NerdGuy Fridays #2: color, faces, and kid-culture

Responses to Last Week’s NerdGuy post:

“Where can I find the British WWII planes my aunt flew to Britain?” (Thanks Deb)

Boneyarded? Ooo! Interesting… It’s a “boneyard” in Amer-English and a “graveyard” in Brit-English. Neat!

The Davis-Monthan boneyard is strictly for planes run by the US. They do have a few British planes, such as the Harrier, but they were ones flown by the US. After a quick scan of the inventory, the oldest planes I spotted were still active in the early 1960s and were built in the 1950s. It seems all of the WWII era planes are gone, at least from there. I’d say to find anything older, they might be out in the various private salvage yards (there are 5-6 right near DM) or in museums…or rotting in farmer’s fields. There are some very cool airshows where they show up sometimes. The monsters, of course, are Osh Kosh (I’m dying to go some year) and Abbotsford (which I never made it to when I was on the west coast). But if you keep an eye out, you’ll get the occasional B-17 or a Japanese Zero.

The Brits do love their old planes, so a British airshow is bound to have several working classics.
But as to “graveyards”, the Brits have two primary ones according to Wikipedia. The Cotswold Airport (aka Kemble Field) is a certified salvage yard. They also keep a number of planes on display (though I don’t know how many are flyable). The other, RAF Shawbury, lists planes as “post WWII” (but with no posted inventory) so I’m not hopeful that you’ll find what you’re looking for there. Shawbury has just 4 storage hangars there. They’re listed as being specially dehumidified to maintain planes in readiness for reactivation (plus a few older aircraft not yet scrapped). Doesn’t sound too hopeful.
Apparently there was a good one in Shropshire, but most of it was trashed or moved to East Midlands which looks to be a museum. EM has an inventory list, but I don’t know my Brit planes well enough to easily know how far back they go.
Yep! NerdGuy. Two of the best collections in the Pacific NW are Boeing Museum of Flight in South Seattle and the unlikely Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in farmlands of McMinnville, Oregon (which includes the Spruce Goose and an SR-71 Blackbird as well as a wide variety of other curious craft–sadly, they sold their pristine Ford Tri-Motor during near bankruptcy). I haven’t found the good air museums in the Northeast yet…I can’t even find any decent airshows here. SIGH!

The Color Nude

There is a wonderful book about color which includes notes, history, or just cool facts of hundreds of colors.

The Secret Lives of Color
Click to view on AMZ

The one that intrigued me this week is “Nude” Pantone 7506 C. (I’ll saving geeking out over the different ways that Pantone colors work for some other time [they vary by a surprising number of curious criteria]. And that’s not even getting into the Pantone colors of the year. Suffice to say that Pantone is how most colors are cataloged when they need to be reproducible.)

Pantone 7506 C

Ms. St. Clair’s description talks about the moment that “Nude” became one of the hottest news topics of 2010. Why did such a timid color take up so many news column-inches?

The US First Lady wore a gown to greet the President of India that was described in the news as silver- and “flesh-colored.” The designer, also of Indian extraction, described it as “nude.” The catch? The First Lady was Michelle Obama. Suddenly this poor, unassuming, warm-cream color became the center of a media storm.Michelle Obama gownWhat I love is one of the not-big-news reactions to it. The artist Angelica Dass decided to redefine “nude.” (I don’t know if it was in direct reaction, but she started her project just 2 years later, so I’m guessing the influence was part of it.) Her project was to photograph real people against a background of their own true skin tone, and label it with the appropriate Pantone color designation.

You can see her wonderful project here:

Or watch her TED talk here:

Folks’ Faces

As long as we’re looking at people’s faces…

As a writer, I have to present characters who are distinct and distinguishable. Some of that is done with: mannerisms, speech patterns, distinct naming… But sometimes its just as simple as what they look like.

So, how do I go about finding race-typical facial characteristics to describe and use for “her thin-lipped  scowl” or “his sniff of hawk-nosed disdain”? (Okay, a bit clunky, but you get the idea.)

Well, the folks at Leading Personality used a super-cool tool developed by the University of Glasgow Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology (warning, you can lose a lot of time playing with the tool in that second link and I’ve so far resisted signing up to see what’s going on once you have an account). By blending hundreds of known-ethnicity images, they came up with the two cool composites below.

Average Female FacesAverage Male Faces

And a Chinese view of “Kid Culture”

I love apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction. The first-ever science fiction book I read, The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke, told of a boy a billion years in the future who saves Earth from its final sociological decay. At age 10, I so wanted to be that boy. Curiously, I find much apocalyptica is not about the disaster, it’s about finding the hope at the end. It’s about surviving the ultimate “What if?” question.

For example, what would happen if a natural disaster killed off everyone over the age of thirteen? Oh, let the adults have 10 months of life to prepare their kids, but they know they’re going to die.

Supernova era cover
Click to view on AMZ

Adults are gone. What happens next? Cixin Liu asks exactly that question.His answer is both a little terrifying and a lot fascinating. We make so many assumptions about how society works and why it does. I find that Chinese science fiction typically comes from such a different angle that it forces me to start thinking about things afresh. (Want more? I can highly recommend Ken Liu’s two translated short story collections: Broken Stars and Invisible Planets. They’ll definitely shift your thinking.)

Cixin asks: What if industry and society and stability are no longer the watchwords that keep us moving ahead? What if excitement, adrenaline, and play take their place?

Far beyond the scope of the book, what am I doing to keep my view of the world fresh?

Until next time: Be Nerdy!

Free Fiction on the 14th: a Night Stalkers romance

The Ides of Matt:
A free short story,
every month from the 14th-20th.

Scroll Down to Read Now or you can also buy it here if you want to own it:

Night Stalkers romanceSweet Tooth
by M.L. Buchman
-a Night Stalkers romance story-

Helicopter Crew Chief Fiona MacDonald takes her Highland heritage to heart. And when she sees someone break a major pre-battle candy taboo, she lets him have it with saber-sharp disdain.

Del Campbell spent months planning tonight’s mission—a hostage rescue from a remote Afghan camp. All goes according to plan, until Fiona catches his bad luck.

Together they can fight the battle. But when the heat fires up between them, can they share the sweetness?


“Ye did na just do that.”

“Do what?” Del Campbell looked around to try and figure out who was talking to him.

The helicopter’s intercom was utterly confusing for conversation unless you knew each person’s voice. The fact that it was a woman would make that obvious in any other crew, but not this one. The flight crew aboard the MH-47G twin-rotor Chinook had three women and two men. There were another thirty 75th Rangers in the cargo bay. They were all guys except for the dog handler, but none of them except for the male unit commander were on the intercom anyway.

Somehow, out of all of those people, he suspected that he was indeed the one who had done…whatever it was.

Crew Chief Fi MacDonald came over to where he was plugged into the system. She was a fiery redhead with alabaster skin and green eyes. He had tried to be cool about it throughout the briefing, but with her sitting in the front row it had been hard to look anywhere else.

She flipped off his intercom and then patched her own cable into the console. The roar of the helo’s twin turboshaft engines pumping out ten thousand horsepower made conversation near impossible without the headsets.

“You’re a freaking idiot, Campbell. Don’t you have the common sense God gave a turtle?”

“What are you on about, MacDonald?” Staff Sergeant Fiona MacDonald—hell of an impressive service file. One of the reasons he’d asked for this crew for the mission.

“Tell me you didn’t eat the damn thing!”

He looked down at the remains of his dinner. He’d just been sitting here minding his own business. The transit from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier to Kandahar was going to take three hours and, because it had been his own mission’s briefing, he hadn’t had time to eat. A Number Five MRE—Chicken Chunks, Meal-Ready-to-Eat—wasn’t exactly his idea of fine dining, but it was what he’d grabbed out of the supply box and wolfed down. Only the scraps were left.

Del considered painting the last of the fluorescent yellow cheddar cheese spread on the tip of her nose, but decided that probably wasn’t the best way to calm down the helo’s crew chief.

“I was hungry. I had dinner. What’s the problem?”

“Bloody hell, you are a Campbell, aren’t ye? Trying to kill us all just like at Glencoe?”

“The Massacre at Glencoe was over three hundred years ago. I had no part of it.”

“Aye, that’s a likely story. It was three centuries and a quarter just so you know that no one’s forgettin’. You ruddy Campbells slaughtered a whole passel of unarmed MacDonalds, didn’t ye?” Her green eyes had a snap and a heat to them that would have fully attested to her having red hair, even if a bit hadn’t been peeking out around the edge of her helmet as proof. He wanted to tuck it back in, feel the texture, test if the pale skin was as cool as it looked or fiery with the heat that seemed to radiate from her every pore.

“I was born in Peekskill, New York.” And he also knew from her file that despite her wild brogue, she’d been born in Norfolk, Virginia.

“To a bloody Campbell!”

“Dad, yeah. Is there a point to this?” She seemed genuinely upset with him.

She heaved a massive sigh. Even through the Dragonskin armored vest and the survival vest over that, it did things to his imagination. Fi MacDonald had the sort of body that did that to a man no matter how many layers covered it.

He’d also had read that she was a lethal soldier with top marks for keeping her aircraft in the air where it belonged and her crew alive. The only surprise was she was so good that she stood out even in an outfit as elite as the 160th Night Stalkers helicopter regiment.

“My point is, Campbell, you ate the damn candy, didn’t ya? Don’t be trying to deny it. I seen it plain as day and with me own eyes.”

“Yes, I ate the damn candy. What of it?”

“Shh! You want to upset the crew? Why do you think I took you out of the intercom circuit?”

He decided against pointing out that his admission had been at a quarter the volume of her accusation.

“So what’s the big deal?” He made a point of whispering it.

“Eh?” Damn she was cute. Sparring with her was so much fun.

He repeated it a little louder.

“Well, you’ve gone and cursed us all, that’s what. There’s not a soldier in Special Operations who eats the candy in an MRE. That’s right bad luck, it is.”

“If you aren’t supposed to eat it, then why is it in there?”

She shrugged, again tickling his imagination. “Oy, what do I look like? Some kind of chef at Natick Research where they develop these things?”

“No. A gorgeous lunatic maybe.”

For some reason, that earned him a smile. As fast as mercury, she switched from irate to dazzling.

“You got a license for that smile?” Because…Damn!



“You know, for a Campbell perhaps ye aren’t too awful.”

A gorgeous lunatic. Most people called her Major PIA—pain in the ass. She let them get away with that as long as they saluted when they said it.

License for her smile? From a freaking hot briefing officer from The Activity intelligence agency? She’d take it.

Actually, no, she wouldn’t at that. He was just trying to butter her up for some reason.

“You never eat the candy, especially not before a mission. Nobody does. Just look.” She nodded toward a garbage sack hung on the inside of the hull. It was filled with MRE bags from the Rangers chowing down. And all through the discards there were little flecks of color of unopened candy packets.

“Yes, ma’am. Okay with you if I finish the cheddar cheese?”

“I can let you do that,” she offered him a sniff of disdain.

He scooped his finger into the plastic container getting the last bit, then reached out and painted a stripe of it down her nose.

“Goddamn it, Campbell.” Her shout was loud enough that several of the Rangers sitting on the hard deck looked up at her. They started laughing when they saw what was going on.

Not deigning to wipe it off just yet, she leaned in close.

“Just don’t eat the goddamn candy, Campbell.” She knew she was repeating herself, but something about him had thrown her off her game. For one thing, from a single breath away, he smelled as good as he looked: all hot male and competent soldier in his full gear.

“Anything you say, MacDonald.”

Which gave her a few other ideas.

She unplugged before she could voice them, turned, then wiped the cheddar off her nose and sucked her finger clean. She made the mistake of glancing back as she returned to her station and saw him watching her with a big smile.

Damn, but he was pretty.

That’s what had gotten her in trouble in the first place, watching him while he ate.

It really was too bad he was a Campbell. The blood feud twixt Campbell and MacDonald went back over eight hundred years and she wasn’t going to be the one to break it, no matter how impressive the man was.

At the briefing, he’d laid out the intel on the location of four hostages deep in the no-man’s land of Helmand Province. The Taliban were once again on the prowl and this time they’d taken down a Doctors Without Borders team, because who in their right mind wanted their citizens to be healthy after all.

It rapidly became clear, at least to her, that the intel work had been mostly his own. Otherwise he never would have known it so thoroughly. Those four hostages had been worrying everyone for a while, and now he personally had given the best lead yet on where they were stashed.

The rescue mission was going in with four other helos: two DAP Hawk gun platforms and two standard Black Hawks with Delta Force aboard.

Del Campbell could have ridden with Delta, or even in a command seat on one of the DAPs. Instead, he’d geared up with the door-kicking Rangers. That took serious balls and she liked that in a man.

The candy was bad luck, but taking the man out for a tussle was a nice prospect even if it was never going to happen. He had raven black hair and even darker eyes, which looked ever so fine on him. Smart, funny, and not willing to back down from one of her tirades. She’d even stretched it a bit just to see, but he’d stood firm.

Then painting her nose with cheddar cheese… That was as fine a declaration of war as any. She couldn’t wait.



Del did his best to stay out of the way.

The Chinook came in fast and low. It was the only real option.

The terrorist camp had been set on a river-carved mesa. It wasn’t high, but the approaches on foot mostly sucked—too easily protected from above. And the area was small enough that parachuting an entire squad in was just asking to have them shot up, because they’d all be piling into just two small landing zones.

The best answer was coming in fast and hot.

So the flight practically scraped its belly up the rocky bight of the Musaqara River then jolted sharply upward to land on the mesa.

The heat came up immediately. Not just the night heat of the Afghan desert that washed aboard the moment the rear ramp was lowered in preparation for landing, but also the heat of protective fire. There were a half dozen sharp thwaps as bullets hit the Chinook’s hull and made it ring while the Rangers were storming down the ramp.

Then the DAP Hawks kicked in from high above. Hard buzz-saw bursts from their M134 Miniguns, chewing up the opposition. Suddenly the bad guys on the ground had something a lot more important to worry about than their Chinook.

At least until the Rangers took up positions around the camp, joining the firefight from a new angle. Then they had multiple things to worry about.

Del was combat qualified and he’d thought about stepping out with the Rangers, but he could see by the way they moved just how good they were. He’d screw up their highly coordinated actions if he tried to join in.

“All dressed up and nowhere to go,” he muttered to himself as the helo lifted away to hide once more in the darkness, taking with it his last chance to join the Rangers. It had been completely his mission, right up to this instant and now he didn’t know what to do with himself.

“Try wearin’ a kilt next time.” Fi MacDonald over the intercom from her position at the port side gun emplacement. He certainly had that voice down after her tirade. He took a moment to appreciate the image of her out of all that battle gear and dancing in a proper tartan dress.

“If you will, I will.” It would be worth the price. “Bet you got great legs.”

“And a great ass too. Not that you’ll ever see it. How are your legs, me fine lad?”

Another spate of gunfire somehow found the Chinook, rattling down the side of the hull—pure chance.

There was a grunt and a sharp curse from Fi.

Del hurried up the length of the cargo bay.

Fi was sitting on the deck, wrapping a piece of duct tape around the leg of her flightsuit.

“Hell of a bandage there, MacDonald.”

“How come you’re the one who ate the candy and I’m the one who gets shot?”

“Shot?” A voice sounded over the intercom. “Report!”

“Meat shot, through and through on the thigh and the arm. No arterial. Just stings like a couple of jabs from an Englishman’s lance.”

“Roger,” and the pilot was gone. Del supposed he had other things to worry about.

He helped her tape over her arm and she hissed at the pain. Fi began hauling herself to her feet, very unsuccessfully.

“Just sit.”

“Gotta man the gun.”

The Chinook didn’t carry much armament. Two M134 miniguns, one out either side, and an FN M240 machine gun on the rear ramp. A twin-rotor Chinook was a heavy mover—the DAP Hawks were the serious gun platforms. But having so little, the Chinook needed all of the defense it could get.

“One-handed and one-legged? You and Ahab. I can do that.”

Fi just looked at him. “That’s a minigun, Campbell.”

“Shot them before, MacDonald.”

“Any idea what to shoot at?”

That was a problem. He knew the camp’s layout so well that it could be tattooed on the inside of his eyelids. But the tactics of the ground troops, that he didn’t know well enough.

“Help me up, goddamn it.”

“Your arm can’t handle the gun.” She was holding it tightly against her chest. He wondered if there was a fractured bone under that tape.

“My eyes still work. I’ll say where, you aim and fire. And don’t bloody miss. The M134 could make the Massacre at Glencoe look like a May Day picnic.”

He got her to her feet. She hung onto him with her good hand. They were close enough to the same height, that if they moved their helmets until they were almost touching, they could see out the same window around the gun.

“We’re going to start at the edge of camp until you have a feel for it, Campbell.”

“Just tell me where to hit.”



The last came out as a snarl.

Fi could get to like this Del Campbell despite his last name. Attitude and lots of it—the kind that came from raw masses of competence.

She tried to wipe at the sweat stinging her eyes with her free hand, which hurt like hell. She definitely wouldn’t do that again. At a loss for what else to do, she tipped her head down and wiped her eyes on the point of his shoulder blade.

Strong, solid. It would be a fine place to tuck in on a cold winter’s night. But for the moment—

She flipped down her night-vision goggles with a sharp nod, and studied the battle below.

“There! At the southwest corner behind the shed. You’ve got a leak.” Out the back corner of the camp, Talis were doing what Talis always did—running away to fight another day. The Taliban leaders were always squeezing out the backs of villages and leaving the local recruits to do the dying.

Not today.

Del grabbed the Minigun’s dual handles. A yank on the trigger and the motor-driven six barrels of the Gatling gun spun up to five hundred RPM and fifty rounds a second drove down out of the sky. Every fifth round was a tracer, bright green in their NVGs.

Like a good boy, Del started the gun high, striking a line in the dirt beyond the camp and in front of the escaping Talis. Then he painted his way back toward them in a fast back-and-forth lashing until he drove them under.

“You were slow on the trigger release. They were already dead, conserve your ammo. The painting was good, but use shorter strokes. Next…”

They worked their way around the camp as the other two gunships did the same. The Rangers and Delta had small reflective tabs on their shoulders that glowed under the infrared searchlight shining down from one of the DAP Hawks.

They couldn’t shoot at any of the buildings until they were sure where the hostages were being held.

But they didn’t lack for targets.

The synchronicity that built up between them went from testing to smooth to downright awesome. They got into a groove so true and deep that they could have launched a rocket sled right down it.

A slight twist where her hand clenched his shoulder—another leak plugged.

This time with a three-second burst instead of eleven. Her hip pushed against his and he swung the gun to a completely new angle of attack and took out a stubborn gun emplacement and part of the Talis’ motor pool. Another squeeze of her hand and the rest of the motor pool disappeared.

It was dreamy.

Hard to concentrate.

So aware of the connection between them that she wasn’t conscious of being separate. What would it be like to make love with such a man, with such a synchronicity between them?

The Delta Force operators suddenly rushed out of a building. There were four infrared hotspots in their midst, but with no reflective indicators on their shoulders.

The hostages?

Del’s heartfelt, “Yes!” told her it was.

She tried to join in, but couldn’t seem to find her voice. She wondered briefly where she’d left it, but couldn’t imagine.

The Chinook and one of the Black Hawks plunged back to the ground. Rangers piled aboard in a swirl of gunpowder-scented desert dust. In moments, they were aloft again, racing downriver.

She saw the bright sizzle of Hellfire missiles striking down from the DAP Hawks to obliterate the camp. But she didn’t see the missiles land.

Too bad, she always liked a good fireworks show.



Del caught her as Fi slid bonelessly to deck.


“She got a pulse?” a man with bloody hands clutching white bandages called out.

He checked. “Feels strong. For now.”

“Okay, give me a minute.”

Del began checking her over. He only had the basic medical training given to any grunt, basically a CPR course plus morphine.

He eased off her helmet and ran his hands through her hair. It was even thicker than he’d imagined. When he checked his hands, they weren’t covered in the red of blood, though they’d just been buried in the red of her hair.

It was hard to tell in the dim cabin light, but her face looked even paler than before. A hand on her cheek told him it was so soft that it seemed impossible. And cool, but not cold…yet.

The releases on her survival vest got him down to her bulletproof Dragonskin.

He slipped his hands under her vest: down her back, up her sides, and over her belly. Still no blood. And there were certain places he was just going to trust to the vest. Both arms clean, except for some smears around the duct tape bandage he’d placed there.

Both legs the same.

Once more he rolled her over enough to reach behind her.

One cheek, nothing. The other…his hand came away wet and dark red.

Someone had shot Fiona MacDonald in the ass.

He’d bet a thousand dollars that she was going to be some kind of pissed.

If she made it.



“Who let you in here?” Fi tried to imagine if she’d ever been so happy to see anyone.

“Got a complaint at the front. Something about a whiny Scotsman and they aren’t going to treat any such unless I can get her to behave like an actual human being.”

“Scotswoman. And I’m fine. Get me out of this joint, Campbell.” Actually, she’d been awake about thirty seconds and was freaking out because she had no idea where the hell she was. It was dim and incredibly loud.

“Sure,” he smiled down at her. “Just watch the first step; it’s a doozy.”

He slid his hand into hers and she clamped down on it hard. It reminded her of how good it had felt to lean against him during the battle. How in harmony every thought, every motion had been. She’d never found a man like that, even after months together—never mind the first few hours. Or had it been minutes? It all blurred together.

Fiona looked around as her world came back into focus. The belly of a C-130 cargo plane. At least that explained the roaring noise. The Hercs were notoriously uninsulated against the noise of the four Allison T56 turboprops.

She was on the lower level of a two-tier rack of hospital stretchers.

“Why am I strapped in?” Not that she felt much like sitting up.

“They’re called seatbelts, MacDonald. Get used to it. We’re five more hours to home.”

Five hours to home. That meant that she’d been out of it for at least twelve hours, more likely eighteen. That was scary close to the big bad darkness. She held his hand tighter to keep the BBD at bay.

She managed to raise her head. Six racks of two stretchers each. Over to the other side were four people in civilian clothes sitting in web seats mounted along the side of the hull.

“Yep,” Del noticed the direction she was looking. “Got all four hostages out and no fatalities. You know, after four months of captivity, the first thing they did was help patch up the guys who got them out.”

“And gal.”

“Actually, that was me and one of the Rangers. Hope you don’t mind me saying, but you have an amazing behind Staff Sergeant Fiona MacDonald. Totally first class, even if there is a new hole in one cheek.”

“You ate the candy…and I’m the one who got a hole shot in my butt?”

“Arm and leg too, but yeah.”

“Goddamn you and your foul luck, Campbell.” Though she didn’t let go of his hand.

“I consider it good luck.”

“How’s that?”

“Can think of at least four reasons. One, we saved the hostages. Two, we’re both alive.”

Fi considered how else this could have ended up. A round through the hip instead of her butt could have had massive nerve damage. Two inches higher on the arm and she’d have no elbow. A few centimeters to the either side on her leg and she’d have pumped enough arterial blood out that she’d be making this trip in a box instead of on a stretcher.

“And three, you saw my butt.”

Del just grinned. “Cutting your pants off was just one of the joys of this day.”

“It’s amazing what a lowlife Campbell will do to get a gander at a lady’s behind.”

His snort of laughter when she said “lady” he’d be paying for later.

“Tell me the last one.”

“Well, that’s the best luck ever. I got to meet you.”

When he leaned down and kissed her, she decided that she’d have to agree. Best luck ever.

Though next time?

She’d eat the candy and he could be the one shot in the butt.

Don’t forget to scroll down to read the first-ever NerdGuy Fridays: Dispatches from the Writer’s Brain blog post.

Copyright © 2019 by M.L. Buchman (all rights reserved)
Published by Buchman Bookworks, Inc.
Cover and Layout copyright © 2019 by Buchman Bookworks, Inc.
Previously published 
Fiction River: Superstitions 2019

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NerdGuy Fridays #1: generals, boneyards, and autism

As if you didn’t know that I’m a major nerdboy (guy) by now. Anyway, I’m going to start posting some of my favorite nerdiness. No guarantees on how often, but it will be on Fridays to end your week with a good dose of quirky stuff I’ve learned, read, or just simply thought about. Some were in my books, some will be, and some are just cool.

The Death of an Iranian Quds General

This has been all over the news this week, but what is Quds? I learned a lot about them while researching Night Stalkers #4 (2013), Take Over at Midnight. They appeared only briefly and were only mentioned in one line, describing an earlier scene where our heroes escaped by the skin of their teeth:

General Rogers spoke over this piece of film. “This has been identified as an element of the newly formed Quds Unit 400. They were first reported in March 2012 as the top-secret Iranian Special Forces. They were formed to operate strictly overseas to carry out terror on extraterritorial targets. But here we see them operating within Iran against one of their own military plants.”

But what are they? The news calls them a part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. That’s like saying Delta Force is part of the Army.

Quds is Iran’s version of our Special Operations Command (SEALs, Rangers, Green Berets, Special Warfare Schools, Night Stalkers, Marine Raiders, and a host of others). Within that there are what we in the US call our four Special Mission Units or Tier 1 assets: Delta, ST6, Combat Controllers, and a curious little intelligence agency sometimes called The Activity or The Army of Northern Virginia that I’ve written about in several places. Special Operations is Quds…kinda. And this is what the dead general commanded and was the mastermind in making it what it is today.

The “kinda” part of that is, among others, a weird little force called “Quds Unit 400” that I mentioned above. Special Operations Command has no equivalent…but the CIA does. Inside the CIA is the Special Activities Division. SAD is tasked with doing the really black ops—Quds is sort of half Special Mission Units and half SAD.

Then it gets interesting. Inside of Quds (which like the SAD is mandated to deal with overseas operations [most of which the US would label as terrorist activities]) is the “Unit 400.” The equivalent inside the CIA is the SOG (Special Operations Group). You need an assassination, or something really, really ugly done, we’d call on SOG and they’d call Unit 400. Both sides would say (have said) that it is the terrorism arm of the other.

The unique thing about General Soleimani was that he was involved from the highest level of command to on the ground organization (which is how the US found him outside his country). So, when I see they’ve taken out the Quds commanding general, I see the strategic genius—who has militarily created Iran as it is today—being killed. The ramifications? Only time will tell. But the inner workings of these agencies cost me about two days of research to find worthy adversaries for my Night Stalkers and write that one line above.


The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (formerly Center). Also known as the “Boneyard”, it’s one of the primary places that the US Military stores their old planes. They might be in temporary storage, or headed for destruction and recycling. In the high Arizona desert outside of Tucson at Davis-Monthan AFB, it is the largest collection of aircraft anywhere in the world. As of the December 2019 inventory, there are 3,262 of them.

That’s a lot of airplanes.

Is it any wonder that I keep playing with it. Robin, my heroine in Flash of Fire (Firehawks #4) grew up right there. It also keeps appearing in my new Miranda Chase series (which is about crashed planes, so sure).

AMARG Boneyard
Yes, all those plain brown areas with little dots on them are fields of planes. Click here to load this image in Google Maps. Fun to zoom in on.

Another fun thing to do is go and look at the actual current inventory of planes parked there.

Some are familiar: (107) B-52 bombers, (122) KC-135 aerial tankers (essentially a Boeing 707 turned into a gas pump, high time we replaced those), (86) Sikorsky Black Hawk and SeaHawk helicopters, (311) C-130 Hercules (in various model configurations)

Some are a bit less familiar: (23) Learjets and (7) Gulfstreams for VIP transport, (70) Predator drones (first generation stuff), and (2) Grumman TC-4C Academe (US military designation for a bombardier, navigator trainer (based on a Grumman Gulfstream 1) for the US Navy and Marine Corps, first flown in 1967. Aircraft were fitted with a Grumman A-6 Intruder nose radome, a simulated A-6 cockpit and four bombardier/navigator consoles for A-6 crew training, nine built.) So it’s a plane that’s pretending to be 5 other planes, which is kinda cool.

Some surprising: There are only (10) F-14 Tomcats left (Maverick’s Top Gun plane); they’ve been long since decommissioned from active service (since then we’ve already outdated and placed in storage (163) F-15s and (383) F-16snot making any Maverick fans feel old, am I?). (57) C-5A Galaxy (the second largest military transport in the world; granted these are an older model that could still be upgraded for later use if needed, but that’s a lot of a very big plane.) [This plane also figures prominently in my upcoming Miranda Chase origin story in the Origins of Honor anthology and less prominently in the upcoming Condor.]  And (18) B-1B Lancers (a really amazing, and huge, supersonic bomber).

And some just curious: (1) Ryan Firebee target drone, (1) 60-year-old helicopter, the VH-34 Choctaw, (5) Polish C-145A Skytrucks.

And to honor Miranda Chase’s favorite plane (featured in Drone and Thunderbolt), they still have (1) North American F-86F Sabrejet (the most manufactured fighter jet—ever—with over 10,000 built [most during the Korean War]).

If you want to really go down the rabbit hole with me on this, check out:

And here are some hints on where to find even more:

Currently Reading: “Neurotribes” by Steve Silberman

If you’re a layperson looking for an education in the field of autism, this is a startling read. My kid is a professional therapist, so I thought I had some understanding of this scourge that’s becoming so prevalent.

“On the Spectrum” is sort of the new watchword. Perfectly functional adults take aspects of their own personality (shyness, exceptional abilities to concentrate, easily overwhelmed by sensory overload, etc) and decide they’re “On the Spectrum.” (I’m not the right judge, having wondered about this myself, but reading Neurotribes I’d have to say…So Not!)

How to view something we know so little about. It has increased to beyond pandemic proportions in our population. Some of this is due to better diagnosis over the last 50 years since it was first recognized, but there is also a significant rise in occurrence.

Bottom line: scientists, the folks who really study this, have no idea what the cause is. It’s a whole series of disorders that are currently being swept up under the common umbrella of “The Spectrum”, without having common expression or any traceable source. Yet we have Neurotribes and Neurotypicals and…well, I’m still reading the book. (BTW, the whole “immunization causes autism” thing has been proven to be a disastrous fake news epidemic in its own right, dating well before the current US administration. It has been disproven so many times that it’s a great way to really tick off an autism researcher or therapist at a party. Just saying, don’t even go there.)

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