The GAZ jeep came ‘round just then, its horn sounding shrill in the rapidly lightening morning air. The early chill and dampness was beginning to lift, and we clambered in, shoving the flight bags of maps and notes into the back, haphazardly. The enlisted driver sped across the cracking concrete of the old Soviet-era base, past dilapidated hangars and buildings. We are not rich like Western air forces, but we fight well on the cheap. The paint is worn on our birds, but under the skin they are top-notch.
Our colour-scheme is the old Soviet-era three colour air superiority camo, with green radome and trim, and red numbers at the nose and tailfins. My craft is No. 11. I meet Sergeant Kulikov, who is my crew-chief, and we carefully walk around my 11, carefully checking to ensure it is ready. Today, we will be tested. I climb the narrow ladder, and settle into the cockpit.
The Su-27 is a tight fit, even for a woman. It is comfortable for me with a minimum of adjustment, though, and fits like a glove. My head in its white-painted helmet-the only one in our squadron with no decoration, I get much kidding about this-fits into the headrest and my eyes are on perfect level with the head-up display. The tractors have already towed us to the end of the runway, and we are there in the overrun area with cords to the APUs, waiting for the action! Vasily is sleeping, as usual. I am too excited to sleep. Our ground-crew is unconcerned. Our guns are strong, our tanks are fast, and our men…ah, our men, there is no need to speak of them. Isn’t that how the old Red Army song goes? I forget. They play cards by the APUs, which are humming to power our jets on the ground. We can start with a moment’s warning.
Time drones on, and I lose myself in a paperback. Soon, it is nearing the noon hour and I am about to climb down for a break after nearly four hours of waiting. I bite into a sandwich, and this is my first mistake. My headphones crackle a warning from the tower. The Turks are coming this way! We are ordered to scramble!
At the airfield siren’s wail, I pitch my sandwich out and call to the ground-crew to warn them. I see them in my mirrors scurry around as I hand-signal that I am starting my right motor. A whine from Vasily’s No. 12 bird next to me as the inertial starters kick in. Kulikov stations himself in front of me and motions me through the start checks. Soon, I am disconnected from ground power and my flight surfaces deflect in their pre-launch stretch-dance; my bird yearns for the sky. The checks are complete and Kulikov snaps a salute, much like crew chiefs in your own air forces. The runway is ours! I firewall the throttles for a showy, afterburner takeoff. We do not usually do this, but today, we will show our brotherly Georgian allies that the Rodina is here to fight for them!
My 11 rockets off the first third of the runway in a steep climb. I stabilize, and button up my oxygen mask. Selecting DVB long-range combat mode, I briefly initialize the N-001 radar to boot up the American Link-16 device, and my aircraft’s computer synchronizes with Overlord’s datalink. Even the wonderful F-15C does not have such equipment as this! I call the Americans to tell them we are responding, but they already know this. It is time to get down to business, as you Westerners say.
“Overlord, 711, bogey dope.”
The Americans have two enemy aircraft inbound, south of us and closing fast at medium altitude, distance approximately 90 kilometers distant. As I chat with the AWACS controller, my SPO-15 “Beryoza” radar-detector shows a return, an airborne radar ahead, above, and just to my left. I adjust my multifunction display until I see the inverted triangles that represent the enemy. We are nose cold and I have a plan.