Thursday, December 26, 2013

Interview with aviation thriller author Ron Standerfer

Today's guest is Colonel Ron Standerfer, United States Air Force (Retired). He's written an aviation techno-thriller titled, The Eagle’s Last Flight, and is currently on tour with the novel.

During his tour, Ron will be giving away a battery-operated helicopter to a luck (US/Canada only) commenter. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase you chances of winning, feel free to visit other tour stops and enter there, too!

Ron Standerfer is a novelist, freelance writer, book reviewer, and photographer whose articles have appeared in numerous news publications including online editions of the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and the Honolulu Star Advertiser. He is a member of the International Travel Writers & Photographers Alliance (ITWPA) and American Writers & Artists Inc (AWAI). He is a retired Air Force fighter pilot who flew 237 combat tours in Vietnam War. His novel, The Eagle’s Last Flight chronicles the life of an Air Force fighter pilot during The Cold War and Vietnam years. He also publishes an online magazine, The Pelican Journal.

Welcome, Ron. Please tell us about The Eagle’s Last Flight.
Skip O’Neill’s first assignment as a young lieutenant places him among hard drinking World War II and Korean War era fighter pilots who quickly teach him their ways. During the Cold War and Vietnam War, he proves to be a skillful and courageous pilot who faces dangers of all kinds with equanimity. But the greatest—and most deadly danger—materializes years after he volunteers to be an observer at an atomic test site.

The Eagle’s Last Flight is a journey through a nearly forgotten era when Cold War veterans were placed in harm’s way by our government and routinely lost their lives due to the carelessness and mismanagement of their leaders. Given the current controversies over adequate protection for our troops deployed in the Middle East, it is likely that readers who take that journey will learn a lot about how it used to be, but conclude that nothing much has changed. And that is a lesson well worth noting.

What inspired you to write this book?
In 1998, my wife and I moved to Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It was a strange thing to do for a guy raised in the Midwest, but it suited my wife just fine. She was a big city girl from Warsaw, Poland and a lover of the arts as well. As soon as we unpacked, she went back to work, leaving me to cope with the Big Apple alone. Big mistake! I had way too much time on my hands. One of my favorite pastimes those days was hanging out at a local bar and restaurant on Columbus Avenue frequented by musicians from the philharmonic, opera singers, TV camera men, and stage hands at the Met—and I became the resident war story teller. Everyone seemed to like my stories and suggested I should write a book someday.

One afternoon after a particularly long lunch, I weaved my way home, struggled to unlock the apartment door with unfocused eyes, opened the door, and found my wife waiting for me. She had left work early. “You have to get a life,” she said, “or you’re going to become an alcoholic.” She was right. The next day, I decided to be a writer and write a book. It was cheaper than being an alcoholic and a whole lot healthier.

Excerpt from The Eagle’s Last Flight:
Republic of Vietnam 1969

Four F-100 Super Saber jet fighters, looking sleek and mean, circled the target like birds of prey impatient for the kill. Below them, the Mekong River lay steaming in the hot, humid air, surrounded by lush, green jungle, and red mud from the monsoon rains. Water-filled bomb craters gleamed dully in the late afternoon sun. Meanwhile, the forward air controller, or FAC, was scooting across the treetops in a small, propeller-driven aircraft, coordinating the final details of the strike.

The fighters had been airborne for over an hour, and Skip’s flying suit was drenched in sweat. He was hot, uncomfortable, and impatient. Come on, come on, he thought, let’s get on with it. Rain showers are moving in, and we won’t be able to see the ground much longer.

“Icon Flight, Banjo Two-One is rolling in for the marking pass,” the FAC said.
Skip saw an orange flash as the marking rocket left the FAC’s aircraft, followed by a burst of white smoke on the ground that rose in a tall, straight column.
“Icon Lead, that’s a good mark. Hit my smoke.”

“Roger, Icon Lead’s in. Got the smoke in sight,” he responded.

“Cleared to drop, Lead.”

Skip rolled the aircraft onto its back, and then pulled the nose through the horizon before rolling upright and into a steep dive. Things were happening fast, as the airspeed increased, and the altimeter unwound rapidly. When the target appeared in the windscreen, he began tracking it with his gun sight. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see bright muzzle flashes from a nearby tree line; then red tracers began streaming across the nose of his aircraft. Don’t look at them, he thought. Keep your eyes on the target. Steady now. It’ll be over in a second.

“Icon Lead, you’re taking ground fire,” the FAC said. “Over to the left.”

“Roger. I see it. No sweat.” His voice sounded cool and confident.

An instant later, two 750-pound bombs were sent hurtling toward the ground. Trying to avoid the ground fire, he rolled sharply to the left as he pulled out, and then back to the right. In the rear view mirror, he could see the two bombs explode in a boiling column of mud and debris.

“Good bombs, Icon Lead. Put yours in the same place, Icon Two.”

Suddenly, Skip’s aircraft began to vibrate and shake, and a series of warning lights came on in the cockpit, one after another.

“Lead, you’re trailing smoke,” Icon Two called out.

“Not to worry. I’ve…uh…got a problem.”

The aircraft was becoming harder to control as the vibrations increased. Now the flashing, red fire-warning light was on. Okay. Be cool. You gotta punch out. No big deal. Get more altitude…that’s the first thing. “Lead, you’re on fire. The whole ass-end of the aircraft is on fire. Bail out!” Icon Two’s voice was tense and demanding. “Roger that. I have to climb first and head toward the water.”

The cockpit was unbearingly hot and filled with smoke. He could hardly keep the wings level. It’s time to go, pal. You’ve done this before. Raise the ejection seat handles, and the canopy goes. Squeeze the trigger, and you go. It’s a piece of cake. Holding the control stick steady with one hand, he reached down and raised the ejection seat handle, bracing for the explosion and rush of air as the canopy left the aircraft.

Nothing happened.

No problem. Eject through the canopy. It’s been done before.

Carefully, he squeezed the exposed trigger in the handle, once again bracing himself for the shock.

Again, nothing happened. Starting to panic, he squeezed it again…and again…and again.

“Lead, I repeat. You are on fire. Get out of the fucking bird, now!” Icon Two shouted.

“Roger. I…uh…can’t. The ejection seat…it won’t…oh shit!”

The control stick went slack. The flight controls were gone. Slowly, the aircraft rolled inverted like a wounded beast. Suspended upside down, looking at the jungle below, he knew it was over. “Bail out! Bail out!” Icon Two shouted one last time. Seconds later, the twilight sky was lit by a bright, orange explosion that disintegrated into flaming shards of silver aluminum drifting to the ground.

“Too late…” Icon Two said, in a flat voice, filled with resignation.

What exciting story are you working on next?
In the mid-1980s I travelled regularly to Lima, Peru on business. It was a dangerous place to be for a foreigner in those days. The economy was in bad shape, street crimes like armed robbery were common, and business men like me were considered prime targets for kidnapping by gangs like the “Shining Path”. My book chronicles a series of visits in Lima that culminated in a situation during which I was absolutely certain that I was about to die. It was a scary experience to say the least! The working title for the book is “Shining Path to Nowhere.”

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have always considered myself a storyteller rather than a writer. When anyone tells me that they enjoy listening or reading my stories, that’s good enough for me. I’ll leave the folks that teach English Lit 101 or write book reviews for the New York Times to decided who is a good writer and who isn’t.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I have been retired from the United States Air Force and the aerospace industry for quite some time; hence, I am blessed with the time and resources to devote to my two main passions, writing and publishing the works of unknown or undiscovered writers. I try to allot four hours to each five days a week. The rest of the time I devote to my family and to my hobby which is photography.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I wouldn’t call this interesting, much less a quirk, but I do all of my writing in my head. When a paragraph or even a chapter looks just right to me in my mind, then---and only then---do I sit down at the word processor.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A military pilot. No big surprise there.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Yes. The Eagle’s Last Flight is not a typical techno-thriller about military aviation and war—far from it. Inside its covers are at least three story lines of interest to men and women, young and old alike—the story of one man’s struggle against a system whose peers deemed him not capable of succeeding; an enduring love story between a man and woman who faced all hardships together; and the story of a government betrayal that ultimately lead to the demise of a man who had given his all to his country. Whichever story line interests you, I promise you’ll find the book to be a great read!



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Unknown said...

Thank you for hosting today:)
Happy Holidays

Wendi said...

Great post!