Baggy Zero Four — Book Preview
Before they’d even completed the long climbing turn, Rusty said, “Okay, there’s the big bend in the river right there. The target zone should be right there on this side of it, along the inside of that big bend.” A few minutes later, they were almost overhead. “I won’t fly right over it, or start an orbit just yet. Don’t want to alert them to what’s coming,” Rusty said as he checked the UHF radio frequency was set to the fighter’s frequency, the VHF radio was dialed to their own TOC and their TACAN navigation radio was tracking the nearest ground station.
“How about the VHF-FM set?” Blake asked him.
“Well, there aren’t supposed to be any friendlies patrolling in this area, but I’ll dial in the daily working freq anyway, just to be safe. I’ll keep the volume down a little, though.”
Blake nodded. “Excellent. Somebody taught you well.”
At that moment, there was a click and they heard “Playboy Two Six…Two.” It was their pair of fighters checking with each other after they changed frequency. Rusty waited, and then heard, “Uh Baggy Oh Four, Playboy Two Six up your push.”
“Copy you loud and clear, Playboy. This is Baggy Zero Four with you. Mission number is…” Rusty looked at his leg board, “Bravo, niner, two, seven, delta, niner.”
“Copy and confirm, Baggy. We’re at angels two two, twenty minutes of play time, lead has four Mark 82 snakeye and four CBU. Two has eight nape and we both have gun. Ready for your brief.”
Rusty quickly scribbled down the pertinent info in grease pencil on his left window, plus the time. Then, “Roger Playboy, are you at the fix?”
“Affirmative, Baggy. And we have you in sight. Confirm with rock.”
Rusty rocked his wings steeply from side to side then held his turn to the left.
“Tally ho, Baggy. Have you rocked and now left. Ready to copy.”
“Playboy, your target is a storage area with probable troops. Small arms only expected. Best bailout is feet wet, east. Nearest emergency field is Phu Cat, forty miles southeast. You may use random attack from a wheel. Terrain is flat and target elevation is 200 feet MSL. No friendlies in the area. Winds seem to be calm. FAC will orbit east at two thousand. Over.”
“Copy all, Baggy. Cleared to come down and wheel?”
Rusty craned his neck and looked above him all around. Suddenly, he spotted two black trails and followed them forward to their source: two mottled-green F-4 Phantom jets flying in loose formation. “Ah, tally on you Playboy, you are cleared to descend to best altitude and set up your wheel. Say when you’re ready for a mark.”
“Wilco, Baggy. Coming down. Two, wheel left.”
“Two” came the reply from the wingman.
Everything was beginning to happen in a blur of activity and commotion, but Rusty took a deep breath and turned towards the target area. He still hadn’t flow over it, but was angling closer with each second. He could see nothing down there but a thinly forested area with the faint hint of a two-track road through it. No enemy troops, no trucks, no stacks of crates or drums stood out. He stared hard to try to find some, but was interrupted within seconds.
“Baggy, Playboy is in wheel left. Mark it.”
Unable to see anything definite, Rusty shrugged hopefully to himself and rolled the plane into his favorite maneuver: a rolling, climbing, twisting corkscrew that ended with his wings level and the nose pointing steeply down. He turned the arming switches to FIRE, let the glowing red dot of his heads-up sight slide along the ground until it was roughly in the center of the target zone, and then touched the switch in his yoke. WHOOSH went a four-foot-long rocket out of the left wing rocket pod. Immediately, Rusty pulled and turned the control yoke, smoothly adding power when the nose cleared the horizon. He reversed the roll and saw the bright white plume of smoke on the ground. “Playboy lead, call your direction and hit my smoke.”
“Lead is in from the south with a pair of snakes.”
Rusty snapped his head that way and saw the lizard-like colors of the jet as it plunged down. Lead’s cleared hot.” Rusty turned again, keeping the fighter in sight. Fascinated, he saw two sleek green shapes detach from the jet, and then four large petal-like fins popped open at the rear of each bomb. The metal devices slowed the bombs so they did not explode directly under the jet that dropped them, and they also caused the bombs to oscillate slightly in flight – exactly like the head of a cobra – hence their nickname: snakeye. As the jet climbed safely away, both bombs detonated in a flash of orange-red flame and dirty gray-black smoke. Rusty was surprised to see a white mushroom-like shock wave flash away from the explosions: the result of the shock wave on humid air. But before he could marvel at that, he heard, “Two is in east. FAC in sight.”
Already falling behind in his tasks, Rusty managed to blurt out “Two, hit Lead’s spot. Cleared hot.” He craned his neck to find Two, but saw only the huge blossom of white-hot flames as two canisters of napalm ripped into the jungle floor. And then he saw something else, dozens of little white sparkles coming from almost everywhere below him.
In an odd calm, he said, “Uh, Playboy, you’re taking ground fire from the whole area. Small arms, probably AK-47. And hold your wheel for a second while I reposition. He’d drifted almost over the target trying to observe the bomb hits, and that was not a good place to be with jets dropping bombs in that same tiny bit of space.
“Playboy is holding dry. But they’re not shooting at us, Baggy. You’re the one they want today.”
Rusty gulped involuntarily, and also yanked on the control yoke. He wanted to fly as unpredictably as possible to keep some VC gomer down there from drawing a bead on him. When he was off to the east again, he clicked his transmit button. “OK, Lead. If you have me in sight, call and make another run. Hit 100 meters south of your first impact.”
“Lead’s in north with a pair of snake, FAC in sight.”
“Tally ho, and cleared hot,” Rusty said. Again, he watched the jet plummet, the twin bombs pop open and wobble their ominous way to earth, then the huge twin blasts. This time, Rusty felt and heard the quick double BaBam of the shock waves. Readier this time, he scanned the sky and saw the wingman just as he rolled in. “Tally on your roll, two, hit another 100 meters south of lead and cleared hot.” He heard the wingman click his radio button twice in a wordless signal that he’d heard and would comply.
The huge splash of jellied gasoline and naptha rolled silently through the trees, but before it burned out, Rusty saw first one then two additional explosions. “You got secondaries on that pass, two. Good job. Break. Lead, your next pass will be CBU, right?”
“That’s affirm, Baggy. Where you want it? I can give you two more passes, then one with the gun.”
“Two” said the wingman, confirming that he, too had enough fuel for three more runs on the target.”
“Copy that, Playboy. Ok then, just blanket the area of two’s last run. There may be more down there. I see muzzle flashes from there, too.”
“Copy. Lead’s in west with CBU. FAC in sight.”
“Have you in sight also, Lead. FAC is clear and you are hot.”
This time, two white canisters dropped from the jet, and almost immediately split apart. Rusty saw nothing else, but seconds later, an oblong area the size of a football field erupted with hundreds of white flashes and sparks. Several fires roared to life just as Rusty heard a strange but terrifying sound like a deep, menacing electrical buzz. Once again, he was almost mesmerized by the sight and sound, but was jolted back by the wingman.
“Two’s in south with nape.”
“Cleared hot, two. Hit anywhere near your last strike.”
Twin silver canisters tumbled and winked their way to the ground. A hell of flames and angry black smoke rolled down through the treetops. And then, yet more explosions as something on the ground blew up.
Rusty noted fewer spots of muzzle flashes now, and he edged in to get a better look at Lead’s final drop of cluster bombs. He knew that CBU canisters contained hundreds of baseball-sized bomblets each more powerful than a hand grenade, and designed to produce both lethal shrapnel and fire-starting incendiary fragments. It was the ideal weapon to use against troops and vehicles, and he wanted to get a close look at the results. He cleared Lead hot, and had just observed the twin canisters split open when he heard and felt a sharp “PANK” sound like someone had hit a garbage can with a hammer – and he’d been inside the can.
“That’s a hit, Rusty. You’re getting too low,” Blake said, with an odd calm.
Rusty shot a glance at his altimeter and realized he’d let himself get down to only a thousand feet above the ground. He slammed the throttles full and started a twisting climb, missing the result of the bomb drop altogether, but hearing that electrical ripping sound of the bomblets going off again. Trying to recover his duties, he managed to spot the wingman start his final napalm pass, and cleared him hot. “Put ‘em wherever it looks good,” he said, unable to think of anything better.
“Playboy is ready for a gun run, Baggy. You OK down there?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so. Took a hit from something, but don’t think it’s a problem. Uh, can you just lay me a track of 20 mike mike through the area? I don’t have a spot target, but the whole area seems active.”
“Roger that, Baggy. Lead’s in with gun, east.”
Still climbing and turning, Rusty managed to see Lead’s jet as a cloud of smoke enveloped it from below. Jerking his eyes to the ground, Rusty saw a line of white explosions almost as large as those from the cluster bombs. The explosions jumped and twisted around like a stream of water being played across the ground, but with opposite effect: fires and smoke sprung to life from several places. He cleared the wingman through for his gun pass, and still more ground explosions and fires leapt to life.
“Baggy, Playboy Two Six is Winchester and headed home. We’ll copy your BDA when your ready, Baggy. Two, join up left. Switches safe.” Click click.
Having reached a safer altitude, Rusty dug out his binoculars and flew an orbit around the target zone. Peering down, he was shocked to see burning crates of all sizes, ruptured and burning oil drums, a flaming truck and lots of unidentifiable but manmade debris. And then, as he looked closer, he was even more shocked to see bodies and parts of bodies laying in several places, blackened and still. He gulped and made quick grease pencil notes.
“Uh, Playboy, BDA as follows: 15 minutes on target. 100% good bombs, 100% on target. Target destroyed. Observed numerous secondary explosions and fires. One truck destroyed, numerous crates and oil drums destroyed. Numerous KBA observed. Um…real good work, Playboy.”
“Shit on a stick work, Baggy. Copy all. That one goes in the diary. Drinks on us, anytime, anywhere, little brother.”
Rusty stared straight ahead and shook himself, trying to catch up to the whirl of sights, sounds and emotions he felt. He suddenly realized he was pouring with sweat, and his heart was racing. His hands shook violently, and his feet were dancing on the rudder pedals with a life of their own. Blake said, “I have the aircraft.”
Rusty tried to let go of the controls, but it took an effort to unbend his fingers to do it. ”Uh, you have it.”
Blake also reached across and took the binoculars from Rusty, then started a right turn and circled the target area again. He jotted down a few things on his own leg board, and then said to Rusty, “OK, you have it again. Take us back to LZ Emerald. I’ll make the Bomb Damage Assessment report to the TOC myself. But first, let me ask you one question.”
“Are you seriously asking me to believe that you have never worked an airstrike before today? That that was your first time?”
“Uh, no. Or yes. I mean, it was. Why?”
Blake just shook his head for a moment, then said, “Because if that’s true, then there’s only one thing I can possibly say, and it’s not a phrase a Jew uses.”
“Jesus H Christ.”