Hover: A Novel

Hover: A Novel

by Anne A. Wilson


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Helicopter pilot Lt. Sara Denning joins a navy battle group with little fanfare—and that's just the way she likes it. After her brother Ian's tragic death, her career path seemed obvious: step into his shoes and enter the Naval Academy, despite her fear of water. Sara's philosophy is simple—blend in, be competent, and above all, never do anything to stand out as a woman in a man's world.

Somewhere along the way, Sara lost herself—her feminine, easygoing soul is now buried under so many defensive layers, she can't reach it anymore.

When she meets strong, self-assured Lt. Eric Marxen, her defenses start to falter. Eric coordinates flight operations for a Navy SEAL team that requests Sara as the exclusive pilot. This blatant show of favoritism causes conflict with the other pilots; Sara's sexist boss seems intent on making her life miserable, and her roommate and best friend, the only other woman on the ship, is avoiding her. It doesn't help that her interactions with Eric leave her reeling.

The endgame of the SEALs' mission is so secret, even Sara doesn't know the reason behind her mandated participation. Soon, though, the training missions become real, and Sara must overcome her fears before they plunge her into danger. When Sara's life is on the line, can she find her true self again and follow the orders of her heart before it is too late?

Anne A. Wilson's Hover is a thrilling, emotional women's journey written by a groundbreaking former navy pilot.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765378507
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

ANNE A. WILSON graduated from the United States Naval Academy and served nine years active duty as a Navy helicopter pilot, which included deployment to the Persian Gulf. The Naval Helicopter Association named Anne and her crew Helicopter Aircrew of the Year, an award given for search and rescue. Hover is her debut novel.

Read an Excerpt


By Anne A. Wilson

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2015 Anne A. Wilson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6193-0


Frigid water fills the cockpit. It seeps into my boots and crawls up my flight suit, slipping through the zippers and finding every seam. I struggle against the straps that bind me to my seat, the water moving steadily upward, flowing around my waist, sliding up my torso, encircling my chest. It is dark. I can't see the water, but I hear it, sloshing over my shoulders, licking at my neck, splashing and gurgling, inching toward my ears. The cockpit rolls right. I crane my helmeted head upward, stealing one last breath before I'm pulled under.

The aircraft tumbles. I grab at the seat rails, muscles rigid, holding myself in place. My instincts scream to disconnect the harness and free myself. Immediately. But I remember the instructions from my training. Wait until all violent motion stops.

Shivering, I continue to roll. God help me. Seconds stretch to eternity when you're strapped in and held underwater upside down against your will.

I tighten my face, wincing to keep the water out, but it percolates into my sinuses anyway, stinging like a thousand pinpricks.

With an abrupt shudder, the motion stops. I search wildly for the harness-release mechanism and pull. My arms flail as they maneuver to free themselves from the straps. But once I'm free, it's worse. Now I'm floating up. Or is it down? I'm already disoriented.

Whack! My hand is ripped from its hold by a swift unintentional kick from my copilot, who, like me, searches in the blind for an exit to the aircraft. Only now, I have no reference point, floating free.

I remember the procedures for egress, an exit strategy ingrained over so many years of navy training. Reach left hand behind you. Grab bulkhead. Right arm across torso to bulkhead on other side. Pull forward. I do the actions my hands have memorized, grabbing two structures I pray are the walls to the passageway, and pull hard.

My helmet crashes into something unmovable. I've missed the passageway. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! Where is it? My hands frantically grope, searching for an opening. And already, I feel it — the slow-building pressure that squeezes my chest.

You can do this, Sara. You can do this. Keep it together.

My hand lands on a seat. I'm not sure which one, but the exit must be behind me. I try again. Left hand on bulkhead, right arm across torso, grab and pull. There is no resistance. Still clinging with one hand to the bulkhead, I move to the next steps. Left hand down to crew chief's seat. Hand-over-hand to main cabin door.

An overwhelming heaviness settles over my body. My chest tightens ... constricting ... squeezing ... searching for oxygen that it won't find. I know what's coming next. My mouth is going to open and it's going to look for the air. I'm going to inhale the moment it opens.

I bolt forward. I don't remember my route. I don't remember anything. My hands are swimming and pulling and grasping at everything and anything. My head is getting light. ...

I break through the surface with a spastic splash, my lungs heaving with effort to suck in oxygen. I rip the blackout goggles from my face. As I guessed, I'm the last one to surface. I do a sad imitation of a dog paddle to get to the side of the pool, almost kissing the deck when I reach it.

My roommate, Emily Wyatt, waits at the edge, patting me on the back when I arrive.

"Just shoot me, Em," I say in a spluttered gasp.

"Hey, you did it," she says. "You always find a way."

I don't have the energy to tell her that I didn't find anything. Some cosmic deity somewhere pulled me to the surface, because I sure as heck didn't find it myself.

I've barely gotten my breath when the clanging that has permeated so many of my nightmares begins again. The helo dunker is hoisted to the surface and into the ready position.

The helo dunker. God, I hate this device. Every two years, I strap into this heinous contraption designed to simulate a helicopter crash landing in the ocean. You can't fly as a navy helicopter pilot unless you ride this thing, and so, I haul myself out of the pool and return to the holding area to await my fourth and final ride.

The group ahead, aircrewmen and pilots, file into the twenty-foot-long metal drum barrel that mimics a helicopter cabin. Large, square cut-out sections of the barrel serve as windows and, therefore, possible exits. It is through these openings that I watch eight people find their seats and fasten their harnesses.

A metallic clang echoes in the enclosed natatorium as chain-linked metal ropes holding the barrel begin reeling upward, hoisting the dunking apparatus over the water tank. Ten seconds later, the hydraulic pulleys powering the ascension wrench to a halt.

The barrel silently sways, suspended at a height six feet above the surface.

Then, with a quiet click, the chains release, and the drum free falls to the water, a liquid hiss echoing through the chamber on impact.

You never know which way the barrel is going to roll. On this run, it rolls left, rapidly filling with water, continuing to roll until it hangs upside down, completely submerged.

You must wait until all motion stops before you disconnect your harness — probably the longest twenty seconds you will ever experience in your life. Safety divers ensure that no one begins their egress too early, which would lessen the odds of successfully navigating your way out.

In the sudden quiet, those of us on the pool deck hold our collective breath as we wait for helmets to begin popping to the surface.

"Port side — clear!" shouts one safety observer, reporting that all occupants on the left side of the barrel have exited.

"Starboard side — clear!"

We silently count. One head, two heads, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

"Eight souls accounted for!" the lead diver reports. "Clear to lift!"

"Next up, last ride for Petty Officer Legossi, Petty Officer Messina, Senior Chief Makovich ..." The names run together, my eyes fixed on the water that spills from the inside of the helo dunker, draining as it ratchets upward. "... Lieutenants Wyatt and Denning!"

I have to choke down what's rising in my throat.

"Come on, Sara," Emily whispers in my ear. She knows I struggle with this — the only one who knows why.

On a day-to-day basis, Emily tends to overwhelm — extroverted, extra-loud, extra-everything — but this is one place where she shows a softer side. I think her maternal instincts must take over or something, because she knows how to soothe my fears, just like a mother would. Just like the best friend she is would.

She places her hand lightly on my back. "Let's get this over with."

I swallow hard and move forward with her gentle prod from behind.

For these rides, we are clothed as we would be for flying — standard olive green flight suits, black leather steel-toed boots, gloves, and helmets. Emily and I step into the barrel and take our places in front, in the cockpit. As we did for the last ride, I slide into the right seat, Emily climbs into the left. We fasten our five-point harnesses and tighten them down hard.

You would think that taking this ride once would be enough, but we're required to do it four times in one afternoon. As an added challenge, the pilots aren't allowed to egress out the cockpit escape hatches — the ones right next to us, less than an arm's length away. To simulate a jammed hatch, we must instead find a way through the main cabin door behind us. Like before, we must wear blacked-out goggles to simulate crashing at night.

Once I affix my goggles, I sit in darkness, my hands white-knuckled, gripping the sides of my seat.

The clanging starts. With a lurch, we are pulled upward, metal rumbling, seats vibrating, the discordant jangle of chains echoing loudly now. I open my mouth wide, drawing deep, full breaths. Over and over I do this, as if it will make a difference.

And the reward for all of this? Congratulations, you've earned your way onto a ship for eight months at sea on a Western Pacific deployment.

* * *

The dunker jerks to a stop.

Swinging lightly, we hang.

All is quiet.

Until the bottom drops out ...


"Kansas City Tower, Sabercat five five, one-mile final, request green deck for landing," I say.

"Sabercat five five, Tower, we have you in sight, winds two seven zero at two six knots, green deck."

"Tower, five five, copy, green deck," I reply.

Nervous perspiration trickles across my neck, saturating the collar of my flight suit. I stare at the teetering flight deck of the USS Kansas City, the ship rolling up, over, and sideways through waves that could swallow a semi-truck whole. It's pinky time — that small window after official sunset when it's still light enough to see — and thank heavens, in conditions like these.

I begin a gradual flare to slow the helicopter, the crew chief directing my movements as we approach the flight deck. Because we fly such a large aircraft — a tandem-rotor design capable of carrying twenty-five passengers — there's a whole lot of helicopter behind me that I can't see, so the crew chief hangs his head out the main cabin door to position me for landing.

"All right, ma'am, easy does it," says Petty Officer Kyle Legossi, otherwise known as Lego — one of the best in the aircrew business. "Over threshold. Up two. Steady. Forward five, forward four, forward three, two, one. Steady. I'll call it on the rise. Steady. You're gonna need to get this one down quick. Steady. Back one. Steady. Back one. Steady. Steady. Down now! Three, two, one. On deck!"

The chock and chain runners sprint under the rotor arc.

"Keep on the controls, ma'am. Cyclic forward, easy forward. We're pitchin' up pretty good here. Chocks are in. Steady. One more chain to go. Easy back on the stick. Steady. Okay, we're good."

I let out the breath I was holding.

"Hoo wee! This ship is rockin'!" Lego says in his slow Alabama drawl. "Sweet landing, ma'am."

I allow myself a satisfied smile. I nailed the landing. No bounce on the deck and the nose gear exactly on target.

I look expectantly at the pilot seated to my left, Lieutenant Commander Nick Claggett, the officer in charge of our detachment.

"That approach was ... fair," he says. "But you're still too tentative on the controls and you landed with your nose too far aft."

Tentative. I bite the inside of my cheek. He shoots words like that at me all the time. If by tentative, he means not over-controlling the aircraft, then yes, I would agree. If by tentative, he means using fine motor control when it comes to hovering or precision approaches or any number of things requiring a touch of finesse, then yes, I would agree. But I know he doesn't mean that.

I let out a long exhale as we shut down, unplugging my helmet and disconnecting my harness.

Swiveling my legs to the left, I climb over the center console and step into the main cabin. Lego has opened the main cabin door, one constructed with built-in stairs and hinged along the bottom so when it's flipped open, the pilots and aircrew have a ready platform for exiting the aircraft. I make the small leap from the bottom step to the unforgiving steel of the flight deck.

A crisp February sea breeze pricks at my face. It's refreshing in one sense, yet the salty air can't mask the overpowering smells of a navy ship — smells that assault my senses. Jet fuel, exhaust, and paint, among other odors, combine to form a potent — uniquely navy — mix.

Emily is here to greet me, wearing her khaki uniform and trademark aviator sunglasses. "Hey, nice landing," she says.

"Thanks a lot, Em." I clear my throat. "Someone might want to let Commander Claggett know."

"Let me guess. Too cautious? Too gentle?"

"Too tentative."

"Ah, yes, my personal favorite," she says. "Fucking asshole."

I don't know how the word "tentative" could possibly find its way into an assessment of Em's performance, whether in the aircraft or on the ground. But she gets it in spades just like I do.

"And I landed with the nose gear too far aft," I say.

"What? You've gotta be shittin' me."

We walk together to check the front landing gear, inspecting the distances closely. "Yeah, I think he's right," Em says.


"I'd say you're about two millimeters too far aft. That's pretty shoddy flying if you ask me, Denning. Better step it up next time," she says with a wry smile.

"Thanks a lot."

"Okay, so forget that," she says as we walk the twenty or so feet to the hangar door. We step inside and turn left, ducking into the aircrew locker to deposit my flight gear. "You need to look at this instead!"

She hands me several sheets of official navy message traffic as we begin the walk across the cavernous aircraft hangar that allows side-by-side parking for our two helicopters. Sabercat 54 is already inside, every panel and door flipped open like an advent calendar on Christmas Eve.

"What happened here?" I say, pointing to the aft ramp of the aircraft. Maintenance personnel are clustered around two giant, jagged holes.

"They were in a low hover," Em says. "Lieutenant Taylor hit a stanchion."

"Zack did that?" I say.

"Indeed he did," Em says with a chuckle. "Oops."

"I'd say."

"So never mind the holes," Em says. "Look at the message!"

I start to walk again, head down, perusing the contents. "Okay, so we're officially halfway between Honolulu and Hong Kong —"

"Three thousand miles from Hong Kong, to be exact," Em says.

"Okay, so three thousand miles ... and Valentine's Day will be celebrated in ... September?" I look up. "I know the U.S. Navy is capable of many things, but moving Valentine's Day?"

"My dear, today you took off on February thirteenth, and while you were out turning circles in the sky, the battle group cruised across the international date line," she explains. "You have just arrived on February fifteenth."

I follow her as she steps through the forward hatch of the hangar and begins climbing the steep and ridiculously narrow ladder to Officer Country. I grip the rails as the ship seesaws beneath us, the sheets of messages tucked awkwardly under my arm.

"So to preserve the integrity of this most important of holidays," she continues, "we'll celebrate when we pick up an extra day on our return transit in September."

"This is absurd. How does garbage like this make it into official navy message traffic?"

"Valentine's Day is not garbage, at least not for normal people," she says with a pointed look over her shoulder. "But that's not the news."

We step off the ladder, entering a rat's maze of passageways en route to our stateroom.

"Okay, let's see," I say, continuing my scan. "Rear Admiral Carlson extends his official welcome to the Sabercats and the newly refurbished H-46 Sea Knight helicopter, combining unmatched maneuverability with enhanced lifting capabilities, blah, blah, blah."

"Yeah, big fuckin' deal," Em says. "But how sweet is this!" She points to the bottom of the news feed. "An all-officer Hail and Farewell for the battle group the first night we pull into Hong Kong!"

She reaches over and flips the page for me. "At the Hyatt Regency in Kowloon!"

I sigh. At functions like these, welcoming new officers and saying good-bye to those moving on, the alcohol flows freely, the food is plentiful, and so are the civilian women.

I hope I don't have to go. These things are usually mandatory, though.

"I said, 'how sweet is this!'"

"It's not, really," I say.

"Oh, no. Still?"

"Well ..."

"Well what, Sara? So we're in civilian clothes. So the guys are in civilian clothes. So everyone is drinking. So they don't realize you're an officer. So what?"

"So it's weird. They act differently because they think they're talking to a civilian. I hate it."

"You act like you're the first woman who's ever gone through this."

I shove the papers back in her hand.

"So don't go, then," she says. "I bet I have duty that day anyway, so you can switch with me and stew in our room all night."


"God, Sara, you're fucking hopeless! Seriously, you have got to lighten up!"

I turn to face her. "How many times do I have to say this? I am who I am. This is just me, so get over it."


Excerpted from Hover by Anne A. Wilson. Copyright © 2015 Anne A. Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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