If the U.S. Army were a zoo, the UH-60 Black Hawk would be in the swamp section. It's large, cumbersome and not especially attractive. Black Hawk pilots have to have a special kind of balls. They have to go hurtling through all the shit you'd normally avoid to reach their objective, then fly back through it all again to get out. They do this with nonchalance as infuriating as it is reflective of experience, and usually direct no small amount of derision at your pathetic attempts to avoid getting killed while they're doing it.
I didn't get an appreciation of this until a while into my tour, during an insertion mission. Just prior I had been pondering my rather risible combat history and to be honest, wondering why the hell I was still being allowed to fly at all.
Notwithstanding, there we were about to set off. My wing was to rendezvous with and escort two MH-60 Pave Hawks (modified Black Hawks used by special forces) to a power generation complex, where they would discharge two squads of Delta Force troops to blow it up. We were flying Apache Longbows, heavily upgraded versions of choice helicopter tank killer the AH-64 Apache.
We took off at about 4.30am one April morning. Ten minutes earlier our machines had been trussed with copper cables leeching and supplying data. Mission targets, navigation points and known enemy positions had been uploaded from small carts on the ground and offensive systems were connected to the battlefield target-sharing system. Napster, Uncle Sam issue.
"Transit six-four, Control,"
"Transit six-four receiving."
"Cleared for engine start and pushback. Tug's on its way, got enough peanuts?"
I grinned. "We're set. Copy engine start." I thumbed some dashboard switches and the twin turboshafts spooled up, screens in the cockpit brightened and various positive telltales flicked on as solid green bars on the cockpit display indicating torque and engine rpms climbed.
I called my wingman, piloting a second Longbow that was the other half of our formation: "Cauty, you ready?"
"Let's get it done."
"Keep wide for now." I switched to the cockpit intercom. "Mac?"
"Stand by, looks like a voltage drop on three. Just double checking." A few seconds later, "no, it's good."
"Ok." I pulled up on the collective lever. Rotors boomed as our helicopters rose on columns of air. I looked over at Cauty's Longbow; it hung, bobbing slightly as it threw tons of air at the ground, then followed the nose of mine as it dipped to accelerate. Quickly increasing to cruising speed, I altered course to our first waypoint, my eyes flicking briefly across to my wingman as he banked away to the requisite formation width.
Even in friendly territory we flew no more than forty feet up, and we had five miles of it before reaching the forward battle line. It's called nap of the earth flying and requires a special concentration, practically to the exclusion of all instruments except the radio altitude reading and the rate of climb (ROC) indicator next to it. An intricate dance of visual processing and control inputs are done constantly, the pilot channelling and filtering flight control impulses through the constant rush of sensory data tumbling in. Too low and the results are obvious; too high and you're going to be a blip somewhere you don't want to be. Getting in The Zone instantly is included in the training. Tiny adjustments to collective here, minor pitch trim there, constantly fixating on the cockpit displays as rocks and brush whip by less than forty feet below..
As we passed the second waypoint, three miles from the battle line, I switched on the Tactical Situation Display (TSD). It showed the output from the fire control radar (FCR), reading out all detected targets. It was blank except for the symbolic representation of our helicopter at the bottom of the screen.
"Mac, gimme a couple of sweeps and a download?"
Wordlessly my co-pilot flicked on the FCR from his front seat. The Longbow's radar could be left scanning constantly, but it lights you up like an electrical christmas tree, so it's a good idea to limit its use in "hot" areas, like this one. The limited intelligence we had indicated it was rife with SAM
I watched the logo that represented the radar seeker bounce from one side of my display to the other as the FCR scanned. A few 'H' symbols and a single triangle outline popped up from left to right on our side of the battle line: tanks and a friendly SAM site. A second or so later, the secure download from the nearest command and control post was complete and four filled bowtie symbols appeared on the radar display, three miles on our two o'clock. Helicopters on the move.
"Cauty, looks like ours at two." The MH-60s, flanked by a brace of Apaches for close support, converging on the rendezvous point, now just one ridge away.
"Fucking late as usual," he muttered. "Look at 'em."
We arrived about a minute in front of our charges, popping up for a quick area scan while we waited. Some more clutter popped up on our displays; SAM sites about ten miles north and a cluster of tanks west of them, all too far away to identify.
We both dropped down to 20ft above the hillside and waited for our colleagues to show up. The deep throbbing of their rotors soon became audible over our whirring turboshafts, clouds of dust trailing the fat transport helicopters as they approached.
"Transit six-four, Juliet seven-three, you receiving?" One of the Pave Hawks was calling.
"Transit six-four, go."
"Ready to get some Soviet ass?"
"Subtle," I replied. "Something you want to confess to the group?" The Pave Hawks were now crossing in front of us.
"Let's just get on with this." Cauty cut in before the reply came as we accelerated, pirouetting and falling into formation with the other four helicopters. Our next waypoint was west, the target now five miles away.
"Transit six-five, six-four, I'm taking the south side in ground, take the north in air but stay quiet and dark." Cauty was watching for air targets, me for ground targets, still limiting our radar usage.
"Stay dark, scan air, Transit six-five." Cauty's Longbow pitched forward as he accelerated ahead of the formation. He banked to the right and I mirrored his manoeuvre. Our route traversed valleys with some ridge crossings, good for keeping clear of air defences but not air threats. The sides had to be covered in case any helos or fast movers decided to pay a visit.
The power station, closing at three miles, was a large compound in the centre of a tadpole-shaped depression in the mountains. Clusters of rock and ridges surrounded the area with an incision cutting the eastern edge. A road entered along the 'tail', passing the power station and through the rock wall on the southern side. It joined another road which followed the outside of the tadpole's head before curving slowly back to the south. Our landing zone (LZ) was a wooded, flat area just to the north of the 'tail', which extended down to the floor of the depression. Reasonable cover for the Pave Hawks to loiter in and for the Deltas to make their approach. The large complex was split into two sections; one squad was taking each.
"Ok transit six-five, six-four is one mile from LZ. Gimme a popup scan." I switched to the intercom. "Mac, couple more sweeps please." Projected over my view was that of the Longbow's pilot display, radar seeker icon bouncing from left to right; Cauty was far enough in front that his Longbow, high and to my right, appeared as a filled-in bowtie symbol on the display. "Transit six four, Kilo four-three, you listening?"
"Yeah, go on."
"Kilo four-four?" I was addressing the AH-64 escorts.
"Four-four, go ahead."
"Come wide on approach. Parallel orbits around the LZ at one mile, keep your targets current." Their helos did not have the radar facilities ours did so would be availing themselves of our target sharing facilities. "We'll make a circuit - keep the house clean while we're gone."
"-sit six-four, six-five." Cauty called before I finished, "two Ka-50s and a Hind, two o'clock, twenty-six miles closing at one-ten. They didn't paint me but we'll have to be quick."
I slowly blinked. "Six-five, copy. Close up." We were rejoining the main formation in the lead. "Kilo four-three four-four, you get that?"
"-eah. Should be interesting."
I called the Pave Hawks: "Juliet seven-two seven-three, hope you're listening. We're speeding up, LZ in two minutes. Tell your pax there's hostiles maybe thirteen minutes out, we're not checking out scenery today."
"Shame, we really like dragging our feet, you asshole," the lead Pave Hawk pilot following up his wingman's perfunctory reply.
I chuckled into the mike. "Clean airwaves! Keep it tight, you know the drill."
"Like you won't ever, sunshine." he retorted. "Maybe you'll learn something today."
"Are we still gassing? You lot should do coffee mornings." Cauty had dropped back to my side. "Helos heading south-southwest, I don't think they've spotted us but if they hold course it'll be close."
"Keep scanning, we don't want surprising." As Mac turned on our own radar I switched one of my cockpit displays to show radar threats. The radar marker bounced from side to side. I called the Pave Hawks again: "Juliet seven-two seven-three, LZ coming up in 30, hold at 40 feet but be ready to spring if we have to." We were cresting a wooded ridge that preceded the LZ; the ground fell away to the bare depression shortly after.
"Juliet seven-two seven-three, we're making our circuit, back in five." We banked to the north, following the rocky hills that surrounded the target area. In my rear view mirror I watched the Pave Hawks rotate into a tandem formation, flaring steeply before roughly touching down. Swollen beetles. The soldiers quickly exited, the two squads forking to their respective targets. Overhead, the two Apache escorts split to make their LZ circuits. The soldiers were soon swallowed by dust and shredded foliage as the Pave Hawks took off in a hail of downwash. The two helicopters backed off a hundred metres, hovering a few feet above the thick treetops.
As I accelerated I looked over at the power station; little activity was apparent around the structure which from the distance looked like a pile of toppled building bricks. Static lights were burning on spires and the extremities of outbuildings but all I could see moving was what looked like a four-wheel drive on the western boundary.
After several minutes we'd crossed most of the northerly side of the target area but I was uneasy about the helicopters we picked up earlier. "Transit six-five, six four, Cauty, get higher - I want to know where those helos are."
"Yeah got it."
The rotor noise thickened as his Longbow climbed away to the left.
Mac's voice cut through the intercom a moment later. "Arch, you seeing this?"
"Targets." I'd turned my feed from the target display off; I quickly switched it back on.
"Holy fuck," I breathed.
The helicopters and armour we'd detected earlier had disappeared, replaced by a spread of six 'H' symbols and four solid triangles, three labelled '23' and one labelled '13'. Seven miles out, approaching from the northwest with the tanks in front and the SAMs behind. When they crossed over the ridge they'd have the pick of the Pave Hawks and their escorts. I looked back over to the power station; all that was visible was the glowing heat signatures of the Deltas who had entered the complex.
"Yeah. What are we doing here?"
I narrowed my eyes at the glowing target display. The cluster of symbols jerked a few pixels closer to the Pave Hawks with each radar sweep. Two or three minutes at best before they crossed the last hill and saw us. The rubber gator on the control stick creaked softly as I pushed it further forward to accelerate. I glanced back at Cauty's Longbow high on the ridge, the nose dipped as he increased speed to follow. "Cauty, the walls are closing. You get anything?."
"What are we doing?" Mac repeated his question.
"Stand by," I muttered into the intercom, exhaling uncomfortably. "Kilo four-three four-four, visitors on your ten. Don't fire yet -- repeat: do not, fire, yet." I cursed under my breath, which Mac probably picked up on his headset. We were now almost directly east of the power station. I couldn't see our troops but suddenly flickering points of light pierced the gloom: muzzle flashes. Snatches of shouted orders spluttered over the radio.
"No sign of those helos." Cauty called back; "Can't tell, maybe a course change or terrain masking. If they pop up now though the job's fucked."
"Archie, what're we doing?" Mac's tone was insistent.
"Juliet seven-two seven-three, Transit six-four. We're leaving. Get your pax out of there. We'll meet you at the road exits."
Several seconds passed with no reply. "seven-two, you copy that?"
Another ten seconds of silence.
"Transit six-four, Juliet seven-two; spoken to Bravo leader, can do in about two more minutes if we move the LZ into the middle of that huge fucking flat space."
I smirked without humour. "Make it one. Move the LZ past the middle. We'll cover you from our end and meet you at the cutting. Keep your escorts close, your tail's gonna get very hot in the next minute or so."
"Calm down kid, I do this for a living."
I pulled the nose up to slow the Longbow down. "Kilo four-three four-four, cover us if you can, we're expecting company from the northeast. We'll cover your six, keep your targets current." I flicked the cockpit intercom back on.
"Mac - go loud."
The Hellfires started to fall. I watched the target selector skip from one to the next on the display as Mac selected and fired at targets. Light bloomed underneath us and the Longbow rocked as pylons disgorged their missiles, ramps of exhaust smoke tracing the ascending paths of the missiles out to their targets. Similar grey sinews snaked out from Cauty's Longbow as he attacked the group of armour that was approaching. Distant columns of dust were sharply terminated by large explosions as the Hellfires found their targets, smoke trails drawing smudged black nets on the horizon.
"Cauty, Juliet's getting under way, we'll give her some cover. Fulltime AG scanning please. Kilo four-three four-four, keep your lasers northwest."
Cauty's helicopter slanted with mine as we accelerated towards the two transport helicopters, four miles away. "Juliet seven-two, status please."
"We're on our way, kid. Bravo and Charlie are heading back under fire, meeting them to the south, LZ at the base of the small wooded hill."
I looked ahead of us and made out the area, a couple of miles further around the depression perimeter. "Copy that seven-three, they'll get some cover. Transit six-five, we're heading for the station. Hold fire 'till we've passed ours."
"Got it," Cauty replied, dryly adding, "this is fun."
As we continued I watched the suspended eye of the target display, updating with every radar sweep. Tanks were still inching closer but no SAMs appeared. "Cauty, how's your weapons?"
"Uh, three Hellfires, full Stingers, rockets and cannon," Cauty replied.
"Copy that." I switched to a tally of our weapons; we had one less Hellfire missile, much of our loadout gone already. The power station was only a mile away now and gunfire was visible in both directions, as was the radar blips of the Pave Hawks, closing from a mile away. Passing 130 knots, we banked from our hillside-tracing course, rushing towards the power station. Two more circular contacts were behind the patchy radar contact of the Delta soldiers, undoubtedly the patrol vehicles we had spotted earlier. Both were firing from rear-mounted machine guns.
"Mac, get those four wheel drives. We've not come out here to get our asses kicked by a fucking Jeep."
Rhythmical, sharp cannon fire pierced the engine noise; the vehicle to the left quickly succumbed to the assault, shortly followed by the other. The scene to our right was briefly and brightly illuminated, the Deltas' long shadows seeping towards us as they continued to the LZ, pursuing soldiers continuing to dump fire on them. Two enemy soldiers fell in the light and I saw a Delta soldier on the shoulders of another. Shit.
"Transit six-four, Juliet seven-two, estimate LZ in forty-five seconds. Light fire from below, nothing serious." The MH-60s were now a half mile away, evidently drawing some fire from the guards chasing our soldiers to the LZ. I accelerated towards them, aiming to put our Longbows between the power station and them. We were facing the approaching tanks, now three miles away, but no more air defences had joined their ranks. Hopefully we'd got them all.
We crossed behind the Pave Hawks seconds before their landing at the new LZ. No new contacts had appeared on the north-west hill but four tanks were still approaching. The Delta squads had reduced their pursuers significantly but were still under constant fire.
"Cauty, give those guys some cov-"
A huge explosion from the nearest power station interrupted me, the shockwave noticeably pushing my helicopter off course. A few seconds later the other complex followed, burning air inflating a fireball and consuming walls, ironwork and rigging. Secondary explosions disrupted the paths of the debris thrown out by the first and flames tore into the sky like burning water.
"Damn." Cauty's microphone just picked him up as I repeated myself: "six-five, give 'em some cover. Kilo four-three, anything?"
"No air contacts but the acey's flickering," the escort reported back. I pulled the Longbow's nose up and dropped the collective, swinging to a stop and turning to face the Pave Hawks, grey hulls flickering orange from the fire behind me and bouncing on their landing gear as troops leapt aboard. Cauty circled behind me, adding his cannon fire to the door-mounted Miniguns of the Pave Hawks.
The Apache has Aircraft Survivability Equipment (ASE), that displays enemy radar systems. If a hostile radar is detected the ASE display is automatically selected in the cockpit. It shows the radar's range, whether it is searching or tracking, and displays incoming missiles. As the last of the Deltas climbed aboard the MH-60s and they lifted off, my ASE screen blinked on.
"Archie, you see that?" Mac was ahead of me.
"Two-Ess-Six, tracking, six, o'clock." The onboard computer was also ahead of me, as its clipped female voice registered. Two more SAM triangles had appeared, both with "26" below them. The signature of Soviet combined SAM/AAA systems. These were three miles away to the northeast, cresting the hill behind which we'd last spotted the KA-50s. Behind us, creeping in our direction.
"Yeah. Doesn't look right though, they should have armour or at least air sup--"
I was interrupted by an insistent, rhythmic bleeping from the ASE and the appearance of new contacts on the target display. Three bowtie symbols appeared behind the SAM triangles and the ASE's bleeping changed to a solid tone: three helicopters had just crested the hill and some or all of them had locked onto me.
"Holy shit, we're being painted!" Cauty shouted. Before I could reply a flashing diamond detached itself from the helicopter on my ASE screen as one of them fired a missile at me.
"They've fired -- Cauty, take them down!" I banked steeply towards the approaching helos as Mac armed the Longbow's Stingers, conscious of the freezing light from the flares being dispensed. Mac fired two Stingers back, balls of light receding quickly over the rock floor. A second or so later, almost as if in reply, a rod of fire streaked into the pack of flares in our wake. The helicopter shook as the missile detonated but was undamaged, unless the damage report machine had exploded or something.
The two exhaust plumes were joined by a third from Cauty's Longbow. I watched the plumes from the missiles draw out to their targets as he called again: "Transit six-four, six-five, we've had our luck, you're on radar guidance, time to think sex and travel." Getting impatient.
"Copy. Juliet seven-two, transit six-four, you good?"
"Yeah, peachy. You done pissing about over there?"
"Right, you and seven-three lead, Kilo four-three and four-four follow up and we'll cover you. Get through that cutting then head west, widen the gap." I looked back at the target display. One of the helicopters had fallen and one of the remaining two was racing ahead. "Mac, find out what that is in front?"
"Hold on..." There was a pause as Mac looked through the periscope of the video targeting system. "...yeah, it's the Hind. He must not have airs, he's trying to get in cannon range."
"Take him out, we're leaving." The text in one corner of my monocle display flickered briefly as Mac selected the appropriate launch mode, the helicopter twitching as a Stinger sprang from the starboard wingtip. The smoke whipped over the cockpit as I pulled the control stick back hard and piled on the torque; I had to stay pointed at the approaching Mi-24 or the Stinger would lose its lock, but I wasn't going to just sit there waiting. I watched the small counter in the corner of the Heads-Up Display tick off the seconds to the missile's projected impact, a distant yellow burst of flame coinciding almost precisely with the countdown's conclusion.
Pushing the control stick hard to the right, I stamped the right rudder pedal and tweaked the torque lever, quickly turning to face where we were heading. "Cauty close up, give them a better target. Let's go." We rapidly accelerated to catch up to our fleeing caravan, now just rounding the ridge that was chopped in half by the road we were following.
"Juliet seven-two Transit six-four, let's follow this road for a bit, looks like it's heading back our way. Kilo four-three four-four, move out to a quarter mile on the flanks, I want as much shielding as possible for Juliet".
As the affirmative responses came back I eyed the targeting screen again; a single glowing green bowtie symbol remained, closing at about two miles. I glanced at the rear view mirror before making my turn; a speck punched a dawn-coloured hole in the pall of smoke from the shattered power station, following us. The ASE began bleeping, quickly changing to a solid tone but was cut off as I turned west, the ridge breaking his line of sight. He was a feisty one.
"Juliet seven-two Transit six-four, fast as you can, one helo still closing." The Pave Hawk can outrun the Apache at cruising speed.
"Yeah, thanks for that," the Pave Hawk pilot replied. "I'll torque it to one-thirty shall I? Just keep us clear." We exited from the cutting, bringing the two-mile distant formation into view. Two swollen flies flying in tandem between a pair of lethal mosquitoes.
"Transit six-five six-four, keep scanning air targets, I'll take ground."
"Copy that." A moment's static later, "you know, you two should just fuck and get it over with."
"Nah, I'm in denial. Go wide, report any contacts." His Longbow banked away to my right. The four-strong formation was now about a mile ahead and evidently up to speed, as we were racing to catch up. The cracked asphalt arced and curved gracefully as it swept past forty feet below, stones strewn about the disused surface wielding black daggers of shadow as sunlight prised over distant mountaintops.
We were gradually turning south, the formation gently bobbing up ahead. My Longbow was already getting lightly buffeted as we entered the remnants of downwash from four helicopters. On my moving map display the road continued in a sweeping bend from east to south, showing our exit point on a sharp right-hand bend. We would continue to head south, hopefully hooking up with another pair of Longbows on their way home from a strike mission.
The ground was beginning to drop away on the left, the road supported on concrete columns, clinging to the side of the increasingly-steep hillside. Small sections were missing, open cracks split the surface and broken rails hung off the edge. The cracks seemed to be linear in places. Cauty's Longbow was further up the ridge to my right; he'd climbed for extra scanning range.
"Transit six-four six-five. Can't see anything Arch, but that KA-50's gonna pop out any minute."
"Yeah, we'll duck behind this corner coming up and wait for him." The sharp bend in the ridge and road was only a few hundred metres away. "Callsigns Juliet and Kilo, turn southwest when we pass this bend and continue for two miles, then turn west. We're staying back to do some hunti-"
"What the shit is that!?" Kilo four-three cut me off.
"What? Where?" Then, as the bend came into view I saw. Parked on the bend, just out of view, were what looked like two castrated tanks. Their turrets both snapped towards the four helicopters that had just passed them. "Fuck. All callsigns, two SA-15s on the bend. Get below the road and head west. Kilo, take the rear."
"Copy that, switching course." The lead Pave Hawk replied, followed by an unintelligible addition from his wingman.
"Kilo four-three covering."
"-lo four-three changing course."
I looked towards the formation to see the trailing Pave Hawk continuing south. As I did Cauty cut in, "airborne contact, position looks about right to be the KA-50." The ASE started bleeping as if on cue, showing two separate radar locks on my helicopter.
"Juliet seven-three, they're gonna fire any second. Drop your fuel tanks and break right," I snapped. He finally obeyed: the bulbous drop tanks fell from his helicopter and it snapped right with an agility impressive for its bulk. "Cauty, take down that fucking Hokum."
"Copy that, watch your head." From his elevated position, Cauty's Longbow made a sharp left turn and swooped above mine. As I dived to the left for a better run at the targets there were two loud bangs from the right, clouds of white smoke bursting from the top of the SAM vehicles. Rocks rolled down the hillside and sections of road crumbled from the force as two missiles leapt into the air. About a second later, two more bangs announced the ignition of their rocket motors.
"Break right!" Mac shouted. On the ASE display a flickering diamond moved rapidly towards the symbol of my helicopter, the letters 'ECM' flashing as onboard countermeasure equipment automatically engaged the missile in electronic combat. I wrenched the control stick to the right and piled on collective, feeling the rumbling as the chaff dispensers ejected clouds of foil behind my aircraft. The chances of a hit by an SA-15 from that range were low but you don't really think about that.
"Kilo four-three, get those SAMs. Four-four cover the '60's."
"Copy that, Kilo four-three coming back." One of the missiles exploded on the valley floor behind me, ECM and decoys having done their job. The twin turboshafts protested under excessive torque as I completed my turn, now facing the SAMs again. Letters flickered on the heads-up display as Mac activated the cannon.
Approaching the bend in the road again I was faced with two streams of exhaust smoke tracing from the SA-15s, one ending on the ground behind me, another streaking past the Apaches of both Kilo four-three and Kilo four-four towards the Pave Hawks. I watched in horror as the missile detonated within twenty feet of the nearest transport helicopter; it exploded with such force that the other was visibly pushed aside, though seemingly undamaged.
"You guys are great, you done impressing me?" The lead Pave Hawk pilot deadpanned. "That coffee morning is definitely off."
Flaming wreckage fell to the ground like leaves as a puff of smoke from one of the stubby wings on Kilo four-three's Apache announced another Hellfire launch. The missile streaked unimpeded towards the furthermost SA-15, shattering it on impact with a thunderous explosion. I winced at the hissing light and turned in Cauty's direction to see him bank away from a trail of smoke and fire in the distance.
"Copy that. Mac, get this fucker." The Longbow bucked and shuddered as Mac fired the cannon at the SAM vehicle. Bright lines were drawn to the SA-15 by tracer rounds, shells visibly piercing its hull. Sparks and flames spat debris from the vehicle; I began to the circle it when the hatch popped and several soldiers jumped out. They immediately began firing small arms at the pair of us, ricochets and small impacts piercing the radio chatter and humming of the twin turboshafts.
"Sod this, we're going." Mac stopped firing. "Cauty, get rid of that bastard then follow me. Kilo four-three, get back to Juliet." I dipped the Longbow's nose and accelerated but not before hearing several thuds and, a second later, the female monotone of the damage control system:
"BUCS. Failure. Hydraulic. Pressure. Low.
I felt a decrease in control response. "Dammit, they've punctured a hydro line and the backup's out." I switched back to vox: "Cauty?"
As I called a large bang blocked out the sound of my own voice. My rear view mirror bloomed with light as the remaining SA-15 exploded, tied to Cauty's longbow by a short trail of exhaust smoke. Shadows of flying wreckage created strobes of light into my cockpit. Cauty quickly responded, "sorted, we're good."
"Yeah, speak for yourself." I sighed.
He formed up on my wing, and the group limped towards home.
Twenty minutes later...
Mission Complete. Do you wish to save your game?
You bet your ass I wish to save!
This is a heavily embellished account of a multiplayer computer game. I did not copy your life story. Many thanks to the noders who helped during its gestation. I have a couple of older writeups in the same style. They are here and here.