JED - March 2012 - (Page 42)

book review By Kernan Chaisson Raventross It is not often EW appears in anything but technical or engineering books. For electronic warfare to be the underpinning of a novel is pretty much a first. That is exactly what John Burwell Wilkes has done in Raventross, which he released at last fall’s AOC Annual Convention and Symposium. To avoid having to issue a “spoiler alert,” let it suffice to say that in the story some very interesting things are done to, and with, an EF-111A; and from a very interesting place that most of us know, but none of us are supposed to talk about. Suffice it to say things begin when a mission is undertaken in a way that would do any techno-thriller proud. Romance, science fiction, suspense; it’s all there. The airplane modification efforts are thought provoking, with flying scenes that are exciting and well-done. The missions are fascinating, especially in consideration of recent events. While discussing Raventross with JED, Wilkes explained that Austin “Pepper” Thomas, AOC Past President (2003 to 2005), was the inspiration for the story. AOC member Wilkes used Pepper as the model for one of the main characters. The story built on Pepper’s time with the Navy Program Office in Bethpage, NY, where he oversaw acceptance and delivery of EF-111As to the Air Force. Thomas was, Wilkes explained, “Instrumental in making this work of fiction into a believable and relevant story.” Indeed, “Pepper’s personality is embodied in one of the story’s main characters, Cool Hand Luke.” Needless to say, as any of us who know Pepper would suspect, this character was quite interesting. Well written and suspenseful, Raventross is a fun romp of a techno-thriller starring a famous EW asset. This is the kind of story flyers and ground specialists alike can get into; combining the mystery of Dan Brown (Deception Point and Digital Fortress), with the technical creativity of Dale Brown (Flight of the Old Dog, Strike Force and the Dreamland series). Wilkes is considering follow-on stories, so Raventross could become another “Old Dog.” The Association of Old Crows plays a special role in the naming of the aircraft, as well as the home base for the book’s action. In the story, both key characters, and many of the others, are noted for being AOC members. How many books do we know where the main characters are Crows? It is also the mark of a skilled writer to produce a technothriller that remains true to the underlying technology, but adds the thriller part in a way that engages the reader without being so far over the top as to spoil the reader’s enjoyment. Wilkes has an interesting and varied background. An attorney, judge and airline executive; he also commanded a Marine artillery battalion; bringing all of these pieces together to create an entertaining story. Wilkes has flown with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) since 1993 and served as wing commander of the Mississippi CAP for four years. He was involved in many rescue and counter-narcotics missions in the Gulf region and flew simulated terrorist attacks to help officials prepare for a G-8 Summit at a Georgia resort island several years ago. These experiences brought a special life to the story. A Washington Post review of flyer-turnedauthor Dale Brown applies. “When a former pilot turns his hand to thrillers, you can take their authenticity for granted.” Like Brown, Wilkes’ writing is good and the dialogue, plots, and characters firstclass… too good to be missed. When it comes to the main location of the story, Wilkes did an amazing job of taking things he read and conversations he had with people, “not all of whom knew what they were talking about,” to create a realistic home for the story. While not the first writer to locate their 42 The Journal of Electronic Defense | March 2012 story at a version of the famous i f h f place “that does not exist,” Wilkes got the description better than anyone so far. The technical parts have a solid basis in reality, thanks to Pepper and Wilkes’ long association with aviation. Raventross reflects this background and experience, making it believable and exciting. It is impossible to read this book without feeling you are there with the characters, living their excitement, experiencing their fears, and enthralled at their spine-tingling accomplishments. The outcome leaves open the likelihood of a follow-on story featuring the two heroes, Wilkes told JED. After reading Raventross, one can’t help but want more. Reviews by readers who purchased the book from are overwhelmingly positive, praising its spinetingling action and appeal to flyers and non-flyers alike. It is great to know that Wilkes, a developing star in the field of military thrillers, is one of us. a Raventross, ISBN 978-1-884886-96-6, was published by Star Group International. Copies are available at a special price through the AOC Store at, with the Association receiving part of the proceeds from sales. A Kindle version is available through and ebook versions for Android/Nook/iPad/Kindle readers are on sale at also has a downloadable audiobook and CD audiodisks available.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of JED - March 2012

The View From Here
Conferences Calendar
Courses Calendar
From the President
The Monitor
Washington Report
World Report
US Rotorcraft EW Programs
Technology Survey: DRFMs for EW Applications
Book Review
EW 101
AOC News
2012 AOC Industry/Institute/ University Member Guide
Index of Advertisers
JED Quick Look

JED - March 2012