“The weather conditions will not improve, Sacha.”
The meteo officer pours tall glasses of tea as is his custom, and I munch once more on slices of cucumber as I listen and reflect-our ways are so different from the Americans I flew with so recently. Our 586th is very informal about many things. Yet we are as efficient as any air force.
“The Turk chooses well.”
Vasily lights a cigarette, crushing the match under his heel. He sucks in a mouthful of acrid smoke.
“He thinks to hide his IRLF dogs in a blanket of wet cotton.”
“Yes. But you should find clear air over 4000 meters. You must watch for turbulence in the clouds, and at the cloud base. And the base will be socked in with ILS conditions.”
“And we have the N-019 radar for our eyes! We do not need the American E-3 this day, Vasily. We know where the Turk will be. Let the Turk think we are sleeping. He will not underestimate us so quickly in future.”
I am confident. We are ready for our mission.
The GAZ jeep hoots outside for us and I shrug into my wet oilcloth, and rush for the inadequate shelter of the tarpaulin roof. The Armourer is with the enlisted driver, and we discuss the choice of weapons. Given the conditions, I want radar missiles. The MiG-29A is capable of carrying only the smaller members of the R-27 family at present. For each of us, I choose R-27R, two, and four R-73 for close-in combat. Arc lights flood the open aircraft shelters with actinic blue, and the MiGs stand out in weird relief inside as the ground crews prepare them. Vasily and I embrace, wish each other luck this day, and separate for our walk-arounds. Sgt. Kulikov is back from the Americans too, and is once more my crew-chief. I know that my Yellow 52 is safe in his most capable hands.
The R-27R and R-73 missiles are white, pointed, deadly, snug in their underwing mounts. The R-73, known as AA-11 Archer to the West, is the best short-range missile. Its range is nearly the equal of the American radar AMRAAM! And combined with the helmet sight, I can fire it at sixty degrees deflection from the nose. Only the British ASRAAM, the American Sidewinder-X, and the Israeli Python-4 are so versatile!
I lightly sprint up the ladder, securely placing my canvas flight-bag in its niche next to the ejection-seat, and settling in as Kulikov and his soldiers tighten my harness and ensure all is ready. The MiG-29’s olive-painted cockpit is much friendlier than the Su-27’s, with its large gauges and minimal switches. We have no ability to carry the Sorbtsiya system — that is for the Crane. And SPS-141 pods like the Su-25 carries, or the Fantasm, are hopelessly bulky. Were this a longer flight, we would carry a 1500 liter fuel tank on the center station, but this will be a short hop. This is good, for the MiG’s sole deficiency is its terribly short range. After the much more advanced American A-10, it is like coming home, no?
On auxiliary power now, I am given the signal to engage the starters, and my Klimov RD-33 turbofans roar to life. As Kulikov’s people disconnect me from ground power, I hear Vasily on the radio report ready, and I contact the tower, gaining permission to taxi into the pouring rain, to Runway 01 for takeoff.