Shades of Gray -- Prologue

An experiment and bits and pieces of a work in progress here. Stop back from time to time and share your comments.

What if Iran acquired the means to decapitate America's leadership? What if they acquired the political and religious will to act, and set a plan in motion? And what if a rag-tag band of passed over and past it has-beens, improbably enabled by a despised Pentagon poltroon, equipped with cast off and stolen hardware, set out to save the world?

It was a perfect start.

At 2136, exactly on time, the Tomcat threaded the needle through a precise point in space and time, high above and behind the carrier. The pilot, Will “Vike” Viestad, eased the throttles back to catch a 5,000 foot-per-minute rate of descent.

“One-Zero-Four commencing,” called Banjo, the Radar Intercept Officer, on the radio. Banjo was seated four feet behind the pilot in the tandem cockpit of the Grumman fighter.

This is computer generated video of an F-14 night carrier landing. It's not that realistic -- you can see too well! -- but gives a hint of what it's like.

Will  guided  the F-14B Tomcat down the center of the approach path as if the big jet were on rails. The aircraft was lively and responsive to his touch, and the instruments stayed glued to course and glideslope as it descended through the thin cloud deck. A grin spread across his face, hidden behind his oxygen mask. These were the supreme moments of his life; testing his skill against the unforgiving precision required to survive the next few minutes and make a successful landing on the tiny, invisible flight deck far below.

At ten miles from the ship he shallowed his descent to 2,500 feet-per-minute and Banjo called the controllers far below.

“One-Zero-Four, platform.”

“Roger, One-Zero-Four,” said the controller, monitoring a radar scope deep in the bowels of the ship. A few seconds later he added, “One-Zero-Four, on and on, eight miles, dirty up.”

As Will extended the tailhook and landing gear Banjo began the before-landing checklist over the inter-communications system (ICS). In response to Banjo’s challenges, Will moved or checked the appropriate switches and responded as each item gave the correct indication. In a few moments the aircraft was configured for a night carrier landing with wings swept forward, flaps and slats set, landing gear and tail hook down, speed brakes set, and external lights on.

“Harness?” said Banjo, completing the checklist.


“We’re gonna be a little fat at the ramp,” said Banjo.

Will pushed the fuel totalizer button and read 6,400 pounds of internal JP-5 fuel. They’d probably burn 400 pounds to reach the ramp, leaving them at 6,000 pounds of gas, which would place the weight of the jet 200 pounds over the max trap limit.

Will reached out with his left hand and toggled the fuel dump switch, releasing a gushing mist of JP-5 from the vent at the rear of the jet. He released the toggle and the totalizer read just under 6,200 pounds. The Tomcat would weigh 51,800 pounds at the ramp.

Precision, baby.

As the big jet intercepted the landing glideslope, the approach controller in the Carrier’s Air Traffic Control Center, ("CAT-see") verified that the Tomcat was positioned correctly for landing.

“One-Zero-Four, three miles, on and on.”

“One-Zero-Four,” replied Banjo from the back seat.

Twenty seconds later, “One-Zero-Four, on and on, three-quarter mile, call the ball.”

Here's the real deal from an A-6 Intruder. It's 15 minutes long but worth the time, IMO.

Will looked up, quickly transitioning his scan from the instrument panel to the external cues of meatball and lineup and the angle of attack indexer nestled on the glare shield above the instrument panel. Out in front of him lay the carrier, hidden in the inky night except for the datum lights and meatball of the Fresnell lens, just left of the landing area, centerline lights sequencing back to front down the middle of the landing area, and a vertical line of “drop” lights at the fantail, suspended from the centerline of the flight deck ramp and adding a third dimension to the picture. “Ball,” he said, keying the ICS switch, leaving Banjo to make the radio call.

“One-Zero-Four, Tomcat ball, five point eight,” said Banjo.

“Roger ball, Tomcat,” sang out the Landing Signal Officer, or LSO, “wind’s a little axial.”

As he flashed through the dark night toward the landing area, Will dipped the right wing momentarily as the “burble” of disturbed air in the wake of the carrier’s superstructure pushed at the aircraft with invisible fingers of force. The jet began to roll left in the disturbed air, and he quickly countered with right stick to level the wings.

But the stick wouldn’t move; it felt like it was anchored in concrete. The Tomcat continued to roll left, faster and faster. Will’s heart rose in his throat, and adrenaline slammed through his veins. The harder he tried to move the stick, the faster the jet rolled. The Tomcat screeched over the fantail completely inverted, and Will knew it was far too late to eject. He and Banjo were dead. Strangely, he could still see a centered ball and an on-speed indexer.

Even more strangely, the LSO radioed, “keep it coming, stay smooth.”

But strangest of all was Banjo’s call over the ICS. “I got it.”

“Got what?” wondered Will as he looked up through the top of the canopy at the deck rushing up to kill him. “He’s go no controls back there…aw, shit!”

Snapping to wakefulness, Will Viestad flung off the covers and planted his feet firmly on the carpeted floor. With shaking hands he wiped sweat from his eyes and looked wildly around the darkened room.

His bedroom. His house. Wyoming. No F-14, no Mediterranean Sea, no USS Stennis, no fiery death. Just another dream. He glanced at the bedside clock. Hell, time to get up anyway.


  1. Okay, you got my attention.

    I'd buy your book, based on this alone. Of course, I'm easy.

  2. With Hollywood’s release of the “50 shades” franchises, i think a *better* title is needed... maybe something more “air-worthy” like “unlimited ceiling” or... er... the specific jargon for 100% visibility... (which escapes me at this clouds, no haze, etc etc...)

    Also, with the Iranian intrique aspects, i think that introduces Waaayyy too much political drama to get us to a point of “aging/retired” warriors returning to the battlefield to “make things right” but all is not lost.

    Instead of Iranians being the “bad guys”, today’s threat of civil war 2 is scarily not all that hard to imagine... a conservative/liberal split could easily trigger widespread breakdowns in the US military.., with “DoD” being down-for-the-count, opportunistic foreign enemies might see the chance for expansion.

    Realistically, it would be Russia landing their forces and eliminating military threats on the East Coast. Or perhaps it would be China doing something similar on the West Coast? Or maybe both?

    On second thought, a dual coast invasion would probably really mess up the good old USA! However, perhaps Russia would be busy in Europe. And that way perhaps china would eliminate West Coast threats (for them) but we would be able to keep most of our assets on the East Coast?

    1. Great thoughts and insights. You should see what this has morphed into elsewhere. I'll post a teaser one of these days.

  3. ...and nearly a year later, other fans probably would enjoy other compositions of your creativity? And what brought me to re-visit “SOG” was the hope that you had created a “corpsman’s chronicles” option (to save me the labor of scrolling back through ALL of your previous posts to re-read the various other editions!)

    1. Now there's a great idea. I need to organize the CC stuff.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting cT!