The B Team



All characters that appear in this chapter of B-Team are my own except for that of the pilot of Stripes One. Stripes One (otherwise known as Nine Sierra Tango) and it's pilot are copyright Tigermark. For a different point of view on this chapter of "The B Team", see Chapter 27 of Fire On High, "All In A Day's Work", at The Tiger's Den. "The B Team" story is a continuation of the original four part "B-Team". My special thanks to Tigermark for suggesting this storyline to me and helping me put it together.

The B Team is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003




The Rematch


"Stripes One" courtesy of, drawn by, and copyright Tigermark


It had been "Clear and Visibility Unlimited" all the way down to Tennessee at their cruising altitude of 10,500 feet. They had initially flown southeast, following the course of the Kanawha River into West Virginia. At Charleston they turned southwest along the Appalachians for the leg into Knoxville. As the morning, along with their four turboprpos, droned pleasantly towards mid day, the furs on the flight deck of The Bitch swapped stories about their recent adventures and activities. Smiles were in abundance, the atmosphere on the flight deck was relaxed and casually efficient. The crewmembers, experienced pilots all, had fallen easily into the roles they held this morning. Cockpit resource management was something all aboard had been repeatedly trained in, and they believed in it like a religion.

Rick Carter had requested the role of navigator for this mission, just to have a little "face time" with Intermountain's renowned transport. While not type accepted in the C-130, Rick had studied up on the systems manual and Pilot's Operating Handbook, and with his aerospace engineering background probably knew and understood the Hercules better than any other fur on the roster. He had flown a C-130 before, as a ride along with a friend in the Ohio Air National Guard. His presence today was an initiation, he was slated to fly right seat from Knoxville to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, and then take the left seat between Tinker and Hanford. The landing at Hanford, with a heavy load, would be a bit of a challenge, the strip there was less than a mile long at 5,175 feet.

Rick's brown eyes studied the display of the laptop he had on the small navigator's table. This laptop was connected to a wireless mobile data network, and he was receiving current weather information and pilot's reports from the local Flight Service Station in Nashville, as well as sending telemetry back to their dispatch center in Columbus.

Rick had the least seniority of the crew, at twenty nine he was also the youngest pilot on the roster. Rick was five foot eight, a trim and somewhat muscular one hundred forty five pounds. While not as heavy as your typical badger, his markings were fairly typical of his family. A narrow white stripe ran up the bridge of his nose and between his small ears, narrowing to nonexistence by the time it reached the back side of his head. On each side of his muzzle an additional white stripe, broader then the first, started beneath the center of his nose, curved down and back along his jawline below each eye, and then curved up in front of each ear, there to end. The rest of Rick's fur was black on his sides and upper surfaces, blending to a cream color on his chest and stomach.

Rick massaged the keyboard of his laptop, commanding data transfer between it and the aircraft's onboard systems. Swiveling to face forward, he placed a paw on the shoulder of Steve Lupus as he spoke quietly into the boom mic on his headphones. "Current Knoxville weather images coming up on tube number three." As he spoke, the LCD display in the lower center of the instrument panel, between the two pilots, flickered as it brought up a satellite image with overlaying map symbols.

Joe and Steve both looked at the display. Steve shook his head slowly. "They'll be getting some thunderstorms down here this afternoon."

"Looks like," Joe agreed, studying the display briefly. South and west of Knoxville, down around Huntsville, Alabama, the doppler radar was already returning images of moderate rainfall, and the map indicated lightning activity within the area of heaviest rain. The scattered clouds had started forming beneath them just south of Charleston, bases at about six thousand or so. As the morning had aged, the tops had grown up towards ten thousand, but the clouds were still scattered. There had been plenty of big holes between them that allowed them to maintain VFR as they began their descent into the Knoxville area.

Steve scratched his muzzle briefly while double-checking his communications radios. They had just listened to the ATIS recording for McGhee Tyson, and Joe was positioning them for a standard VFR approach from the northeast. They were flying inbound to the Volunteer VORTAC, just a few moments from their point of initial contact with Knoxville Approach Control.

A might taller than Rick and three years his senior, Steve was a gray wolf with a strong military background. Of the three of them, he had logged by far the most Pilot In Command time in C-130s, having flown them for several years in the Air Force. Steve was five foot nine and 185 pounds, solid and strong, handsome and confident. His golden eyes glanced up at Joe, a small smile on his face.

"Ready?"

Joe nodded. At 43 he was by far the oldest of the three fur crew. Joe Latrans had been flying with Intermountain for about six years now. A coyote - German Shepherd hybrid, Joe was a native of the left coast, California. Standing at six foot and a little over two hundred pounds, he was also by far the largest fur on the crew, or for that matter on the roster save Tim Riggins, Joe's friend, fellow pilot, and neighbor in Colorado. While not solid muscle like Timmy was, Joe was no slouch, either, and could hold his own in a fight.

Joe's blue eyes returned to the outside view as Steve pressed the push to talk switch on his control yolk. "Knoxville Approach, Intermountain forty four is a C-130, VFR five northeast of Volunteer at five thousand with information Yankee for landing, over."

There was a few seconds delay as the controller glanced at the outside edge of his radar display, to the northeast edge of his service area. He spied a VFR contact there, squawking 1200 on his transponder, with an altitude readout of 5050 feet. "Intermountain forty four, Knoxville Approach, good morning," a strong Tennessee accent called them back. "Squawk three six zero two and ident, expect straight in for runway two three right."

Steve reached up to the transponder head in the instrument panel and dialed in 3602 and pressed the little orange "IDENT" lamp blinking next to the selector knobs. Keying the transmitter again, he called "Intermountain forty four, squawking three six zero two."

Joe was scanning the sky in front of them. Off to his left a bit he could see a twin engined commercial jet of some sort in the distance. He nudged Steve with his elbow and then pointed to it. Steve nodded wordlessly.

"Intermountain forty four, radar contact five northeast Volunteer. Slow to one six zero, proceed direct Volunteer, expect straight in runway two three right. Traffic your eleven o'clock position and three miles, a Boeing seven three seven on the approach, plan to follow him in."

Joe nodded at Steve again as Steve was keying up. "Approach, Intermountain forty four has the seven three seven in sight, we're following him for two three right."

Joe glanced briefly at Steve as he reached for and pulled back slightly on the power levers. "Approach checklist," he called.

"Intermountain, forty four, Blue seven oh one, additional traffic approximately six miles south of Volunteer at eight thousand, a T-38 maneuvering."

As Joe and Steve began to go through the challenge - reply litany of the approach checklist they heard the Jet Blue seven thirty seven reply to the advisory. As the checklist proceeded Rick busied himself with configuring the navigation electronics for the ILS (instrument landing system) approach to McGhee Tyson runway two three right. The display of the middle LCD in the panel between the pilots changed again, this time to a graphic of the ILS approach course with their position overlaid on it. Their position marker slowly crept towards their approach fix of the VORTAC itself. Rick tapped a few keys on his laptop, calling the latest pireps and weather information from the Nashville Flight Service Station. None of what he saw would concern them during their operations in Tennessee.

"United three sixty two, contact Knoxville tower on one two one point two at Buzby, good day sir."

"United three sixty two, going to the tower at Buzby. See ya later."

Traffic was light this mid-morning at Knoxville. There was significant dead time between the controller's transmissions, plenty of time to anticipate changes and instructions. Rick heard the hydraulics whining with the application of approach flaps and gear extension. The clicks of various switches on the panel told him his pilots were configuring the aircraft systems for the final approach they were about to commence. As Rick put the finishing touches on the final leg of his navigational duties for their arrival at McGhee Tyson he heard a guttural growl of an oath in his headphones.

"What's that?" he asked, not even sure which of the pilots had spoken.

"Yeah, I see it," Joe said.

"Son of a bitch, she's doing it to us again," rejoined Steve. Rick looked up and to his left at the pilots, concern begining to creep into his mind. Steve and Joe were staring intently at the copilot's instrument panel, just to the right of the center multi-function display. Rick followed their gaze to the gear status indicators. The "down and locked" lamps for the main gear glowed green, the nose gear lamp glowed red. The master warning annunciator at the top of the panel glowed yellow. There was a problem of some sort with the nose gear!

Joe did a quick panel scan and then looked out the windshield, scanning the sky for traffic. His mind was working in overdrive. After about ten seconds of silence he spoke up. "OK furs, here's how we're going to play this game," he said quickly. "Steve, you work the problem. Rick, you handle communications and nav setup. I'm flying and navigating. Check?"

"Check," muttered Steve, looking at electrical and hydraulic indications on the panel. Suddenly thinking about his duty transition, he looked up and over his shoulder briefly, addressing Rick. "Hey Rick, comm is set, approach on one, tower on two, ground on one backup." Steve turned back to the panel.

"Thanks Steve, " Rick replied, reaching across the navigator's table for a remote push to talk switch. "Joe, your nav gear is set, approach on tube number one and OBS number one for backup ILS. Should we advise our status with approach?"

"Yeah, let them have it. Tell them we'll continue to the middle marker, if we haven't cleared this up by then we'll go missed and find a spot to orbit." Joe moved the control yolk slightly to the right for a bit, banking the C-130 to the right and entering the ILS approach path.

"Knoxville approach, Intermountain forty four, we've got a gear status problem here, we'll be executing a missed approach at the middle marker if we can't clear it up by then."

The controller called back almost immediately. "Intermountain forty four, are you declaring an emergency?"

"Negative," Rick replied smoothly. "We're trying to figure out why we're getting a warning light on the nose gear. We'll keep you advised."

"Thank you, forty four, proceed inbound on your approach, keep me advised."

As he reached for the selector Steve said "OK, I'm cycling the gear. Let's see what happens..." The selector went up, the main gear annunciators went to red "in transit". After about twenty seconds all lamps extinguished, and Steve announced "We're clean."

"Approach, Nine Sierra Tango requesting a flyby of the C-130 for evaluation."

"What's that?" Joe asked.

"Nine Sierra Tango, Knoxville approach, say again?"

All three pilots on board the C-130 paused momentarily in their activity as a smooth, calm baritone, exuding professionalism, flowed from their earpads into their ears. "Approach, Nine Sierra Tango, I'm about six south of Intermountain with visual contact, I can do a fly-by for evaluation of his gear situation. Have him meet me on guard if he's interested."

Joe motioned with a paw over his right shoulder to Rick. "Do it," he said tersely, telling Rick to stand by on the guard radio. "Guard" was a particular radio frequency, 121.5 megahertz, monitored by virtually all commercial and military aircraft for emergency response and assistance. The Bitch had a separate radio system dedicated to monitoring and transmitting on guard.

"Intermountain forty four, Knoxville approach, will you accept a fly-by from a T-38 for visual inspection?"

Joe and Steve looked at each other. A T-38? The T-38 was a hot military jet trainer, not something one had an encounter with on a regular basis. Joe nodded and Rick keyed up. "Approach, forty four, that's affirmative, we're on guard."

They were stabilized on their approach. Steve once again reached for the gear selector, saying "I'm gonna try this again, Joe."

"Go for it." Joe was looking out the port side windows, searching the sky for the approaching trainer. The hydraulics began to whine.

"Blue seven oh one," called the approach controller, "contact Knoxville tower on one two one point two at Buzby, good day." Before Rick could reach to turn down the volume of the number one radio they all heard Jet Blue reply "Roger approach, contact the tower at Buzby. Good luck, forty four."

"Intermountain forty four, Stripes One on guard, I'll be coming up on your port side momentarily." The voice calling them on the guard channel sounded cool, calm, collected.

Rick keyed up as the hydraulics ceased their drive. "Stripes One, forty four, we're stabilized on the approach. We've just extended the gear again."

"Same thing," Steve commented, even though Joe was staring at the annuncaitors with him. The mains were down and locked, the nose gear still showed "in transit".

"Furs! Check this out, port side!" Rick said almost breathlessly. Joe and Steve snapped their heads around and beheld the sight that captivated Rick's attention. Not a hundred feet away, directly abeam and slightly above the nose of their Hercules on the port side, was a civilian T-38. The fact that it was a military trainer wasn't the thing that caught their attention, no. What made this particular ride an eye catcher was the black and white tiger striped paint job that covered the airframe. To say it was eye catching was to make a gross understatement. The T-38 is sleek and sexy by design, the paint scheme on this particular T-38 only served to highlight the svelte lines of the jet hanging in the air on the other side of their windows. The three furs on board the C-130 were momentarily stunned into silence.

The trainer's flaps and gear were out, the pilot was barely yet expertly hanging just above his stall speed to maintain position with the Hercules' at it's normal descent speed of 150 knots.

Rick recovered quickly as Joe held up his right paw to the port side window in greeting. "Good morning, Stripes One," Rick called on guard. "Intermountain forty four here. We've got a slight problem with the nose gear."

The three furs on the C-130 saw the black and white striped helmet on the pilot of the T-38 nod in agreement as he lifted his own gloved right paw to the canopy in greeting.

"Good morning, gentlefurs. I confirm," the voice replied calmly. "Your aft nose gear door is damaged, it's twisted and the right side is hanging free from the aircraft and the door appears to be wedged in the gear mechanism. I suggest another cycle of the gear."

"Do it," said Joe again, still staring at the T-38 filling his windows. Steve reached for the selector once again and moved it to the up position. The hydraulics began to whine again as the identifier for the Buzby outer marker began beeping in their earpads. Rick reminded his pilots: "Three point eight miles to the middle marker, furs."

"Copy," Joe replied, tearing his attention away from the T-38 and looking at McGhee Tyson airport off the nose ahead.

"Intermountain forty four, remain this frequency to the middle marker," the approach controller called. Rick quickly flipped a selector switch for the number one radio. "Roger approach, forty four."

"Forty four," the smooth voice of Stripes One called, "you have gear door separation. Your aft nose gear door has departed the airframe."

The hydraulics ceased their operation. "We're clean," Steve said once again.

"Gear down," Joe said. Steve was already pressing the selector.

"Roger Stripes," Rick called back, "gear coming out."

The hydraulics whined once again. After what seemed an eternity, the main gear down and locked annunciators illuminated. As Joe was drawing a breath to verbalize his second expletive of the morning, the nose gear down and locked annunciator also illuminated.

"Three greens!" Steve exulted, slamming his right paw lightly on his thigh.

"Stripes, forty four has three greens, we're going to approach," Rick called on guard. As he unkeyed he leaned forward and flipped the transmitter selector to number one comm.

"Stripes is with you," the voice purred in reply.

"Approach, Intermountain forty four coming up on the middle marker with three greens." Everyone on the frequency could hear the relief in Rick's voice.

"Forty four, Knoxville approach, you are cleared to land. Monitor Knoxville tower on one two one point two as able. Nine Sierra Tango, say intentions."

"Approach, Nine Sierra Tango will fly this fur's wing to the runway."

Joe concentrated on flying the last mile of his approach to flare. The approach end of runway two three right loomed large in the windshield. Steve and Rick both stole a glance out the port side windows. Stripes One was glued to their port wingtip. As they watched, the face shield on the black and white helmet turned towards them and the right paw came up again.

"Joe," Steve said incredulously, "he's saluting us."

Joe glanced up from the approach and looked at the pilot of the T-38. A wild, roguish grin spread across Joe's muzzle, baring the briefest hint of fangs, and he lifted his right paw from the throttles and threw a first class salute at the pilot of Stripes One. Seeing this, Steve and Rick did likewise as Joe returned his attention to the approach. The runway was less than half a mile away. Joe throttled back and the transport settled towards the onrushing concrete.

"Keep your fingers crossed, furs," Joe said on the intercom.

The landing was anti-climatic. They touched down within the first five hundred feet of concrete, the mains chirping and then rumbling as the weight of the Hercules settled on them. Joe pulled back on the yolk as much as he could, holding the nose up as long as possible, finally allowing it to settle ever so gently onto the nose gear. Everything worked perfectly.

With the realization that they had cheated fate yet again the crew of the C-130 heard the smooth rumble of Stripes One's voice a final time. "Knoxville Tower," the calm baritone called, "Nine Sierra Tango will be departing over runway two three right. Requesting unlimited climb to fifteen thousand."

There was a popping sound and a deep rumble from the port side. As the three furred heads on the flight deck of the C-130 swiveled in unison towards the port windows they caught a brief glimpse of the T-38 cleaning up gear and flaps and accelerating away in afterburner. Their heads swiveled quickly to face forward again as they followed the departure of the tiger striped jet, and as they watched the T-38 accelerate away they heard the tower controller's voice sound in their ears. "Roger, Nine Sierra Tango, unlimited to fifteen thousand is approved." The controller's voice had a tinge of wonder in it, matched by what the furs on the flight deck of the C-130 felt. "Contact Knoxville Departure at one two three point nine. Good day and Thanks!"

While their rollout was finishing on the runway and they decelerated to taxiing speed, the T-38 pulled up into a steep climb over the far end of the airport ahead of them and slowly executed a perfect aileron roll before passing into the broken cloud deck at six thousand feet.

In a scene far too reminiscent of a saddle-weary western, our three heroes looked briefly at each other across the flight deck of the Hercules.

Simultaneously they all asked with a mix of wonder and admiration, "Who is that guy?"

 



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