Punk's Wing - Ward Carroll Carroll really knows how to write techno-novels. This one is actually the second after Punk's War and before Punk's Fight. I have read the other two and both are excellent if you enjoy a very realistic and detailed portrait of what it's like to fly off and on and aircraft carrier. Tom Clancy, eat your heart out.

The heart of this story involves RAG (Replacement Air Group) pilots going through training. During one of their exercises, the F-14 in which his best friend is the RIO instructor has the canopy sliced through by the wing of the formation jet flying next to him when it made an inadvertent roll. Both he and the pilot are killed immediately, the others managing to bail out in time. When the same thing happen to another RAG pilot, a female nicknamed "Muddy," (all of the pilots and RIOs have special call-signs) because she rolled her jet off the runway into the mud, this time with no casualties, Punk wonders if perhaps there might not be some flaw in the software that controls the flying surfaces.

Several things astonished me, one being the enormous amount of fuel consumer by the jets. Almost immediately after takeoff from a carrier, it's time to refuel so airborne refueling has to become second nature. And it puts tremendous pressure on the pilots to land on the carrier the first time. If they have to make too many attempts, and no refueling is available, it's bye-bye million dollar airplane. It does make one wonder if drones might not be a better way to go, after all. That would really piss off the fighter jocks, ceding control to some pimple-faced 18-year-old operating a joy-stick in an air-conditioned trailer in New Mexico.

Clearly the author, who flew Navy jets himself for many years, knows whereof he speaks. and has little time for the Air Force pilots who land on a huge runway that doesn't move. "We don't flare our jets and gently touch down on our million-foot-long, ten-thousand-foot-wide runways. We start our flights by hooking our jets up to a catapult and throwing all sixty-seven thousand pounds of them into the air in two-point-seven seconds, and when we're done we slam down at a seven-hundred-foot-per-minute rate of descent, catch a wire with our tail-hook while our jets are at full military power and stop within a couple hundred feet. And, oh, by the way, our runway moves around in the angry sea, and we land at night and in bad weather." Crazy.

Some really evocative writing of what it's like, and the technology involved, to land an F-14 on the deck of a carrier at night.

Carroll is no fool. This book was published in 2003 which presupposes that he wrote it in 2002. At the end of the book, the squadron is sent off to the Boat immediately following 9/11. There they are briefed by a couple of spooks about Afghanistan and the length of the flights to get there. Afterwards, the skipper gets their attention and ponders the differences and similarities between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. ”But once you get past the fact we were caught off guard, this thing we’re calling Operation Enduring Freedom and World War Two won’t have much in common. I guarantee you this operation won’t provide the closure that the nation got in 1945. You won’t see the Taliban and Bin Laden averting their eyes and looking remorseful on the deck of one of our warships. We’re all riding an emotional high, but it won’t last. After the flags stop waving, we’ll still be here, seeing this thing through.” The CO eyed his charges and didn’t speak further. At that moment, Punk thought him a very wise man. Indeed.