The radio clicked, and Emma’s Falcon slotted back into formation. Joe looked up and over his shoulders. One British pilot hung from his parachute straps below and behind the bombers, watching as his plane spiralled into the desert, fifteen thousand feet away. The other plane Emma had fired on descended past him, out of control, in a steep turn. Far below, the first crashed into the dunes, throwing up a cloud of dust and debris. Charlie flight split into two elements, one threatening the remaining two escorts, and one moving in on the bombers.
“Good shooting, Two,” said Joe. “Let’s go help Robber out.” He pulled his throttle back to maximum continuous power. The din of his engine dropped a note. It would take a minute or two to climb back into the fight.
“Two more Limeys down,” Burr reported. Reflexively, Cannon looked down at the plotting table, though nothing had changed. Sparrow lagged them by twenty miles, and in between, all the counters representing fighter groups clustered together, engaged too closely to track them separately. “Burr, get the bombers in the air. Mr. Churchill, have the stern gunners shoot as soon as the Brits come into range. Let Joe know what they’re up to.”
Cannon hobbled aft through the radio room to peer through the vision slits. Vultures,stubby, single-engined things, with a turret atop the tail and a downward-pointing vertical stabilizer, dropped from the hangar, overtaking Inconstant and zipping past the gondola’s windows to form up ahead of her. A minute later, one Gorcrow, a conventionally-arranged twin-engine medium bomber, fell from the main skyhook, clawing its way back to the zep’s altitude under the burden of a pair of heavy rocket racks. The other followed a moment later.