The Price of Freedom – Page 3

“If I could get that money in this cockpit where I could keep an eye on it, I’d have a better day!” Grizzley answered.

“In that case, please do not open the bay doors en route,” Thomas quipped, a crooked grin on his face. “Have a nice flight, Colonel.”

Grizzley stepped onto the seat and squeezed down into it. He adjusted the safety belts, slipped on his helmet and clicked the electrical together. He flipped two ‘Engine Start” switches and adjusted his feet on the rudders in the narrow confines of the foot well. The twin engines whined to life, building to a deafening roar. Grizzley tapped the stick and slid his foot off the left rudder/brake. The aircraft slowly moved, the front wheel angled peculiarly in its’ tight turn. He straightened the front wheel and pushed hard on both brakes again. The green tinted canopy lowered into place and locked, solid metal pins slid through the hardened titanium tub surrounding the cockpit. He closed the bay doors and pushed the throttles forward, the dual General Electric turbofan engines roared. The aircraft strained against the brakes as the engines produced an ear-splitting scream. Grizzley throttled on more power, looked out the left and right sides of the canopy, out of habit, and then lifted his feet. The A-10 rolled, picked up speed as it thundered down the metal track, tires thumped on the seams. Closing fast on the end of the rusty strip, Grizzley pulled back on the stick and felt the aircraft smooth, the wheels were clear. He tapped the handle, the gear pulled up into its streamlined housings and he rolled the aircraft east and climbed into cloudless Cyan sky.

The red warning light wasn’t apparent until seven minutes into the flight. Grizzley had been lost in thought as the plane climbed. When he did notice it, he cursed his haste and lack of procedure. He knew better. God Dammit, why didn’t he take 30 seconds more to walk the aircraft? Koboda had rattled him! Chills raced up his spine, a cold realization that Koboda could have somehow sabotaged his flight back to Petersen pervaded his consciousness.

Underneath the plane, a corner of the satchel was jammed between the bay doors. The 340-knot wind buffeted the exposed portion. As it rattled, the doors flexed. Grizzley had no way of knowing why the doors didn’t latch, only that the panel warning light was telling him they hadn’t.

He glanced at the altimeter: through 16,000 feet, high enough to get over Red Mountain Pass, yet sixteen minutes to Petersen. There was no excess drag or vibration in the plane when it rotated. Koboda had no reason to want him dead.

The monotone ‘beep, beep, beep’ was audible a scant four minutes later, even through the Colonel’s helmet. A second red light flashed incessantly. “Sonuvabitch,” he yelled, “damn doors are open.” The wind howled up through the plane’s innards.

Grizzley could just barely hear a faint thudding noise coming from below as the dull roar of wind rushed over the canopy. “Awwww, holy shit!” he shouted, slamming his gloved fist against his knee, “that Goddamn satchel is the problem! One end of it must’ve dropped when I started the engines. Koboda said the handles were twisted around a hardpoint, now it’s banging around.” He flipped the ‘Bay Doors’ switch several times without a response. Must have shorted the electrical. If those doors don’t close, the wind is going to rip that satchel apart. My money is going to shower the Rocky Mountains. I’m going to lose all my cash!

Grizzley’s mind raced, how am I going to get out of this? Can’t return to Koboda’s strip, only enough fuel to make Petersen; coming up on the halfway point at fourteen minutes out. Can’t land with the bay doors open. Damn! I was in too big a hurry. He cursed at himself repeatedly. My half a million is causing all kinds of havoc!

Below the cockpit, the satchel whipped violently around inside the aircraft, striking the 500-pounders. The handles held fast to the bomb’s upper mounting hardpoint, but the maelstrom of wind and the ferocity had caused the second bomb to detach. The tail of the bomb flailed against the first and third.An amber light on the panel lit and flashed, Grizzley knew instantly it meant the front hardpoint had somehow released and the rear hardpoint was about to. “Goddamn greed is going to be the death of me! To Hell with the money, can’t spend it if I’m dead!” he yelled at his own predicament. Those bombs have got to go before they punch holes in the fuselage, or worse. If that happens, this crate won’t be airworthy any more. It’s gonna be a twenty-two ton rock. I’ll take my chances on landing this ship with the doors open when I get back to Petersen. I can concoct some story as to why I had to jettison the bombs. The open bay doors will serve to corroborate my story. The only thing I’ll have to worry about is hell from the C.O.He dropped the left wing and looked toward the valley to see if there were any towns below. His thumb slipped onto the bomb release button. The noise worsened, he leveled the aircraft. Hope there’s no one down there, these duds are going to dig mighty deep holes when they hit. Hopefully the snowpack will hide them for a long time. He noted the GPS coordinates, wrote it on his knee-pad and punched the release. Better know where I released these duds, I’ll want to find that satchel … if I get out of this! Two red lights illuminated on the panel, two bombs were away. Grizzley thumbed the release again; the third light wouldn’t come on. Why won’t that bomb release? What the hell is going on down there? Awww shit! Did the satchel go with the first two or is it still hanging in the bay?Grizzley had no way of knowing the satchel was still attached to the last bomb in the bay and the handles were showing signs of fatigue. The oscillation had caused the front hardpoint on the remaining bomb to release and the fins had actuated as it disconnected. The bomb had dropped nose first; it hung out of the bay, just below the bottom of the doors. The tail of the 500-pounder dangled dangerously close to hydraulic control lines. Dropping into a pocket of dead air and back out just as fast, the sudden turbulence twisted the heavy blue bag, at the same instant the rear mounting tab bent and tore off. The wind thrust the entangled satchel and the bomb against the bulkhead. It rotated several times, tail fins severed stabilizer and rudder fluid lines and electrical cable, then both banged their way out of the bay. Every light on the instrument panel in front of Grizzley flickered and went out. Gauges immediately went to zero, the stick jerked forward to the panel.Grizzley knew instantly control of the aircraft was gone and he knew he was in trouble. Serious trouble. He had to get out. No time to think about it…or his money. He leaned forward, tucked his chin, grabbed both handholds at the base of the ejection seat and squeezed the firing mechanism.

It happened fast…he didn’t notice the aircraft dead heading toward snow-covered 14,647-foot Uncompahgre Peak. Out of control, the A-10 descended two thousand feet in four seconds. It clipped solid granite protruding from the mountainside, most of the lower fuselage crumpled on impact, the bay doors were ripped from the aircraft and one engine was nearly torn off. The aircraft careened off ice-laden jagged rock and nosed down, missing the majority of the shadowy granite as it fell. It impacted the base of the mountain about 10,000 feet, just above tree-line. An explosion echoed throughout the valley. The tremendous noise caused an avalanche to roar down the mountainside from 2500 feet above. The plane was completely buried in a matter of seconds.

“In our top news story tonight,” the 10 o’clock television news anchor said, “the information officer at Petersen Air Force Base in Colorado Springs is reporting an A-10 aircraft has been missing for 72 hours. A ground search is imminent.”

The television report caught the attention of the men in Grizzley Adams’ squadron. Each man in the room looked up from what they were doing to focus on the screen. They all knew Grizzley was missing, but they hoped for information they didn’t know. The news anchor continued; “the last communication with the pilot, Colonel Dan Adams was noted as normal, although he reported being off course near Red Mountain Pass. It is surmised the plane may have experienced mechanical trouble and could have gone down west of Alamosa. Ground and air search parties have been organized for southwestern Colorado and will cover an area of nearly 2500 square miles.”

The low muffle of voices buzzed throughout the room, they all knew there was a good chance Colonel Dan “Grizzley” Adams, a veteran of Vietnam combat, was dead.

The news anchor wrapped up the evening news story with; “It is likely the record snowfall in that area will hamper the recovery of the body and the aircraft. There is a possibility the wreckage will not be found until summer, after spring snowmelt.”

No mention was made of the three tactical nuclear weapons the Colonel had been transporting.