Authors: Stephen Coonts
First published in 2012 by Forge
First published in Great Britain in 2012 by
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
Copyright © 2012 by Stephen Coonts
copyright © 1999 by Stephen Coonts
‘The 17th Day’ copyright © 2003 by Stephen Coonts
‘Al- Jihad’ copyright © 2001 by Stephen Coonts
The moral right of Stephen Coonts to be
identified as the author of this work has been
asserted in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
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information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available
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eBook ISBN 978 1 78206 103 8
ISBN 978 1 78206 101 4 (HB)
ISBN 978 1 78206 102 1 (TPB)
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
businesses, organizations, places and events are
either the product of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events or
locales is entirely coincidental.
You can find this and many other great books at:
ALSO BY STEPHEN COONTS
Saucer: The Conquest
Fortunes of War
The Red Horsemen
Flight of the Intruder
WITH WILLIAM H. KEITH
Deep Black: Death Wave
Deep Black: Sea of Terror
Deep Black: Arctic Gold
WITH JIM DEFELICE
Deep Black: Conspiracy
Deep Black: Jihad
Deep Black: Payback
Deep Black: Dark Zone
Deep Black: Biowar
The Cannibal Queen
On Glorious Wings
War in the Air
WRITING AS EVE ADAMS
The Garden of Eden
To Rachael, Lara, David, and Tyler
Airplanes have fascinated me since my first airplane ride at the age of six.
Sea Witch resulted from daydreaming about the PBY Catalina, the most numerous allied seaplane of World War II and the one that made the largest contribution to the allied war effort. Manufactured by Consolidated Aircraft, the Catalina first flew in 1935 and was obsolete by 1941. Still, it was relatively cheap and in production when the war arrived; over four thousand of them were built before production ceased in 1945.
The Catalina had two engines mounted in nacelles on the wing, a fully cantilevered design that was mounted on a pedestal to get the props well above swells and sea spray. The design was continuously updated with more
powerful engines, acrylic glass blisters for the waist guns, improved armor and electrical systems, and self-sealing fuel tanks. The first versions were true flying boats, but later in the war retractable wheels were added to some versions so they could land and take off ashore or on water, increasing the plane’s utility at the expense of its weight-carrying capacity and range.
Amphibious Catalinas flew into the 1980s as water-bombers and island transports. Even today a few are still flying as toys for the wealthy. Margarita-man Jimmy Buffett owned one for years, as did oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
Although painfully slow, cruising at about 100 to 110 knots, loud, unheated, unpressurized, and uncomfortable, the flying-boat versions of the Catalina could carry fuel for over twenty hours of flight, giving them extraordinary range. They were used in every imaginable role, including ocean reconnaissance, air-sea rescue, mine-laying, and antisubmarine warfare. A few squadrons in the western Pacific painted their Catalinas flat black and attacked Japanese warships and freighters at night. Between August 1943 and January 1944, Black Cat squadrons sank 112,700 tons of Japanese shipping, damaged another 47,000 tons, and damaged ten warships.
You will find Catalinas at several aviation museums, including the San Diego Air and Space Museum, the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The best display, however, is probably at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. A complete
restored Cat hangs from the ceiling. Displayed on the floor under it is a cutaway version of the hull, complete with manikin pilots and crewmen, machine guns, a bomb sight, a drift-indicating instrument, radios, bunks, and a coffeepot. You can put your nose right up to the glass and really look.
That display will fire your imagination. You are somewhere over the great ocean on a deep Pacific night, you and your mates have found an enemy ship, and you are going to attack!
The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, perhaps the most revolutionary aircraft to enter military service since the first helicopter, is the airplane featured in the novella
. A transport that can land and take off vertically, the plane was number one on the U.S. Marines’ wish list for a generation, which was how long it took to design, manufacture, test, tinker, and get it into service. The engineering and aerodynamic problems were immense, and, many thought, insolvable. One of the largest was the necessity of keeping the machine aloft if one engine failed: The solution was an automatic transmission that allowed one engine to turn both rotors. The first flight of the Osprey took place in 1989, yet it didn’t become operational until 2007, eighteen years later. The machine takes full advantage of the latest computer technology to help it remain aloft and controllable.
With two turboprop engines mounted on the ends of the wings, the Osprey has a unique look. One must be both a fixed-wing and helicopter pilot to fly it. I had the good fortune to fly the simulator in the late 1990s, an
experience that eventually led to
. I also used the V-22 in the novel
, published in 1999.
The 17th Day
was a short story that came from my fascination with World War I aviation. I have always wanted to write a novel about WWI aviators, but it hasn’t happened yet.
The planes of the Great War were little more than flying shipping crates. Made of wood, fabric, piano wire, and engines that weren’t ready for prime time, they flew without armor, self-sealing fuel tanks, or, except late in the war, oxygen for the pilots. The fabric was treated with a chemical called dope to tighten it up, and the stuff burned easily. In fact, the whole plane was a flying match-head, especially when the fuel tank was spewing gasoline from bullet holes onto the hot parts of the engine. Amazingly, the pilots and gunner/observers flew without parachutes.
The planes were also difficult to fly. These machines did not fly like the Cessnas and Pipers of our day. The margin between their stall speed and maximum airspeed was often painfully thin, which led to a great many stall/spin accidents, inevitably fatal. None of these WWI machines had brakes, merely a steerable tail skid. They had no altitude instruments, no electrical system, and only a rudimentary compass.
Aeronautical engineering was still an occult art when these planes were designed, mostly by eye. If it looked about right, they gave it to a test pilot to see if he could get it off the ground. Even the designs that made it into
service had a depressing habit of shedding wings in dives or turns and having fabric peel off.
Early scouts flew with rotary engines, which had good power-to-weight ratios. The spinning engine—yes, the whole engine revolved around a fixed crankshaft—acted like a giant flywheel, imparting a tremendous torque to the airframe, which had to be overcome by design features and pilot input on the controls. These airplanes turned well in one direction, with the torque assisting, and poorly in the other.
The rotary engine had many technical limitations, however, not the least of which was a very real limit to how big such an engine could be when mounted and flown on the airframes of the day. More complex water-cooled in-line engines replaced the rotaries. Needless to say, the science of designing reliable internal combustion engines was also in its infancy, so these motors had a deplorable tendency to quit in flight.
The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5A (for Scout Experimental Model 5A), which is featured in
The 17th Day
, was powered by a French-built 200-HP Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine, one manufactured under wartime conditions with poor metallurgy. Still, the airframe was soundly designed, stable, and the machine made a good gun platform. Although it wasn’t as maneuverable as other designs, the S.E.5A was fast, capable of about 138 mph in level flight. It carried one synchronized belt-fed .303-caliber machine gun that fired through the prop arc and a Lewis gun with a fifty-round ammo tray on a Foster
mount placed above the wing so it could fire over the prop arc.
Today the best place to see World War I aircraft—originals and modern copies—in flight is the Old Rhine-beck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, New York. The facility also has the best static collection I have ever seen of these airplanes and the biplanes of the 1920s. For that we have the late Cole Palen to thank.
Airplanes, adventures, life and death in the skies …
Come on, strap in and we’ll go flying.
the skipper said, flipping through my logbook, “but I can’t find any seaplane time.” The skipper was Commander Martin Jones. His face was greasy from perspiration and he looked exhausted.
“I’ve had four or five rides in a PBY,” I told him, “but always as a passenger.” In fact, a PBY had just brought me here from Guadalcanal. It departed after delivering me, some mail, and a couple of tons of spare parts.