The Savants

By: Patrick Kendrick

February 5, 1958: an Air Force Training Mission off the coast of Georgia.

The B-47 Stratojet Bomber rocked back and forth in the violent air as if it were already ditched in the whitecaps of the Atlantic Ocean. Its olive-green fuselage shone black and slick, like the skin of a breaching whale just over the storm-tossed sea.

A lightning streaked sky lit up the faces of Captain Christopher Blackwell and his co-pilot, Airman First Class David DeRubbio, as they sweated over the controls of the bucking bomber. Rain pummeled the windshield of the craft and leaked through the rivets that held the flimsy glass.

“They could’ve picked a better night for us to train,” said Blackwell, his brow knotted, his eyes glancing at the picture of his wife tucked into the bezel of the altimeter. The instrument read eight hundred feet above sea level. If anything happened at that altitude, they would have had little time to recover, or bail out of the plane, but these were not viable options considering their payload.

“You can say that again, Captain,” said DeRubbio, peering through the darkened cabin at the gigantic device secured with canvas straps in the back. It was an enormous gray cylinder with the letters and numbers: “Mk-15-Mod-O” stenciled in white block letters on its side.

“You’re not letting a little thing like an armed hydrogen bomb make you nervous, are you, pal?” said Blackwell, trying to lighten the moment.

“They say it’s a hundred times stronger than the one they dropped on Hiroshima,” replied DeRubbio, swallowing dryly.

“I wouldn’t want to find out,” Blackwell said. “Where the hell is that wingman, anyway? Supposed to have been up here over a half-hour ago.”

An F-86 Saber Jet flew through the sky approximately three hundred feet below the bomber. Its radio was malfunctioning as its pilot, Captain Dennis Cross, tapped on the gauges and repeatedly flipped the toggle on the radio.

“Saber-One to Big Daddy, come in, please. Do you read me?”

The radio answered back with a static hiss.

“Saber-One to Base-One, do you copy?” said Cross, adjusting the gain knob on the radio. He glanced at his fuel gauge. It was below a quarter tank. “Saber-One to Big Daddy, if you can hear me, I’m in the ballpark but do not have a visual on you yet. I’m gonna go above this storm and see if I can see you.” He pulled the nose of the jet up and began to ascend.

A broken message came across the bomber’s radio. “Base-One to Big Daddy, you guys see Saber-One yet?”

Blackwell nodded to his co-pilot, giving him the okay to do the talking. “That’s a negative, sir,” said DeRubbio, a drop of icy sweat rolling off his chin.

“We think his radio is out, but he is in your vicinity,” came the message from the base station. “Keep an eye out. As soon as you can get a viz, signal with your lights and get ‘em to follow you back. We’re going to scrub the mission. It’s getting too dicey out there.”

DeRubbio sighed with relief. “You got that right, Base. As soon as we…wait! What’s that, Captain….?”

Captain Blackwell looked at the radar screen just as a tiny green blip appeared from nowhere.

“Damn!” he shouted, trying to remain in control of his emotions as well as the plane. He pulled back quickly on the controls, moving to the right, trying to bank a sharp turn.

The jet continued to ascend even as Cross saw the hulking black silhouette of the bomber above him and tried to turn his craft as well. They almost completed the evasive maneuvers, but the wings of the two aircrafts collided at the last second and splintered into shards, metal wrenched apart emitting the sounds of a screaming banshee. The Saber Jet’s wing burst into flame, then ripped away from the fuselage of the jet, falling into the sea like a dropped torch. The jet vanished into the night like a missile gone astray. The bomber continued on, a gaping wound in its wing and one of its engines fully aflame.

“May-day, may-day,” DeRubbio yelled into the mike. “We’ve been hit!”

At the Air Force base tower, a cadre of men in dark blue uniforms and sparkling brass buttons gathered around the control board and began barking orders to anyone who would listen. A cold, electric fear filled every person in the room as they all realized the enormity of this lapse of judgment, this historical miscalculation.

General Randolph Pearsal approached the group of frantic men huddled around the communications console. His face was shaped like a flint arrow head, his hair slicked back, the color of nickel. “What the hell just happened?” he inquired.

The communications officer looked up at the general, his shirt collar ringed with sweat, his lips trembling as he spoke. “We think Saber-One just collided with the bomber…”

“Are they still intact?”

“Saber-One is lost. We don’t know for sure about the bomber. Communications are sporadic at best. We believe they are still flying.”

General Pearsal’s eyes scanned the radar screen, trying to see any image that might resemble a bomber, but saw only blotches. “Are they over land?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.

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