NerdGuy Fridays: Dispatches from a Writer's Brain - M. L. Buchman

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. Quds Unit 400, like the SAD, is mandated to deal with overseas operations [most of which the US would label as terrorist activities]). The true 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).
[caption id="attachment_21950" align="alignnone" width="905"]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.[/caption]
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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OMG! I love it! I never heard that one. Can you imagine being in the car that was banged by a C-5?!?! I tried to find any report of that, but couldn’t find one. Probably just as well as the ones I did find of plane-car collisions didn’t end well for anyone.




Love wonking out with you, Matt! Though I admit, I skipped the list of planes. BTW, did you see 6 Underground? It was released on Netflix, produced for them by Michael Bay. I’m pretty sure they have scenes set in the Boneyard. They never say what it is.

Beth Barany

Timely and a direct hit to my geeky heart. This may be a favorite read on each Friday to come… The Boneyards are really cool…( love Miranda Chase, made me subscribe to the NTSB Twitter feed…). Keep going with your writings, sir…it’s all good!

Penelope Crampton

Hmmm…No, I hadn’t seen that one (have to watch it now—I love finding new movies, thanks). I looked up the filming locations on IMDB…and no boneyards were listed. So I watched the opening sequence, and I see two or one distinct boneyards. There are shots of a Thai airlines 747 and a wide variety of old warplanes. That could be Pima Airpark (where commercial airliners are stored) and Davis-Monthan (for the military grade planes). But I think it is more likely to be one of the five or six scrap yards in the same area of Arizona that specialize in the actual breakdown and recycling of the old aircraft. Some of these yards are pretty marginal and it wouldn’t take much to make them look that desolate. :)


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