"A wild ride through the night sky"
—Capt. Sully Sullenberger, author of #1 New York Times bestseller "SULLY"
Over the Atlantic in the dark of night, the electronic brain of Pangia Airlines Flight 10 quietly and without warning disconnects all the cockpit controls and reverses course on its own.
The crew of the huge Airbus 330 at first sense nothing, the flight displays still showing them on course to New York. But with puzzled passengers reporting stars on the wrong side and growing alarm over the sudden failure of all their radios - and when armed fighters pull alongside to force them to land - the confused pilots discover that Flight 10 is streaking back toward the hyper-volatile Middle East and there is nothing they can do about it.
With an alphabet soup of federal agencies struggling for answers and messages flying between Washington, and Tel Aviv where the flight began, the growing supposition that Flight 10 may be hijacked is fueled by the presence of a feared and hated former head of state sitting in first class, a man with an extreme Mid East agenda who may somehow be responsible for the Airbus A-330's loss of control. As frantic speculation spreads, the possibility that the unresponsive airliner could be the leading edge of a sophisticated attack on Iran designed to provoke a nuclear response drives increasingly desperate decisions.
As time and fuel runs low, flying at full throttle toward a hostile border ahead, Captain Jerry Tollefson and First Officer Dan Horneman have to put their personal animosities aside and risk everything to wrest control from the electronic ghost holding them – and perhaps the world - on a course to certain disaster.
And in the "Hole" - as the war room in Tel Aviv is called - the interim Prime Minister of Israel grapples with a horrifying choice in the balance between 300 airborne lives and the probability of nuclear war.
From the Author:
It’s just a matter of time!
That phrase is often grossly misused these days to foreshadow some future threat (such as the scandalously false statement: It’s just a matter of time before a toy drone takes out an airliner!). But as we move to increasing automation and build our incredible, highly reliable air machines to need humans (read: Carbon-Based Units) less and less, there will be some conflicts that could be described as inevitable.
Several weeks after 9/11, President George W. Bush stood on the ramp at Chicago O’Hare in front of the cameras and fell victim to one of the worst pieces of presidential staff work in recent history. He declared that in the future we would have devices built in to all airliners that would enable air traffic controllers on the ground to seize control of a hijacked flight and land it remotely like a drone. Most aviation professionals did a collective spit-take in response! That grossly improbable declaration sparked my 2003 thriller SKYHOOK.
So what’s wrong with the idea? For one thing, very few of our hardworking and highly skilled air traffic controllers are pilots who could fly an airliner remotely without extensive and continuous training. And, of course, there were a few additional problems, such as the tens of billions of dollars such a program would cost, and the fact that if we could take control from the ground, so could a sophisticated terrorist.
But we’re now flying incredibly sophisticated airliners that have few if any physical connections between the cockpit and the actual aircraft, other than wires and streams of electrons. What if that someday opens a door we don’t want opened? If an airborne fire is the first fear of a pilot, perhaps the second is a complete loss of control, and that’s precisely where, and why, LOCKOUT was born as a concept.
Yes, I’ve been on an eight year sabbatical from writing these high-speed, based-on-reality thrillers, but what spurred me back in the saddle (and to the laptop) was a rising sense of unease that I needed to get this story in front of you before it actually happens!
And, yes, I’m back. And there will be many more high-speed tales to follow. Including... well, we’ll save that for next year. Happy reading!
From the book:
"Where are we?" Dan asked.
Captain Jerry Tollefson glanced at his copilot, a feral look in his eyes.
"Just inside their airspace. Baghdad is right behind us. See if you can punch up the airport in case we need it."
"Absolutely we're going to..."
The rest of the answer was drowned out by a thunderous explosion on the right side of the Airbus and they could feel
the big bird stagger and yaw to the right. Emergency warnings, beeps and horns and messages began flooding the ECAM computer screens.
"What the hell was that?" Jerry demanded.
"No shit, Sherlock! But what?"
"I don't know...maybe a missile. We've lost number two engine, I think."
Dan jerked his head back forward, quickly scanning the cascading readouts on the screen.
"Yes, number two engine is down!"
"We have a fire light?" Jerry asked.
"What? Yes, dammit!"
"Run the ECAM procedure."
"Roger. Engine Fire number Two, I have the fire switch for number two, confirm?"
The procedure intimately familiar from training scenarios, Jerry reached his right hand up and touched the same fire switch Dan was pointing to.
"Roger, number two confirmed."
"Pulling two, continuing checklist. Shutting off number two start switch."
The sudden feeling of deceleration superimposed itself over all their other senses as Jerry looked with feral intensity toward his copilot.
"No, No, Dan! Number TWO! Not number ONE!"
"I pulled two!"
"We just lost Number One! Confirm the fire switch is in and try a restart..."
"...we can get her back! Quickly!"
Dan was pointing to the forward panel and the depiction of the fuel tanks.
"We're out of gas, Jere!"
"We've run out of fuel. I've got all the pumps on."
Dan leaned left to get closer to the fuel readouts, confirming it. No useable fuel in number one main tank, and essentially none in number two.
"We're zeroed, Jerry."
"Oh, hell! But what happened to Two?"
"They shot us."
"Who? Who is they? Who shot us?"
"Man, I don't know, but it had to be the Iranians."
"But I'd just started the turn! We were nose-on to them."
"I don't know..."
"Couldn't be a surface-to-air, we'd be in pieces."
"Okay, look, we need to maintain control here."
"I know it!"
"Is she still responding?" Dan asked
"Yes. Sluggish but responding."
"I'm deploying the Ram Air Turbine. And...we're depressurizing, Jerry. Oxygen masks on, confirm one hundred percent."
Jerry let go of the sidestick long enough to sweep on his oxygen mask, checking the 100% position on the selector before resuming his death grip on the stick.
"Comm check, Dan. How copy?" Jerry asked, his voice sounding strange in the oxygen mask microphone.
"Loud and clear. How me?"
"Good. Run the depress checklist, but we cannot do an emergency descent."
"Hell, no. I got that. We don't want to anyway. We don't know the damage."
"Jump seat on," Bill Breem, the relief captain, reported, followed by a quick confirmation from the relief copilot.
"Obviously it punched our fuselage," Jerry added. "Do you suppose we've lost anyone back there?"
The question was in cadence with the rapid fire back and forth of the previous thirty seconds but the reality of it stopped both men cold. The memory of the gaping hole that had swallowed nine of United Airlines flight 811 passengers in 1989 replayed in their heads as clearly as if there had been an HD screen on the glareshield.
"No," Dan answered suddenly. "No, not possible. The pressure loss was slow and steady, not explosive."
The electrical power flickered and stabilized with a reduced number of instruments, as Dan reached up to start the auxiliary power unit.
"The APU isn't going to do us much good without fuel, Dan," Jerry managed, trying his best to grin at him.
"I forgot," Dan replied, shaking his head at the oversight.
"Is there an airport we can reach?"
"Yes. Baghdad International! Eighty-five miles, heading two eight zero. We're at thirty seven thousand feet...we have enough energy to glide a hundred and twenty miles, Jerry. So we can do this. Provided she doesn’t come apart on us."
"You think it was a sidewinder or something?"
"Yeah, a missile, I'll bet anything. But you're the fighter jock."
"Dan, we've got to get her on the ground before someone comes back to finish us off!"
"I just hope it’s possible."