Retired naval pilot’s thriller delves into Iranian nuclear program


By Pat Sherman

It’s been more than two decades since La Jollan and

New York Times

Bestselling author William “Bill” LaBarge penned his last book. Now, the former Top Gun is back in top literary form with a new political thriller based on the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“This was probably the hardest book I’ve written due to the research (required),” said LaBarge, who spent 23 years in the Navy and two decades after as a pilot for Southwest Airlines (from which he retired last summer).

His previous books, including “Sweetwater Gunslinger 201,” “Hornet’s Nest” and “Road to Gold,” were largely based on his real-life exploits as a Navy fighter pilot involved in the Iranian hostage crisis and other covert operations in the Persian Gulf. For his latest, “Lightning Strikes Twice,” LaBarge had to get up to speed on combat drones and dry deck shelters — removable modules attached to a submarine that allow divers to covertly enter and exit the vessel while it is submerged.

LaBarge traveled to Creech Air Force Base in Clark County Nevada (near Las Vegas) to learn how combat drones are operated remotely.

“I have a friend who flies the drones that attacked the targets in Afghanistan … so I had to go up there and talk to them to make sure that my facts were on target,” he said, noting that he also worked with Navy SEALS to learn how dry deck shelters work, and pored over declassified (though not widely available) files related to the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Construction on the plant began in 1975, but was suspended following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, eventually resuming in 1995.

“This book was a lot harder research-wise, because I hadn’t lived it,” said LaBarge, of La Jolla Heights. “Normally I can finish a book in 10 months; this took me close to 15.”

The plot of “Lightning Strikes Twice,” for which LaBarge said he is in final negotiations with producer Howard Kazanjian (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Star Wars Episode VI”) to purchase the movie rights, also involves the CIA, the world’s longest sniper kill shot and the F-35C, the U.S. military’s newest stealth fighter. The single-seat, single-engine craft was developed by Lockheed Martin to perform ground attack, reconnaissance and air defense missions.

“I was waiting for something to kind of get my juices flowing again,” LaBarge said of the F-35C, to be introduced in December 2015.

LaBarge, who will read from his book at 7 p.m.

March 29


D.G. Wills Books

, 7461 Girard Ave., played some 30 professional baseball games with the Philadelphia Phillies prior to his military career (as a non-contract walk-on player during the Vietnam War). LaBarge said he wore so much cologne that, upon walking onto the field, teammates dubbed him “Sweetwater Willie,” a nickname that has stuck with him.

A native of Dexter Maine, LaBarge holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in international relations.

He has sold movie rights to three of his other books, and served as a technical advisor on movies such as “The Final Countdown” and Top Gun,” and the TV Series, “JAG.”

His advice for aspiring authors?

“Unless you’re doing a family synopsis that you don’t plan on putting out to the world, you have to have something that is going to attract a whole genre of readers — and it’s got to be interesting and unique if it’s going to sell.”

In addition, he advised, “Get yourself on a high protein diet so that you can concentrate. … You’re not going to get much sleep, because you’re working overtime. Many times during this whole process I probably didn’t sleep more than four hours a night because I’d wake up thinking of things and … go to the computer.” u


William LaBarge will hold a book signing 7 p.m. March 29 at D.G. Wills Books, 7461 Girard Ave.