Silvers stared at the F-5 in the left corner of her Head-Up-Display. The details were mesmerizing, and coming into focus as she streaked ever closer: single tail, missiles on both wingtips, foreign-looking paint scheme.
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.
Back in Silvers’ cockpit the same transmission was received, but completely ignored as background noise. She was too busy with her own problems to process someone else’s. As she and Wedge punched through 15,000 feet she pointed directly toward the threat sector while the radar scraped a path in front like a blade on a snow plow. Almost instantly it grabbed a lock on the bandit on their nose. “Got it,Wedge!” Her heart raced as she thumbed the radio switch. “Roman Two has contact; target, three-zero-zero at ten, seventeen thousand, hot; declare.”
The controller came back the moment she released her switch. “That’s your bandit.”
“Copy.” As she made the transmission and fingered the trigger to simulateshooting a missile, her radar warning screamed high warble indicating Air-to-Air radar lock on her Rhino. She was being targeted. The visual display showed a solid ugly strobe on her nose. “Roman Two, spiked!” she broadcast while simultaneously slamming the stick to the right and pulling hard. When the strobe was exactly down her wing line she reversed into an easy left turn to hold the bandit at her 9 o’clock. It was a nervous game of chicken; she was only ten miles away from an adversary intent on shooting her from the sky, but while she was perpendicular to his flight path, at this range, his radar would be unable to hold a lock. With no radar-lock, the missiles wouldn’t be able to guide against her. That was the plan at least.
She and Wedge were glued eyes-left outside the cockpit, searching the sky for the tiny spec that would be the F-5 at eight to ten miles. It would be nearly impossible to spot, skinny as a needle homing in on them. She gimbaled her head inside the cockpit every couple of seconds referencing the radar warning screen, confirming she was holding the strobe at exactly 9 o’clock. With every fiber of her body she fought the urge to pull hard to the left to face the threat head on. Her hands twitched on the stick.
As if he could read her mind Wedge shouted from the backseat. “Not yet!He won’t hold much longer.”
Sure enough, a heartbeat later the warble abruptly ceased and the strobe disappeared from her screen. “I’m in!” She pitched back 90 degrees left, pulling hard to get her nose in the proper piece of sky as rapidly as possible. She and Wedge both groaned as the Rhino was subjected to over 7Gs. Halfway through the turn her radar snapped a lock again. 30 degrees to the left at 3.5 miles. “Got him!” she yelled to Wedge.
The bandit was flying a vector that would take him past her left side. He had obviously lost her in the turn and hadn’t picked her up visually yet. She marveled at the fact, staring at the F-5 in the left corner of her Head-Up-Display. She was entranced by the strange magic of finding an unfamiliar jet in this huge piece of sky. The details were mesmerizing, and coming into focus as she streaked ever closer: single tail, missiles on both wingtips, foreign-looking paint scheme.
Wedge’s voice broke her study. “Shoot it!”
She pulled hard once again to get the target directly on her nose. A ‘SHOOT’ cue appeared and she simultaneously pulled the trigger while broadcasting “Fox three, bandit seventeen thousand, left hand turn.” A digital counter appeared in her Head-Up-Display at trigger squeeze, marking the seconds before calculated missile impact. The F-5 finally spotted her and banked hard to face her just as the counter reached zero.
“Kill bandit, seventeen thousand,” she transmitted, fighting the urge to yell in victory. Act like you’ve been here before.
“Nice job!” Wedge shouted from the back, but the celebration was brief.
“Break right! One more coming, two o’clock high.”
She snap-rolled her head, and the Rhino. “Got him.” She thumbed out countermeasures to decoy any missiles as her radar locked onto the new bandit. “Fox-3 on bandit at 23,000 feet.” She pulled the trigger then stared at the counter until it reached zero. “Kill two.” The second bandit flashed by her right wing 200 feet away at nearly 900 miles per hour combined speed.
On cue, the controller picked up his cadence. “Roman Two, copy splash two bandits. Green south. Nearest threat fifteen miles north.”
“Roman Two copies,” she keyed her radio. “Heading south for home.”
As she cleaned up the switches in her cockpit for the now-mundane act of flying home, Wedge’s voice came through her headset, “Nice job, Silvers.” She nodded silently, flushed with excitement and adrenaline, and forced herself to concentrate on flying the Rhino the short fifty miles back to El Centro. It was funny, something that would have thrilled her to the core just a few weeks ago now barely held her attention as she replayed the details of her engagement over and over. All too quickly the Rhino touched down, leaving her struggling to wipe the grin from her face before the canopy came up and the dry desert heat roiled into the cockpit.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com