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
* * * * *
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
* * * * *
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
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
"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 Traffic Controller.
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 and speed.
48 kms from the target, a voice crackled into my
"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
"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
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 down mentally.
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
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
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
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, long time."
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
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
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: