Stephen Coonts Final Flight (Jake Grafton)

ISBN 13: 9780440204473

Final Flight (Jake Grafton)

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9780440204473: Final Flight (Jake Grafton)
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The most daring -- and deadly -- terrorist plot of all time is about to unfold aboard the supercarrier USS United States. If it succeeds, the balance of nuclear power will tilt in favor of a remorseless Arab leader. And it looks as if no one can stop it - except navy "jet jock" Jake Grafton. "Cag " Grafton is one helluva pilot. His F-14 Tomcat is one helluva plane. But some of Jake's crewmates have already vanished. A woman reporter who boarded the ship in Tangiers may not be who she claims to be. And Jake may have to disobey a direct order from the President himself for one spine-tingling, hair-raising Final Flight

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About the Author:

As a naval aviator, Stephen Coonts flew combat missions during the Vietnam War. A former attorney and the author of many New York Times bestselling novels, he resides with his wife in Colorado.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
THE PILOTS OF THE TWO F-14 D TOMCATS ON THE CATAPULTS shoved the throttles of their engines to full military power at the same time. Up on Vulture’s Row, high on the carrier’s island superstructure, the off-duty observers pushed their fingers even deeper into their ears as the roar of four mighty engines at full power became an unendurable, soulnumbing crescendo.
 
The bow catapult officer, seated facing aft at his control console between the catapults, returned the salute of the pilot of the fighter on Catapult One, glanced at the signal light on the island—still yellow—and looked over his shoulder, down the catapult toward the bow. The bow safety observer had his left hand up, his thumb in the air. The cat officer again scanned the fighter. Still okay.
 
In the waist catapult control console, the cat officer there looked across the nose of the fighter on Catapult Three at the signal light on the island superstructure. He, too, checked again to ensure the deck was clear.
 
The light on the island turned from yellow to green.
 
Simultaneously both launching officers scanned the length of their cats, looked again at the planes at full power, and pushed the fire buttons on their catapults.
 
Down below deck, the giant launching valves opened and steam slammed into the back of the catapult pistons.
 
Three seconds later the wheels of the two fighters ran off the deck and the wings bit the air.
In the plane off the bow catapult, the pilot, Captain Jake Grafton, slapped the gear handle up with his left hand. He allowed the nose to rise to eight degrees nose-up and held it there as he trimmed and the machine accelerated. At 200 knots he raised the flap handle. With the flaps up, he lowered the nose of the accelerating fighter and leveled at five hundred feet below the slate gray overcast.
 
Now he glanced back and left. His wingman, who had launched from Cat Three, was several hundred feet away in a loose formation. Jake eased the throttles aft a percent or two to give the other pilot a power advantage, then scanned his instruments. EGT, RPM, fuel flow, oil pressure, hydraulics, all okay. No warning lights.
 
“You okay back there?” he asked the Radar Intercept Officer, the RIO, in the seat behind him.
 
“Sure, CAG. No sweat.” The RIO was Lieutenant Toad Tarkington. He and Grafton had only flown together three times before today, since Jake, the air wing commander, divided his flying between the two F-14D squadrons, the two F/A-18 squadrons, and the squadron flying the A-6E.
 
The Tomcat accelerated quickly, its wings sweeping aft automatically as it accelerated through .7 Mach. At 500 knots indicated, with his wingman tucked in on the left wing, Jake Grafton pulled the stick back and pointed the fighter into the overcast.
 
Not a word had been said on the radio. The radar altimeter and TACAN had not been turned on. And the radars of both fighters were not transmitting.
 
Aboard the carrier from which the fighters had just launched, the USS United States, America’s newest Nimitz-class ship, total electronic silence was also being observed, as it was aboard the eight surface combatants arranged loosely in the miles of ocean around the carrier. No radars swept the skies. No radio signals were being broadcast. Yet down in the Combat Information Centers aboard every ship the sailors sat and listened for electronic signals from Soviet ships and planes.
 
Russian planes were aloft this afternoon over the North Atlantic searching for the United States. They had been searching for three days now and still hadn’t found her out here in these millions of square miles of ocean. The Americans were making the search as difficult as possible. The United States had been sailing east under a thick frontal system for five days, hidden from the cameras of reconnaissance satellites ever since she left Chesapeake Bay. Laden with moisture, the extensive cloud system covered a lot of ocean. The task group dashed from squall to squall; the rain would help mask the ships’ radar signature from Soviet satellites.
 
The exit into the North Atlantic had been aided by two nuclear-powered attack submarines. They had sailed from Norfolk the day before the carrier and located the Soviet snooper submarine that routinely lurked at the mouth of the bay. The American boats dashed back and forth at high speed to screen the noise of the departing task group, which slipped away to the southeast while the Russian vainly tried to sort out the screw noises of the warships from the cacophony made by the American subs and the dozen or so merchantmen entering and leaving the bay.
 
Part of the problem for the Soviets was that the American task group was not now where it should be, on the main sea lane from the Chesapeake to the Strait of Gibraltar. It was almost two hundred fifty miles south of it. So the Russians were still searching the huge, empty ocean, looking for a silent needle that moved erratically and relentlessly.
 
At present, the nearest Soviet ship was a trawler outfitted with an array of sensitive antennas two hundred miles to the northeast. The trawler’s crew would tattle to long-range naval bombers if they heard anything.
 
The search and evasion were games, of course, for the Soviets and the Americans. Each side was training its combat crews. Each side was letting the other see its capability. Each side sought to intimidate the other in order to prevent the final war that the citizens of neither country wanted.
 
In the cockpit of his F-14 Tomcat, Jake Grafton listened to the Electronic Counter-Measures equipment, the ECM. This gear could detect the transmissions of Soviet radars while the fighter was still so far away from the emitting radar that the signal would not return in a usable form—in other words, while the F-14 was still out of detection range. This afternoon Jake listened in vain. No radars yet. He watched the altimeter record their progress upward, and occasionally checked his wingman visually.
 
The two planes emerged from the clouds at 20,000 feet into clear air. To the west the sun was still twenty degrees above the horizon, but it was blurred and indistinct above a thin cirrus layer at about 40,000 feet. The light here was soft, diffused, and the visibility excellent. Jake leveled the flight at thirty thousand feet at .8 Mach, 300 knots indicated.
 
“Okay, CAG,” Toad said over the intercom, the ICS. “I’m receiving the E-2’s data link. Our targets are about a hundred and eighty miles away, bearing zero two zero.”
 
Jake came right to that heading and adjusted the brightness and gain on the Horizontal Situation Display on the instrument panel in front of his knees. On this scope he could see a copy of the picture the RIO had on the Tactical Information Display in the rear cockpit. Sure enough: there was the threat display.
 
Even though the American fighters and ships were not emitting, they could see the Russians. The United States was keeping an E-2 Hawkeye radar plane airborne around the clock. This twin-engine turboprop had waited until it was over a hundred miles from the ship before it turned on its radar, and then it data-linked everything it saw back to the ships and to any fighters aloft. The Hawkeye was an eye in the sky. It had located two Tupolev Tu-142 Bear bombers approaching from the north, still scanning the sea with their radars, searching. And aboard the United States, Jake, as the air wing commander, had decided to intercept the Bears.
 
Now the ECM warning light on the right window frame directly in front of Jake began to flash. “We’re receiving radar signals from Ivan,” Toad said. The main ECM panel was in his cockpit, since in combat the pilot would be too busy to check it.
 
“I don’t want these guys to know we’re coming until we’re on their tails,” Jake told his RIO. “What’s their heading?”
 
“They’re going two eight zero at about four hundred knots, sir. You may want to come right another twenty degrees—then when we pass behind their port beam, we’ll turn left and accelerate and come in on their stern quarter.”
 
“Gotcha,” Jake said, and turned right. He pumped his fist at his wingman and received a nod in reply. The other pilot dipped his nose and crossed under Jake, surfacing on the right wing. From this position he could ease further out and turn in behind the second bomber while Jake took the one on the left.

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