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M. L. "Matt" Buchman

White Top (+audio)

White Top (+audio)

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When a political conspiracy targets the White House’s aircraft—only the nation’s #1 air-crash investigators can save the country.
The White Top helicopters of HMX-1 are known by a much more familiar name: Marine One. The S-92A, the newest helicopter in the HMX fleet, enters service after years of testing.
When their perfect safety record lies shattered across a shopping mall, Miranda Chase and her team of NTSB air-crash investigators go in. They must discover if it was an accident, a declaration of war, or something even worse.

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Naval Air Station Anacostia
Elevation: unlisted for security reasons
Washington, DC
Six days ago

Major Tamatha Jones forced herself to breathe calmly. Marine Corps helicopter pilots were not supposed to be nervous under any conditions, but today was proving to be the exception to the rule. Within the next thirty minutes, she’d be flying the President aboard his Marine One helicopter for her first time.
She worked her way through the preflight walkaround—a wholly redundant activity here at HMX-1. Their mechanics were the best in the world and the squadron’s birds reflected it; they had to. And none more so than her helo. When the President of the United States stepped aboard and it became Marine One, everything had to be perfect.
But she still always did a full preflight inspection after the crew chiefs were done.
Then she took one more circle around her brand-new VH-92A Superhawk just…because. Sixty-eight feet and six inches of executive transport muscle. Marine green below, white top above, and, block-lettered in white down the sides, “United States of America.” The only bright colors on the entire bird were also the ones that mattered most—the blue-and-yellow Presidential seals affixed below both pilots’ side windows.
For her passengers’ sake, the Superhawk offered luxury seating, including a pair of armchairs for the President and a guest, couches alongside, and more seating to the rear. Less obvious were the armor, attack evasion gear (both passive and active), a fully isolatable air system, and a communications suite that could run a war—at least a small one. This wasn’t Air Force One after all.
During the last four years of testing and certification of the VH-92A, Tamatha had made the landing on the White House’s South Lawn over a hundred times in the simulator. She’d also made it in the real world seven times—always when the President was not in residence so that he wouldn’t be disturbed.
But today was the first transport of President Roy Cole aboard the Marines’ newest bird. And unexpectedly, the first Presidential “lift” in a Superhawk had fallen to her—carrying him from the White House for the ten-mile flight to Air Force One waiting at Andrews Air Force Base.
Normally, HMX-1 commander Colonel McGrady was the President’s pilot. But he was already prepositioned at Tel Nof Airbase in Israel, the first stop of the President’s whirlwind global tour. The colonel would fly more than twenty-seven hours with the President aboard—and many more without him—during the next six days.
She’d be aloft for approximately six and a half minutes.
It didn’t matter.
McGrady had tapped her for the Number Two slot, and she would be the first to fly the Commander-in-Chief aboard a Superhawk. Life just didn’t get any damn better than being a Marine Corps pilot.
She trailed a hand over the shining paint job, after wiping her fingertips on the leg of her dress slacks to make sure she wouldn’t leave any smudges. The dark green paint was mirror-bright enough for her to check the set of her short-sleeved Service C—or more commonly Service Charlie—tan uniform shirt. Even the hubs of the wheels shone. Not a speck of grease would dare blemish a Marine One helo, not when it was prepared by the Marines of HMX-1.
At the nose of the bird, Tamatha turned to face her helo directly and saluted sharply.
“Seriously, Major?” Her copilot strolled over from the ready room. Vance “Tex” Brown was from Texas rather than the great state of Colorado, so there was no accounting for him.

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