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Pilots put selves in harm’s way to protect comrades-in-arms

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They’re often known by their nicknames – the Marine Corps’ “Flying Nightmares” and the Air Force’s “Wild Weasels.” They are special bands of courageous American fighter pilots.

Lt. Col. Michael “Zak” Franzak, a 1980 Sandia High graduate, was an AV-8B Harrier jet pilot who served as executive officer of the “Flying Nightmares” squadron while deployed for one year in Afghanistan. His book “Nightmare’s Prayer” relates the role that the Harrier aircraft played over Afghan battlefields and reveals the life of an attack pilot – flying at night, in adverse weather conditions, up against forbidding mountains, confronting enemy ambushes and dealing with the frustrations with micro-managing higher-ups.

Franzak, an enlisted man who became an officer, also writes about his spiritual struggles.

“A Nightmare’s Prayer: A Marine Harrier Pilot’s War in Afghanistan” by Mike Franzak
Threshold Editions, $26, 304 pp.
“Viper Pilot: A Memoir of Air Combat” by Dan Hampton
William Morrow, $27.99, 337 pp.

The book won the 2012 Colby Award “because it is the most compelling and vivid book yet written on aerial warfare in Afghanistan,” according to one member of the award’s selection committee.

Dan Hampton reveals his wartime experiences as an F16 Phantom jet pilot in the Gulf War and more recently in the Iraq. He was a member of the “Wild Weasels,” an elite Air Force fighter squadron that has the extraordinarily dangerous job of flying behind enemy lines to draw fire from surface-to-air missiles and artillery. Then they must return to destroy the SAM sites and artillery.

The opening chapter of Hampton’s book “Viper Pilot” puts the reader inside the cockpit. It is March 24, 2003, and Hampton is in the air over Nasiriyah, Iraq, his fuel running low, trying to protect U.S. Marines on the ground: “The jet rocked sideways as the Gatling gun spat out a few hundred 20-mm shells. I instantly pulled up again and then bunted forward, aiming at the middle of the convoy. BUURRRPPP …”

Mike Franzak discusses “A Nightmare’s Prayer” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9. Dan Hampton discusses “Viper Pilot” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11. Both events are at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.

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