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Nightwolf's aircraft is fictional. Imagine an A-10's airframe without those stupid turbofans and that field-goal shaped rudder. If you're one of those people who skip any takeoff, landing, or refueling scene then go ahead and skip to Section 2 after the background. If you're down for a ride, read the whole thing.

Background

<<Begin Data Stream>> 11/5/2010 1950 Zulu

OPERATION SCRATCHOUT

Operators: 

2nd Air Division, 61st Fighter-Bomber Squadron "Nightwolves"

A1C Timothy Easley "Easy"

A1C Peter Eavis "Angry"

A2C Spencer Platt "Cosmo"

2nd Air Division, 1st Electronic Warfare Element "Scepter"

A1C William Dudley

A2C Will Carter "Happy"

Objective: 

II: Neutralize Yuktobanian Radar site Mayak-12

Location: Volna Beach

Defense: Radar Net, three SAMs, two AA guns

Method: Under cover of radar jamming from Scepter, Nightwolf 1 bombs radar site in under 60 seconds at 300 ft ASL. Nightwolves 2 and 3 will stand by on air cover.

III: Destroy Fort Dozhd

Location: 12 miles North of Volna Beach

Defense: Unknown number of AA guns, unknown number of 40mm flak

Method: Nightwolf 2 will ascertain number of flak pieces, and then bomb as many as possible while under cover from Nightwolves 1 and 3 as well as Scepter.

I. Destroy Dolgota Rail Yard

Location: 6 miles east of Dresdene

Defense: 6 40mm flak pieces, Helicopter and Fighter patrol

Method: Nightwolf 3 will bomb railyard and bridge under cover of Nightwolves 1 and 2 as well as Scepter.

Egress through Volna Beach, return to Sand Island AFB

<<End Data Stream>>

Section 1

I make the mistake of leaving Hangar C. 

After I open the door, I am immediately pelted with the coldest combination of rain and wind. My flight suit is immediately drenched, and I put my helmet on. The firm padding blocks out some of the noise and rain. At least my head can feel comforted. 

I walk out to the three aircraft parked along the taxiway, being swarmed by mechanics. There are ladders for flight crews to enter the cockpits.

That's us. 

I suddenly don't care about the rain anymore. My heart rate is up again, beating in me like an instinctive drum. 

It's our first sortie. We've done various partols, but this sortie marks our formal deployment to Yuktobania. Easy and Angry are hyped up about this, getting to increase their kill scores and whatnot. I feel the same way, but I'm also nervous.

"Let's do, gents." Easy says. 

"Do through," Angry continues.

"And stay cool." I finish. That's our squadron motto, "Do through and stay cool."

We go to our separate cockpits. I climb the ladder, and I am level with the canopy. After I get in, the mechanics leave completely, and I close the cockpit with the inside handle.

The noise stops, and I am slightly warmer. The world is now muffled by both my helmet and my canopy, and the rain patters softly against the glass.

I buckle in, then turn the aircraft on through the electrical controls on my left arm panel. I also turn on the lights on the left arm panel, and fire up the radios. 

"Hello, Nightwolf 3 checking in. Easy, angry, anybody have radios on yet?" I say.

No reply. I set the radio to receive and transmit on the squadron frequency, but I also set it to receive the weather radio.

"Sand Island Information Lima, 1939 Zulu. Thunderstorms are occuring on station. Wind 238 at 5. Visibility, 3 miles in rain. Temperature 15, dewpoint 5. Altimeter 2921. ILS runway 09 in use, landing and departing runway 09. All aircraft read back hold-short instructions, advise controller you have Lima."

I write down all of the critical weather information and the runway in use on my kneepad. I then calibrate all of the avionics to suit the information. 

"Nightwolf 1 checking in. Anyone have radios yet?"

"Nightwolf 3," I reply, while holding my mask up to my face, "checking in. I read you loud and clear, Easy." 

"Roger. you have Lima?" 

"Check." 

"Acknowledged."

I quickly run through the basic startup list again, just to make sure I'm not missing anything. All's well, and I am takeoff ready. I'm not combat ready, though, and I spend another 5 minutes preparing the missiles and the target data and whatnot. Angry checks in, and now we are waiting for our mission counterpart, Scepter.

In a brief moment, he checks in too, and we are completely ready. The mechanics have cleared the apron long ago.

"Nightwolf flight to ground, requesting taxi with information Lima and priority Romeo."

"Nightwolf flight, Scepter, Sand Island ground. Cleared to taxi to runway 09 via taxiway A A1. Contact tower on 118.95."

"Taxi to runway 09 via A A1, tower on 118.95. Nightwolf copies." 

Forty yards in front of me, I see an EA-18 taxi from left to right. That's Scepter. I know some of the guys in Scepter flight, but not these guys. 

Angry's plane pulls ahead of mine, and it's my turn to taxi. I push the throttle slightly ahead, and my plane pulls to the front. I apply right rudder, and the plane turns right.

We taxi to the runway, and Scepter is first in line. 

"Scepter flight and Nightwolf flight holding short of runway 09, with Lima and priority Romeo, requesting takeoff."

"Scepter, Nightwolf, cleared for takeoff, runway 09."

"Cleared for takeoff, Scepter and Nightwolf."

Scepter turns onto the runway, and their plane lurches ahead as flames shoot out of the back. As soon as he takes off, Easy's plane follows suit. Then Angry's. 

Now it's my turn. I turn onto the runway, and turn on my landing lights. I push the throttle ahead to full, and I am immediately pushed back into my seat as the plane barrells down the runway.

As soon as I reach 160 mph, I pull back on the joystick. I feel as thoughI'm about to become the seat as the plane ever so gracefully picks its nose and rear wheels off the ground. I immediately retract the flaps and gear, and form up on Easy's left. Scepter forms up on my left, which might make me the element leader.

"Scepter, Nightwolf, you are leaving my airspace. proceed with mission. Out," Sand Island Tower says.  

We climb to 35,000 ft and establish a direct course to Volna beach first, and then get to talk to each other a bit. 

"Nightwolf 1 to Scepter."

"Scepter here, callsign 'Happy'. Nice to hear you, Nightwolf 1."

"Nice to have you with us. This is Nightwolf 1, callsign 'Easy'. Nightwolf 2 is on my right, callsign 'Angry'."

"Angry checking in."

"On my left, Nightwolf 3, callsign 'Cosmo'."

"Cosmo," I say into my fastened mask, "checking in. Which Scepter are you, Happy?"

"Scepter 4. Why?"

"I know the crew for Scepter 1 and 2. Jimmy, Davis, Bernard, and all them?"

"Ah, yeah, those guys. I know them too. They're pretty funny. And they're good at what they do."

"Let's hope you are too," Easy says. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have a few things to say."

"Go ahead," I say.

"The sun's setting. Check your altitude and spacing. Also, I don't mind talking, but it's a long trip, so if you're gonna monologue or whatever, cut your mic out."

"Wilco," Angry says.

"Copy," I say.

"Happy copies all."

I see, in front of me and to the right, lights turning on. Easy's got his lights up.

I turn to my right and turn on my wing lights, strobe/beacon lights, and my green panel outline lights.

I do a quick mental checklist of all the instruments. Lights? Check. Engines? Check. Avionics? 

I have to turn my autopilot on. I forgot that I was maually flying the formation. 

I set the heading and altitude, but I still have to manually adjust my thrust. Which isn't a problem, since my thrust is looking good.

That takes care of the two panels to my left and right. A forearm's length away from me is the outlined-in-green instrument panel. Since this fighter is 4th gen, most of the information is analog, with two glass displays. One is in the middle of the panel, and displays my traffic radar and GPS. I've found the light from it to be very soothing on light ops. The other glass panel is on the small console between my knees, and displays engine information or a horizontal situation indicator. Both are functioning as I want them.

The radios, positioned to the left of the center console, are looking good. In two hours, once we reach the Yuktobanian airspace, we'll have to tune to an AWACS. 

My payload also looks good. Both of the missiles and the bombs are in the safety postion, as well as the machine gun. This is the weapons payload for the entire squadron, including Happy. We are also carrying external fuel tanks. 

To the right of the center panel are all the little dials that indicate that my airspeed, heading, altitude, and orientation are ok. My HUD is also on, and is postioned on top of the autopilot. 

I can let go of this control stick now, between my thighs. The aircraft does not move. Good.

Outside, the sky is a dark purple color, with some of the brighter stars becoming visible. The crescent moon is setting in the orange patch of sky to my 4 o'clock position. That means this'll be a perfectly dark op. 

My wingmen are now large, dark silhouettes with red, green, and blinking white lights. We look so cool. I bet the Yuktobanians will be running scared once we reach their coast. 

"Easy," I say.

"Go ahead."

"What's the weather like on Volna Beach?" I ask?

"Low ceiling but no rain. It'll still be evening when we get there. Weather in the other AOs looks clear." he replies.

"Easy, Happy here. My pilot says that the briefing was bogus. This is the Yuktobanian coast, and we don't think that any of the targets are this lightly defended."

"Yeah," Angry chimes in, "I mean two AA guns for a coastal radar site? I think that this place should be underground."

"I don't know, but I don't think the briefing is accurate. Guess we'll just find out when we get there."

A pause.

"My pilot's laughing so hard now." Happy says. These guys, the ones who are flying in Scepter 4, seem almost as cool as the guys in Scepter 1 and 2. Maybe they might get an inside joke. 

"Did Jerry ever tell you about the guy who was in training with him?" I ask. 

"No, why?"

"Oh, ok. So, back when Jerry and Bernard were instructors, they took some nuggets up for some basic manuvers, right?"

"Sure." Happy says. 

"So one of the nuggets was flying right seat in the trainer Cessnas they had, and when he was on final, he ended up correcting too far to the right and almost landed on the side of the runway. He misjudged the distance. Jerry laughed for days."

"Sounds like Jerry." Happy says. "We were just in Yuktobania a couple of days ago, and we got shot at from a couple thousand feet below us, and him and Kevin just took them down like it was nothing. You know Kevin Hamlin, right?" 

"Yeah. They're actually really good." 

"What about you?" I ask.

"Meh, we try to keep up, but they can really outperform people."

"Ok." I say.

"Wait," Easy says, "How do you know Scepter squadron?"

"I used to be in their training program. They said I was 'not a stupid nugget'. We're-- we roll tight."

"Nice." Easy says.

"Wait, what's your name?" I ask. "And what's the pilot's name?"

"I'm Will Carter, pilot is Will Dudley," he says.

"Nice to meet you, Will Carter, say hi to other Will for me." I say. I know Will Dudley, too. He trained with me. If he's flying with us, this op will be one for the ages.

"You guys are just the dream team, eh?" Angry asks.

"Absolutely." Happy says. "We trained together, we'll live, fly, and die together."

"Jerry and his boys trained us well." I say.

"You know who else is the dream team?" Easy asks.

"Uh..." I say.

"I got it. It's Wardog." Happy says. "They're based off Sand Island too, and they've been in Yuktobania since D-Day."

"Oh yeah!" I say.

"What are the Wardogs up to?" Easy asks.

"They've been all over the place." Happy says.

"Didn't I just see them at home, like, today?" Angry asks.

"Did--were they? I don't know. I'm pretty sure they've been over there this whole time."

"I saw the Wardogs at base today too. Maybe not," Easy says.

"Ummmmm......Oh yeah. Can I talk about the mission for a bit?" Angry asks.

"What about it?" I ask.

"Just generally how we'll do it."

Easy starts to explain. "So when we reach just the outside of the radar net's range, near the coast, we'll descend to below the radar floor, which is about 300."

"That's skill, right there. Below the radar floor." I say.

"Happy will jam the radar, I'll go in, and bomb the net. The rest of you give top cover. I'm pretty sure I'll need some cover. I expect heavy SAMs, AAs, and a healthy fighter compliment for all of the targets. Then we'll penetrate inland, you'll kill the fort while we watch, and then we'll fly to Dresdene. Cosmo will fly to the train station just near there and bomb the warehouse and tracks nearby. We'll egress out through the south and head back home. Should take four hours on station, at maximum."

"Sounds like a plan." Happy says.

"Angry here. I think we'll need a divert. We don't have fuel for four hours on station."

"We have the drop tanks. We'll ditch those somehwere over Volna. Oh yeah, one more thing. Our main priority is the airstrike on the railyard, followed by the radar, then the fort. If we leave without killing the train, it's a mission fail." Easy finishes.

"Copy. Last thing, can I go radio silent?" Angry says.

"Maybe not completely radio silent, but transmit silence." Easy says.

"Angry, going transmit silence."

At the one hour mark after takeoff, I do another check of the aircraft. It looks fine. It's dark now in the cockpit, which isn't too much of a problem for me. the green light that outlines all of the panels, displays, and dials give me enough light to find my way around. The HUD is also green, and the GPS is blue. I am bathed in a mostly green light, with some cool blue.

Outside, there's still a floor of clouds, really far below me. The sky is black, with stars clearly visible. In front of me and to the right is Easy. His plane is completely dark, with some green in the cockpit and a strobe light that blinds me every time it goes off.

"Happy, Cosmo here."

"Happy here. Go ahead." 

"What's Yuktobania like?"

"It's fun. You keep jumping between the two bases tat we have over there, constatly taking fire from below and above. It helps to shape the mind and toughen the core." Happy answers with sarcasm.

"Easy here. When'd they deploy you?"

"D-Day. Didn't I already tell you?"

"Oh yeah. Right." Easy says. I guess I'm more cool with Scepter than Easy is. Ha! I'm better than him!

"But for real though," Happy says, "The Yuktobanian ADEZ is really far out. They'll probably be in our faces soon." 

"Copy." Easy says. "You all got that?" 

"Cosmo copies." 

"Angry copies." 

We fly on for another hour. At this point, we've stopped talking to each other and hare all in transmit silence. Including me. I start singing to myself a bit, but get tired. I also remark on how cold the cockpit has become, and how cramped it seems. The canopy's about four inches from me in all directions, the arm panels are literally armrests, and the front panel seems like a bed of nails, placed a forearm's length away. Why am I stuck here? 

"Nightwolf 3 here, getting a bit claustrophobic here," I say. We're past the mid-pacific, and should see the coastline in about 45 minutes.

"Easy here. Me, too." 

"Scepter to Nightwolf squadron, suggest lowering to attack altitude." Happy says.

"Nightwolf 1 to squad and Scepter. Descend on me to 300 ft ASL."

"Nightwolf 2 copies."

"Nightwolf 3 copies," I say as I reach for the master autopilot switch. I turn it off. 

"Scepter copies."

Easy's plane inverts, and his nose falls toward the earth. Angry also rolls over, and follows Easy's tail. I guess that mean's the formation's broken.

I pull the joystick to the left, and I am held back into the seat by the straps of my ejection seat. My head and upper body feel heavy. The nose of my plane floats up to line up with Angry's engines. Now both my head AND my face are heavy. 

The flight lead's plane has leveled out, but is still in a dive. I level my plane out and my head returns to normal orientation. 

"Scepter to nightwolf squadron, tally ho. Three Yuke interceptors to our twelve o'clock, 12 angels. I don't think they see us." Scepter says. "Radar jamming is active." 

"Nightwolf 1 to Squad, break formation, but stay on me. Stay quiet."

"Copy." I don't know what that means, but I'm pretty sure it means "don't fire unless fired on first." 

We pass through the cloud ceiling at 8,500 feet. At this point, if the Yuktobanians see us, they'll have the altitude advantage. But it's pretty overcast. The moment we passed through, I felt the shudder of wind against the plane. It's windy and the black sea below us is choppy.

We level out at 300 ft ASL, and hold a heading to the radar station. On my GPS, there is a red square surrounded by a circle indicating the location of Coastal Radar Site Mayak-12.

Section 2

"Nightwolf 1, arming bomb. Cover me as I go in." Easy says.

"Copy," Angry says.

"Cosmo copies." I say.

I flick a switch to the left of my radar that disables the safety on my machine gun.

Easy's plane shoots ahead of me in a cloud of light and afterburner. We're really in it. I push ahead on my throttle and try to form up on his left. I turn my head to the left and see Happy's plane a hundred yards from me. Will Dudley turns to look at me, and we share eye contact for a second. 

I turn back to look at Easy. He's still charging ahead. We're at 540 mph now. We'll make so much noise. I wonder how the Yukes are doing.

I check my radar, and see the four yellow icons that represent our planes. 

But I also see green arrows rushing toward us. 

"Angry, this is Cosmo. Those Yukes followed us. I'm breaking off to engage." I say. I'm ready to go get some.

"You can't do it alone. Easy, we'll break off to engage."

"Be careful. Happy, cover me." He says. He sounds concentrated.

"Wilco." Angry says. He slows down, and I follow. We pitch up and try to break through the clouds to get better visibility. As soon as we break through, we invert and level out, completing an impromptu Immelman turn. 

The Yukes are at our twelve o'clock high. They are still higher than us. 

"Angry, what's the call?" I ask.

"Try to go right through and hit them from behind. Identify them." He says.

"Wilco." I've got my orders. I ram the throttle ahead and try to go under them so we can fight from behind. They draw closer and at one point we fly right under them. 

They fragment and two fighters turn to engage Angry and me. One keeps flying at Happy and Easy.

"Easy, be advised! One's still coming at you from 4 o'clock!" Angry says. 

I try to square the deck for action first. I've tried to shorten the checklist down a bit. Mechanical? Good. Lights? I'll turn those off. I don't want to give my position away.

Weps? Check. Radar? Check. Dials? Check. 

I'm ready to fight, and I start looking for a target. Above me, not more than twenty yards, a Yuktobanian MiG-31 roars by my plane, being closely chased by Angry. He's got my back, I'll get his. 

At my 3 o'clock, maybe at three hundred yards, is the second MiG-31, attempting a wide circle to get on my 6. I pull up, roll, and invert myself to where my nose is pointing at him. He's leveled out and is now turning away.

Perfect. 

I start opening fire on him, and the bullets all fly near his position. He notices, and is still alive, because he swings around and tries to hit me head on. I climb, and he opens fire on me from a distance. Tracers whizz past as I try to climb and think of my next move. I suppose I could try a wide circle. I turn, and feel centrifugal force crushing me into my seat as he flies past my old position. I'm now in his 6 o'clock. 

I finally find his engines, and start to unload on those.

He turns left. 

I follow, still pouring rounds at him. 

He tries to turn right and pull up at the same time. 

I follow, but he's too close. 

I break off and try to relax a bit. I turn in my seat, to see him leveling off and limping away from the fight, his right engine showing wisps of smoke. 

I decide to turn and kill him off. I face the briefest moral conflict, but decide to finish him off. There are friendly lives at stake. Before I give chase, a thought occurs to me. 

"Angry, how are ya?" 

"Angry's fine. How's Cosmo?" He must be really frustrated; he's talking in the third person.

"Cosmo's about to get some." With that, I turn and find my enemy, fleeing northeast from Volna beach. 

"Scepter has acquired target. Turning to engage." The MiG-31 that kept at it has arrived at Scepter's postion. 

"Easy, pickle away." 

I almost didn't hear that last one, because I've closed in on the enemy MiG.

He corkscrews down to try to get me from my six again. 

I follow the corkscrew at my altitude. Pitching down, I pull the trigger on my joystick. 

Tracers launch into him, shattering his fuselage. 

His cockpit lights on fire. Two black masses are propelled from it.

His plane is destroyed. He and his copilot are out.

I have one aerial victory. 

"Cosmo, splash one."

"Roger, Cosmo. Easy here, target destroyed."

"Scepter confirms," Happy says. 

"Angry here! SPLASH ONE! FINALLY!"

"Nice!" I say. "Let's go help Happy now!" 

I make the mistake of flying to Scepter's position. I should have known how it would end. It's Will Dudley, for crying out loud!

"Scepter, splash one." 

"WHOO-HOO!" Angry says.

"Regroup on me. Check weapons and damage. Angry, you're up." Easy commands.

"All right." 

"Copy," I say. I turn back to the beach, and find Easy's plane. I form up on the left, and the rest of the squadron joins in. 

"Easy, what about lights? Should we leave them on?" I ask.

"No, you should keep them off for stealth." He says.

We fly over the beach and inland. It's a five minute flight at our speed. 

"It says I should try to pick off the AA and flak before I attack the fort?" Angry asks.

"Your priority is the fort. Just speed up, hit it with one bomb, and pull out. We'll see what happens afterwards." Easy says. Easy's not too loose like Angry and I are, but he still knows what to say every time.

We fly out of the storm cell at the beach and the sky clears up. Below us are fields upon fields of agriculture. The streets are few, but are well-lit. We are flying at a "normal" pace, 2,000 ft above the ground. 

"Oh-- are you--turnturnturn....Scepter 4 here, we're getting buzzed."

"Copy. I'm on my way." I say. I check the radar quickly, where I find two more enemy Yukes coming up from behind us. 

I turn left to try to find any enemies.

"Easy here, I see 'em. Fox two." 

To my left at 400 feet, a flash surrounds Easy's plane as he fires a missile at the Yuktobanian fighters. Happy, on the other hand, has sped up to try to accompany Angry. Good 'ol Will. Flying cover for his teammates.

A loud buzzing sounds in my cockpit. I'm being locked on to. From where?

The buzzing turns to steady beeping. 

WHERE?!

A flash of light from my 10 o'clock high results in a missile being fired at me. 

The beeping intensifies. 

I turn right and pitch down. The only altitude indicator I have is the street below me.

The beeping is now almost a steady tone.

Oh no.

I take my left hand off of the throttle and put it on the eject handle near the autopilot. 

The missile barely misses my intake, and my aircraft buffets. 

No. No. It's payback time.

I move my left hand again, this time to the "Missile Arm" switch.

The display on my bottom console shows the missile on my left wingtip as armed. 

I almost turn around and get ready to attack, but I realize that he may still have a bead on me. 

I level out very low over the ground, and the altimeter on my HUD reads 289. I keep flying low and level for a moment, but then pitch up into an Immelman. I want to fall out of my seat and on to the canopy, but my straps hold me back. My upper body is heavy, and above me is a square-cut field bordered by the single, lit road. Below me is the starry night sky.

And in front of me is an orange-camoflagued MiG-31. 

The missile tone in my headset beeps twice, but then changes to a solid tone. 

"Cosmo," I say, forgetting my squadron callsign momentarily, "FOX THREE."

I push the small black thumb button on my flight stick. The tone ceases for an instant.

The left side of my plane is lit by the flame of an AIM-120 accelerating away from me. 

Ahead, just inside my visual range, the MiG-31 pilot that fired on me turns away. I take an opportunity to level out, and my orientation returns to normal.

I am just about to throttle up to get into closer combat with him when I see my missile connect with him. The resulting fireball almost blinds me. 

"Cosmo here, splash one."

"Easy confirms your kill. Good job, Cosmo!" 

"Thanks. How about you?" I ask. 

"The other MiG's still around here. I'll get him. You go up and help Happy and Angry." He says.

"Roger wilco." I say. I turn left and I am once again pointed at the fort. 

"Angry, pickle away." Angry says.

A pause. 

"IT'S A HIT! I have one hit!" 

Another fireball ignites in front of me, but from a distance. I cannot see Angry or Happy, though.

"Cosmo," I say, announcing my position, "coming up from the south." I don't want to hit any of them.

"We're getting buzzed again! Dud, evade! I'll jam 'em!" Happy says. 

"Easy, splash one!" I hear Easy say. 

A missile flies up from the hill to my 8 o'clock and streaks towards Scepter 4's position. He pitches up and slams his afterburner. I am just about to turn when I see Angry perform a large circle in front of me. He bombs the SAM site that launched the missile. 

Happy evades the missile.

"That was too close," is all I hear from Will Carter.

"Easy here, regroup on me. We're not going to the next AO yet. Let's get a sitrep."

I find Easy on the radar, coming up from behind me. I identify him visually (which is hard because I have to find a small aircraft with no running lights against a night sky) and form up on his 7 o'clock. 

"Nightwolf 1, checking in," he says.

"Nightwolf 2 checking in." 

"Nightwolf 3, checking in." I say.

"Scepter 4 checking in." Happy says.

"Weapons status? I have two missiles left and an ok stock of bullets." Easy says.

"Same here, maybe not as many bullets," Angry says.

"I have one missile, both bombs, and an ok amount of bullets left." I say.

"I have all four of my missiles left and can jam for a bit more." Happy says. 

"Ok. Kill scores?" Easy says. "I have one plus a ground kill."

"Angry, I have one plus a ground kill."

"Cosmo here, I have two aerial kills."

"Happy has one kill." 

"Ok. If your drop tanks are dry, go ahead and ditch them." Easy says. "We'll climb to 9,000 ft and make our way to Dresdene. I'll try and contact an AWACS." 

"I copy all." Angry says.

We affirm, and then climb to 9,000 ft. I spend a few minutes checking my cockpit again. Everything looks to be in order. I can ditch the fuel tanks in a minute or two.

I push the "Test" button on my left panel, and select the two bombs. Their statuses are both green.

I'll be ready to bomb the railyard. 

The fuel tanks are empty. I bank the plane right a tad, to look at the ground below. It's dark. Must be a cornfield.

"Cosmo, dropping tanks." I say. I push the buttons on my right arm panel and drop both of my tanks. They fall in unison, and land unseen. 

I check my kneepad. It shows a map of the railyard. I am supposed to enter from the southeast at 600 ft and drop a bomb on the railyard. After that, I will turn west and bomb a bridge that goes over a small stream. It's tactically important. After that, we are supposed to egress to the southwest, and head back to Volna beach.

"Aww man." Easy says. 

I panic a bit, and check my radar. It shows four yellow icons. We are alone.

"What's up? Angry asks." 

"My kneeboard slipped again. That's the fourth time this sortie." Easy says. 

"Happy, dropping external fuel tanks," Happy says.

"Hey Happy," I say, "Ask Will if he's getting some."

"Roger. Will, are you getting some?" Will Carter says.

A pause.

"He says he's getting more than you." 

"Tell him who has the higher kill sc--no, the HIGHEST kill score of the squadron." I remind him.

"He says he's got the highest kill score of the squadron."

Another pause.

"He wants you to know that Bernard actually has the highest score. In Scepter, it's Bernard with 4, Jerry with 3, and Dud has 2. So no, you're just as good as us. We've been shot at mor--tally ho, tally ho."

"Say again." Easy says.

"Angry dropping tanks. I have radar contact on five Yuke interceptors, one o'clock, 7 miles." 

"All aircraft hit the deck. We'll try to sneak past." Easy says. He inverts and pitches down. I follow. We descend to 1,000 ft. 

We keep a formation for 5 minutes. The Yukes would have definitely shot at us by now. What are they waiting for?

"I've gotten though to AWACS. Callsign Thunderhead, 136 MHz." Easy says. 

I tune my radio to 136 MHz, and Easy talks to the AWACS. 

"AWACS Thunderhead, Nightwolf flight and Scepter 4 are 10 miles north of Fort Dozhd, being followed by some Yuke interceptors."

"AWACS Thunderhead to Nightwolf and Scepter. Squawk 2663." 

I dial in the number on my transponder. 

"AWACS Thunderhead has radar contact on both elements. You are clear to engage if fired upon." 

"Nightwolf copies all." Easy says.

"Check six," I say to the squadron. Turning around in my seat, I see an image that will haunt me for the rest of my years. Five Yuktobanian Su-35's are in a wedge formation, almost following us at 9,000 ft, maybe holding back a little. 

"Like our own escort to the execution," Happy says.

"I don't like these guys. Let's slot them." Easy says. 

"Easy, they're in Su-35's, they have an altitude advantage, and they haven't fired at us. What's gotten into you?" Angry says.

"I don't like them. Would it make you feel better if we called for reinforcements?" 

"Yeah, but even that's not going to get here quick enough."

"Guys," Happy says, "we're walking right into a brick wall of an ambush. We need to do something now. The reinforcements will get here." 

"Easy dropping tanks. I'll call for reinforcements. We'll turn around and try to set up to attack them. The reinforcements will get here, and we'll take care of these suckers and anyone else up the path. Ok?"

"Roger," I say.

"Happy copies." 

"Angry copies."

"Nightwolf 1 to AWACS Thunderhead. We need reinforcements at our position." 

"AWACS Thunderhead, copy. Reinforcements will arrive in 6 minutes." 

"Nightwolf 1, thanks. Ok, gents, square up. Do through and stay cool." Easy says. "Break formation." 

He pulls ahead a bit, then pitches sharply left and leaves formation.

I pull up into a mini-Immelman, then level out at 2,000 ft. I square the deck. All looks to be in order, save for the remaining missile on my right wingtip. I won't arm it for fear of radar detection. 

"Nightwolf 1 to squad, fire on my fire. Scepter, jam on my fire." Easy says.

"Roger." Happy says. 

I turn back around. I can't see the Su-35's anymore. 

No.....

I check my radar. They've separated as well and are now tracking targets of their own. All of us are followed by one, except for Angry, who is being followed by two. 

As if to answer my concern, Easy says: "I'll delouse your six there, buddy." 

I feel at ease, slightly, knowing that Angry is covered. Now I have to worry about MY six. 

I decide to corkscrew up tightly, to try and get anywhere remotely behind this guy. 

I have the briefest thought about Easy. The rest of us have been sneaky, trying to kill these Yukes before they killed us. It's gotten to the point where we haven't talked at all to anyone. For my own example, I've been clutching the flight stick so hard that my forearm is aching. I have not talked since I saw the Su-35's following us. Easy must be suffering, having to break silence to command the rest of us.

I bank 90 degrees to the left, and apply right rudder.

I'm lying on the left side of my cockpit now.

I pull back hard on the stick.

I feel heavier throughout my body.

I look up and to the left. 

A gray Su-35 is following me at maybe 600 or 700 yards.

"Jam 'em." Easy says.

"Jamming in effect," Happy says.

"Nightwolf 1, fox three."

I arm my missile.

"Nightwolf 1, that's a hit." Easy says. 

I end my turn and am now at my target's 8 o'clock high position. He might see me.

A steady tone sounds in my helmet. 

The Su-35 turns left first, then right.

I have to drop him NOW.

"Nightwolf 3, fox two." I say, launching my missile.

To my right, the AIM-9 roars to life as it detaches off of my wing. 

The Su-35 pitches up.

The AIM-9 follows.

"Nightwolf 2, I'll turn to clear your six, Easy." Angry says. 

"I'll get this last guy." Easy says. It really sounds like they're working together.

The missile I launched connects to the Su-35. A fireball ensues.

I turn away, and head to Angry's position. 

"Nightwolf 3, splash one."

Looking back for just a bit, I see a parachute. Nice.

"ANGRY WATCH OUT!" Happy shouts. 

A missile lauches from the Su-35 that WAS following Happy. 

The missile connects with Angry's plane. 

His plane is destroyed. 

"ANGRY!" Easy shouts.

I see an Su-35 still following Easy, an Su-35 defiantly taking over Angry's spot in the sky, and an Su-35 still following Happy.

I decide to do Easy a favor. 

"Easy, I'm coming for you!" I say.

"I GOT A CHUTE! HE'S OUT!" Easy says. 

Tracers stream from my target, the Su-35 tailing Easy.

I return his fire, almost in a fit of rage. 

The tracers that leave my plane all end up in his, and a fire breaks out on his right fuselage.

Tracers stream from Easy's plane. The Su-35 ahead of him bursts into flame. 

I fire more tracers. 

The idiot banks right to evade me, and inadvertently widens his surface area. My bullets combine with his intake.

He leaves the battle trailing fire. 

The Su-35 that was trailing Happy is probably still on him. Since I think that Easy would want to see Angry hit the ground, I decide it's up to me to do Happy a favor.

Seven more contacts show up on my radar.

"Swordsman 1, fox two."

A missile flies from the horizon to just behind and above me.

Around Happy's position...

...Exactly on the Yuke's position.

"Scepter 4 here, I confirm your kill. Thanks."

"Don't mention it. We'll cover you, just fly straight through and do what you gotta do." Swordsman 1 says.

"Nightwolf 1 copies, thanks. Nightwolf 3, Scepter 4, regroup on Cosmo. Cosmo, you are cleared to engage the Dolgota railyard at your discretion. Watch for the flak." 

I remember now that there are 6 flak cannons guarding the railyard. 

I shake it off. The time has come to act.

Dresdene is twenty miles to my north, and the railyard is six miles from that. 

I turn sharply to north, and dive to 2,000 ft. I slam the throttles in hopes of building speed for a quick bomb run. The others follow.

I check my radar. There's a mass of green arrows and blue arrows all mixed in a MASSIVE furball in front of me, and south of Dresdene. The locals are going to get a thunder and lightning show tonight.

A missile, at a bit more than a half mile in front of me, flies from the right and hits a target in my center. I hear "good kill, good kill" in English.

"Dresdene, 12 o'clock." Easy says.

Ahead of me, a low layer of clouds is illuminated orange by the city lights. We enter over the airspace and I see street upon street, and lit city block upon lit city block. The skyscrapers look full of life.

Sorry, Dresdene. But c'est la guerre

I turn right over the city. 

Reaching to my right arm panel, I arm my left bomb. 

The target has been programmed into my radar as two red squares in circles. 

One of the red squares is getting really close to my yellow icon.

I pitch slightly down. 

I see a dark rectangle surrounded by illumination. 

That's it. 

I line up the rectangle with the round bomb pipper on my HUD.

I push the button on my joystick and I hear a bomb dropping from near my left intake.

"Nightwolf 3, pickle away."

I pull up, and turn around to see a firey orange explosion erupt from the former Dogota rail yard. 

"Nightwolf 3, that's a hit." I say. 

I pitch back down again.

The world lights up with streams of AA fire.

Crunchcrunchcrunchcrunchcrunch

WHAT'S GOING ON?!?!

Crunchcrunchcrunchcrunch

I see the bridge a mile in front of me. Instinct kicks in.

I arm the second bomb and push the throttle up.

The left engine does not respond. 

The pipper appears again on my HUD.

I pitch slightly up. 

The pipper floats over the bridge.

I press the launch button.

The second bomb drops 1,204 feet from the right intake of my aircraft to the base of a support column of the bridge. The column collapses, and the bridge breaks in half.

Section 3

I pull up. 

I then realize the danger.

My left wing, intake, and engine has been shot with nine holes.

I level out at 2,000 feet and push the right throttle as far as it will go. I also cut the throttle for the left engine, cut the fuel, and shut the left engine off. I guess I'm flying on my right engine from here on back. 

"Nightwolf 3 to 1."

"Go ahead Cosmo." Easy's voice comes back to me. It's kinda bland during sorties, but it's the sweetest voice in the world right now. Better than AWACS what's-his-name right now.

"Second target is down. I'm hit, and lost one engine."

"Roger, can you climb?" He asks.

"I can climb, but slowly." I say. "Is there a plan, or do I have to limp back to base?"

"Stand by..........Nightwolf 1 to AWACS...Thunderhead."

"AWACS Thunderhead here, go ahead."

"Nightwolf squadron, mission accomplished. One downed airman at the furball south of Dresdene, and an aircraft in distress. One engine out."

"Standby..." is the only response we get for the longest four minutes of my life.

"I really don't wanna go back into that furball, man." I say to Easy.

"I don't either. I hope they don't drop any planes on Angry's head." Easy says.

Deafening silence.

"Thunderhead to Nightwolf squadron and Scepter 4. Your divert is the Bastok Peninsula, 365 miles to the Southeast. Good luck."

"Will do. Thanks. Nightwolf out."

I feel actually relieved for once. 

The relief melts away, 24 miles and 30,000 ft later.

"No, no, no!" I say as the needle on my right engine drops. I'm losing output.

"What's up?" Easy asks me.

"I'm losing output on my right engine. Nothing's working. It's like the fuel's not even moving." 

"Bank your plane around, the fuel might move around then." Happy says.

I bank to my right, and to my left. 

Nothing. The needle drops steadily now, and my plane is slowing down and losing altitude.

"Nope, the right engine's gone too." I tell the others.

"Are you bailing out?" You know what the plan is, right?" Easy says.

"Sure. I walk back to Dresdene and drink with Angry." I joke, trying to make light of the already-bleak situation.

Easy's not impressed.

"I'm serious. Just--we'll call an SAR for you. Just stay put, and be safe. Remember, you don't speak English," he says.

"I think I'll try to hold the plane--"

The right engine catches fire.

"Oh--I'm out! Thanks, guys!" I say while I take a last look across my cockpit.

"No, wait, Cosmo...!"

The panels are dead now, probably due to the heat contacting the battery. Wonder when that's gonna explode. The small amount of light hitting the panel helps me find the yellow eject handles. I run through the "abandon aircraft" checklist in my head.

Kit? Stowed in my seat.

Life? Ok.

Handles?

Pull.

They make hard contact with something as I pull on them. For the briefest of moments, I fear that they are stuck. 

The canopy explodes and is ripped violently away from the aircraft.

My seat is lit from underneath, and I am propelled upward.

I am squashed deep into my seat as I get a last glimpse of my burning aircraft falling away from me.

I somehow remember to detatch myself from the seat. Its parachite deploys, and falls away from me.

I am by myself at about 27,000 ft above the dark earth.

I fall helplessly for five seconds. My legs and arms flail, and my head is pitching down towards the ground. The air is absolutely frigid.

I hear an unzipping sound, and my drogue parachute deploys. The main parachute follows, and I am whipped violently upright as it fully opens. My survival kit hangs below me.

I eventually regather my senses. I look back up at where I was a moment ago, and see my two wingmen circling back at me.

My plane is now below me.

It explodes.

My wingmen circle around me all throughout my slow descent to the ground. I start to pick a landing site, and decide on a recently plowed field almost directly below me.

The ground gets closer, and the detail gets better. The horizons get farther and farther away. 

I soon realize that I'm falling away from where I want to land, and will probably land in some trees to the bottom of the field. 

I lean forward a bit, in the hopes that I can use the parachute as a parasail.

My leaning works. 

The field rushes up to meet me at 17 mph, and I land hard on my knees. My back also feels like it's about to telescope, but I end up falling forward instead. I would have a broken neck if it wasn't for the flight helmet that I've been wearing for about six hours now. 

As my parachute falls away from me, I lie face down in the dirt for just a second, checking my body for any broken bones. There are none.

I realize that I have just escaped death. I sit up, and take the helmet off.

I look at it and reflect on how it saved my life. I smile, but then heave it away from me. My ears and mouth hurt from wearing it.

I hold up my arm and check the time on my wristwatch. 

0113 hrs.

I find a flare gun in the kit to my right, and fire one flare straight up.

Easy tips a wing to me, and both Easy and Happy leave to the northeast.

Then I stand up and walk to the treeline, where I'll probably be until morning.

Epilogue

Spencer Platt and Peter Eavis were both rescued by a brave HH-60 crew the next morning. They were sent to Bastok, where the rest of the squadron was.

Both Nightwolf squadron and Scepter squadron were redeployed to Bastok. The Nightwolves flew three more sorties, while the Scepters flew four.

Although they never flew together again, both squadrons became good friends with each other on the ground. 

Scepter 1: 7 kills

Scepter 2: 5 kills

Scepter 3: 2 kills

Scepter 4: 3 kills

Nightwolf 1: 5 kills

Nightwolf 2: 4 kills

Nightwolf 3: 4 1/2 kills

Two days later, the 108th Tactical Fighter Squadron "Wardog" performed a similar operation to this one, but this operation became more famous due to the Wardogs' increased fame.

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