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Hypersonic Thunder

Hypersonic Thunder

by Walter J. Boyne

The jet age began in 1939 with the brief hop of a secret German airplane. Seventy years later, the entire world depends upon the jet engine in every sphere - political, military, economic, and social. In Hypersonic Thunder, Walter Boyne weaves an intricate story of how the jet engine changed aeronautics and astronautics, pushing the frontiers of flight


The jet age began in 1939 with the brief hop of a secret German airplane. Seventy years later, the entire world depends upon the jet engine in every sphere - political, military, economic, and social. In Hypersonic Thunder, Walter Boyne weaves an intricate story of how the jet engine changed aeronautics and astronautics, pushing the frontiers of flight forward and permitting humankind to enter the space age.

Drawing on his knowledge of the period, Boyne paints a gripping picture of jet aviation from the brilliant supersonic Concorde to the coming challenges of hypersonic flight. Using the fictional Shannons as a vehicle, the author ranges the world of aviation, combining the triumphs and tragedies of great aviation companies with the familiar conflicts of family life. All of the great names of aeronautics and astronautics appear here as they did on the historic scene, including such luminaries as Howard Hughes, Kelly Johnson, Burt Rutan, and Steve Fossett.

The book thunders with the clash of combat, ranging from the courageous fights of the Israeli Air Force down through the raid on Libya, Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, and, most important the ongoing war on terror. And space is not neglected, as Boyne covers everything from Skylab and the Space Shuttle, with its great achievements and terrible tragedies, to the International Space Station.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Boyne, former director of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, delivers the final installment in his historical aerospace trilogy, after Roaring Thunder and Supersonic Thunder. Spanning from 1973 to 2007, the novel follows three generations of the fictional Shannon family, powerful players in the aerospace industry. Patriarch Vance, a WWI fighter pilot, established Aerospace Consultants, later run by his twin sons, Tom and Harry. Bob Rodriguez, ace pilot from the Korean War and "electronics genius," runs the research and development arm. Conflicts quickly arise in the Shannons' personal and professional lives: Tom's wife, Nancy, takes the company's reins during his six years as a Hanoi POW; Harry is distracted from the business in caring for his alcoholic wife, Anna; and Bob faces divorce when his wife, Mae, grows tired of his workaholic habits. An even more colorful drama plays out in the background, with astonishing technological advances like GPS and space shuttles, and the machinations of real-life titans like Howard Hughes and Steve Fossett. Boyne's well-paced saga, with its technical slant, will surely appeal to aviation buffs. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
“The saga isn’t a new genre, but the aviation saga is—and Walter Boyne invented it. Here’s a first-rate story of the jet age from our foremost aviation writer.”

—Stephen Coonts, author of The Assassin, on Supersonic Thunder

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Tom Doherty Associates
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Novels of the Jet Age
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Chapter One

February 12, 1973

The "Hanoi Hilton"

Tom Shannon watched unbelieving as the first group of 120 American prisoners of war formed up in columns of two. They looked strange in their ill-fitting new clothes—dark blue pants, light blue shirts, windbreakers, and some kind of little black bag. The clothes were the only new thing in the entire prison, with its worn walls, tired paint, and rusting iron fixtures.

According to the ceaseless tap code messages, those vibrating signals of defiance, they were being returned home. The POWs had tried to argue that the most injured and the sickest should go first, but the North Vietnamese had insisted on them going back in the order in which they came.

The tap code.

It was the only thing that kept him alive. Even though he was forbidden from mixing with the rest of the POWs, they knew he was there, and their messages had sustained him. It came in many ways—the traditional tapping, by hand signal, even by bits of string, knotted in a Braille-like code. The tap code told him things had changed in the last year for the others—beatings had stopped, discipline had relaxed, relief packages were not plundered so badly, and food had improved.

But not for him.

His rations had never improved, but his last beating had been four months earlier, when the Rabbit had administered a scientific series of kicks and blows that brought him near death once again. He still ached, especially his ribs, which always seemed to take the longest to heal. One of the most vicious guards, nicknamed the Rabbit for his manner, had an obsessive, inexplicable hatred for Shannon.

The gaunt fighter pilot, former commander of the 6th Fighter Interceptor Wing, watched with envy from his latest cell, perched on the second floor of the main building. They had moved him around at random intervals, apparently determined to prevent him from making any contact with other prisoners. Now, by standing on his toes and clutching the open windowsill, he could peer through a gap in the wooden shutters for a view of the yard where the six buses were parked. Ironically, the Rabbit seemed to be supervising the departure just as he supervised the torture.

Shannon sat down for a moment to gather his strength. It was emotionally draining to see the months-old rumors about the coming freedom suddenly become real—but only for the others.

Painfully he clawed his way up to squint again through the shutters, his vision, once so acute that he could pick out an enemy plane miles distant, now blurred. He knew that Everett Alvarez was probably leading the group. Everett was the longest surviving prisoner, kept here or in other filthy North Vietnamese prisons for eight years. Now Alvarez and the others were being set free, at last. It was incredible.

A wave of trembling fear swept over him. Now he knew why the North Vietnamese had always kept him separate from the rest of the POWs—they never intended to release him.

In his six years of tortured confinement, he had spoken to only one other American, Michael Pavone, his backseater in their F-4 that had been shot down. Pavone had saved his life, nursing him back to precarious health for months. When Shannon had recovered sufficiently to be interrogated, the North Vietnamese promptly beat Pavone to death, as if punishing him for aiding Shannon.

Six years, that surely entitled him to be in the first group—if they were going to let him go at all. He could never understand why they kept him separated, nor could the other prisoners, who came to know him only by the covert tap code that linked them together, day and night. The other prisoners were naturally suspicious of him at first, fearing that he was a North Vietnamese spy using the tap code to gain information. It took weeks before he convinced them that he was truly an American pilot.

The only rational explanation for his isolation was their resentment for his leading the famous Operation Toro, which trapped and shot down a lot of North Vietnamese MiGs. And later when the North Vietnamese had placed him in one of their crude propaganda films, he had outfoxed them. Even as he parroted their stilted phrases, he had blinked a message in Morse Code with his eyes, one that told the world that he was being coerced. Both events had earned him many beatings. The other prisoners had been beaten for similar things, but were not kept isolated for so long.

Now Shannon was blinking away the tears coursing down his face. He hated himself for crying, but the thought of everyone going free, of them seeing their families again, while he stayed here, rotting alive, was impossible to bear. He was wearing the same filthy, black pajamas that he had worn for months. That was the sure sign that he was not going home, not now, not ever.

Shannon looked out at the grubby yard. There was some sort of disturbance—the POWs were refusing to get on the drab blue buses. He could see the Rabbit, his own particular nemesis, railing at someone—it had to be Alvarez or Robby Risner, the men who had been here longest.

The Rabbit turned and left the yard, and Tom slumped down, unwilling to watch anymore.

I've got to get hold of myself. I cannot give in now. They cannot beat me now. Not after all this misery. He had started his mental rosary, the prayers that had kept him sane for so many months.

Fifteen minutes passed before his cell door burst open and the Rabbit came in, furious and bearing an armload of clothing. As always, the Rabbit's hair was closely cut, his uniform pristine, his lean body erect.

"Put these on. Your friends won't leave without you."

Tom reached out for the clothes carefully, certain that the Rabbit was toying with him. He tossed his filthy black pajama top to the side and pulled on a shirt, his bruised and battered fingers having trouble with the buttons. What a magnificent group of men his fellow prisoners were, renouncing their own freedom to save a man they had never seen, never talked to.

Only when he slid into the dark blue trousers did he allow himself to hope that his long agony was coming to an end. He was going home. He only wished Pavone was going with him.

March 17, 1973,

Palos Verdes, California

VANCE SHANNON STARED at the television set. For so many months it had been a source of pain to him, watching the debacle unfold in Vietnam, watching the miserable, long-haired peaceniks demonstrating against the United States, against their own country, by God, the worthless bunch of traitors.

But now television was an unbelievable source of hope. It had picked up the dot of an airplane in the distance, panning over the crowd of people waiting at Travis Air Force Base to greet the returning prisoners of war. Almost everyone in Shannon's family was there to greet Tom when he stepped off the plane. Nancy and V. R. were there, and so were Harry, Tom's twin brother, and his wife, Anna. Vance Shannon's wife Jill had stayed home to nurse him, as she had done for so long.

"By God, Jill, I should have gone, I shouldn't have missed this."

Jill patted him on the shoulder as she had the previous ten times he raised his plaintive cry.

"No, honey, it's best you are here. Let Tom and Nancy have their get-together, and he'll be home to see you in a day or two. After six long years, you can wait another few days."

It was not like Shannon to wait for anything. An ace in World War I, he had become one of the top test pilots in the United States, ranking with Eddie Allen, Jim McAvoy, and Vance Breese. Afterward, building on his test pilot reputation, he had started a one-man consulting firm that quickly grew into an industry legend. His twin sons, Tom and Harry, had helped, but his real forte had been in picking innovative young leaders, giving them a piece of the business, and letting them run with it. Now Aerospace Consultants had offices in eight cities and was a major force in industries no one had dreamed of when he had been flying his SPAD on the Western Front, or even when he was testing Mustangs for North American. Aerospace Consultants and its subsidiaries were a force in avionics, simulators, precision guided munitions, and the executive jet business.

At seventy-eight, Shannon was in better shape than he had any right to be. He'd survived a severe stroke, and by sheer willpower had brought himself back to the point that he was still of real value to the company he founded—at least on the airplane and engine side. Most of the rest he left to Bob Rodriquez, a twelve-victory ace in Korea, and an electronics genius who had carried the firm to new levels that he and his boys, smart as they were, could never have reached.

"I wish I could pick out Nancy in the crowd. She was wearing that fancy hat with the feather on the side, but I still can't see her. I'd love to see her reaction when Tom comes off the plane."

"And I'd really love to see Tom's reaction when he sees her and V. R."

March 17, 1973

Travis Air Force Base, California

NANCY SHANNON HELD tight to V. R.'s arm. At twenty, young Vance Robert was as tall as his father had been, six-one, and built just like him. On leave from the Air Force Academy to meet his father, V. R. searched his mother's face to see how she was bearing up.

He had been fourteen when his father, the old warhorse, had returned to the Air Force and volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam. Tom Shannon had blazed brightly across the Vietnamese skies, shooting down four—and perhaps five—North Vietnamese MiGs before being shot down and imprisoned for six interminable years. In the meantime Nancy Shannon had soldiered on, taking on more and more responsibility with the business, pushed by both Harry and Vance Shannon, who wanted to see her occupied, her mind off the tortures they all knew that Tom was enduring.

V. R. tried to drink in everything, the surging crowd, emotions bubbling like champagne, the endless waiting as the airplane bringing his father changed from a tiny dot against the gray overcast of the sky to this huge Lockheed C-141 now slowly taxiing up to the carefully plotted area where the prisoners would be received.

It was a beautiful aircraft. V. R. noted the tail number, 60177, and the name on the nose, "City of San Bernardino." It was impossible to believe that the father he loved so much was just two hundred yards away, inside the strong white fuselage of the C-141.

The aircraft moved into position, the band played the Air Force song, and the waiting relatives surged at the velvet ropes restraining them. There was going to be a ceremony—naturally, this was the Air Force, and the returning men deserved it. Everyone had been briefed that the senior officer would get off first, say a few words, then be followed down by the others, each man to salute and be saluted and then released to the embrace of his family.

His mother's grip tightened on his arm as the big door of the C-141 opened at last. A long joyous roar erupted when the first man stepped out and said a few words. Neither Nancy nor V. R. noticed, for their eyes were fixed on the vacant spot where Tom would first appear. As each man hit the door, their hearts leaped, then fell back. In what seemed hours, fifteen former POWs, looking thin but surprisingly fit in their brand-new uniforms, had given their salutes and then been swamped by their loving families.

Finally Tom appeared, moved down the steps, saluted, and then turned to hobble toward them. Nancy dropped V. R.'s arm and raced to him, folding him in an embrace, tears flowing. V. R. walked up slowly behind her, smiling, feeling happy and strangely safe for the first time since his father had left.

March 17, 1973

Palos Verdes, California


Vance leaped up from his chair, grabbed Jill, and squeezed.

"He's moving a little slow, but he looks pretty good."

"Look, there's Nancy! Where's V. R.?"

Jill squeezed his arm affectionately saying, "Look, just behind him, that tall, good-looking cadet." Harry and Anna were also visible now, coming up the ramp.

By this time Tom was embracing V. R. as well, and then the camera cut to the C-141 fuselage as the next man appeared.

Vance flopped back in his chair, yelling, "Get some champagne, Jill, we need a drink. By God, I'm glad that I lived to see this day."

Jill had already popped a bottle of her favorite champagne, Korbel, and handed Vance a glass, knowing he'd barely sip it.

They basked in the glow of the television set, watching the other returning prisoners of war greet their families, sensing the tidal wave of emotion surging across the Travis flight line, senior officers weeping unashamedly, children clutching their fathers' legs, long separated husbands and wives kissing with an intense fervor.

There was a brief glimpse of Nancy and Tom walking hand in hand, V. R. following behind them, his face radiant with pleasure, and behind him, Harry and Anna, looking on with a combination of concern for Tom's condition and happiness for his release.

The scene switched and Jill said, "I hope they will never have to suffer again. I hope they will all be happy."

Vance reached up behind him and patted her arm. "We've had such a nice life and my kids have had so much trouble, it doesn't seem fair, does it? Harry has to be concerned about Anna falling off the wagon all the time; it's affected his work. You know he rarely flies anymore. Can you imagine that, a Shannon not flying? And Nancy—she's a marvel in the business, but a bone in Harry's throat. And her practically running the business will kill Tom. You know how proud he is. He couldn't take the rivalry from Bob Rodriquez; he'll never be able to stand Nancy running things, no matter how much he loves her."

Jill was stunned. Vance had not commented on the family or the business for weeks.

Obviously agitated, he went on. "And I haven't mentioned Bob and Mae! There's no way that Bob's going to be able to work with Nancy. I've created a monster, and now I'm too old to do anything about it."

He looked up at her and smiled. "Fooled you, didn't I? You thought I was out of it. Well, I am, but I'm not completely senile, not yet, and I can see the handwriting on the wall."

Jill nodded. She agreed with him completely, but didn't want to get him more excited than he was. Funny, here Vance was, pushing eighty, and absolutely right in everything he said.

"Don't let it get you down, Jill. We've had a good long run, and I may have a few more years, and I'm not going to let this bother me, no matter how it turns out. The main thing is Tom is out of that rotten prison camp, that's really all that matters to me now."

March 17, 1973

Niceville, Florida

BOB RODRIQUEZ SAT in his cramped apartment, staring at the television set, his hands gripping the grubby armrests of his chair as he watched his friend, his rival, his enemy, turn and stumble into Nancy Shannon's open arms.

Tears coursed down Rodriquez's deeply tanned face. He had known the returning prisoner of war for more than twenty years and could not believe that this gaunt, limping shadow of a man was actually Tom Shannon. He spoke aloud to himself, as he did too often nowadays. "God, how happy he must be. And Nancy and V. R., too." The sight of Tom Shannon's son reminded him of his own son, Robert Jr.—Rod, as most people called him. Rod was another precious person he had lost to his work.

Then his thoughts went to Vance, wondering how he was taking this. He wasn't in the crowd, must be home in Palos Verdes. Thank God he lived long enough to see it.

"I'll call him later—he's probably more choked up than I am."

A commercial came on and Rodriquez shut the set off. It was the one possession he prized, built with his own hands, and now carted around the country with him, wherever he went.

And he went everywhere, carrying the flag that Vance Shannon had planted so many years ago, when he ran a one-man company, flying first flights in new aircraft for a laughably low fee. Shannon's firm had grown in the post World War II armament boom, and he had brought Rodriquez in as a partner, over the objections of his two sons, Tom and Harry. Both sons were hurt that their father had violated all his previous practice by doing something without discussing it with them.

Later, neither of them—not even Tom, the more bitter of the two—could deny that Rodriquez had vastly expanded the business, taking it into disciplines that were unknown and even unknowable to the Shannons. Rodriquez combined his knowledge of electronics with an uncanny ability to find partner firms. He developed ideas such as three-axis simulators or precision weapons, built prototypes, got the government interested, and then found a bigger company to partner with. The result was a constantly growing business, with welcome streams of income coming back to Shannon's firm.

Vance Shannon had recognized his value early, even though he almost never understood exactly what Rodriquez was doing. Shannon took the firm public, and completed a series of name changes, each one reflecting its expanding scope. Rodriquez had ridden the crest of the wave and was now president and chief engineer of Aerospace Unlimited. Nancy Shannon, Tom's second wife, ran the parent company, which had been renamed "Vance Shannon, Incorporated" to honor the old man. Nancy gave Rodriquez a great deal of independence, but in the end, she was calling the shots, with the support of the board of directors.

Bob had been living at 1550 Foster Road, Apartment 1C, on and off for six months. He spent at least half his time traveling, making it increasingly tough to supervise the rapidly growing interests of the firm Vance Shannon had established for him. This apartment was convenient, about three miles from the flight line at Eglin Air Force Base, where the latest version of his laser-guided bomb was being tested.

Until three weeks ago, Bob had been living like some brokendown cold-call vacuum cleaner salesman, getting by with a mattress on the floor in the bedroom, his prized television plopped on a box in the living room. The only other furniture was a stool at the breakfast bar, where he ate miserable meals that ranged from a low of a frozen dinner to the relative high of Wheaties cereal and milk that was still fresh.

Then Mae had called, saying she was coming for one last visit. Panicking, he called Barron Rents, furnishing the place with a single order over the telephone, hoping to mask his miserable bachelor existence from her. Now he flopped back in the plaid recliner, the least offensive thing in the mud-ugly combination of cheap furniture and universal draperies. Everything was glaringly new, unmatched and unloved, and the dismal ensemble told his lonely story even better than a mattress on the floor might have.

He smiled to himself as he thought of the early days of their courtship, when Mae would have found the mattress on the floor erotic—they had made love in many other equally uncomfortable places.

A pain stabbed him as he thought about Tom being reunited with Nancy at the same time Mae was cutting ties with him. He still couldn't believe it, but he couldn't argue the point. He'd been an absentee husband, gone for months at a time, and Mae was too good for such treatment. He loved her and Rod, their seventeen-year-old son, but he was obsessed with the new weaponry he was helping create, and he let his work take precedence. Things were not going to improve. Now there was a new system on the horizon, one with possibilities that surpassed even his fervid imagination.

He didn't blame her. Mae had warned him four years ago that something had to give—and now she was serious. She had probably met someone else, it was inevitable. He couldn't blame her. He had always been faithful to her with women, but always unfaithful with work.

A mental image of Tom's face as he knew him in Korea suddenly surfaced in his mind. Shannon had been young, blond, and ruggedly handsome. Rodriquez had been top dog then, a twelve-victory ace, while Tom was a relative newcomer, eager to go to war in MiG Alley. Tom, a Marine ace in World War II, scored four MiG kills officially during the war, with a fifth victory being confirmed four years later, so he was a jet ace, too.

Later, Tom had introduced him to his father, Vance Shannon, the legendary test pilot turned industry consultant. Vance had taken an immediate liking to him, for he saw—as Tom did as well—that Rodriquez was an electronics genius, with qualities and talents that the Shannons did not possess.

For a brief while he had gotten along well with all of them, Vance, Tom, his twin brother Harry, and the rest of the Shannon organization, Aerospace Consultants, Incorporated, as it was called then. Bob liked them and had worked hard. But things changed when Vance brought him, unannounced, into the firm as a partner. Both brothers were upset, but Tom took it as a personal affront.

As Bob scored one phenomenal business success after another, Tom's enmity grew to the point that he left the firm and rejoined the Air Force. This nearly broke Vance's heart and upset everyone else, including Nancy and Harry. Tom gained some glory in Vietnam, shaping up a fighter wing and shooting down at least four MiGs. On his last mission, he was shot down and had to suffer the brutal horrors of Vietnamese imprisonment for more than six years.

The phone rang—it was Steve O'Malley, now a full colonel and working with him on the latest project.

"Did you see Tom get off the C-141?" Shannon's World War II exploits had made him O'Malley's hero well before he went to the Air Force Academy.

"Yeah, he looked a little rough, but he'll recover. He's a survivor, obviously."

"Have you talked to Vance yet?"

"No, I'm going to wait about an hour, and then call him. Give him a chance to settle in."

"Good idea. How are you coming on the presentation?"

"I've got all the transparencies done for the overhead projector, and have the notes for you to look at. This is going to be a tough sell—an unproven project, ungodly expensive, and years before we get any results. Not what Pentagon staffers like to hear."

O'Malley laughed, saying, "You got that right. If we sell this one, we should look around for buyers for the Brooklyn Bridge," before hanging up.

Both men were at Eglin to continue testing on upgraded versions of the Paveway bombs that the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing—the Wolf Pack—had used to take out the bridge at Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam. Rodriquez had been the guiding light behind the Paveways, working on site at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand to prepare the weapons for the raid. The laser-guided bombs did what hundreds of previous sorties had failed to do—destroy the bridge.

Few people other than the top military commanders had any idea of the real importance of precision guided munitions. Instead of sending a hundred airplanes to drop four bombs each, hoping that one would strike the target, you could now send one airplane, with two bombs, to take out two targets. The implications for strategy, for the budget, and for force size were immeasurable, and they were only just now beginning to be understood. One of Rodriquez's major tasks was to convince commanders that they could operate with fewer aircraft, if those aircraft were equipped with laser-guided bombs.

Now they were creating something that promised to vastly improve the accuracy of precision guided weapons, as well as create a whole new technique for navigation. In two weeks, they were going to the Pentagon to brief the Chief of Staff on what Rodriquez was calling the "Global Positioning System," a combination of twenty-four satellites and a widespread ground-based system that promised incredible navigation—and hence bombing—accuracy.

The Navy had led the way with Transit, the first satellite-based navigation system. But the Global Positioning System—GPS as Rodriquez fondly referred to it—was going to be vastly more efficient even if infinitely more expensive. It was exactly the sort of thing in which Rodriquez excelled. He wondered if Vance would be able to understand it. Harry Shannon would, of course, and so would Tom—if he would listen.

The potential for GPS was an order of magnitude more important than the new precision guided munitions. Rodriquez often used to doodle, writing GPS versus PGM over and over. When—if—they could sell the GPS concept, a whole new world would open up, not only in navigation and in bombing, but in command and control. The strength of Special Forces would be increased a hundredfold with GPS. You could conduct clandestine operations deep within unknown enemy territory with the assurance of a sleepwalker. With GPS you could do anything except perhaps win a peace.

March 20, 1973

Palos Verdes, California

JILL SHANNON GLANCED up as the big grandfather's clock chimed six times. The kids had built it from a kit when they were teenagers, before they had gone off to their service academies, Tom to Annapolis, Harry to West Point. The old clock was always fast, no matter how they tried to adjust it, so she knew she had at least ten minutes to complete laying out the table she'd prepared for Tom's first meal with them. He had specified only two requirements: no rice and no pork fat. She'd responded with a lavish buffet that went from chilled shrimp through lasagna, turkey, half a dozen vegetables and salads, and two kinds of pie for dessert. It was overkill, but she wanted overkill.

Vance had spent part of each of the last two days at Tom's place, drinking in Tom's endless flow of flying stories, with scarcely a word about his days as a POW. Now he sat companionably in the kitchen with her, watching her still-slim body move rapidly around the room.

"Tom's appetite is amazing, Jill. Nancy fixes him small meals almost every hour, the things he missed the most, and he cleans his plate every time."

"Is he bitter about how badly they treated him?"

"It's strange. You can tell he is still angry, but he's keeping it bottled up, as if it is too tough for him to bear. He's told me a few things that floored me, but for the most part he acts as if it had been a walk in the park. When he talks about prison, he talks mostly 'bout the other POWs, men he didn't meet until after they freed him, but who were legends in the prison."

"I'd like him to show me the tap code."

"He gave me a couple of demonstrations. I couldn't read it at first, he was doing it like a telegrapher, bang-bang-bang. Then he slowed it down and showed me how it worked. Pretty simple, and if it was the only way to communicate, damn effective."

They heard the front door burst open and they walked hand in hand down the long Mexican tiled hallway, Vance shedding his years with every step, Jill watching him with pride.

Tom still limped, but he moved forward strongly, giving Jill a long embrace and whispering into her ear his thanks for taking such good care of his father. He hugged Vance, saying, "Promise me one thing, Dad, no talk about me until after dinner. I've been talking all the time we've been together. It's time for you to bring me up to speed on the business."

He turned to Harry. "You, too, jump in and keep me up-to-date on what's happening. You don't have to dwell on the past, I'll pick that up later. Let's just talk about where we are and where we are going."

Knowing Tom's appetite, they moved immediately to the dining room, Vance watching as they settled themselves, showing all the elements of an old and a new family. Harry was conscientious as always about Anna, who inevitably made a point of her weight problem by eating virtually nothing when she was at table with anyone else. Anna was doing pretty well, staying away from alcohol and keeping her weight under control. But Harry looked worried. There was something going on there. He had seen the signs too often in the past. He had to be vigilant, or Anna would be off on a binge.

Nancy babied Tom, making sure he got the best tidbits and seeing that his beer glass was filled. Vance wasn't so sure about that—Tom might have some trouble handling alcohol after all he had been through. Yet there was tension there, too, and Tom, as usual, brought it right out in the open.

"Well, let's have it, Dad. I understand that Nancy is practically running things at the office now." He projected a combative embarrassment, as if Nancy was doing what Vance had expected of him.

"Well, she certainly has taken over a lot of the administrative work; Jill has taught her well. The company grew while you were gone, couldn't help it with all the wartime contracts."

It was the opening Tom had been looking for. "And I guess most of the growth was due to our wonder boy, Bob Rodriquez?"

Harry spoke up for the first time. "Good Lord, Tom, are you still chewing that old bone? Bob has been a big help, but Vance Shannon, Incorporated, and all its divisions still depend on Dad's name and reputation."

Vance and everyone else knew that wasn't true anymore. Vance was still beloved in the industry. He'd received honorary degrees from Cal Tech and Perdue, a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and been enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. But he was not much of a force in the business anymore. That mantle had passed to Harry and Rodriquez.

Tom went on. "Well, I wanted to get one thing settled. In my six years as a POW, I finally figured something out. I'd been a jerk about Rodriquez, and I'm here tonight to tell you that I'm over it. I want to get back to work in the company when the Air Force releases me, and if I wind up working for Bob, it will be fine with me. And it will be fine if I wind up working for Nancy. But I want to make up for all the time I've spent away from the firm."

The stunned silence was broken only by Vance's voice. "Tom, that makes me almost as happy as I was when I saw you get off that C-141! We need you in the business, and we need everybody to get along."

"Nancy told me that Bob and Mae were splitting up. She says the problem was Bob's work obsession. What do you think, Dad?"

"No question. Bob loves her, and I think she loves him. She just doesn't want to be alone."

Nancy said, "She's not the only one."

And Jill said, "Amen."

Harry and Tom were quiet. They knew that Vance had been exactly the same, gone all the time, working seven days a week, and they, for the most part, had been following in his footsteps. Nancy had left Tom when he volunteered to return to the Air Force to fly in Korea. They got back together when he returned, but neither Tom nor anyone else knew how close she came to divorcing him when he volunteered for Vietnam. Only two things prevented her from taking action—concern for Tom's morale, and the satisfaction she was getting from the increased responsibilities Vance and Harry gave her.

Nancy smiled to herself. In a way, she had the Vance Shannon/Bob Rodriquez work obsession. It made her understand them a little better. Tom rapped on the table, signaling for attention. They all turned to him, happy to see such a characteristic gesture surface. It meant he was already getting his confidence back.

"One thing is clear to me. We are all getting too old, and we may not age as gracefully as Dad has done. We need new blood! When Harry and I were coming up, we had contacts within the Air Force, and so we kept current. We've got to cultivate some young people, pilots, to work for the company."

Vance Shannon stirred. "Amen to that. You have anyone in mind, Tom?"

"Well, V. R. is growing up, and maybe he'll be able to join us in a few years. But we need some new people, now. Maybe we could pick up some company test pilots, guys who've been trained at Edwards, maybe, and pay them what they are worth. If we don't stay current nowadays, we'll just fall hopelessly behind."

Jill glanced around the room. Tom had struck the right note with everyone—except Nancy. It was obvious that Nancy perceived Tom's comments as a criticism, and she didn't like it.

June 3, 1973

Paris, France

THE TWO MEN watched silently as the beautifully maintained Concorde flashed by at near sonic speed, then pulled up in a sharp climbing turn that caused the crowd to gasp. Nearly 200,000 people poured into Le Bourget and except for the few gourmands who preferred drinking and eating in the manufacturer's chalets to watching the world's greatest air show, all were crowded at the fence to see what one American reporter had called "the shootout at the SST Corral."

The Concorde and the Tu-144, the world's only supersonic transports, were going head-to-head today with their demonstration flights. The press and public generally acknowledged that so far the Concorde had excelled in everything, from flying to the food served to VIPs in their respective chalets.

After their long weeks together, Alexei Tupolev, the Tu-144's designer, and its pilot, Mikhail Kozlov, were now bickering constantly, each man suppressing a consuming, subliminal anger that threatened to erupt at any time.

Neither liked nor respected the other, but in front of the endless whirl and flash of cameras they maintained a cordial solidarity, making the kinds of gestures and comments that the newsreel people expected. Kozlov would point and Tupolev would clap as the Concorde swept around, showing that they were good sports about to demonstrate their own wares.

In the cockpit of the glittering white Concorde, John Farley nodded to Andy Jones to take control. Farley had just done a series of high-speed maneuvers that brought the crowd to its feet, flying the Concorde more like a fighter than a supersonic passenger plane, turning in steep banks, rolling from side to side, and pulling up in startling climbs. Now it was Jones's turn to dazzle the crowd—and more importantly, the airline executives—with the Concorde's repertoire of lowspeed maneuvers.

Tupolev nudged Kozlov with his elbow.

"Here they come again. Whatever they do, we have to do better."

The nudge triggered Kozlov's anger and, spitting, he said, "We! Let's get your ass into the cockpit if we're going to say 'we.' It will be me and my boys putting our lives on the line, and you'll be down here bowing like a ballerina."

The two men's anger had reached a peak yesterday evening when one of Tupolev's pet projects was finally implemented. Political observers from Moscow had given Alexei a severe tongue-lashing after the Concorde's demonstration of superior maneuverability. In response, Tupolev authorized a quick-.x wiring change that would override the built-in restrictions of the Tu-144's auto-stabilization computers.

Normally, the auto-stabilization system prevented a pilot from exceeding the aircraft's maneuvering limits, a prudent safeguard that protected against sudden, unexpected control movements.

Kozlov had screamed, "We've practiced this fucking air show routine for six months, and now you are going to change it because some KGB ass complains?"

"No, I'm changing because I know it's best for the airplane. It will allow you to make tighter turns at higher speeds—if you've got the balls for it. We'll change it back when it goes into passenger service."

Kozlov had walked out rather than run the risk of striking Tupolev. It was insane to fly with a change that had not been tested. The man had no idea what the consequences might be. He was maneuvering the Tu-144 at its limits now, particularly given its terrible visibility. You could barely see out of the tiny cockpit windows in level flight. In a steep climb he could see nothing, he had to do it all on instruments—no way to fly an air show.

Tupolev and his engineers had quickly rewired the auto-stabilizer to allow the Tu-144 to turn tighter and climb more steeply without overriding the pilot at the controls. It would not be safe for an ordinary airline pilot, but despite his dislike for Kozlov as a person, Tupolev respected him as a pilot and believed—knew—he could handle it.

Now they stood together silently as the huge Concorde seemed to crawl down the runway, nose high, fifty feet off the ground, rocking its wings and dipping its nose as if it were waltzing instead of flying. Then Jones slammed the throttles forward; the afterburners kicked in with huge belches of flame and a tidal wave of noise that flattened the grass, sending the Concorde up in a tight climbing turn that made the crowd go silent, certain that they were about to witness a stall, spin, and crash.

Instead, Jones pulled up to six thousand feet to begin the last twelve minutes of his routine.

Tupolev said, "You can do better at low speed. Our engines are more powerful, and the canards give you more control. Take it to the limits."

Kozlov said nothing, but bounded up the ladder into the Tu-144's cockpit like a sailor climbing rigging, knowing that his longtime friend and copilot, Sergei Blagin, would have everything ready to roll.

Alexei Tupolev watched, angered by Kozlov's shortsightedness. He had not always been that way. This, the second production model of the Tu-144, had hundreds of changes from the prototype, and Kozlov had approved all of them—except those from last night.

The Tu-144 was bigger now, it could carry 140 passengers, it had more wing area, it was improved in every way, and it was all due to Alexei. His blessed father, Andrei, had been ill for some time before his death last year. Since then, Alexei made all of the thousands of decisions, big and small, that had transformed the limping prototype into this magnificent airplane.

Kozlov, like so many others, never had the allegiance to Alexei that he held for his father. It was frustrating, unfair, uncalled for. The airplane that Kozlov was now taxiing out to the runway was Alexei's design, and no one else could claim it.

Inside the cockpit, Kozlov listened to Blagin repeat the tower's instructions. It wasn't easy—the big Kuznetsov engines hammered through the cockpit in a waterfall of noise. He wondered how the four engineers in the passenger section could take it. Something had to be done before the plane went into regular service. No one could bear that noise on a long flight. Oddly enough, on the ground, the Tupolev's engines made less noise than those of the Concorde, a point all the reporters talked about.

Kozlov responded quietly to Blagin's recitation of the checklist, his hands moving swiftly and exactly to each switch or control. What a great copilot Blagin was! He had everything ready, and even though he too was upset by Tupolev's latest changes, he maintained his usual good humor.

Lightly loaded, the Tu-144 accelerated swiftly as Kozlov advanced the throttles. Alexei Tupolev watched with pride as the afterburners kicked in and the beautiful transport launched into a steep turning climb that exceeded the Concorde's speed and angle of bank.

After three tight 360-degree turns, Kozlov brought the Tu-144 down low and fast in what he called his "worm burner" routine, racing along the centerline of runway 06, pushing the aircraft to near sonic speeds, then pulling up in another hair-raising climb that once again drew the spectators to their feet. Even Tupolev was concerned; Kozlov was giving him more than he had asked for. It was clear that the unleashed Tu-144 was far more maneuverable than the Concorde.

In a descending turn, Kozlov called for gear extension and flaps as he slowed the SST, feeding in the trim as the airspeed bled down. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Blagin looking at him nervously, his gloved hand ready to push the throttles forward to pour on the power if needed.

As the Tu-144 came across the runway, Kozlov added power to stabilize the airplane in nose-high flight, just above touchdown speed.

Midway down the runway, standing a hundred meters off to the left, Tupolev stood mouth ajar, watching his masterpiece approach at a crawl, thinking only, Thank God it's Kozlov flying—no one else could do that.

Seconds later Kozlov jammed the throttles forward into afterburner and the Tu-144 bounded into a tight climbing turn, turning faster and climbing at a steeper attitude than anything the Concorde had done—or could do.

Copyright © 2009 by Walter J. Boyne
Published in April 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

WALTER J. BOYNE is the former director of the National Air&Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Boyne's books have made both the fiction and the nonfiction bestseller lists of the New York Times. His two most recent fiction books, Roaring Thunder and Supersonic Thunder, cover the first forty-four years of jet aviation, while his critically acclaimed Dawn Over Kitty Hawk recounts the story of the Wright Brothers. A retired Air Force Colonel, Boyne was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame class of 2007.
WALTER J. BOYNE is the former director of the National Air&Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Boyne's books have made both the fiction and the nonfiction bestseller lists of The New York Times. His novels Roaring Thunder and Supersonic Thunder cover the first forty-four years of jet aviation. His critically acclaimed nonfiction book, Dawn Over Kitty Hawk, recounts the story of the Wright Brothers. A retired Air Force Colonel, Boyne was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame class of 2007.

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