Senaki, Georgia, mid day of 03 June of 1980-something. I am sitting in the cockpit of a Mig-21bis, under the scorching sun of this tip of the Soviet empire. It is a good thing that real war is not here, at least yet, because the sleepiness of this airbase is not suitable for such things as conflict.
We have been brought here not for touring but because of other matters. A huge political strife and years of accumulated dissent had literally exploded in the faces of our central party leaders. Some Georgians wanted independence and soon dawned on them that they can't revolt against the Soviets without heavy weapons and tanks. A single battalion of the Red Army was enough to bring back the governor's palace and most of the government's offices in Tiblisi to Soviet control.
It was a clean and almost bloodless operation, but real estate doesn't cut it if those responsible for the uprising are not brought into justice. Or blown into oblivion. Whatever comes first.
And that's why my wingman and me are with our engines in iddle, just in the middle of the runway.
When is that order of taking off will come by?
From our premium location (all the runway for us) we see the ground crew in the ramp, talking and pointing at us. Somebody jumps into the driving wheel of a fuel truck. But he doesn't move, meaning that we don't need extra fuel to burn sitting in the runway.
Anytime now ...
I check our flight plan, comms frequencies and callsigns for the fifth time. Take off from Senaki, fly to the proximity of Tiblisi airport (steerpoint 1, 250 km) and intercept a civilian flight in which the leaders of the revolt are trying to escape into Turkey. Our second steerpoint is near the Turkish border some 140 km from the first one, right into the likely escape route of the flight. A single AWACs aircraft (flight 101) is standing by to guide the interception.
Cleared to take off! Proceed in the direction of steerpoint 1 and contact 101.
I pull the throttle so hard that the Mig wobbles to the side. I push the rudder and correct the ptath of the accelerating beast. At 300 km/h I start pulling the nose up and I feel the nose wheel off the ground. At 370 km/h, I pull the aircraft and the grinding of the concrete ceases. The vibration from the afterburner is the only thing left. Airborne at last!
I retract the gear and disengage the flaps. The Mig then makes this funny thing of sinking the nose (because of the missing lift from the retracted flaps) and accelerating (because of the reduction in drag from the retracted landing gear and flaps). Even when the aircraft continues to climb, this effect scares the shit out of new pilots and in some cases can lead to a non-needed and dangerous over-correction.
At 4,000 meters I cut the after burner and watch the typical puff of black smoke that is left behind.
While I wait for my wingman to form up, I order him to fence in. Turn on the gun, switch to radar-guided missiles and select the right pylon to launch the first one. Countermeasures on, and wait for check the chaff and flares.
In position to the right! The call from the wingman comes in. Time to get this flight in route. I switch the RSBN system, a tactical navigation system that is based in airfields) to channel 11. This is the position of Vaziani airbase, which is very close to the Tiblisi airport. The RSBN system greets me with complete silence. We are too far from Vaziani yet.
After a couple of minutes, the signal from Vaziani paints our Migs. The desired course needle and the RSBN station needle in the NPP course indicator are almost aligned. A quick glance at the distance counter for the RSBN station at Vaziani shows 196 km. I slowly turn our flight to the right, with a course of 95 degrees.
A couple of minutes later, the central command chimes in via our flight's frequency and informs us that the leaders of the revolt have been confirmed aboard a civilian flight likely bound to Turkey. We are clear to intercept it and destroy it. I immediately check in with the AWACs flight 101. He is in channel 2 (251 MHz, AM).
AWACS reports a flight south of our position, some 110 km. These are likely Turkish CAP fighters. The Turkey government has been aggressively patrolling their frontier during all this mess, but most of the times have not dared to ...
You gotta be shitting me!
Ground intercept? Who the fuck is that? Ty che, blyad?
I didn't know we had a ground intercept unit around. How they got into the AWACs frequency?
Oh, who cares right now ... I need to keep my head out of my ass and into the mission. I pull myself from calculating the distance to Turkey from our current position.
101, 103, request bogey dope. I say calmly but my heart is racing, almost taking my brain in tow.
103.101, BRA (bearing, range, altitude) is 174 (bearing) for 90 (km) at 2500 (m) flanking (moving in a course perpendicular to ours).
I set the desired course to 172 degrees and I turn my flight south. Our wishes of a real combat mission have materialized.
Stay tuned for part 2.