I'm a bit heavy on the wheels -so much that my take off trim is set to 16- and all my hopes are for the catapult of CVN 74 Stennis to cooperate with enough force to lift my Hornet into the dreadful overcast of the Persian Gulf.
Two AGM-65Fs, weighting 1,500 pounds each and two 330 gallons external tanks add up to a total weight of ~44,000 pounds. Some 10,000 pounds short of the maximum weight, but still enough to make me nervous, I engage the afterburner and I get pushed against my seat. Whatever is free to move does so, including small flaps of the helmet straps, the oxygen line and my head.
The Hornet punches through the morning and climbs at 30 degrees. I let the afterburner engaged, just for kicks, and the aircraft pierces through the low ceiling and breaks into a morning so bright and serene that for a second I forget how much is at stake with this covert mission.
I check in with a Navy Seals team located on one of the tiny rocky islands north of Oman. I was not allowed their exact location, but earlier in the morning I heard the Seals were happy that the weather has worsened so those pesky vacationers with their scuba diver excursions were far from their observation posts. Nonetheless, the hushed tones of their talk strike me as coming from men still in hide. Coordinates, give me coordinates ...
The Iranians are up to start a war as the victims of aggression. With a series of provocations that nobody could claim as theirs, they want to incite the US into firing in anger. During the last two days, a dry cargo ship under a fake flag was observed covertly mining the Strait of Hormuz.
The Royal Navy of Oman has offered its help and quickly came to the conclusion that the cargo ship is equipped with advanced electronics and that they stop their mining activities as soon they detect potential threats. The US Government wants to expose this provocation and prove the world that is originated from Iran. A special operations team is to board the ship, videotape the evidence and quickly get out to allow the US Navy to sink the ship.
Since no naval radars are allowed for this operation, I rely on coordinates sent from the Seal Team placed in the rocky islands below. I punch in the coordinates as a new waypoint and I immediately orient the Hornet towards the reported position of the Iranian ship.
Some 10 miles off, I start a shallow dive and the aircraft gains speed. I cut the throttle and bitching Betty starts screaming at my altitude being below 5,000 feet. I have to keep my dive as shallow as possible, the ceiling is relatively low and the risk of crashing is high.
With the guns selected, I start scanning the sea around waypoint 6, which now has become a target point. All the symbology clutters my view of the Iranian ship and I have to watch through the side of the HUD to visually acquire the damn thing.
In probably the worst strafe in the history of the US Navy, I hit the Iranian ship with a few rounds out of the many I shot. Yes, shallow angles mean less precise aiming. Nonetheless, I was supposed to stun the Iranian crew. Not sure if I did it with the gun or the airmanship. That marks the start of the operation. I mic the codeword for go and two US Navy helicopters descend from the clouds. A team of Seals moves into the Iranian vessel all guns blazing. They mark the ship with two red flares and red smoke, just to keep me away for the time being.
I circle the vessel at low altitude and wait until the Seals gain control of the ship and they videotape the evidence found in it. For a good six minutes, I check and recheck my engine, the Maverick missiles and the fuel.
The Seals start to pull out from the ship using rubber boats. To mark their exit, they mark the ship with green flares and green smoke. I just have to wait a few minutes for them to be out of range from my missiles.
I lock the ship with my Maverick missiles in ship mode. Is like shooting fish in a barrel, with the obvious aggravation of flying at high speed at the target.
Two AGM-65Fs shot in quick succession impact the ship in the middle, shake it and twist it to a point where you can see it flexing its structure. There must have been some secondary explosions, I suppose.
The ship succumbs to its wounds in a few minutes. Many crew members have already bailed into life boats, others just jump out of the sinking ship and swim frantically. It is time for me to get back to my carrier.
The generous provision of fuel in external tanks turned out not to be necessary, so I punch out the two of them into the sea below. I also, had to dump quite a lot of fuel just to achieve a safe weight for the carrier trap.
The approach to the Stennis is short and incident-less. All checks performed, I slow down to accomodate my bird into the right airspeed and altitude. Once I nail the correct angle of attack, the usual throttle work follows. I then realize that my communications with the Seal team are intently cut. This is something planned and I was briefed about but forgot. It feels odd not to be part of the team anymore ...
I hit the first cable. Paddles looks at me like he has seen a murder being commited. I will hear from him, I'm sure.