Authentic scenes of aerial combat, land battles, and shipboard support distinguish a businesslike novel about Navy and Marine fliers during Vietnam's Tet Offensive. Sensibly sticking to the serviceable prose of his previous North S.A.R. (1991), decorated Naval aviator Carroll provides plenty of the real-life detail that separates good war stories from technoglitz as he takes a small group of fliers through a few action-filled weeks in l968. Commander Jim Hogan is at the center of things, landing on the American aircraft carrier Shiloh for a hitch as executive officer of squadron of attack bombers just as his injured predecessor is flown out. Hogan discovers within hours that the squadron is badly demoralized after too many months under the command of an unimaginative, risk-averse careerist. His chance to fix things comes sooner than he is ready. The unsatisfactory commanding officer is slated for removal as soon as the Shiloh's top brass see that Hogan, a natural leader and flier, has the right stuff even if he hasn't had the requisite training time for the job. The squadron, grateful for a boss who understands aerial warfare better than bureaucratic battle (which he handles well enough to get his men out of a scrape), quickly shows the commander that they can bomb the daylights out of anything. While Hogan smoothes things over on the carrier, his old chum Major Dick Averitt, a Marine aviator, sticks to the ground at Khe Sanh, where he is supposed to observe and advise the ground troops. But the hitch at the front coincides with the greatest enemy assault of the war, and Averitt has to pick up a rifle and join the rest of the groundpounders to save the base. Just when things look darkest, the clouds start to clear and planes from the Shiloh show up. No hokum, no hyperbole, minimal politics, plenty of action. There's just no substitute for experience.