Northern Arabia, 0905 hours

"Black Lead, bandits astern, three miles." It was young Khalil, leading the second section of F-20s.

"You take 'em, Three," Ed Lawrence replied. The unexpected appearance of Saudi fighters airborne over their own field was a nasty surprise to the Israelis. Pulling in behind the second Kfir, Lawrence had a good missile tone at one mile. The Israeli jinked violently in his dive, but pressed the attack.

When the tone in his earphones told him the port Sidewinder was tracking, Lawrence pressed the trigger. At only 15 degrees angle off the tail, the AIM-9 homed on its target. The missile tried to rendezvous on the jet's tailpipe, but the 'winder's proximity fused warhead exploded 15 feet away. The fragments penetrated the target's empennage and sliced through fuel and hydraulic lines. Lawrence had a clear view of his victim arcing crazily into the bottom half of a loop, bombs still aboard. There was no ejection from the fuel-fed fireball.

Pulling up, Lawrence rolled into a hard climbing reversal to look for Badir. The redheaded American glanced through the top of his canopy and caught sight of his wingman's F-20 spiraling upward, engaged in a vertical rolling scissors with an F-16. Lawrence felt a sense of dread--where there was one Falcon there would be another.

Lighting his afterburner, Lawrence accelerated quickly. He was passing through 550 knots at 18,000 feet when he saw a glint of sunlight at seven o'clock high. He padlocked the glint, turning to put it on his nose. Damn, he thought, that 16's almost too small to see at three miles. Suddenly Lawrence heard Badir's call, topping out of his spiral with the first F-16 while pitching over to regain energy.

Simultaneously the Falcon to Lawrence's left front fired a Sidewinder at him. It was the first time he had to cope with a forward-quarter air-to-air missile. With careful timing, he snapped the stick hard back and left, helping with left rudder. His abrupt upward spiral was more than the AIM-9's small wings could duplicate, and the missile exploded beyond lethal range. Breathing heavily from the effort, Lawrence regained visual contact with the two Falcons. Both broke sharply away, the glow of their afterburners visible in the morning sky. Lawrence turned to try a Sidewinder shot but got no tone.

The Israelis had made one pass at the field, and though only the first two Kfirs had bombed, they did their job. Lawrence's victim had crashed near the northern boundary and the second evidently had pulled out to avoid its partner's fate. The fight was over in two minutes, and the F-20s began landing by sections. One hangar was partially destroyed and there were bomb craters in the runway. The latter could be repaired in hours, as no center hits had been scored on the landing strip itself. However, Lawrence's heart sank as he taxied past the smoldering remains of two grounded Tigersharks. He recalled feeling less grief over pilots who succumbed to carelessness or bad luck.

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