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The Incident Down Below: What Really Happened
by Raya

Twelve jets soared above the Australian coastlines. Team 2 of
Operation Fire Down Below’s air support unit were on their way home to
the carrier. Everyone in the team was both relieved and hyped at the
same time, having the operation completed without any casualty. The
sky was cloudy, but the sun was shining real bright. Clearly, it was
too soon to think that it was safe.

"Bogey inbound, angels 2-5"

"Roger that, Garuda. IFF confirms bogey is bandit. Repeat, inbound
bandit angels 2-5"

"So whose turn is it? Or shall I?"

"And I thought it doesn't get any better than this. Wildfire
supersonic!"

Wildfire's Hornet broke off from the formation, burners blaring. Still
four AMRAAM left, no point of saving them, she thought. Another two
Sukhois banked to the opposite direction, dissapeared in the cumulus.
They were part of the Indonesian unit, team leader asked for
confirmation.

"Vampire here, we'll flank from port. There could be more of 'em"

"Blackwing. I ah… I'll keep him company"

Team leader Garuda shook her head. Their fuel was starting to run low,
but what the heck. The mission was over, operation successful.

"You guys are so typical"

Wildfire still supersonic, heading was set to head-on collision with
bandit. She looked at the two dots trailing her from the farside and
smiled. Party poopers, she thought. Perhaps they plan to even the
score this morning. She flipped the master arms switch forward, red
lights lit up. The target box appeared on her HUD, head on it is.

"Weapons hot. Bandit in range, not changing heading.  Waiting for
visual ID"

The two Sukhois climbed, burners full thrust. Back in the main
formation, Wedge stared nervously at his radar scope. His Raptor is
the one equipped with the long-range early warning radar. The bandit
inbound sent mixed signals to the IFF, and echoes on the spot makes
for multiple bandits. He looked over to the right, giving hand signals
to Cyclone.

"This doesn't feel right, skipper."

"I know what you mean, Wedge. Still no response to our warning, eh?"

Wedge cranked up the squelch knob. Static.

"Still quiet, and I've been repeating the warning transmission like
about a hundred times. Wildfire, you copy?"

Static again.

"Yo, Wildfire! You copy?"

More static.

"IFF friendly! Repeat, IFF friendly! Break off attack!"

Out of the blue Garuda shouted frantically.

"Multiple bogeys! Single bandit, breaking off. Follow me!"

Wedge and Cyclone broke off and took point, their Raptors are the
fastest in the team. Garuda told the rest of the air unit to proceed
back to the carrier and joined Wedge and Cyclone. In the point Raptor,
Wedge flipped a few switches in panic, he started to sweat. Still got
mixed signals in his scope. Miles ahead, Wildfire noticed how quiet it
has been. Bandit slowed down. Scared, she thought. Ten seconds to
clear fire range for her AMRAAMs.

"I'm gonna make this short and sweet, guys. This one's for Jeff."

All of a sudden there were two dots on her forward scope. Two target
boxes on the HUD. Time to panic.

"What the… Talk to me, people!"

No answer. Five seconds to firing range, IFF stated foe, unfriendly.
Time to act.

		*		*		*

Head on, one lock. No clear visual, bandit was now in range. A high
pitch sound filled the cockpit.

"Wildfire here, I got tone. Fox five!"

The underside of her Hornet lights up, two AMRAAMs dropped and fired
itself to terminal velocity in one hundreth of a second. She quickly
banked left, taking the ready-offensive position. Her heart pounded
even faster when a glimpse of the IFF caught her eyes. IFF: friendly.
Another high pitch sound. Incoming missile. Wildfire in tight
position, yanked the stick hard left and let go of the throttle.
Negative g's hit her, setting off the red out alert. The Hornet
shimmied loose to an almost stall maneuver, incoming missile still
locked on her. Wildfire's mind raced through the frantic seconds. No
more decoys. She pulled the Hornet's nose back up and gave the engine
full throttle power. The steel canards of the Hornet cuts the air like
the proverbial blade, leaving a trail of white streams. A loud sonic
boom blasted as the F-180 pulled up so suddenly. The missile missed,
Wildfire cleared away. It was not over yet. At the same time, Wedge,
Cyclone and Garuda raced to support.

"Cy, do you see Vampire and Blackwing?"

"Negative, Wedge. No joy."

Garuda on the rear, trying to contact Wildfire. It felt like forever,
while the whole scene was actually done in seconds. By the time we get
there, it’ll be too late. What if we shot down a friendly? What if it
wasn’t really a friendly aircraft? What to do? And where the hell are
Vamp and Black?  About twelve thoughts ran through her mind at the
same time.  Her Hornet stalled, she entered Cyclones’s jetwash. A
quick pull of the stick recovered the Hornet. Wedge heard the
commotion.

“Steady, skipper”

“I’m fine. Where the hell are those Indons?”

“I’m only detecting one of them”

“What?”

“Battlerange in 5 seconds, try to get a visual.”

“Whatever happened to their comms?”

Looking back at the missile she managed to dodge, Wildfire suddenly
remembered the two AMRAAM she fired two seconds ago. Two seconds. It
felt like a full ten minutes. She watched her scope in horror as her
AMRAAM ran straight to the friendly target.

“Evade, goddammit!”

The target banked suddenly, releasing sensor decoys. The AMRAAM dodged
the first one and hit the second one with a loud explosion. Wildfire
looked with relieve at the target, it was an ANZAC Falcon. What could
this person be doing here? A blip on the radar caught her attention.
Another incoming missile. She made a loop and strafed the bandit
firing at her. No time to think let alone ask. At least she thought
that. Another head on.

“Geezus! Head on, I’m locked!”

“Break away, Cy! I got this guy. Fox two!”

“Wedge, wait!”

Wedge’s Sidewinder streaked. It hit the bandit. It hit Wildfire’s
wing. She bailed out just in time.

“Christ! You waxed Wildfire!”

Wedge didn’t get the chance to react. A flash of vulcan cannon fire
hit his Raptor from above. Bells and whistles rang inside the cockpit,
smoke started to enter the air conditioning system.

“I’m hit!”

“Get the hell out! Eject! Eject!”

"Damn, who waxed my Filipino ass?"

Garuda stared as the canopy of the burnt down raptor jettisoned,
launching Wedge’s ejector seat upside down to the sea. Another warning
light, locked on. Wedge was right. Multiple bogeys, and the one on her
tail wasn’t the ANZAC. Throttle down, yanked the stick back then
pushed down. Garuda got out of the lock, clearing the area for Cyclone
to fire. The bandit Falcon went down in flames. Cyclone’s vulcan got
the bastard. There was a loud bang on the comm channel, followed by a
static squelch sound.

“…did I sh.. Who did I…”

“Vamp! Where the hell have you been?”

“Who did I shot? What went wrong with our sensors?”

“You shot Wedge”

“Holy…”

“I saw him ejected safely. So’s Wildfire”

Cyclone replayed the whole sequence in mind.

“Wiley mistook my Sidewinder aimed to the bandit as threat, she fired
back and Wedge covered me."

"This could not be happening”

Garuda still puzzled and shaken.

“Where’s Blackwing? And the ANZAC?”

“Black broke off to intercept another bandit north. The ANZAC Falcon
seemed to have taken damage from Wiley’s AMRAAM explosion”

“I think it went down, guys.”

Vampire realized something.

“Guys, we’re in deep shit. Anyone checked their fuel gauge lately?”

		*		*		*

... to be continued...
Copyright Raya 1998