Monday, November 11, 2019

Interview with military/aviation writer Paco Chierici

Author Paco Chierici joins me today to chat a little bit about his new military thriller, Lions of the Sky.

During his active duty career in the U.S. Navy Paco Chierici flew A-6E Intruders and F-14A Tomcats, deployed to conflict zones from Somalia to Iraq and was stationed aboard carriers including the USS Ranger, Nimitz and Kitty Hawk. Unable to give up dogfighting, he flew the F-5 Tiger II for a further ten years as a Bandit concurrent with his employment as a commercial pilot.

Throughout his military career, Paco accumulated nearly 3,000 tactical hours, 400 carrier landings, a Southwest Asia Service Medal with Bronze Star, and three Strike/Flight Air Medals.

Currently a 737 captain, Paco can often be found in the skies above California flying a Yak-50 with a group of likeminded G-hounds to get his dogfighting fix.

Prior to writing Lions in the Sky, Paco published extensively in Aviation Classics Magazine, AOPA Magazine, and Fighter Sweep, as well as creating and producing the award-winning naval aviation documentary Speed and Angels. He lives in Northern California with his wife and two children.

Welcome, Paco. Please tell us a little bit about you newest release.
A story of action and peril with intense and personal stories, Lions of the Sky propels us into a realm in which battles are won and lost in an instant and lives irrevocably changed in the time it takes to plug in your afterburners. Experience the challenges of women entering the world of naval aviation, the intensity of battle, and the razor-thin line separating a regional misunderstanding and a conflict between international superpowers.

What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to begin the series with a Fighter Pilot Origin Story. The world of navy carrier aviation is so inherently dramatic and filled with outlandish personalities that I was looking to introduce the readers to it though the experience of a new class of F/A-18 Super Hornet students. The readers and the students experience the thrills and pitfalls of flying fighters from carriers together.

My female lead was inspired by a former squadron mate. She was an awesome pilot and human being. She was the first female F-14 Tomcat pilot and she was brave, funny, full of sass and attitude in all the right ways. Tragically she perished while attempting to land on a carrier. I always wondered what her life would have been like had she lived.

I’ve always loved thrillers with great characters, and naval aviation is a world perfectly suited to telling those types of stories. I draw on my experiences from a twenty-year career flying fighters and combine them with real-world global hot spots, in this case the South China Sea, to create a fun, exciting, dramatic thriller full of action and rich personalities.

Excerpt from Lions of the Sky:

Back in Silvers’ cockpit the same transmission was received, but completely ignored as background noise. She was too busy with her own problems to process someone else’s. As she and Wedge punched through 15,000 feet she pointed directly toward the threat sector while the radar scraped a path in front like a blade on a snowplow. Almost instantly it grabbed a lock on the bandit on their nose. “Got it, Wedge!” Her heart raced as she thumbed the radio switch. “Roman Two has contact; target, three-zero-zero at ten, seventeen thousand, hot; declare.”

The controller came back the moment she released her switch. “That’s your bandit.”

“Copy.” As she made the transmission and fingered the trigger to simulate shooting a missile, her radar warning screamed high warble indicating Air-to- Air radar lock on her Rhino. She was being targeted. The visual display showed a solid ugly strobe on her nose. “Roman Two, spiked!” she broadcast while simultaneously slamming the stick to the right and pulling hard. When the strobe was exactly down her wing line she reversed into an easy left turn to hold the bandit at her 9 o’clock. It was a nervous game of chicken; she was only ten miles away from an adversary intent on shooting her from the sky, but while she was perpendicular to his flight path, at this range, his radar would be unable to hold a lock. With no radar-lock, the missiles wouldn’t be able to guide against her. That was the plan at least.

She and Wedge were glued eyes-left outside the cockpit, searching the sky for the tiny spec that would be the F-5 at eight to ten miles. It would be nearly impossible to spot, skinny as a needle homing in on them. She gimbaled her head inside the cockpit every couple of seconds referencing the radar warning screen, confirming she was holding the strobe at exactly 9 o’clock. With every fiber of her body she fought the urge to pull hard to the left to face the threat head on. Her hands twitched on the stick.

As if he could read her mind Wedge shouted from the backseat. “Not yet! He won’t hold much longer.”

Sure enough, a heartbeat later the warble abruptly ceased and the strobe disappeared from her screen. “I’m in!” She pitched back 90 degrees left, pulling hard to get her nose in the proper piece of sky as rapidly as possible. She and Wedge both groaned as the Rhino was subjected to over 7Gs. Halfway through the turn her radar snapped a lock again. 30 degrees to the left at 3.5 miles. “Got him!” she yelled to Wedge.

The bandit was flying a vector that would take him past her left side. He had obviously lost her in the turn and hadn’t picked her up visually yet. She marveled at the fact, staring at the F-5 in the left corner of her Heads-Up-Display. She was entranced by the strange magic of finding an unfamiliar jet in this huge piece of sky. The details were mesmerizing, and coming into focus as she streaked ever closer: single tail, missiles on both wingtips, foreign-looking paint scheme.

Wedge’s voice broke her study. “Shoot it!”

She pulled hard once again to get the target directly on her nose. A ‘SHOOT’ cue appeared and she simultaneously pulled the trigger while broadcasting “Fox three, bandit seventeen thousand, left hand turn.” A digital counter appeared in her Heads-Up-Display at trigger squeeze, marking the seconds before calculated missile impact. The F-5 finally spotted her and banked hard to face her just as the counter reached zero.

“Kill bandit, seventeen thousand,” she transmitted, fighting the urge to yell in victory. Act like you’ve been here before.

“Nice job!” Wedge shouted from the back, but the celebration was brief.

“Break right! One more coming, two o’clock high.”

She snap-rolled her head, and the Rhino. “Got him.” She thumbed out countermeasures to decoy any missiles as her radar locked onto the new bandit. “Fox-3 on bandit at 23,000 feet.” She pulled the trigger then stared at the counter until it reached zero. “Kill two.” The second bandit flashed by her right wing 200 feet away at nearly 900 miles per hour combined speed.

On cue, the controller picked up his cadence. “Roman Two, copy splash two bandits. Green south. Nearest threat fifteen miles north.”

“Roman Two copies,” she keyed her radio. “Heading south for home.”

As she cleaned up the switches in her cockpit for the now-mundane act of flying home, Wedge’s voice came through her headset, “Nice job, Silvers.” She nodded silently, flushed with excitement and adrenaline, and forced herself to concentrate on flying the Rhino the short fifty miles back to El Centro. It was funny, something that would have thrilled her to the core just a few weeks ago now barely held her attention as she replayed the details of her engagement over and over. All too quickly the Rhino touched down, leaving her struggling to wipe the grin from her face before the canopy came up and the dry desert heat roiled into the cockpit.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m writing the sequel to Lions of the Sky. It continues many of the same characters in a new adventure titled, The Dragon. The story takes place in the Persian Gulf where Slammer Richardson’s faith in all he holds dear is put to the the test. He risks everything while dealing with ISIS, the Kurdish militia, and Iranian fighter planes.

It’s a story about discovering what you truly believe in, then fighting for it with your life.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Great question, and not easy to answer. I’ve been writing my whole life. I’ve written articles for print and online magazines around the world. Lions is my first novel. Even now I hesitate to refer to myself as a writer. It’s a profession I respect and admire so much. As long as I have a ‘day job’ I’ll refer to myself as a pilot who writes.

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 don’t write full-time, but I try to write every day, though I have a peripatetic lifestyle. Between my work obligations and family fun, I have a fairly full slate. On the rare day when I have no other commitments, I can devote many hours to dedicated creative writing. More usually I steal a couple hours on a layover or home before I’m dragged in another direction.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Quirk? I don’t know, I write alone so it all seems normal to me. Probably the strangest thing is that I crank EDM music as I’m writing action sequences. The high tempo music helps get my adrenaline pumping.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I secretly wanted to be an author. I’ve been in love with the written word and storytelling since I can remember. It seemed so impossible and farfetched that instead I settled on becoming a fighter pilot. I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I’ve got a lifetime’s worth of material for all my novels.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’m an interesting amalgam of adrenaline junkie and bookworm. Though my books take place in a world of speed and action, I’m truly drawn to characters and the interplay or real people faced with important decisions. I write character centric thrillers where the reader feels as if they involved in the action. It’s an immersive experience into a world most people are superficially familiar with but actually know very little about.


Thank you for your military service, and for being here today, Paco.

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