Attention on deck: For techno-nerds only

Straight from Jim Cobb's word processor to our pages, an excerpt from Sea Fighter, due out in February

By James H. Cobb '76

The Sea Fighter service ramp had been established beyond the seaward end of the Conakry base runway. It was something new for Amanda, a naval station with no piers, no docks, no moorages, only a gently sloping beach stabilized by a layer of the same kind of pieced aluminum planking the Seabees used for temporary runways. This was all that was needed by the sleek war machine that lay basking on the ramp like a great sea turtle, its cadre of service vehicles drawn up around it.

Amanda dismounted from the Navy gray HummVee that had carried her down from the headquarters building. The white flame of the sun danced off the waves in the estuary and the steambath heat and humidity struck as a physical assault. For someone fresh from a mid-Atlantic spring, the environment was going to take a little getting used to. As Amanda's driver unloaded her seabag and briefcase, she stepped into the shadow of a parked fuel tanker to get her bearings and to examine her new command.

The PGAC (Patrol Gunboat-Air Cushion) had started its life as an LCAC (Landing Craft-Air Cushion), a fast, amphibious shuttle designed by Textron Marine Systems to rapidly move the men and equipment of a Marine landing force ashore from their transport vessels. However, the utility and effectiveness of the basic hovercraft design soon inspired American military planners to look for other applications for the technology. The PGACs, the SeaFighters, were one such new adaptation.

Much had been altered in the redesigning. The landing ramps and starkly utilitarian drive-through superstructure of the landing craft had been replaced with a sleek and flattened boatlike hull, crafted with the slightly odd angles and geometrics of stealth technology.

Ninety feet in length by thirty-six in width, the hovercraft nestled down in a mass of heavy, black rubberized fabric like a gigantic deflated inner tube. The simile was apt, as these were the inflatable skirts of the plenum chamber that contained the bubble of high pressure air that supported the vehicle when it was powered up and running.

A streamlined cockpit or cab sat atop the hull a short distance back from the snub bow, while two massive air intakes were fared into the deck at the midships line. Right aft, a crossbar antenna mount rose above the hull, running across the full width of the stern like the spoiler foil of a sports car. Centered on the crossbar mount was the black discus shape of a radar scanner. A second snub mast, finlike and sharply raked, rose from just behind the cockpit. At its top was the lensed sphere of a Mast Mounted Sighting System, looking like the head of some goggle-eyed robot. Below the MMS, an American flag hung limply in the still and breathless air of the equatorial afternoon.

The Sea Fighter had been painted in a dusty gray light and dark camouflage, all but under the angle of the broad bow. There, in a touch of swashbuckling individuality, the standard cammo pattern had been replaced by a snarling set of black shark's teeth that ran the full breadth of the hull. Two beady, leering eyes had been added just beneath the peak of the bow to complete the image of a lunging sea monster. Along the rounded curve of the deck rim, just below the cockpit, she wore her I.D. number and name in phantom lettering.

PG-AC 02 USS QUEEN OF THE WEST

Amanda found herself smiling. "Hello, your majesty," she whispered.