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M. L. "Matt" Buchman

Thunderbolt (+audio)

Thunderbolt (+audio)

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The nation’s #1 air-crash investigator—trapped between a simulated disaster and an interagency political war.
The best ground-attack support fighter jets ever built—the A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthogs”—are falling out of the sky. The Air Force brass repeatedly schemes to decommission this low-tech jet. They’ve been blocked by soldiers, pilots, and Congress…so far. The “Hog” lies at the crux of a high-tech struggle for power. The interagency political skirmish rapidly escalates into a battle fought on a global scale.
Miranda Chase, the NTSB’s autistic air-crash genius, and her team spring into action. The high-risk stakes mount in the battlespace—and a secret from their past could make them the next target. Miranda and her team of sleuths may become the spark that ignites a war.

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Spieden Island, Washington, USA
Elevation: 137’
Miranda Chase shooed a couple of sika deer off the runway. It was a chill November morning only a few degrees above freezing, so she didn’t spend long about it.
A slow wave of sea fog was rolling in from Vancouver and the Canadian Gulf Islands, adding a thick dampness to the chill. The first of the US San Juan islands, Stuart and Johns, were disappearing fast. If she didn’t get aloft in the next fifteen minutes, she’d be trapped here on Spieden Island until the weak November sun burned it off.
The call from the National Transportation Safety Board said that a new crash had been classified as urgent.
As if she would lag when there was a crash to investigate.
She opened the hangar door and began her pre-flight checklist at the pilot’s ladder, then circled the plane counterclockwise. Tires inflated and clear of obstructions. No leakage from the shock absorbers, brakes, or gear handling systems. No dings on the leading edge of the wings. All rote by now, but she never missed a step. She was her own ground crew, so it was up to her to make everything perfect.
Because of the frequent fog, she’d thought about installing an instrument landing system on her island. She liked that it would make Spieden one of the only grass strips in the world to have an ILS. The problem was that the outer and inner markers would have to be placed offshore in the deep waters of Puget Sound because, at two miles long and a half-mile wide, her island was too small to support the four-mile-long system.
Jones Island was in almost the right place, but it was a nature preserve that belonged to the state and they weren’t interested in having an ILS beacon set up there.
Besides, her plane couldn’t handle the Cat III equipment that would allow her to land in the exasperating near-zero visibility.
Her F-86 Sabrejet was neither pure North American F-86 Sabrejet nor the Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk 5 variant anymore. One of the last ever produced before the line ended in 1958, she had tinkered with it over the years, including upgrading to the Mk 6’s more powerful Orenda 14 engine. She’d also had to make a few modifications so that she could start the plane herself—normally a ground crew was required to handle the power connections for engine start.
But even with the upgrades it was still all authentically a Sabrejet, and old jet fighters didn’t boast modern electronic suites. To shoehorn them in, she’d have to get a custom-designed cockpit—which was never going to happen. She loved the feel and familiarity of the old “steam” dial gauges mounted in the classic cockpit.
Her sole concession was a small tablet computer that attached to a Velcro strip on the right thigh of her flightsuit for GPS navigation and airport charts.
The preflight checks only took minutes. She rolled out onto the winter-dead grass as the first tendrils of fog began slipping across the field. Her time was shorter than she’d anticipated. She taxied ahead and punched the garage controller to close the hangar door. Normally, even though she lived alone on the island, she’d get down and padlock it from the outside. But this morning the fog was moving in fast.
The island would be uninhabited by humans as soon as she was aloft.
Locking the door really didn’t matter.
You’re taxiing the airplane. Work the checklist.
Fuel tanks full.
Canopy Unsafe alarm dark.
Speed brakes retracted.
The sika deer were back, grazing along the runway as if antique fighter jets rolled by them all the time. They’d never yet run across the runway during a takeoff or landing, but she did hate disturbing their quiet island existence. They were startled every single time by the full-throttle roar of her turbojet engine.
She loved the deer. They were among the island’s many survivors from when Spieden had been set up as a big-game-hunter resort decades ago. Thankfully the zebras, the far larger European fallow deer, and the like were long gone.
Some of the other remaining wildlife she was less pleased about. The incredibly territorial wild turkeys really needed to be cleared out.
There was one particular tom she’d named Dillinger. Especially fond of the acoustics of her front porch—he frequently launched his shrill call there at two in the morning. So far, he had eluded her efforts at capture or kill.
Perhaps she’d throw a hunting party. Which would include herself and…
“You really need some friends,” Miranda could hear Tante Daniels teasing her.
Achin, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan
Elevation: 25,000’
Nine hours earlier

“MC-squared heading down.”
Major Carl Carmichael said it aloud in the cockpit to see how it sounded. He still wasn’t used to his new call sign—“MC-squared” had replaced his “Three-C” nickname almost overnight after his promotion from Captain Carl Carmichael to major two weeks ago. Most guys were tagged with one nickname in a career, but his seemed to keep changing and needed some rethinking each time.
Riding the edge of the never-exceed speed, he dove his A-10C Thunderbolt II “Warthog” down from Flight Level Two-five-zero.
The bitch-cold November sky over the Afghan mountains was a hard, crystalline blue that looked as if it would crack where the sharp glaciated peaks jammed against it. It had that dark purity of midmorning.
It was still dark down in the deep valleys. Real dark for some assholes once he showed up.
“Straight on down, boy. Straight on down.”

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