© 2016 John J. Nance
Something very strange is happening at 35,000 feet. A lost and unresponsive Airbus is feeding false data to its pilots, assuring them that they’re halfway over the Atlantic and nearing New York, but any glance out the window tells the crew they’re headed across France and seemingly towards Tel Aviv. The Airbus is carrying an ousted Israeli prime minister, who did everything he could to push Israel and Iran over the brink of war while in office. In DC, three intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense are scrambling over one another’s toes and endangering innocent lives trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do next. If the Airbus continues on its present course, it could very well pass over the border of Iran and trigger a nuclear war between the mullahs and the Israelis. Such is the story of Lockout, in which a couple of pilots and their passengers become the unwitting collateral damage of one or more black ops projects.
Confession: I didn’t realize aviation thrillers were a genre. I’ve seen plenty of crisis-on-an-airplane movies course — Air Force One, Taken, Flightplan, Nonstop, etc — but didn’t imagine that kind of drama could be rendered in books. Well, John Nance has certainly proven me wrong. Lockout’s narrative takes readers through diplomatic intrigue, technical puzzles, street chases, counterespionage schemes, jet combat, and ordinary “whodunit” questions. The author, a Vietnam pilot turned airline pilot, doesn’t shy away from putting his technical knowledge about jet aircraft to work; the key problem of the story is that computer controls over the Airbus have ceased to function, and manual control systems…well, those are soooooo 1980s. Restoring control of the plane to the pilots involves descending into the pit of the electronics bay and figuring out the power and wiring relays down there enough to interrupt the automatics without reducing the plane to a falling airframe. Admittedly, characters working through circuit logic with one another might not reach a large audience, so these scenes are only part of the ensemble of mystery. The main plot takes place over a matter of four hours, as several on-the-ground mysteries converge into the one — a plane that delivered where it shouldn’t have been, whose electrical work doesn’t match Airbus specs, who had intelligence agencies looking for it before they even knew it was in trouble, and which might provoke World War 3. For fans of thrillers and airflight, this is a fun one.