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Old 12-13-2014, 11:42 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Auberry, CA
Posts: 941

And the next....can't believe I was churning them out this fast when I got started.

Phantom v. Foxbat

4 May 1987, 1030 Hours Mountain War Time, Williams AFB, AZ

Captain Matt Wiser of the Air Force's 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron came into the Squadron Operations Room. He was the Squadron's Executive Officer, though that was nominally a Major's billet. However, the CO, Lt. Col. Dean Rivers, had adopted a philosophy that “Experience counts more than rank,” and had been supported in that by the CO of MAG-11, to which the 335th had been “chopped” since the early days of the war, and by General Tanner, who commanded Tenth Air Force in the Desert Southwest. And there had been plenty of good results to verify success, despite the naysayers, who even included a very disgusted major in the 335th, who gave everyone in the squadron fits. To everyone, the man was a jerk who'd never made the transition from peace to war, and thought his Academy ring made him an expert on everything. And finding out the CO-and the few other Academy grads in the 335th-didn't see the same way as he did appalled the eager major. Even Capt. Wiser and his WSO had crossed paths with the man, who'd tried to have them written up for violating a fraternization regulation that had been discarded for about a year. Shaking his head at the thought, the young Captain went in to see Capt. Mark Ellis, who was Squadron Ops Officer. “Mark, what have you got for me now?” he asked.

“I see you got back from that run to Pueblo okay, Guru,” Ellis said. Guru was Wiser's call sign.

“Yeah, that place still has some memories: I got shot down not too far south of there, and there's quite a few things I'd rather not talk about.” Guru said, remembering his time with the Resistance. “And it's still hairy: flak and SA-6s still.”

“I know. Anyway, here's a change of pace: escort. The 152nd is sending an RF-4C to Clovis in New Mexico on a photo run, and they need two Es for escort. You and Sweaty are available, so you're it.” Ellis said.

“Where's the photo driver?” Guru asked.

“Right here, Captain,” a voice came from the hall. Capt. Sharon Valerri-Park came over and put out her hand.

“Nice to meet you, Captain. How long with the High Rollers?” Guru asked.

“About six months. I used to be a T-38 IP at Columbus AFB in Mississippi, and when combat was opened to females, I asked for RF-4s. My dad flew Photo Phantoms in Southeast Asia, so I'm carrying on the legacy.” Park said.

“Good enough. My call sign's Guru. What's yours?”

“Athena,” Park said. “Yeah, I know, I don't look like the Battlestar: Galactica actress, but somebody thought I did, so it stuck.”

Guru nodded. “When do we go?” he asked Ellis.

“Forty minutes, Guru,” Ellis replied. “You'd best get Goalie, Sweaty, and Preacher in the briefing room.”

“Will do, Mark.” the XO replied. “We'll see you there, Athena.”

A few minutes later, they met in the briefing room. Guru brought in his WSO, Capt. Lisa Eichhorn, call sign Goalie, and his wingmate, 1st Lt. Valerie “Sweaty” Blanchard, and her WSO, 2nd Lt. Bryan “Preacher” Simmonds. Athena was there, along with her navigator, 1st Lt. Karl “Helo” Agathon, and the SIO (Squadron Intelligence Officer), 1st Lt. Darren Licon. After introductions, they got down to business.

“OK, here's the deal,” Licon said, starting the brief, “They want detailed shots of Clovis Municipal, Clovis proper, and Cannon. That means a low-level run, and you know what that means.”

“Yeah,” Guru said. “Low and fast, pop up to do the photo shoot, and then drop back low again. And we're low enough to attract the attention of anybody and everybody with a gun.”

“That's about it,” Licon said. “Captain Park, show your planned route, please.”

Athena went to the wall, where a TPC chart of New Mexico had been posted, and she traced the route with a pointer. After refueling from the KC-135s over Western New Mexico, it was a low-level run at 600 feet AGL through Central New Mexico, and the crews of the 335th, having flown numerous missions into enemy territory there, knew the area like the backs of their hands. Only this time, the flight path took them just over the Texas state line, before turning back west for the photo run. They would pop up to 1200 feet AGL for the photo run, and at that speed and altitude, it would take only two minutes to cover the planned targets. Once clear of Cannon AFB's defenses, the Phantoms would drop back low, and stay low all the way back to the Rio Grande. Then they would climb up once in friendly territory, hook up with the tanker track at the Continental Divide, before returning to Williams.

“Sounds good to me,” Guru said. He turned to the members of his flight. “Questions?”

“MiG threat same as before? Sweaty asked, remembering a strike two weeks earlier when they had encountered two MiG-29s, and killed both. That had been her first kill, and had also made Guru an ace.

“That's right. MiGs are at Cannon-and they're believed to be a mix of Foxbats and Floggers,” Licon said. White Sands Space Harbor also has -29s, while Holloman has -23s, along with Alamogordo Regional, which also has some Sukhois-either -17s or -22s. Roswell and Cannon City have -23s and -21s.”

Nice, Guru thought out loud. “And ground defenses?”

“There's the usual flak threat: 23-mm, 57-mm, and 85-mm,” Licon reported. There's also at least one SA-2 site in the area, and an SA-3 as well near Cannon. An SA-4 has also been reported, but not confirmed. In addition, the city garrison is Cuban, and they're a full-strength MRD. Expect SA-8s as well.”

“You're full of good news today, Darren,” Sweaty quipped. “Weather?”

“Good enough. Partly cloudy, no chance of rain until late afternoon, and winds calm here.” Licon said.

“That's good,” Helo said. “Bailout areas?”

“I'll handle that,” Guru said. “Anyplace away from the roads. Both Ivan and Fidel are too road-bound in this part of the country, and there's plenty of room to hole up until nightfall, and Jolly comes in after you. The ranchers in this part of New Mexico have been pretty much left alone, and they have helped out in the past. Just be as polite as possible, and the SF guys and Jolly Greens have done the rest. They want to ride this thing out without getting burned-and in Colorado, I can say that literally happened-so don't blame them for being cautious in who they help.”

Both the RF-4 crew and Guru's wingmates nodded understanding.

“All right, Ordnance loads: For the photo bird, two wing tanks and one centerline, plus an ALQ-119 ECM pod,” Licon said. “And for escort, two wing and one centerline tanks, two AIM-7Es, four AIM-9Js, and in the left front Sparrow well, an ALQ-101 pod.”

“That it, Darren?” Guru said.

“That's it, XO. You guys can plan how you're going to do it,” the SIO said. “And good luck,” he added on his way out.

“So, the photo bird in the lead, with the two escort birds a mile to a mile and a half back?” Guru asked. “It's your call, Captain.”

Park looked at the map again. “I like it. And you're right behind us, just in case of a MiG scramble.”

Guru nodded. “Sweaty?”

“I'll go along with that,” she said. “Too bad we don't have a Weasel or two coming along. Those SAMs could give us trouble.”

“We'll be too low for most of them, and too fast for the others to react,” Park said, looking at Guru, who nodded. “By the time they get any SA-3, -4, or -8 warmed up and ready to shoot, we're already gone.”

“There's still Shilkas,” Preacher added. “Those things are bad news.”

“Again, we're low and fast, and we've got the ECM pods, for them and the SAMs. Also, by the time anyone pulls out an SA-7 or -14, we're already gone.” Guru pointed out.

“You've done this a lot?” Helo asked.

“Low-level strikes, yeah.” Guru said. “Not just here, but up in Colorado as well. Even a trip into West Texas a time or two. Not that many escorts, but we've brought everybody back.”

Both RF-4 crewers nodded. “That's it, then. Looks like we're in good hands,” Park said. “Guess it's time to go.”

With that, all three crews went to get suited up with G-Suits, helmets, and harnesses. While the RF-4 Crew went to their bird, the two escort crews met at the XO's plane, 512. “Any questions?” the XO asked.

“Combat spread the whole way?” Sweaty asked.

“Yep. And keep your radar off until we get to the pop-up point. That's Farwell, right on the Texas-New Mexico state line. Once we hit that, radar on, switches on, and we're set. And we go by call sign on the radio, not mission code.” Guru said, seeing everyone nod. “Anything else?”

“One thing: why this type of run? Isn't this deep an SR-71 thing?” Preacher asked.

“No way to know,” Guru replied. “Besides, what we don't know, we can't be forced to tell.”

Everyone understood that, knowing that the Soviets and their lackeys would-and often did-force information out of prisoners. And in a way that the prisoner often wished he or she was dead afterwards.

“That it?” asked the XO. Goalie, Sweaty, and Preacher shook their heads. “Good. Let's hit it,” he said, grabbing his helmet.

1145 Hours Mountain War Time: Over Central New Mexico:

The trio of Phantoms sped across New Mexico, at only 600 feet above ground level, and 650 knots. So far, so good, the crews felt. But everyone knew that could change in a heartbeat. And familiar landmarks such as Gallinas Peak went by in a blur as the three-ship streaked into enemy territory at low level. Inside the Phantoms, heads swiveled as pilots and WSOs scanned visually for threats, whether aircraft, flak or SAMs, or natural obstacles.

“Just like Vaughn, Guru,” Goalie said as she scanned the sky.

“Yeah, but this one's a lot farther. Time to pop-up?” Guru replied.

“Six minutes.”

“Copy. Next checkpoint is Highway 20,” Goalie said, referring to State Highway 20. They were south of Fort Sumner by this time.

“Got it,” Guru said as the formation flew past the highway. It, too, served as a supply route for the Soviets and Cubans in the area, and was often visited by A-6s or F-111s doing road recon at night.

The desert and prairie landscape blew by as the Phantoms approached their next checkpoint, U.S. Highway 70 south of Clovis. Off to their left, the crews could just see the town, while off to their right, Portales. One minute to the state line, as the Phantoms turned northeast to the pop-up point, Farwell, right on the State line. There, Athena and Helo would accelerate ahead for the photo run, while Guru's escort element dropped back to cover the Phantom. Goalie made the call, “Pop-up!”

In Athena's RF-4C, Helo made the same call. She pulled up to 1200 feet AGL, and made a hard left turn to get lined up for the photo run. “Music on,” she called.

Helo turned on the ECM pod. “It's going.”

Two miles in trail. Guru made his calls. “Sweaty, Guru. Radar on, Switches on. Drop tanks and let's go.”

“Roger that,” Sweaty called back as the two F-4Es assumed their trail position.

At that altitude and speed, it would take less than two minutes to get the photo coverage that was desired. As the RF-4 flew over Clovis, Helo noted several An-26 type transports, and several helicopters on the ramp at the Municipal Airport, and as they flew over Cannon AFB, numerous MiGs as well. Then, their photo run complete, Athena dropped in low, back to 600 feet.

Guru's escort element, as it made its run, saw some flak begin to come up. Athena's run had caught the defenders by surprise, and the trailing escorts now had some antiaircraft fire to deal with. Their threat receivers, however, were clear, though, so no SAMs-at least the radar-guided variety, were coming up. The ECM pods were working their magic, as usual. Then, as they approached Cannon, Goalie saw it first. “MiG-25 on the roll!”

A MiG-25 Foxbat-E interceptor was on its takeoff roll. The pilot had been scheduled for a patrol, but with the base having just been buzzed by an American reconnaissance aircraft, the pilot was directed to intercept and destroy the intruder. And with a top speed of Mach 2.5, the Foxbat pilot expected to do just that, as he released his brakes and rolled quickly down the runway and into the air.

“Got him,” Guru called. “Sweaty, cover me. I've got him.”

“Go get 'em,” was the reply.

As the two F-4s were coming in, the Soviet tower operators saw the two Phantoms coming in. Not only did they hit the air raid alarm, but they radioed a warning to the MiG-25 pilot. When the two Phantoms blew past the base, those in the tower involuntarily ducked as the two American fighters overflew the base.

As they did so, Guru saw that if he closed the distance with the MiG as he flew out, either he'd overshoot, or would have to take a gun shot. And with the MiG's tough steel hide, he didn't know if he had enough 20-mm to do the job. So he did the next best thing, and Guru put the F-4 into a right barrel roll. That enabled the MiG to continue straight ahead, while allowing Guru to open the distance for a Sidewinder shot.

As he rolled back in level, Guru selected HEAT on his control panel. The Sidewinder's infrared seeker growled in his headset, seeking out the MiG-25's two huge Tumansky engines in afterburner. Then he got a very loud growl. Missile lock. “Fox two!” was Guru's call.

Two AIM-9J missiles streaked off the missile rails. Both flew up the MiG's tailpipes and exploded. Both tails and horizontal stabilizers flew off the Foxbat, and trailing fire, the MiG-25 simply cartwheeled into the desert floor and exploded in a rolling, twisting ball of fire. “Splash one Foxbat!” Goalie yelled.

“Good kill, Guru!” Sweaty was hollering on the radio.

“Roger that. Pinball One-One, Firebird Two-One, you guys are clear.” Guru called.

“Copy that, Firebird.” Athena radioed back.

All three Phantoms then made for the Rio Grande and friendly lines. Again, they were too low and too fast, and gave the main road in the area, U.S. 60, a wide enough berth. Little did they know that three more MiG-25s had scrambled and were looking for them. But with no radar contact from the ground, the three MiG-25 drivers simply flew around randomly, hoping the Americans were still in range of their own radars. Only when their fuel ran low did the three MiGs return to Cannon.

After they cleared the Rio Grande and closed up, Guru called the AWACS. “Warlock, Firebird Two-One.”

“Firebird Two-One, Warlock, Go.”

“Pinball One-One is with us, we are RTB at this time, and splash one Foxbat. No chute.”

“Roger that, Firebird. Do you need a vector to the tankers?”

“Affirmative, Warlock.” Guru replied.

The AWACS controller vectored the Phantoms onto the tanker track, and picked up the fuel they needed from a KC-135. And the trip back to Williams was uneventful. As they entered the traffic pattern, they noticed a C-130 ahead of them making its approach to the base. Only after that C-130 was clear did Athena's bird come in, followed by the two escorts, but before he landed, Guru did a victory roll.. After touchdown, and while Guru taxied into his revetment, he held up a single finger, signaling a kill. And his crew chief and mechanics erupted after he shut down and popped his canopy. “What was it this time, Captain?” his crew chief asked.

“Foxbat. Got him on takeoff,” Guru replied as he looked over at the C-130. “What's the Herky-bird?”

“General Tanner's here. No-notice, they said.” the crew chief replied.

“Oh, boy,” Guru said as he got out. Goalie did at the same time, and they did the usual post-flight check. Sweaty and Preacher came over, and Sweaty was beaming. “Good kill on that MiG-25, Guru.”

“Thanks. I doubt he even saw us. Crappy rear view, and it handles like a pig,” he replied. “That's six now for me, and three for Goalie.”

When she heard that, Goalie was smiling. Three kills now. Two more and she'd be a backseat ace. Too bad it was just after noon, because splashing a Foxbat was worth a couple in the O-Club at least.

Athena and Helo came over, and both of them shook hands with the escort crews. Neither one had seen the MiG-25 coming up, and without Guru behind them, they would most likely be dead now. They were making some small talk as the ground crew unloaded the strike camera film-which when developed later, showed the MiG kill from start to finish. Not that they needed it for verification, with four witnesses, but it was icing on the cake. The crews were just about to go in for the debriefing when Guru's crew chief said, “Captain, brass coming.”

The crews watched as General Tanner, with both Colonel Brady, the MAG-11 commander, and Colonel Rivers came over. Everyone came to attention as the General came in, but he motioned them not to, saying, “This is a base at war, and we can do without this jumping up and down nonsense.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Athena said. It had been her flight, and she was technically the flight lead.

“Good run, Captain?” Tanner asked.

“Good run, sir,” she replied. “Now to see if the photo boys got what they wanted.”

“I was listening to things on the radio, Captains,” Tanner said, looking at Guru. “Did I hear someone say 'Splash one Foxbat?'”

“Yes, sir,” Guru responded. “My WSO made that call.”

“Good work, all of you,” Tanner said. “Get that debrief out of the way, get something to eat, and for you fighter guys, you'll be back in the saddle later today.”

The fighter crews all nodded. “Yes, Sir,”

“There's a good reason I'm here, besides checking up on my 'kids', Tanner said. “MAG-11 and all component units are on a one-week stand-down, effective tomorrow. All Wing, Squadron, and group commanders are to be at Nellis for a conference, so I'll be seeing both Colonel Brady and your own Colonel Rivers tomorrow. Along with every other Wing and Squadron CO in Tenth Air Force.”

Guru gulped. That meant he'd be in charge of the squadron while Rivers was gone. Acting CO? Great. Especially with that punk Major Carson around.

Tanner noticed the gulp. “Don't worry, Captain. I know about that Major Carson, and be assured that anything he sends me over Rivers' head gets tossed into the trash. Rivers feels you're the best one for the job of Exec, and from what I've seen, there's no reason to doubt that. If he trusts you to run the 335th in his absence, then I do as well. And he's told me that if anything happens to him, the 3-3-5 is in good hands with you, Captain.”

“General, if you don't mind me saying this, but that's good to hear.” Guru said.

“You're welcome, Captain,” Tanner said. “Now, get yourselves debriefed, some food in you, and get ready to go back out. The day's not over. But, when flight ops do end, I'm buying the first round at the O-Club. And the first one goes to a Foxbat killer!”

1900 Hours Mountain War Time, Williams AFB Officer's Club:

It was a party atmosphere in the Officer's Club as General Tanner made good on his promise to buy the first round. And as he had also promised, the first beers went to Guru and Goalie in recognition of their MiG-25 kill. After the toast, things settled down, and both crewmates found a booth. “Not that often we get to be pure fighter pilots,” Guru observed.

“What was it you told me when I became your WSO last year?” Goalie said. “'We take 'em however we get 'em?'”

“I seem to recall that,” Guru said, pulling on his Foster's. “Thank God for the Aussies. Who would've guessed that beer is considered 'essential wartime aid?'”

“That's them, I suppose. It beats the home-brew some folks were trying,” Goalie said. “Colonel Rivers coming,”

“Mind if I join you two?” Rivers asked.

“Not a problem, Colonel,” Guru said. “Have a seat.”

Rivers sat down next to Guru. “You do know we're short an element lead now, with Steve Turner being KIA?”

“Yeah, Colonel. Kinda puts a damper on today, though.” Guru observed. “That's another original pilot from Day One gone.” Captain Steve Turner had been in the 335th for a month longer than Guru had been when the war began. He'd been an element lead, and had been shot down once already. After recovering from a broken leg, he'd come back to the squadron, and had requalified as an element leader, with Guru and Mark Ellis ready to recommend to Rivers that he be bumped up to flight lead as soon as possible. Just after Guru had landed his flight, Turner had gone out on a CAS run across from Soccoro, only to fall victim to an SA-6. Neither he nor Tim Cain, his backseater, had gotten out.

“One thing about the 'happy few' is that you always seem to get fewer,” Rivers noted. “Who do you want to replace him as element lead?”

Guru had already made up his mind on that question. “Sweaty. She's got the total stick time, combat time, and she's ready. Not to mention having a MiG-29 scalp on her belt.”

“Done. When do you want to tell her?”

Guru thought about it for a minute. “Tomorrow. No flying, so...but that leaves me without a wingman.”

“I'll make a couple calls before I hit the sack,” Rivers said. “This time, I'll see about getting you an experienced hand in that slot. And whoever we get is Braniac's new pilot.”

“Sweaty turned out OK,” Goalie said, looking at her pilot and CO. “Fresh from the RTU, and now.....”

“Oh yeah, but I want somebody with extra stick time. Even if he or she's just been cleared from the hospital.” Guru said.

“I'll see what I can do,” Rivers said. “No promises, though. You may have to take what you get.”

“Fair enough, Colonel,” Guru said, raising his bottle of Fosters.

2200 Hours Pacific War Time, Transient Officers' Quarters, Travis AFB, California

Captain Kara Thrace was dead tired. She'd landed two hours earlier, leading an eight-ship of newly built F-4Es and RF-4Cs fresh from the Mitsubishi production line in Japan, and after signing over the aircraft, had a quick bite to eat in the Officer's Mess before closing, and was too tired to hit the Travis O-Club. Not to mention she had a pretty steep tab there to begin with, and wasn't in the mood to run it up any further. So she'd simply staggered into her room, took off her clothes, threw on a T-Shirt, and climbed into bed.

She'd hardly closed her eyes when the phone next to her bed rang. “Thrace,”

“Captain Thrace?” the voice on the other end asked.

“You found her,” she said. “Who is this?”

“Captain, I'm Major Anders with Tenth Air Force. You'll be getting formal notification tomorrow from Travis Personnel, but I'm giving you a heads-up. You're going to the 335th TFS. Report there the day after tomorrow.”

Kara took a big sigh of relief. About damned time they send me to a combat unit. No thanks to that bastard Tigh. “The 335th? Where are they?”

“Williams AFB, near Phoenix. They are OpCon to a Marine Air Group, but wear AF blue. Your orders are being cut, and you'll have movement authorization tomorrow.” Anders said.

Fair enough, Kara thought. At least it's a combat slot. “All right. Is that all?” she asked.

“That's it. Have a good night, Captain,” Anders said as he hung up.

Kara hung up and lay in bed awake for a few minutes. Then she said “YES!” Finally, I get to do what I signed up to do. And it beats the Trans-Pacific Ferry run any day of the week. An AF squadron under Marine OpCon? First she'd heard of that, but then again, the war had changed a lot of things-like letting women fly combat. She closed her eyes, smiled, then went to sleep.
Treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect, but always have a plan to kill them.

Old USMC Adage
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