And so to the book which made him famous. It's his best known thanks to the movie which was made in 1982 staring and directed by Clint Eastwood. From this point onwards Craig Thomas became "Craig Thomas, best-selling author of Firefox".
When I was in a bookstore in Canada back in 1990 I noticed that HarperCollins was reprinting all his novels, one a month. They started with Firefox and believe they referred to it as "a watershed of techothrillers." Personally I hate the term technothriller. It suggests that the book has no human characters. I can think of one American author in particular who's thrillers have nice planes on the cover but inside it reads more like a technical manual. That isn't the case with Thomas. Instead he tells the story without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. The books are well researched but he doesn't hit you over the head with his research.
In a nutshell, the Americans and British discover that the Russians have developed an aircraft decades in advance of anything they have and decide they have to steal it. It's the MiG-31, NATO code-name 'Firefox.' If you look at the cover of the paperback that predates the movie the MiG-31 is based strongly on the existing MiG-25 'Foxbat'. After the movie came out things changed and the plane transformed into something much more science fiction looking.
The aircraft has three unique qualities that make it desirable. It can fly at MACH 5, is invisible to radar, and has a thought controlled weapons system. Of course nowadays there's nothing new about stealth planes, but if anyone has a plane that does the other two they're not saying.
The main protagonist is USAF pilot Mitchell Gant who's had a bad time in Vietnam. The Government drafts him in and chapter one begins with him entering Moscow airport in disguise. (The movie has a large chunk of training and briefings before this.) Somehow he manages to stay one step ahead of the KGB and manages to get to the air base where the plane is being tested. The second half of the book concerns the flight out of Russia.
MI5's Aubrey and the CIA's Buckholz make their first appearances in this book, and Gant will return three more times.
And the movie? Well, many consider it dull and boring, although they might admit that when the flying starts the movie 'takes off'. [Bad Pun Number One] Certainly there's only so many checkpoints that Clint can go through before the viewer gets deja vu. The flying sequences are well done and the plane as envisaged in the movie has certainly influenced just about every advanced military aircraft since, whether real or fictional. One thing that the movie does depict in it's early stages is the sense of oppression of walking through Moscow at night. Vienna makes a good stand in.
At the end the film, like the book, leaves the story up in the air. [Bad Pun Number Two]
The story is continued in 1983's Firefox Down.