Feature: Sacha's First Mission
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“The generator is in a large building on the north side of the capital.” The Major pointed at a spot on the projected aerial photo. “As you can see, it is in an open area. Here, we may strike with the least chance of civilian casualties. This plant services the north side of the city and it will be in darkness once we strike.”
My Academy classmate Iosef spoke up. “But sir, I thought we were confining strikes to military targets. Is this not a civilian target?”
“Nyet.” Raskov smiled, wolfishly. “At least, not precisely. The main reason we strike here is that the southern command center receives its power supply here. This is a reminder to the Dhimar king not to hide his military assets behind a civilian shield. His people, after being in darkness for awhile, will remind him more forcefully than we can with one strike on a building not to do that again! It is the very lesson that the Emir was forced to swallow three weeks ago, when he placed MiG fighters in a civilian airfield, the international airport, which the Dhimaris then promptly attacked with Mirage fighters. The Emir wishes to send a message: What is sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander as well!”
I take careful notes on my NPL whiteboard, which will be strapped to my left leg in the aircraft for reference. It has three pages for information storage and a wheel to calculate navigation and fuel usage. The landmark is a large, blue and white mosque on the outskirts of the capital. It is near to the plant, and under no circumstances may we strike it. One thing about the Dhimaris and the Paranis is that they thankfully are not very good at ground defense. Aside from a few guns and old SAMs, that is. Most of these are clustered around military bases, which this target is not. We will not receive much in the way of resistance. Raskov decrees the armament for our trip. For me, B-8 high-explosive rockets. For him, FAB-250 bombs. The MiG is tiny, carrying less than 3000 kg of fuel, and so its warload is light. I carry two rocket pods, he has two bombs. My mission is to create confusion and disperse any Dhimari soldiers with Redeye or Stinger missiles. Raskov will follow me in and drop his bombs before the enemy can gather its strength. Our call sign today is Viper 549, and we hope to strike as fast as the snake whose name we carry.
In our locker room, I suit up. It is early in my career, and the mishmash of American and Russian gear I wear today, I did not have then, of course. On my wrist I then wore a Poljot “Ocean” chronometer, to time legs of the flight. We depend greatly on the clock in the aircraft dashboard for such things as well, and especially for timing flight of air to air missiles. I will not be carrying any air to air armament, though, because the Twenty-One only has two hardpoints and they will be taken up with rocket pods. If we get into a scrap with Dhimari fighters, the 23mm gun pod will have to do. I have first my blue VK-3M ventilation suit. In our planes, we can plug into the air ventilation system for assistance in maintaining body temperature. The VK suit, made by Vympel, allows me to be comfortable in temperatures from –50 degrees C to +50 degrees C! Over it I wear my camouflage jumpsuit, and my “speed jeans,” the PPK-1U partial pressure suit. This is all very different from the VKK-15 gear I wear today. My IPK harness for the ejection seat goes over my flight suit, and I have my ASP-74 flotation belt on and my NAZ survival kit, and of course my Makarov pistol in its shoulder harness. Over my head I wear a ShL-78 leather helmet underneath a white ZSh-3M hard shell helmet with visor, and a KM-32 oxygen mask Tough leather boots on my feet. Today, I wear much lighter “Hi Tec” boots that I procured from the Americans. So much gear we carry!
In the hangar, my Parani crew chief helps me up the ladder and into the cockpit. They are still amazed that we have women who fly fighters. One of the early problems when VVS women came to Paran earlier was the clash of cultures. We had to be most careful not to offend their religious sensibilities. Things are better now, but still it can be tense. The cockpit in the Twenty One is very cramped and close-fitting. My father says that one does not climb into the MiG; rather, one puts it on like a pair of tight American blue-jeans. This is an apt analogy. The PFM’s canopy is side-hinging, and the Parani crew slams it into place, locking it down. I am on ground power. I complete plugging my “speed jeans” and my ventilation suit into the aircraft systems as the APU whines, giving me electrical power.
It smells of old rubber insulation, mold, kerosene, and sweat. I can smell it even through my KM-32 mask. How many pilots have been here before me? What have they seen? What fears have they faced? What challenges have they overcome? I resolve not to disgrace their memories, and punch the starter. The single R-11F2S-300 engine screams to life behind me. This old warrior is still capable of twice the speed of sound, and is light, fast, and maneuverable. He can still fight. I am on internal power, and the crew disconnect the APU, one standing before me with hands upraised, his swarthy face half-shadowed in the morning light slanting across the revetment door. My ground-guide, motioning me to the taxiway.
As I slowly exit the revetment, to my right I see Red 46, Raskov’s aircraft. Do not let the scruffy look of the beat-up and patchy, faded Parani camouflage fool you. Under the ancient armor, these MiGs are as good as new. We will show the King of Dhimar something today.
“Viper 2, take position ahead of me.” Raskov is waving me ahead of him, where he can watch his pupil closely. I taxi cautiously out, as he calls the tower operator to announce that Viper flight is on the air and requesting taxi clearance.
“Viper 549 flight of two, taxi to Runway 18 and hold.”
It is easy, because there is only one loop taxiway and one runway, known as 36 or 18, at the D7 airfield. We taxi out and I pause at the marker before turning onto the strip. We know no one is landing, but one must be sure. It is early on a Friday morning. This is their holy day. They will not be expecting us to fly.
“Viper 2 ready to go, holding at Runway 18.” I am trying not to let my voice crack. I have never been so tense in my life. It all comes down to this, and if I am too slow, or too inattentive, one bullet will end my career and take my life. All this and for nothing? I resolve to concentrate all the harder- this is for the Rodina, and I must not fail.
“Viper 2, position and hold. Viper leader, hold at the marker.”
I swallow the lump in my throat and wheel 45 Red onto the runway. He is smooth under my hands, an old stallion who knows his business.
“Viper 2, clear to take off. Viper leader, position and hold after Viper 2 departs.”
It is time. I grasp the throttle and take a deep breath to settle my nerves.
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