The Rhinos were now too close to merging to take evasive maneuvers. Any turn away at this range would just put the Flankers on their tails.
Francesco “Paco” Chierici is a former U.S. Naval Aviator with 3,000 flying hours and produced the award winning naval aviation documentary Speed and Angels. The following story contains excerpts from his first book Lions in the Sky.
Slammer was processing the new geometry for his intercept when everything went to crap. He saw a missile streak from the closest Flanker, trailing a plume of smoke.
Tiny’s voice screamed over the radio, “Fox-3! Smoke in the air. Tiny’s still spiked, breaking left.” Tiny fired a retaliatory shot and was turning for all he was worth in a desperate, last ditch attempt to evade the incoming Chinese missile.
Slammer jerked his trigger then pressed the mic switch, “Fox-3!” The AMRAAM left his plane with a surprisingly loud scream. A moment later the sky was latticed with smoke trails as Quick and Lips followed suit. He watched their missiles travel downrange with disbelief. The Rhinos were now too close
to merging to take evasive maneuvers. Any turn away at this range would just put the Flankers on their tails.
Committed to a head-on pass, he pulled his throttles to idle to reduce the infrared signature from his engines and held his breath, watching for any more missiles coming his way.
Five missiles—four American and one Chinese—closed in on their prey with a combined closure rate of Mach 6, or 4,000 knots. Roughly one mile per second. It would be the longest six seconds of Slammer’s life.
Quick pulled the trigger instinctively. After Tiny pitched away she jerked the stick to bug out, but Tumor’s voice stopped her. “Don’t turn! Straight ahead now, Quick. Fight’s on.”
She aimed for a close pass with the Flanker her radar was locked onto. Tiny’s jet had turned almost ninety degrees but the smoke trail from the Chinese missile was matching it all the way. As she watched, the smoke intersected the plane. There was a small black puff as the warhead exploded, sending a million hot metal fragments into an angry cloud. A nanosecond later one pierced a fuel cell on Tiny’s jet and it erupted in a ball of flame. Large chunks of debris tumbled from the fireball.
Fuck! she mouthed into her mask. Panic bubbled just beneath, but her out-of-body self yanked her eyes forward to follow her missile to the merge. Fight’s on, bitch.
Slammer managed a last radio call before all hell broke loose. “Banger, we lost Tiny. Merge plot. Lions’ shots in the air. Engaged.”
He turned his attention to the Heads-Up-Display. The missile Tiny had shot avenged him by vaporizing the same Flanker that destroyed Tiny. A double knockout in the sky.
Slammer chased after his own missile’s smoke trail directly to his bandit. It reached the Flanker two seconds before he would have merged, and a second Chinese fighter disappeared in a huge explosion.
He jinked hard left to miss the debris field lest he suck bits into his engine turbines. The last two Chinese fighters were obscured by the black curtain of smoke, but the AMRAAM missile trails Quick and Lips had shot gave him an excellent idea where they would be.
Quick’s breathing was fast and shallow. She followed Slammer’s maneuver, dodging around the debris, sure she would see two more black clouds on the other side. Instead she came through to see Slammer merging with the closest Flanker while Lips was pointed at the other. The last two missiles fused too early, confounded by the wreckage.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy and Wikipedia