Time Stands Still"
The word escaped from my lips again as I fingered the papers
marked "For your eyes only". I shook my head, and I turned
back to face Sparky sitting behind me. My
forever-wisecracking Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Sparky
was silent, for once. Our eyes locked. His were saying,
"What the hell?" So were mine.
"This is for real, right?"
"Yes Gentlemen, this is for real." The Commanding Officer
(CO) replied. He looked as if he hadn't slept for a decade.
"You have been trained for this since the beginning. All you
have to do, is stick to what you have learnt, and it will be
okay. Good Luck." That's it. None of that "Kick some butt!"
you see in Top Gun and JAG. Just a simple "Good Luck."
Across the aisle, Scoop and his RIO Thunder held almost
identical sets of paper in their twiddling thumbs. Both
looked at us and Thunder gave me a wry smile. "Bad Luck
guys, you lucked out this time" is what she seemed to say.
And she was right. After all, Scoop and Thunder would carry
the spare bomb, while Sparky and I carried The Nuclear bomb,
the one which would be dropped tonight.
* * * * *
The war was almost over. We shot down their planes, torched
their tanks and flattened their bases over the last six
months. Sparky and I too had done our bit. Apart from
numerous air-to-ground strikes in our Sukhoi Su-30, we also
had three Air-to-Air kills. Two of them were enemy J-7s,
while the third was our prize catch, an F-16. It seemed that
we were winning the war.
As I said, Almost over. The enemy, down on its knees, had
responded by using tactical Nuclear weapons on two major
bases. These bases were flattened, and left to rot. Now, two
weeks later, we were giving them an apt response. Fighters
from all along the border would destroy the mobile missile
launchers, eliminating some nuclear warheads and missiles.
But Sparky and I would hit the Mother Lode, the storage
facility. Approximately 75% of the enemy's warheads were
stored here. There was only one way to render them useless.
To fight fire with fire.
* * * * *
We had always wondered what was inside Hangar 17. Guarded
round-the-clock by two armed soldiers (who carried enough
weapons to start a war), it was off-limits to all pilots.
Though there was much speculation about chemical weapons
being stored there, no one really knew except for the CO,
and he wouldn't tell.
Now, as I walked around Hangar 17, I felt a shiver rise up
my spine. Standing in front of me were two dull black
MiG-27LNs. They differed from the original MiG-27L "Bahadur"
as they had two seats (one behind the other) and were not
painted in the usual camouflage colouring. No one asked what
the new "N" stood for.
This model was much older than my pet Sukhoi, but I had
flown it for four years, and I was considered to be the best
pilot to handle it. Sparky, as the RIO, could make
electronic instruments dance at his fingertips, and together
we were the best team in the sky. I knelt down and ran my
fingers over the black monster sitting in a corner. Strange.
A weapon of Mass Destruction sure didn't feel like one.
* * * * *
Wires ran from the bomb to a console near the wall. I typed
in a six-digit code into the device, while Sparky and the
weapons officer did the same. The light on the console
turned from Green to Red. The bomb was ready to deliver. We
would also be carrying two extra fuel tanks, and two
air-to-air missiles. Though intelligence told us to not
worry about air threats as we were having escorts, we didn't
want to take a chance.
The chief flight engineer came up to me, as the safety
covers were being removed off the weapons, and said, "Please
bring the plane back safely sir." and almost choked.
"God!" Even Sparky's voice cracked at his attempt to say
* * * * *
We lined up at the runway, with Scoop and Thunder a few feet
behind us in the other plane, codenamed November two. I was
flying November one. Our flight would be preceded by four
MiG-29 "Baaz", whose sole objective was to keep our path
clear of any enemy aircraft. The rest was up to me.
At exactly 00:33 hours, we were cleared for takeoff by the
Right. Here Goes Nothing.
* * * * *
We levelled out at 30,000 feet, flying at approximately 1000
km/h. Our Radar was switched off and we were under strict
Radio silence, to avoid detection. I could only talk to
Sparky on the intercom, but our conversation was restricted
to Radar updates. November two was sticking to my tail,
while the four MiG-29s were down below in front of us,
searching for any bad guys in our path.
75 kms from the target, Scoop pulled out of formation. The
plan required him to orbit at a safe distance while I would
head to the target area. If, for any reason, the bomb failed
to release or detonate, he would move in and deploy the
spare bomb. Sparky called out in an unnatural robotic voice
to say that the MiG-29s had run across two J-7s, and were
going around in a business-like manner, shooting them down.
I watched the warning screen as four green triangles
converged onto two red ones. Both Red triangles disappeared
successively. Scratch two J-7s. We maintained our altitude
48 kms from the target, a voice crackled into my headset.
"November One, your signal is Golf Alpha, I repeat, your
signal is Golf Alpha."
Golf Alpha. Meaning "Go Ahead". Groan.
The four MiG-29s ahead immediately pulled around and headed
back as fast as they could. When the sky came falling down,
they darn well didn't want to be under it.
I pushed the throttle all the way ahead to give maximum
thrust and put my MiG in a 25-degree climb. Sparky switched
on his radar. Immediately the screen on my right sprang to
life. I watched as Sparky sorted out the ground objects and
isolated the target.
* * * * *
43 kms from target. Sparky calls to say that two F-16s have
spotted us, and are heading our way. But they are 80 kms
away. Too far to harm us.
36 kms from target, the same voice says in my headset,
"November One, you have a go. You have a go."
"Roger that, on my way." I acknowledge, breaking radio
32 kms from target. The bomb has been programmed to release
at an altitude above 32,000 ft and only at a 45 degree
angle. I pull the plane up to 40 degrees, and continue
slowly pushing it.as the needle goes past 35,000 ft. The
plane hits 45 degrees, and in a fraction of a second, I
release the bomb.
* * * * *
For a moment my eyes follow the bomb as it seems to hang
still in midair. Then reality in the form of an airborne
strategic nuclear weapon wakes me up.
"Shit!" I shout as I turn the plane upside down, make use of
gravity to give me some extra speed and I double back with a
half loop, dropping the external tanks and the air-to-air
missiles to reduce weight. With the MiG-27 having "Swing
Wings", I am able to pull my wings all the way back and get
into full speed. Sparky murmurs "Go! Go! Go! Go!" to me as I
try to get the hell away from ground zero. I attempt to
glance back at the falling bomb.
"You know the rules, no looking back man!" Sparky warns me.
And he's right. The flash of a nuclear explosion can blind a
person instantly, even with protective glasses. Thirty
seconds to impact. We were going at 1,500 km/h, and still
accelerating. My hand starts to shiver, and I hold the stick
with both hands. We are now moving at 1,800 km/h.
Fifteen seconds to detonation. Seems like hours since I
dropped the bomb. All I can hear is the rugged Turmansky
engine, and Sparky's breath through the intercom. I seemed
to have held mine all along. I start counting the seconds
Fifteen. Ten. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Zero.
I don't hear anything.
I just begin to wonder if something has gone wrong when the
Pulse hits. Followed by the shockwave.
* * * * *
Every nuclear explosion is followed by an electromagnetic
pulse that literally Fries all electronic equipment in its
path. It hits us too, and the intercom goes dead. But this
is the very reason why the MiG-27 was chosen for this
mission, not the more advanced Sukhoi. The Sukhoi has a lot
of wires in it, and could literally prove unflyable in the
wake of an EM Pulse.
Some of our systems do fail, including the radar. But the
aircraft is still flyable, thanks to its old mechanical
connections between stick and wings, not electrical ones. I
perform a test of all flight equipment in the aircraft, as
Sparky goes through the checklist in silence. We are shaken,
but not in pieces yet.
And then, simultaneously, both Sparky and I stop. And look
back. The mushroom cloud that was rising behind us looked
straight out of a National Geographic Photo. Except it
wasn't a photo, we were watching it. Live. Sparky's
digestive system gives up, as he pukes into the nearest barf
bag. I am too sick to even vomit, and the headache that hits
makes me wonder whether I could fly back home safely.
We land back at our airport alright, though with little fuel
left. As we taxi the plane into the hangar, no one says a
word, except the chief engineer. "Thank you for bringing her
back safely, Sir." I'm seriously wondering whether the guy
has a heart…
* * * * *
Back inside for debriefing, I sit on a chair waiting for the
CO. Sparky sits behind me, sipping some juice. His face is
still pale, he won't fly for a few days I bet. Neither will
I, for that matter. Scoop and Thunder are sitting next to
us. Scoop has his eyes closed, while Thunder stares at her
desk. Nobody's celebrating, that's for sure.
The CO comes in, eyes bloodshot, and switches on the
projector. After grading the ground staff's and Scoop's
performance, he turns to us. "November one performed a
perfect approach to delivery area. He correctly put the
aircraft into a climb at the appropriate time, and release
was also good. The bomb impacted approximately 400 metres
from ground zero. Since it was a Nuclear weapon, that
distance did not make a difference. The storage facility was
destroyed, and no one will touch those warheads for a long,
No one clapped.
"Casualties are estimated at approximately 170 killed
including workers, soldiers and a few civilians." Great.
"None injured." Obviously.
"Ground damage includes Storage facilities, assorted
vehicles, Surface to air missile sites, and anti-aircraft
guns." Not bad for a single bomb.
"Air damage includes some minor structural damage to
November One and two F-16s which crashed following the
electromagnetic pulse." Poor guys. Hope they didn't eject
into ground zero.
"All in all, a perfect mission result." What a consolation.
Sparky and I got up to leave, the CO came over to us.
"Since the blast killed the two F-16s, their "kills" are
credited to you. Now you guys have five kills, and are the
first aces of your squadron. Congratulations."
* * * * *
Aces are normally revered by their fellow pilots. There are
drinks all around. A party even. But everyone filed out of
the room silently. There would be no celebrations tonight.
About the Author:
Aditya Mandrekar, 19, lives in Mumbai, India. More
popularly known as Flanker30MKI on ezboard, he is
doing his engineering in electronics (3rd Yr) from Sardar
Patel, Mumbai. Please visit his site at:
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