surveillance photo of truck transports to an image of an Arab man with a thick, dark beard. “And our secondary objective will be to capture this man, Tarik Al-Usra. He’s a mid-level commander of the al-Nusra front in this region. Questions so far?”
Ironman looked around the room with his usual intense stare and furrowed brow. To anyone that hadn’t worked with him, Ironman was an intimidating hardass. His shaved head and general lack of neck made him look like an NFL linebacker. However, to everyone that had known and worked for him, Ironman was a great leader who cared for his people with a huge soft side for his two daughters back home.
“Shorty will be the mission commander tonight. The floor is yours,” Ironman said as he nodded forward and took his seat in the front row.
Spectre chuckled to himself as Jake “Shorty” Roberts stood. At six foot four, the man was anything but short. He had spent most of his military career flying MH-6 “Little Bird” helicopters and UH-60 Blackhawks for the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Known by most as the “Nightstalkers,” they were the Army’s most elite helicopter unit, flying missions around the world in support of Special Forces and made famous by the movie Blackhawk Down in which a UH-60 was shot down during the Battle of Mogadishu.
“Thanks, Ironman,” Shorty said as he took his place at the front of the room. He stroked his bushy “deployment stache” as he set up his notes. “Our expected launch time is 0100 local tonight. Weather reports clear skies and no significant weather forecasted. We will launch in two waves. Wave One will be two Little Birds, each with two four man teams of operators, callsign Chariot One-One and One-Two.”
Spectre took notes on his kneeboard card as Shorty went through the lineup. It was his second deployment with the team and his first time back in Iraq since he had been grounded by the Air Force after an Emergency Close Air Support mission in the F-16.
Six years prior, he and his flight lead had been retasked to support a Troops In Contact scenario with a convoy that had been ambushed. After the Joint Terminal Attack Controller was killed, Spectre was forced to provide Close Air Support to the convoy using an unqualified controller while his flight lead was refueling with the tanker. He had saved many lives, but the violation of the Rules of Engagement set by the deployed Operations Group Commander at the time cost him his career.
“Coach” Louhan had grounded him and sent him home after sending a damning e-mail to the Chief of the Air Force Reserve Command. The result was a reassignment to a non-flying billet and a pledge that Spectre would never fly an AFRC aircraft again. Instead, Spectre resigned and found employment in a gun store while his fiancée continued flying with his former squadron, the 39th Fighter Squadron “Gators.”
It was only mildly satisfying to Spectre that Coach was most likely rotting in some federal prison, having been convicted of selling secrets and sensitive information to a Cuban Intelligence agent. The man deserved much worse than a country club prison. He had cost Spectre his career and his relationship with his fiancée.
“Wave Two will take off when Wave One reaches our makeshift Forward Operating Base near the Syrian Border. This should give the two Little Birds time to refuel before entering hostile airspace. Wave Two will consist of a Super Tucano, callsign Venom Two-One, and a PC-12, callsign Magic Three-One,” Shorty said as he clicked through more slides.
“Spectre, you’ll be solo on this one as Venom Two-One,” Shorty said, nodding to Spectre. Spectre nodded as he continued to scribble notes. The A-29 was a two seat turboprop light attack aircraft. For more complex missions or missions requiring surveillance, another pilot would often act as a sensor operator in the back to allow the pilot to focus on flying and keeping his eyes out of the cockpit and on the objective. Spectre didn’t mind going solo though. He had spent most of his career as a single seat fighter pilot doing all the aviating, navigating, and communicating by himself. He was used to it.
“Once Chariot flight has refueled, Venom Two-One will escort them into Syrian airspace at low altitude. Magic Three-One will sniff ahead for any surface to air threats, and if necessary, provide Electronic Attack against the Syrian Air Defense. Latest intel reports the Eastern Region is down, so it should not be a factor, and the Pilatus can focus on confirming the location of the chemical weapons using onboard sensors.”
“What about manpads?” Spectre asked, referring to man portable shoulder fired surface to air missiles.
“Our ingress route is clear and it’s in a fairly isolated area. Plus, we have the element of surprise. Should be fairly low threat.”
Spectre continued taking notes. He didn’t like trusting that one of the most advanced Integrated Air Defense Systems in the world was inoperative during a civil war. The Syrians were equipped with some of the latest in advanced Russian Surface to Air Missile Technology, and the rebel fighters even had American Stinger surface to air missiles, provided earlier in the war by the CIA.
The good news, however, was that even if the Intel analysts were wrong and the Eastern Sector was still working, their Pilatus had an impressive electronics and jamming suite that could handle even the most advanced IADS. The only thing the Pilatus couldn’t do was protect Spectre and the other aircraft from the Stingers, but each aircraft had its own robust self-protection suite with flares designed specifically to defend against manpad threats.
The Pilatus PC-12 was a single engine turboprop civilian aircraft. For Project Archangel, it was a workhorse. With advanced sensors and intelligence gathering equipment, it was a self-contained spy plane, but it also included advanced jamming Electronic Attack pods that could jam even the newest in Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar technology. And to top it off, it could even land on unimproved airstrips and drop off or pick up operators from the field. It was a jack-of-all-trades.
“Once the Pilatus has confirmed the location of the weapons, code word ‘Mary Jane,’ the Little Birds will drop off the two teams to visually confirm serial numbers and destroy the weapons. Venom Two-One, you’ll transition to armed overwatch while Chariot One-One and One-Two hold to the east. Once the weapons are accounted for and destroyed, expect a hot extract and exfil as the Syrian Rebel fighters wake up and realize what’s going on. But we should not be in country for more than thirty minutes from the moment we cross the border. Any questions?”
“What’s the EPA for this mission?” a voice behind Spectre asked. He didn’t have to turn around to recognize the voice of Joe Carpenter, his long time friend and former Air Force JTAC.
He had known Carpenter since college, but the two had gone their separate ways since. Spectre had opted to find a job flying fighters for the Air Force Reserve while Carpenter had joined the Army and became an Army Ranger. Years later, Carpenter transferred to the Air Force, where he became a JTAC while searching for a more aviation-oriented career.
Along with close friend, Marcus Anderson, and an up and coming Air Force Office of Special Investigations Special Agent, Carpenter had helped Spectre assault the Cuban Air Base and steal back the missing F-16 while rescuing his fiancée. And when Spectre was asked to join Project Archangel, Spectre made his acceptance contingent upon bringing Carpenter along as a JTAC. Carpenter couldn’t refuse the generous pay and high-speed missions using the latest technology.
“The Evasion Plan of Action is fairly standard,” Shorty replied. “Avoid populated areas, lines of communication, and contact with indigenous personnel. Proceed east to the desert and find a hole-up site where you can establish communication. If able to establish comms, we’ll work a pickup plan with on-scene assets. If unable, make your way to the border. We’ll find you and work out a Combat Search and Rescue.”
“And if captured?” Carpenter pressed.
“The Syrian Opposition Forces are comprised of factions friendly to Al Qaeda and al-Nusra forces. You saw what they did to the U.N. inspectors. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but don’t get captured. Any other questions?”
Shorty waited as pilots and operators around the room shook their heads.
“Alright then, let’s roll,” Shorty said as he closed the laptop and grabbed his files.
As the pilots and operators grabbed their mission materials and shuffled out of the small room, Spectre was stopped by Carpenter.
“Hey, Cal, wait up a second,” he said, pulling Spectre to the side as the others cleared out of the room.
“What’s up, Joe?”
“Are you going to be ok man?” Carpenter asked. His brown eyes showed the concern of a long time friend and colleague.
“We’ve done this before, Joe. I’ll be fine,” Spectre replied. It was his second deployment as a pilot with Project Archangel since completing his indoctrination and training. Before going to Iraq, he had spent most of the last month in the Horn of Africa chasing down Somali pirates and disrupting Al Qaeda training camps flying both the A-29 and PC-12.
“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about Iraq. I’m talking about what happened in Basra,” Carpenter pressed.
Spectre paused for a minute. His deployments to Iraq had haunted him for years after leaving the Air Force to work for his long time friend and Krav Maga sparring partner Marcus Anderson in his gun store in Florida City, FL. The recurring nightmares only got worse after his fiancée went missing in an F-16 during a routine training exercise. He just kept reliving the career changing moments over and over, as if his mind were stuck searching for answers for why his life had changed so suddenly. His last deployment to Iraq had changed him forever.
“This is different,” he replied, shaking off the nightmares. “I’m different.”
Carpenter looked Spectre over for a minute. At just over six feet tall, Spectre was just barely taller than Carpenter was, and except for his lighter brown hair and sky blue eyes, Spectre could have easily passed for Carpenter’s brother.
“Alright man. If you say you’re good, I believe you. Just let me know if you need to talk. I don’t think the boss brought beer into this country, but I’ll buy you a Rip-It.”
“Thanks, brother,” Spectre replied as the two exchanged a fist bump.
5 Miles West of Sinjar, Iraq
“Chariot One-One and One-Two are airborne,” Shorty announced over the secure radio, breaking a long silence. Spectre had been orbiting at medium altitude as he watched the two helicopters refuel from an Iraqi Air Force CH-47 Chinook at the improvised Forward Operating Base through his Night Vision Goggles.
Despite the Scorpion Helmet Mounted Display he wore that allowed him to wear Night Vision Goggles and still have mission data displayed in his visor, Spectre hated night missions. It was a hatred he had picked up from hours of droning over Iraq at night in the F-16. The Night Vision Goggles were bulky and usually gave him a headache. Spatial Disorientation had been a real threat in the F-16, even causing one of his former squadron mates and several other F-16 pilots to eject after losing relative orientation to the horizon. It just wasn’t comfortable.
But most of those issues had happened on moonless, horizonless nights. Tonight, the moon was full and the forecasted illumination was nearly one hundred percent. With the NVGs, the moon was as bright as the sun, nearly turning night into day. Even without them, it was still bright enough to see the desert terrain below.
“Magic Three-One is Showtime,” a female voice said over the secure radio. Spectre looked out and saw the datalink circle projected in his visor over the flashing covert strobe out in the distance. It was the Pilatus PC-12, piloted by “Jenny” Craig and a crew of sensor operators. She had made the call to indicate she was crossing into Syrian airspace and was en route to locate the chemical weapons and any potential surface to air threats in the area.
Spectre was glad to have the PC-12 on this mission, but he was hoping the intelligence reports were right and it wouldn’t be necessary. The Syrian Army had reportedly moved all of its short range, mobile surface to air Missile systems to Damascus after saber rattling from the Israelis over destroying the chemical weapons caches in country. The Syrian Air Force had also set up most of its alert fighters to the west, leaving the area Spectre and his team was flying in mostly unguarded by Syrian forces.
Spectre reached forward and flipped the MASTER ARM switch to ARM as he escorted the helicopters into Syrian airspace. They were flying a nap-of-the-earth profile, barely fifty feet above the desert and terrain as the two teams of four hung on the skids of the small helicopters. The Super Tucano’s sixteen hundred shaft horsepower turbine engine droned effortlessly as Spectre maintained a 250 knot racetrack pattern around the slower helicopters at just over one thousand feet above them.
Checking his Situational Awareness Display on the multifunction display above his right knee, Spectre toggled through the various menus. He checked to ensure that this Radar Warning Receiver and Threat Indicators were showing ready. These systems would alert him if any enemy radars, airborne or ground-based, were targeting him, as well as alert him if it detected a manpad launch. The system integrated with his Counter-Measure Dispensing System, allowing the aircraft to react with chaff and flares as appropriate against various threat systems.
Satisfied that his self-protection suite was ready, Spectre switched to his Stores Management Display Page. He was loaded out with two five hundred pound GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, two Israeli made Python 5 air-to-air heat-seeking missiles, a rocket pod, and two hundred rounds of .50 caliber bullets.
“Chariot flight, five mikes,” Shorty announced over the secure radio, indicating they were five minutes out from dropping the eight-man team off at the Landing Zone. The team would then have a short one-kilometer hike to the small rebel outpost where the chemical weapons were in the process of being transferred.
“Magic Three-One has a fix on Mary Jane, sending now,” the female voice replied. They were all using a common tactical datalink through which they could pass coordinates and secure messages. Spectre’s screen flashed briefly to notify him that he had a new message. Using the toggle on his throttle, he cycled through the pages, loading the coordinates for the chemical weapons. He created a steerpoint in his system and a green diamond appeared in the desert on his display in his visor. He slewed the targeting pod in the A-29’s nose onto it and the MFD showed a clear, black and white infrared image of four trucks. The intel had been dead on.
As Spectre slewed the targeting pod around the trucks, looking for other vehicles and hostiles, he was suddenly alerted by a low-pitched beeping in his headset. His heart sank as he flipped to his Situational Awareness Display.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he said as the exhale valve on his oxygen mask began to click faster with every breath.
Using the cursor on his throttle, Spectre scrolled to the threat indicator symbol on his display and pressed down on the threat icon. Moments later, “MiG-21” popped up in red. His aircraft was being targeted.
“Venom Two-One, spiked 270, Fishbed,” Spectre said, letting the other members know that his Radar Warning Receiver was showing the MiG-21 air-to-air fighters in the area.
“Magic Three-One shows same,” Jenny responded from the PC-12.
“No way,” Spectre mumbled to himself. He didn’t want to believe it. The Syrians used the MiG-21 Fishbed as an interceptor. They had just moved them all to Damascus. Based on what Spectre had been briefed, there was no way they were this far east on a scramble order – especially not with the threat of the Israelis doing a strike from the west. It just didn’t make sense.
The low-pitched beeping stopped as Spectre turned back east on his racetrack orbit around the two helicopters. He intensely watched his display to see if his rear Radar Warning Receiver antennas would also pick up the spike. He loved the Super Tucano and its capabilities for Close Air Support, but now he desperately wished he were in a fighter with a radar and long range radar guided missiles. He felt as if he were flying blindly into a thunderstorm with an ultralight.
Spectre held his breath as the two helicopters passed underneath him on the way to their LZ. If they really were being targeted by Syrian fighters, there would be no time to waste in making the call to scrub the mission and high tail it back to the Iraqi border. As the escort fighter, it was Spectre’s call to make.
“Magic Three-One spiked, 270,” Jenny reported. The MiG had swapped lock and was targeting the Pilatus. Time to make a tactical retreat.
“All players, Retrograde! Green east!” Spectre called, using the codeword to indicate that the area was no longer safe due to an air-to-air threat and directing all aircraft to leave the area toward friendly territory.
“Chariot copies Retrograde,” Shorty responded calmly, seemingly unfazed by the notion that an air threat was looming.
Spectre watched as the blue circles on his display representing the PC-12 and two helicopters turned back toward the east. He made a hard turn to the west to pick up the PC-12 visually and hopefully the nearby MiG-21.
“Magic Three-One hard spike!” Jenny exclaimed. The MiG-21 was now locked on to the PC-12 inside of ten miles and had become an imminent threat.
Spectre looked out into the night sky where the locator line and segmented circle on his helmet-mounted display showed Magic to be. He picked up their covert strobe through the NVGs and firewalled the throttle, immediately causing the Allison PT-6A turboprop to roar to life from its previous steady drone.
“Bug out east!” Spectre exclaimed as he dashed toward the PC-12. It had been flying higher than Spectre and the two helicopters in order to find the chemical weapons trucks.
“Music on!” Jenny replied, letting everyone know that the PC-12 had engaged its self-protection jammer to attempt to break the lock of the MiG-21 and counter any radar guided missiles.
Spectre scanned for the enemy fighters as he headed for the PC-12. The datalink distance showed that he was five miles away and closing as Jenny and her crew headed toward friendly Iraqi airspace.
“Tally one!” Spectre exclaimed as he picked up the flashing strobe of the MiG-21. He slewed the targeting diamond of the Python-5 heat-seeking missile in his visor onto the flashing strobe and uncaged it. A solid tone sounded in his headset to let him know that the missile had locked on and was tracking.
Spectre’s heart was racing. He had only been in one air-to-air engagement before, and it had been against two MiG-29s he engaged after flying a stolen F-16 out of Cuba. It had been the most thrilling and terrifying experience of his life, but that had been during the daytime. Dogfighting at night was exponentially more frightening – especially in an aircraft that was never built to fight in the air-to-air arena.
He held his right thumb next to the red “pickle button” on the stick and waited as he closed the distance. He didn’t want to take a shot with the PC-12 between him and the MiG and risk the missile guiding and fusing on the wrong aircraft. He needed a clear shot.
The PC-12 merged with Spectre as he continued toward the MiG. As the PC-12 passed him, it suddenly let loose a string of self-protection flares that washed out the image on Spectre’s Night Vision Goggles, causing him to lose sight of the incoming MiG. Spectre recaged his missile as the solid tone in his headset changed, indicating the missile had lost track through the string of Jenny’s flares.
“Missile in the air!” Jenny exclaimed as she started a hard left hand turn with the aircraft.
As the image in his goggles once again became clear, he looked over his shoulder to see the MiG’s missile guide on a flare and explode several hundred feet behind Jenny’s aircraft. Spectre immediately turned back to see the MiG-21 merging head on with him with another MiG following in trail. Two of them!
In the split-second he had to make the decision, Spectre chose to turn with the lead aircraft. He knew it would cost him the advantage by putting him between the two aircraft, but it was the only way to save the PC-12 from the pursuing MiG-21. He had to deal with the nearest threat first.
Spectre took a deep breath as he started the hard left turn. It was an old habit from his F-16 dogfighting days to prepare for the 9G turn. Pulling 6Gs in the A-29 was much more gentlemanly, and although the NVGs and Scorpion display weighed down his head, it was significantly more comfortable than he remembered fighting in the F-16. His G-suit inflated in response to the building G-forces as he craned his neck around and pulled straight back on the stick.
The lead MiG-21 continued closing on the PC-12 as it made its left turn. Although the A-29 didn’t have the thrust to weight ratio he would have liked, it had a significant turn radius advantage, and in seconds, he was able to get his helmet-mounted sight on the MiG-21.
With the Python-5’s targeting diamond on the MiG-21, Spectre uncaged the missile again and waited for the solid tone. Once the missile indicated it was tracking and satisfied that he was targeting the right aircraft, Spectre pressed the red pickle button on the top of the control stick with his thumb. The aircraft rocked slightly as the air-to-air missile went flying toward its target in the moonlit sky. Spectre’s NVGs once again washed out as the rocket motor burned bright en route to its target.
“Fox two!” Spectre called. The missile guided on the lead MiG-21, piercing through its narrow body and exploding in a brilliant and bright fireball behind the turning PC-12.
“Splash one! Bug out east!” Spectre directed as he searched for the other MiG-21. The hair on the back of his neck was now standing straight up as he continued his tight turn and further bled down airspeed. He knew the second MiG wasn’t far behind.
“Green east! What’s your status?” Jenny asked.
Spectre searched frantically for the second MiG. He transitioned to a no-sight defense, continuing his tight turn as he descended toward the desert floor. As he looked up, he suddenly saw the muzzle flash of the MiG-21 attempting to employ the gun from high to low. Unable to follow the tight turn radius of Spectre’s Super Tucano, the Syrian pilot had elected to use its excess power to create vertical turning room.
“Venom Two-One is engaged, get out of here!” Spectre said as he attempted to jink to avoid the volley of 23MM bullets. The MiG-21 swooped down from above. Spectre tried to jink, but the controls were too sluggish as the Super Tucano’s large, straight wing struggled to maintain lift and stalled. The aircraft shuddered as a stray bullet hit the fuselage.
Pushing the stick forward to unload and regain airspeed, Spectre rolled out of the tight turn. The MiG-21 made an aggressive pull back to the vertical in an attempt to reposition and try again. With the MiG’s nose off him, Spectre traded in the airspeed he had gained as he planted the stick in his lap and pulled the nose straight into the vertical.
“Fade away jump shot,” Spectre said to himself with a soft chuckle as he uncaged the Python-5 on the bright afterburner plume of the MiG-21 and hit the pickle button. The aircraft rocked as the missile was sent screaming toward the MiG-21. Like the first, it guided and fused right through the center of the MiG’s Coke bottle fuselage and exploded, creating a bright fireball.
“Chariot is Millertime,” Shorty called, using the codeword to indicate his flight had reentered Iraqi airspace.
“Venom, status?” Jenny asked.
The nose of the Super Tucano was still pointed straight up as Spectre unloaded and rolled the aircraft onto its back to recover from the nearly vertical nose-high attitude. As he did, he heard “WARNING” in his headset as the caution panel in front of him lit up.
“Venom is bugging out east,” Spectre said as he reached level flight and rolled the aircraft back upright. He quickly scanned his instruments. His oil pressure and engine indications seemed to be good. As the turbine engine shuddered, he noticed the fuel quantity was now reading less than two hundred and fifty pounds.
Regaining his orientation, Spectre started a hard turn back to east and initiated a steady climb. The MiG had pierced his fuselage fuel tank. His fuel quantity was low and the fuel pump would soon start to cavitate. He reached up and pushed the EMERGENCY JETTISON BUTTON with his left hand. The jet rocked as the two five hundred pound bombs and rocket pod fell from the wing pylons. His only hope was to set up a good glide profile and hope to make it into friendly territory before having to eject.
“Venom Two-One is wounded bird,” Spectre declared. “Ten miles west.”
“Venom Two-One, status?” a concerned Jenny requested again.
“Venom Two-One, wounded bird,” Spectre replied.
“Venom do you hear me?”
Spectre checked his radio. He was receiving her fine, but no one seemed to be hearing him transmit. The round that had pierced his fuel tank must have also damaged his communications equipment. That would also mean that they weren’t seeing him on the datalink either.
Spectre shook it off and focused on flying the airplane. Aviate, navigate, and then communicate. There was no reason to worry about the lack of communication at that point. He was still in a hostile country with a motor that was starting to surge.
As Spectre climbed through eight thousand feet, the reliable Allison turboprop finally flamed out due to fuel starvation. Spectre immediately feathered the prop to reduce drag as he pushed over to catch his best glide airspeed. He had a fairly stiff headwind, but his calculations indicated he would at least make it to the border before having to bail out. Things could have been worse.
Spectre raised his visor and removed his Night Vision Goggles and Scorpion helmet mounted sight. His goal now was to make his ejection as survivable as possible. He briefly considered landing the aircraft, but with soft sand and unknown terrain, he realized his most survivable option would be to eject.
“In the blind,” Spectre said, keying his radio. “Venom Two-One is bailing out.”
Spectre tightened his harness and secured all of his kneeboard cards and maps as his Super Tucano glided toward the Iraqi border. The drone of the turboprop had been replaced by the eerily quiet wind whistling across the canopy. Spectre stared at the moving map display as his aircraft’s magenta icon approached the border. With the radar altimeter showing two thousand feet and the aircraft showing just beyond the jagged Iraqi border, Spectre said a small prayer as he grabbed the yellow ejection seat handle between his legs with both hands, put his head against the Martin Baker Ejection Seat’s head box, and pulled the handle.