Cover image for Fire flight : [a novel]
Fire flight : [a novel]
Nance, John J.
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2003]

Physical Description:
353 pages : map ; 25 cm
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From New York Times bestselling author and "master of the airborne thriller" John J. Nance comes Fire Flight, a ripped-from-the-headlines adventure about the extraordinary pilots who risk their lives flying substandard airplanes in a little-known and lopsided war against our nation's wildfires. Veteran pilot Clark Maxwell thought his fire bombing days were well behind him. But when Jerry Stein, Maxwell's friend and airtanker fleet-owner, calls at the height of the fire season to beg him to reenter the war, he doesn't hesitate. A pair of ferocious forest fires is raging out of control, threatening to destroy Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and incinerate thousands of area homes. As the wildfires spread, whipped by massive winds, and the federal forces arrayed against the fires reach their limits, anxiety grows in the local population. A paranoia plagues the fire bombers and smoke jumpers as well, after a mysterious string of violent airborne accidents among the airtanker fleet claims the lives of some of the most fearless and experienced veterans.Maxwell has long argued that the airtankers -- old aircraft used by pilots to bomb the fires with fire retardant slurry -- are faulty museum pieces that should have been grounded years ago. Now some of the fleet seem to be falling apart in midair. In the middle of the area's worst wildfire season in history, Maxwell is convinced that a sinister cover-up is behind the rash of horrific air disasters. Were the planes' inspection papers forged? Is someone capitalizing on these crashes? As he races to unravel a very real mystery and prevent a natural disaster of massive proportions, Maxwell's probe reaches the upper levels of the very government agencies charged with mount-ing the aerial fire fighting effort -- a move that for wholly unexpected reasons just may cost him his life...and the life of Karen Jones, the married smoke jumper with whom he seems to have fallen in love.In amazing detail, with the signature authenticity only a veteran pilot could provide, John J. Nance creates a hair-raising thriller that will leave readers breathless from cover to cover.

Author Notes

John J. Nance was born on July 5, 1946. He received a Bachelor's Degree from SMU and a Juris Doctor from SMU School of Law, and is a licensed aerospace attorney. He is a decorated Air Force pilot veteran of Vietnam and Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield, and he is a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF Reserve. He is also an internationally recognized air safety analyst and advocate, and is the Aviation Analyst for ABC World News and the Aviation Editor for Good Morning America.

He has written several non-fiction books including Splash of Colors, Blind Trust, On Shaky Ground, What Goes Up, and Golden Boy. He has also written numerous novels including Final Approach, Scorpion Strike, Phoenix Rising, The Last Hostage, Blackout, Headwind, Turbulence, Skyhook, Fire Flight, and Saving Cascadia. His novels Pandora's Clock and Medusa's Child both aired as two-part mini-series on television.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Jerry Stein is under a lot of pressure. The wealthy owner of an aging fleet of military planes retooled to fight forest fires, he feels his fortune slipping from his grasp as the government lobbies to move fire bombing duties from the forest department to the military. The political heat only worsens when in-air accidents start to occur with some frequency. In the meantime, fires rage throughout the West, destroying hundreds of acres of national parks and endangering bordering towns. That's why Stein is relieved when recently retired star pilot Clark Maxwell agrees to unretire temporarily in order to help out during what has become a particularly brutal fire season. Maxwell knows Stein's excellent mechanics wouldn't let an aircraft lift off if it wasn't prepared to withstand the intense heat of the fire beneath it or the extreme weight of the chemicals within it. Could something else be behind the planes' in-air failures? Maxwell's instincts are right on, and what he uncovers involves some high-profile political operatives. Nance has carved out his own subgenre, the aviation thriller, and here he successfully melds a timely topic, forest fires, with his specialty, pulse-pounding airborne excitement. There's a built-in audience for this one. --Mary Frances Wilkens Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Nance's latest aviation thriller (Pandora's Clock; Turbulence) departs a bit from his successful formula of race-against-the-clock plotting and in-flight suspense. Instead, it plunges into the world of smoke jumping, with many intricate and intimate sequences featuring airborne firefighters at work. It's a good trade-off. There is still plenty of suspense and high-stakes action, but the story is more character-driven and lighter on professional jargon, anchored by a romantic triangle and a whodunit. At the center of both is veteran pilot Clark Maxwell, called back into battle from the private sector by his slightly sleazy former boss Jerry Stein when multiple forest fires stretch the resources of the Forest Service and threaten local populations. Clark's re-up with the service lands him in the orbit of feisty fellow smoke jumper Karen Jones, his longtime "fantasy pinup girl." Their mutual chemistry is undeniable, but nonstop firefighting-and, more important, Karen's hot-tempered husband, Trent-stand in the way of romance. Troubles in the air begin when a last-minute switch puts hotshot pilot Jeff Maze aboard the Douglas DC-6 originally earmarked for Clark. The wings break off the plane in flight, killing Jeff and his co-pilot instantly. Jeff's distraught girlfriend, Misty, holds some of the keys to the puzzle, which Clark determines to piece together. He suspects merely negligence, but when the same airborne fate nearly befalls pilot buddy Sam Littlefox, Clark concludes that it's sabotage. But by whom, and for what purpose? With its lively cast and rich plot, this is Nance's best book in years. (Nov. 11) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Even as two wild fires rage in the West, several air tankers sent to tame them explode in midair. Pilot Clark Maxwell comes out of retirement to investigate. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Prologue Grand Cayman Island -- October 2002 Misty Ryan slapped the cheap ceramic figurine back on the shelf and moved as quickly as she could between the racks of loud shirts and skimpy bathing suits toward the front of the overcrowded tourist trap. She pressed her nose to the glass, straining to catch another glimpse of the face she'd seen moments before passing by on the street. It absolutely couldn't have been Jeff Maze, she told herself. Or could it? Jeff was supposed to be back in California finishing the fire season in the cockpit of his four-engine airtanker. No way would he be in the Caymans. No way! But then, she couldn't mistake those craggy features, that loping gait. It had to be him, or the nonexistent angelic twin she was always kidding him about having. Or she was losing it. She felt her pulse accelerate to a rising rhythm of anger and excitement as she stood on tiptoes in her sandals and looked up and down the street. Wait a minute. Could he have flown here to surprise me? It was a wonderful thought, but she knew better. Such a plan would never occur to Jeff Maze, since it would inevitably involve a spontaneous thought about her pleasure. Not that he didn't care about her happiness. Twelve tumultuous and exciting years together had welded the reality into her brain that Jeff truly loved her with as much of his heart as he could spare for such feelings. But surprising her was not in his Martian-like programming. Jeff had always waited for females to please him -- the very reason he'd been alone for so many years before Misty decided to tolerate his tomcattish self-indulgence in return for the good things being with him could bring. Whatever those were. She couldn't quite recall any benefits just now. She ignored an offended snort from a heavyset woman she'd apparently shoved aside, maneuvered quickly around the kitschy displays, and ran out the front door onto the sidewalk in time to see a lanky male disappearing around the corner some forty feet distant. Dammit! "JEFF! JEFF, WAIT UP!" she yelled. Whoever it was turned back momentarily, apparently looking for the source of the voice, his mutton-chop sideburns catching an errant ray of late-afternoon sun and completing the positive ID before he disappeared around the north side of the building. Lithe and fit, Misty reached the same corner within seconds and rounded it at a dead run, then slowed and looked around in confusion. To her right was a building with two doors facing the street. He'd had no time to hide, but he was nowhere to be seen. Misty was aware of the puzzled expressions on the faces of several tourists strolling by. She ignored their stares as the previous flash of anger returned to flush her cheeks. "That dirty -- " she muttered, choking off the rest of the obscenity as two small girls walked past, obviously wondering why such a strikingly beautiful American woman with an impressive mane of shoulder-length red hair would be standing in the middle of the street looking so furious. There was a camera store along the side street, the only open door she could see, and Misty rushed inside. The store was staffed by a young island girl leaning apathetically on the counter in a state of terminal boredom. She listened to Misty's almost breathless description of Jeff Maze and shrugged with unfathomable disinterest. "No one like that came in here." "You're sure?" The salesgirl lost no time returning to the magazine she'd been memorizing, ignoring the question. Misty left the shop and returned to the main street along the waterfront, standing for a moment and trying to absorb the details of what she'd seen. If he is here, I'll find him, she promised herself. But why would he be here? There simply was no professional reason for Jeff to be in Grand Cayman before the end of the fire season; therefore, he had to be there to surprise her, even if it was a first. Why had he run , though? That made no sense. They'd argued and snapped at each other barely a week ago, but that was life with Jeff, and one she'd come to accept. Maybe even enjoy. After all, they lived together most of the time, generating enough heat with their tumultuous couplings to equal the forest fires he fought, and although she was less than a wife, she was much more than a mistress. Every year during fire season she followed his camp, working seasonally as a dispatcher for the Forest Service while he did combat with burning mountains and tried -- successfully, so far -- to keep the geriatric airplanes he flew out of the mud. He had a responsibility not to run from her, at least before providing an explanation, and she was the girl to hold him to it. So where the hell would he be? she wondered, feeling a flash of embarrassment and letting the images in her mind get mixed up with her always confusing desire for him. She always wanted more, and he had almost promised more a month ago, and she had sensed an impending proposal. But then, as always, the trees had caught fire somewhere in the West, and he'd happily gone back to his real mistress -- fighting fires with aging airplanes. She'd noticed a large cruise ship lying at anchor a half mile offshore, a typical scene for Grand Cayman. She'd watched it earlier as its tenders steadily shuttled the passengers to and from their day in town, and Misty wondered now if somehow Jeff could be on the passenger list. Maybe that was his surprise, to suddenly appear and pull her aboard to a waiting cabin. Dream on, girl! A cool breeze kissed her face and ruffled her red hair in a flurry of motion. There were fluffy cumulus clouds blocking the malevolent heat of the Caribbean sun, and they added to the luxurious, languid feel of the island. She felt the loose, knee-length dress she was wearing shift provocatively against her body as she reached up to coax her hair back into place just as a hotel minivan glided past her, slowing in the line of traffic. Misty's eyes absently took in the interior, noting a strikingly pretty young woman with long blond hair next to the window. And Jeff, sitting next to her. He was trying unsuccessfully to hide his face. Dammit! Misty thought. He IS here! DAMN HIM! She shook off the shock of finding he wasn't alone and memorized the phone number of the hotel that was painted on the side of the minivan. It was rounding the corner as she yanked out her phone and punched the number in, still amazed that a U.S.-based cell phone would work in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. At least she could find out where it was taking them. He would have registered under an alias, she thought, since he was obviously trying to avoid her, but she asked for Jeff Maze's room anyway. There was the predictable delay before the hotel operator reported that there was no Jeff Maze registered. "Give me the bell desk, or whoever controls your van," she said. A bellman came on the line with suspicious cheerfulness, all too willing to tell her that their driver was headed to the airport and would return in a half-hour. Okay! she thought. What more evidence do you need, girl? It's time to write the dog out of your life. But he was headed to the airport. Jeff was here and headed to the airport. If she hurried, she might be able to catch him. She had a rental car and a map, but she also had her pride. I am absolutely not going to chase that grinning bastard down and make a fool of myself again, especially not in front of some little girl-toy on his arm. Nope. That's it. Kaput. Over. Misty pulled open her purse and rummaged for the picture of the two of them she always carried, moved a few steps to a trash can, and tore the photo into little pieces with open vehemence. She closed her purse then, and suddenly found herself breaking into a run, dodging through traffic, and racing to reach her rental car -- while what was left of her self-esteem helplessly screamed No! The two-lane road to the airport was crowded and slow, but Misty caught up with the empty minivan as the driver was trying to pull away from the curb. She blocked his exit and jumped out, earning a startled honk as she fumbled in her purse for her wallet and another photo of Jeff, which she shoved in front of the driver through the open window. "The man and the blond you just dropped this a picture of him?" she asked. "Uh, yes," the driver replied, clearly on guard. "Are they together? The girl and this guy?" "Ah..." She palmed a twenty-dollar bill into his hand, and he glanced at it before looking up at her in alarm. "Are you...his wife?" Misty laughed a little too sharply and shook her head. "Relax. He doesn't believe in wives. I'm a coworker." "Okay," he said, smiling thinly. "Yes, they checked out at the same time. I do not know where they're going." "You don't know which airline they're using?" "No." Misty thanked him and returned to her car. She reparked it along the perimeter fence just beyond the terminal building and closed the door behind her. There was a familiar shape on the private aircraft ramp a quarter mile distant, and she had to squint against the afternoon sun to make it out, but once she focused on it, the image was unmistakable. My God, a DC-6B! she thought. It was the same model Jeff flew as an airtanker captain. The DC-6B he flew back in Wyoming had a red vertical tailfin with the ship number painted in white. But the tail on this one was bare metal. Those old workhorses are everywhere, I guess, she thought. Probably owned by some freight-dog outfit in Miami. She turned and looked again. There was something about the tail that bothered her, and she squinted harder, almost convinced she could make out the shadowy remnant of red on the tail in the distance. Something had been painted there at one time, she concluded. Some sort of logo that had been stripped off. Maybe even large, white numbers. But then, shadows of past logos typically haunted the metallic surfaces of old airliners, from the rakish red lightning stripe of former American Airline Flagships to the almost-discernible name "United" on a once proud Mainliner. Even the youngest DC-6B was forty-five years old, and many of the old Douglas ships still flying had served a mind-numbing procession of masters over the decades before ending up with some honest third-tier operator just trying to make a buck -- or a peso -- as the nationality dictated. There was no way the DC-6B she was staring at could be one of the airtankers in Jerry Stein's fleet from West Yellowstone. The idea was just too bizarre. It would take all winter to patch them up after the beating they'd taken the previous season in the Yellowstone area alone, and then there was the new federal law prohibiting foreign use of the fleet. No. Not possible! Misty concluded. But, she reminded herself, here she was standing with her nose halfway through a chain-link fence because one of the living legends of airtankering had just strolled through beautiful downtown Grand Cayman with another woman, and a hottie at that, damn him. Jeff was supposed to be too busy flying important missions in California and had even canceled their long-planned two-week debauch in Hawaii because of the late-season fire! Furious, she'd given herself the Caymans trip both as a consolation prize and as an in-your-face swipe at Jeff -- who professed to hate the Caymans and the "snotty attitude" of the customs agents. A fresh burst of anger flushed her face as she thought of the blond in the minivan. She should go into the terminal and find the rat and his new playmate so she could create an embarrassing scene loud enough to attract the local cops. Confrontations with errant lovers were usually no fun, but this one had the potential to be very satisfying. Misty began to turn away when a distant motion on the ramp caught her eye. Someone was walking toward the old DC-6B. No, it was two someones. One was a familiar, well-built male carrying a flight bag. The other was apparently the copilot -- a woman with long blond hair lugging a map case. Copyright (c) 2003 by John J. Nance Excerpted from Fire Flight: A Novel by John J. Nance All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.