Miranda and the team are back…and in more danger than ever.
In her world, an airplane crash is never what it first appears.
A shattered Ghostrider gunship that explodes on impact kills everyone…or does it?
A firefighting helicopter downed by an exploding tree should be simple, except when it isn’t.
An airshow crash in front of a capacity crowd might be a simple mechanical failure—or a prelude to war!
Fly with Miranda and Jeremy, Holly and Mike, and Andi, who joined the team in Raider, as they race to solve four crashes at once: one in the past, two in the present, and one that hasn’t happened yet—the last could be the worst of all.
Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
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Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
An AC-130J “Ghostrider”—the latest variant of America’s most lethal aerial gunship—goes down hard in the Colorado Rockies. Except the data doesn’t match the airframe.
Air-crash genius, and high-functioning autistic, Miranda Chase leads her NTSB team in to investigate. But what they uncover reveals a far greater threat—sabotage.
If she can’t solve the crash in time, a new type of war will erupt. One far too close to home which threatens to shatter her team.
Aboard Shadow Six-four Elevation: 27,000 feet (23 seconds before impact)
As soon as Lieutenant Colonel Luis Hernandez broadcast the final report from aboard the diving plane—“Negative recovery. Negative control.”—he released his seat harness.
The plane wasn’t quite in freefall, so he fell into the yoke and flight console. “Aw, fuck.” Like it was going to hurt anything now other than his ego. The plane was safely past recovery and no one was left aboard to see anyway.
He pulled off his headset and began climbing uphill through the Hercules’ cockpit. He moved fast in the near freefall. Two of the thirteen bodies scattered strategically through the plane had ended up in the aisle and he was forced to crawl over them. They were wearing his and Danny’s dog tags. They were also close to their build and coloring just in case anything survived the crash. Hopefully not, they weren’t that close because no way did he look like the fake Luis. Homely bugger.
He continued aft quickly, having to struggle to shake off the memory of the last time he’d done this. He’d crawled over the bodies of his own crew when his C-130 Hercules had been shot down in Afghanistan due to insufficient fighter support in a war they never should have been in. He’d fought the plane all the way down—been one of the few to make it. He came to, crawling from body to body looking for other survivors.
At least this time, neither the iron stench of hot blood nor the stinging kerosene of burning Jet A fuel permeated the air. Everyone except he and Danny had been dead before they boarded this flight.
The ladder down to the main cargo deck was easier to navigate. They were in true freefall now and he could just pull himself along it.
Major Danny Gonzalez had left the forward passenger door open after popping it at thirty-nine thousand feet. Though, Luis supposed, his copilot was just Danny now. Their military rank was one more thing they’d all agreed to leave behind along with the dead.
Luis shrugged into the parachute rig.
He took a moment to ensure that he was oriented properly and then grabbed the bottom edge of the door. It wouldn’t do to fling himself out of the plane and straight into the massive four-blade propeller of the Number Two engine spinning at a thousand RPM.
The fuselage twisted sharply and he almost lost his grip as it began to tumble.
Looking out into the darkness once more, he saw that the propeller was no longer an issue—the entire wing had ripped off.
The temperature was a bitch though.
Even on a warm June evening, ten thousand feet above Aspen was damn cold. Be lucky if he didn’t have frostbite by the time he got down. But no time to pull on a balaclava—the ground was coming up fast.
He still made a point of flinging himself downward as he exited, just in case the tail was still attached.
As soon as he’d ejected, he opened his black tactical ram-air chute. It was for night insertions deep behind enemy lines, and, like his specialized clothing, had the radar signature of a bird—a small one.
He watched the plane continue down. Less than five seconds after he had his chute deployed and stable, the Hercules impacted at twelve thousand feet atop a high peak. It was supposed to plunge into the back-country wilderness beyond, but it didn’t really matter. At almost five hundred knots, the destruction was more than sufficient.
As rigged beforehand, one of the rounds of 105 mm ammunition for the big howitzer—the main weapon of the AC-130 series of gunships—ignited on impact.
In a single moment, the other eighty rounds lit off.
The combination of all of the forty-two-inch-long, thirty-three-pound rounds igniting simultaneously unleashed sixteen hundred pounds of high explosives in the heart of the plane.
If there had been anything left of the fuselage, it was now shattered. Probably the top of the mountain as well by the scale of the blinding fireball that lit the surrounding mountains like daylight. He hoped that no one was looking in his direction for the one moment he was starkly lit against the night sky.
The wings landed farther down the slope, bursting into flame when the fuel tanks breached. The conflagration spread rapidly upslope. In minutes, any remains of the plane would be engulfed as well.
Then the shock wave caught up with him.
“Didn’t think of that one, did you, Luis?”
For a thousand feet of descent, he could do nothing but curse and flail as the shock wave dragged him wherever it wanted to.
Once it cleared, he was amazed to still be holding the control toggles. The wonders of stark terror.
He hadn’t jumped much since Basic, just enough to stay qualified. But the loud roar of the wind had to be a bad sign. Yanking on the toggles didn’t seem to do much either.
Not daring to let go in case he couldn’t find the handles again, he almost snapped his own neck from nodding hard enough to flip down his night vision goggles. He managed it just in time to see what was happening above him.
“Shit!” He didn’t have a parachute. He had a ripped-up mess of tangled nylon. It looked as if half the chute was missing and the rest was snarled.
He yanked the cutaway. The general was going to be pissed if someone spotted the errant chute, but Luis was out of options.
One side of the risers released, but not the other.
Dragging the main chute along off his right shoulder.
Out of time.
Deploy the reserve and pray it didn’t snarl in the crippled main. It came out clean and almost gutted him with hard deceleration.
He was well past Snowmass, but nowhere near the Aspen car racing track where Danny and their motorcycles would be waiting.
Down below there was no sign of anything except sharp peaks and deep valleys.
The wind still seemed too loud. Up above, two-thirds of the reserve was drawing clean, the last third was fighting with the trailing main—and losing.
“Two thirds has gotta be better than nothing, right?”
A massive edifice loomed up in front of him.
Want more? Start this amazing adventure and hang on because the crisis is only beginning.
“Puff, the Magic Dragon was a Peter, Paul, and Mary song I grew up singing along with. It was probably the first song I knew all the words to, maybe even before I had the alphabet down (the order of “J” vs. “K” still screws me up sometimes, I have to get a running start at “H” to be sure).
“(Ghost) Riders In the Sky” (The Outlaws Version) rang through my senior year at college (with the too twangy Johnny Cash version before that). During those years, Southern Rock was sweeping the campuses, even where I went to school up in Maine. Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Allman Brothers, and many others. “Riders” was a hard-dancing fixture at any number of parties.
The next time I ran into it were the endless trailers for the 2007 movie Ghost Rider with Nicholas Cage (a fairly poor Marvel movie before Marvel figured out what they were doing) and the heavy metal theme song by Spiderbait (screwed up from my familiar Southern Rock–not my fav).
AC-47 “Puff, the Magic Dragon”
This has a much more intriguing origin and is the core of today’s NerdGuy.
It actually all began back in the Vietnam War. The Air Force did some testing with a Convair C-131 that said you could point a gun out the side of an airplane and it would be fairly easy to bank in a circle above a target and shoot consistently at the same spot.
After a few false starts and stops, in 1964 the Air Force chose one of my favorite planes (it’s almost every fliers favorite), a Douglas DC-3 (which the Air Force calls the C-47). They side-mounted a line of three mini-guns aiming out the port (left) side, placed a firing button on the pilot’s control wheel, and made a grease pencil mark on his left window. It became the AC-47 Spooky. “A” for Attack.
A Pylon Turn is something that every beginning pilot practices (including me when I used to fly). The challenge is to retain steady, consistent control throughout a banked turn. The instructor would pick a point on the ground (like a water tank). When I came up even with it (not above it but off to the side), I’d try to circle around it and always keep it aligned with the tip of my left wing. The better I got, the steadier the tip of my wing was on that tank until I could keep it centered at the top of the tanks dome, not just the tank itself.
That’s what the grease pencil mark was on the inside of the pilot’s window. He sits too far ahead of the wing, and each pilot is a different height, so needs a different mark. But once set up, a one-second burst on the miniguns could deliver six thousand rounds into an area as small as a few dozen square yards–every time!
It completely changed the nature of many battles. When in close quarter combat with an enemy troop, an AC-47 Spooky could lay down a massive suppressive fire from an untouchable height above the battle. An immediate order went out for more of these aircraft…which they couldn’t provide because there were so few miniguns in existence at that time. But those wrinkles were soon worked out.
They operated mostly at night. They’d drop a parachute flare to illuminate the enemy, bank, and spit fire at them from above. No suprise that it was nicknamed “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and often flew with the simple call sign of “Puff.”
Bigger Dragons are Spooky
So, if a small dragon was good, a big dragon might be better? Indeed it was.
The C-130 Hercules is perhaps the most successful cargo plane the world has ever known. It is used in all walks of life from US Coast Guard Search-and-Rescue to fighting wildfires to…an AC-130 gunship.
By 1970, these had completely replaced Puffs in Vietnam. Where the Puff could fire three guns worth of 7.62 mm bullets (.308″), the AC-130s first added 20 mm rounds (3/4″) fired from a rotary autocannon, with 40mm (1-1/2″) following close behind.
The big change, literally, happened in 1971, when a 105 mm (4.1″) howitzer was adapted to the big plane. Now, instead of small bullets, high-explosive rounds weighing 15 kg (36 pounds) could be heaved down from above. A single mini-gun, a 40 mm cannon, and the big howitzer could hit the same point with devastating effect…at the same time!
The plane itself went through many names, Pave, Pronto, Aegis, Spooky, Stinger, Dragon Spear, even Surprise Package. But it was the squadron’s call sign that stuck. From the AC-130A to the AC-130U (only 6 of letters were used) , these gunships were all best known as the Spectre. (Yes, it is totally appropriate to have the James Bond theme playing in your head right now.)
Hercules meets Super Hercules
After sixty-five years (yes, 65) the C-130 Hercules is still going strong in many roles. At the turn of the century, at the age of 45, it received its first comprehensive end to end update with new engines and new avionics. The C-130J Super Hercules flies farther, faster, and higher than all of its older brothers. (I’d warn my older brothers, but I don’t have any. However, I have an older sister…who I learned ages ago to never ever mess with. Older sisters are scary!)
It was only natural that this was the time to rethink the AC-130 gunship. The main thought was, “Why would you use a slow, propeller-driven, fat plane into a battle zone?” The main answer, “Until we think up something better (a new plane design can take a decade or more), we need something.”
And along came the AC-130J Super Hercules “Ghostrider.” In addition to everything else it’s older brothers did so well, the Ghostrider has added a new trick, a HEL-A laser.
I’ll geek out about this at another time. Let’s just say that the FDA regulations kick in at 5 mW (milliWatts). A 1 W laser can instantly blind you or char your skin. The High-Energy Laser – Airborne in the AC-130J is rumored to be at or above the 150 kW range. That’s 30 million times brighter than your cat’s laser pointer. (Trying to imagine 30 million times? Pull out a one-dollar bill. If you had 30M of those, it would be a stack over 2 miles high.)
Cobra and Apache helicopters, A-10 Thunderbolt jets, the Russian…oh, wait…they’re just now developing their own copy of the C-130 because they couldn’t figure out how to do it better themselves.
Yes, this plane may have venerable origins, but it will still be a factor on battlefields for years to come, just as it has in every single conflict involving the USA since the Vietnam War.
So, when Miranda Chase went looking for her fourth major air-crash investigation, the conclusion to the Preflight Quartet begun with Drone, Thunderbolt, and Condor, she found…a Ghostrider. Coming June 23rd. (Special: Available from Apple starting June 9th!!!)