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Literature / Flight of the Intruder

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A novel by Stephen Coonts, taking place during The Vietnam War. It follows the exploits of Lieutenant Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton following the death of his Bombadier-Navigator during a pointless air strike. Later turned into a movie.

Tropes of the Intruder:

  • Ace Pilot: A subversion, as "Cool Hand" Grafton is a bomber pilot. That said, he's considered to be an exceptionally skilled one.
    • In fact, there is a fighter jock aboard their ship with a minor case of hero worship after Grafton (temporarily assigned to fly the squadron’s KA-6, an Intruder modified into an in-flight refueling tanker) managed to successfully refuel his plane in horribly stormy weather, while the fighter jock's plane was running on fumes, so he wouldn't be forced to eject at night in storm-tossed seas
  • Airstrike Impossible: The one-plane Hanoi bombing mission.
  • Anti-Air: Given the protagonists' role as ground-attack pilots, tasked with flying at low altitude, they find themselves constantly exposed to virtually every flavor of this imaginable, often with horrifying results. The pilots use a variety of methods to defend themselves, ranging from electronic countermeasures to launching decoys to going after the air defense systems with bombs and radar-seeking missiles. Despite all of the advanced technology being used on both sides, Morgue dies due to a lucky shot by a guy with a rifle firing blindly into the night sky.
  • Anyone Can Die: Grafton's Bombadier-Navigator is killed by a lucky shot from a gun on the ground, hitting him in the throat. Many of the characters throughout the book, including the Plucky Comic Relief note 
  • Author Avatar: Stephen Coonts has admitted that he based Cool Hand Grafton on himself and his own experiences.
  • Berserk Button:
    • While he is more than willing to perform airstrikes that kill hundreds of enemy troops, Grafton does not want to be reminded of how many peoples' deaths he has personally caused in his air strikes.
    • Razor doesn't like it when people refer to the Navy Academy at Annapolis as "Canoe U"
  • Broken Ace: Implied in the case of "Cool Hand" Grafton. Outside of the cockpit, his hands shake pretty much any time he's not actively doing anything with them, due to the stress he's under as a combat pilot.
  • Coming in Hot: In the beginning of the novel. The plane is relatively undamaged, but Grafton's BN was mortally wounded and Grafton was trying to help control the bleeding while landing the plane.
  • Cool Plane:
    • Half of the point of the story is that the Grumman A-6 Intruder could be considered an aversion. Limited to subsonic speeds, carrying no guns or other air-to-air weapons, and resembling nothing so much as a giant tadpole with wings, the Intruder is as uncool as it gets but is remarkably good at what it does, which is low-level attack, often at night.
    • That said, it can also serve as an air-refueler for other Navy planes, and some versions of it are modded to be able to go after anti-aircraft radar sites, intentionally exposing itself to enemy fire in order to get the bad guy to reveal himself.
    • The Douglas A1 "Sandy" is a cool plane just because it's a prop-driven attack plane in a war that's two decades into the Jet Age.
  • Cool Ship: The USS Shiloh. It's a supercarrier that can carry and launch upwards of a hundred jets.
    • More like 'up to'. But there's still more air power on the deck of one US carrier than in many nations' entire air forces.
  • Desk Jockey: The Intel officer is obviously not an aviator. Also, during the course of the book, a few pilots request to be taken off of flying status, they are used to fill in administrative positions that other pilots had been pulling double-duty on.
  • Ejection Seat: Played straight, as various characters end up using them throughout the story. Also averted at one point, when Grafton manages to successfully link up to refuel a Phantom jet so the pilot won't have to eject in storm-tossed seas.
  • Hand Cannon
  • Guns Akimbo: In the book's climax. Lampshaded by the character doing so who was very aware that he had no idea what he was doing.
  • Guy in Back: Due to the way their plane is designed, he's actually a Guy On The Right. The Bombadier-Navigators. note 
  • Hero of Another Story: Major Frank Allen, an Air Force pilot who turns up midway through the story, wanders off after hanging out with the mains for a few chapters, and turns up again in the climax.
  • Ironic Nickname: Razor (for the very prominent mustache he sports) as well as the main character, Cool Hand (He suffers from Palsy when he's not flying; an effect of the stress he's under.
  • Karma Houdini: Grafton and Tiger Cole fly into restricted airspace and bomb downtown Hanoi, against standing orders. After a brief court martial, they are told not to tell anybody and returned to duty.
  • Jerkass: The reporter who hounds Grafton about the possibility that his bombs may not all hit their intended targets.
    • To a lesser degree, Razor.
  • Made of Explodium: Planes filled with bombs and jet fuel, obviously.
  • Mercy Kill: Major Frank Allen, when he is trapped in the wreckage of his plane after being shot down.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Frank Allen, after asking his wingman to Mercy Kill him. It's unclear if it is because he is effectively committing suicide, or if it is because of the generally debaucherous lifestyle he lived.
  • New Meat: A new pilot has the bad timing to arrive very soon after the death of a beloved comrade. Everybody is too emotionally drained to come up with a nickname for him, so they just call him "New Guy".
  • Nom de Guerre: Being a book about combat pilots, there are quite a few. Cool Hand, Razor, The Boxman, Rabbit, Morgue, Tiger, etc.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: The major plot mover in the last chapters of the book. The North Vietnamese capitalize on this by using downed airmen as bait to draw the Air Force rescue aircraft in closer to their anti-aircraft guns.
  • Parachute in a Tree: Jake Grafton not only ends up hanging from a tree after ejecting, but has the further indignity to somehow end up hanging from his parachute upside down. Fortunately, he was hanging only a foot or so off the ground.
  • Plane Spotting
  • Pet the Dog: For the first while that we see Razor, he is an antagonistic prick that nobody else in the squadron seems to get along with. He is paired up with Grafton for a few missions after Grafton's B/N is killed. After their first mission, someone questions Grafton's judgement in a particular situation, and Razor is the first to come to his defense. As for the time we see them flying together, once put in a plane, Razor is a quiet professional at his job, able to keep his personal business out of his work.
  • Rogue Agent: Grafton and Tiger Cole decide to do a two-man raid in downtown Hanoi. In the book, the target was the Communist Party Headquarters, in the movie, it was a stockpile of anti-aircraft missiles
  • Say Your Prayers: Frank Allen, mortally wounded and trapped in his crashed plane, begins to say the Hail Mary after requesting a Mercy Kill from his Wing Man.
  • Serious Business: "The Phantom Shitter"
  • Shown Their Work: Which is appropriate, as Stephen Coonts was an Intruder pilot during the Vietnam War.
  • Those Two Guys: The Augies.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines - The climax of the story.
  • War Is Hell: Even for the flyboys.
  • Weapon Running Time: One of the things that A-6 Intruder pilots need to dodge a surface-to-air missile is time to set up their evasive maneuvers. If the missile is fired too close, they can't dodge it.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Jerkass reporter tries to pull one on Grafton, based on the possibility that Grafton may have killed civilians with one of his airstrikes (no evidence is supported for the accusation). Later on, Grafton, Tiger Cole, and the Intel Officer get a legitimate one from the chain of command when it is discovered that they launched their renegade air strike on Hanoi.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Not on purpose, anyhow. Although the one-plane air raid Grafton and Cole went on went dangerously close to averting this.