At its core, the "Balalaika" (NATO name "Fishbed") is an interceptor, a piloted rocket carrying its own missiles. We trained for years about mission profiles, interception geometries, how to quickly get into a shooting position, kill and bug out like there was no tomorrow. Under close supervision by the ground intercept crews, we were THEIR weapons.
It was only after the Mig-21 proved to be such a good platform that additional missions and ways to employ it crept in. Our interception today is a distant cry from what we trained for. The crew in the AWACs, likely fresh out from the academy, were not able to guide an interception against the most cooperative target. I do not mind. I am the boss today and I am going to get my mission complete.
101, 103, request bogey dope.
101, 103, request bogey dope. Trying to convey some rank into my voice. Still nothing.
Then, from the depth of my headset, AWACs comes back.
103.101, BRA (bearing, range, altitude) is 091 (bearing) for 110 (km) at 2500 (m) hot (moving towards us).
Hot? What! Shit! What's going on here? Are the Turkish pilots already returning back to their home plate?
At 110 km of distance, they unlikely know about us. Unless they have their own AWACs. But I don't see anything painting me from Turkey. Just AWACs 103 from our side of the mountains, for good or bad ...
I switch my radio frequency to my flight and transmit to my wingman ...
2, 1. Heads up. Mach dot nine. Keep heading and altitude.
It just dawned on me that the about face of the Turkish fighters was because they starting escorting the civilian flight to Turkey. They are at my nine o'clock at 110 km, so if I keep pushing south I can cut through their flight path way before they are close. From there I can gain some separation from their flight path and flight in a course opposite to theirs. I am hoping to see them fly by at a distance.
A few millimeters short of afterburner, my throttle subtly vibrates when I shovel it forward. I can feel it through the gloves and for a second I want them off, just to feel the cold metal of the controls.
2, 1. Heads up. Prepare IR rockets and guns for bogeys 091, 90 at 2500 hot.
1, 2. Bogeys 091 for 90 at 2500 hot. IR and guns. Ready.
All that while watching a Russian military transport fly by low from our right to our left. The transport's pilot is likely bound for Tiblisi and waves by rocking his plane's wings. He is totally oblivious to what's happening.
Life at (almost) the speed of sound is fast. Just as I check back into the AWACs frequency I get the news.
103.101, BRA (bearing, range, altitude) is 127 (bearing) for 40 (km) at 3500 (m) flanking.
I failed to cross the target and escort's flight path, they are at our 10 o'clock. And at 40 km, it is now time to get done with it.
I put up my helmet's visor. I need every lumen out there to spot the bogeys.
Where are they?
AWACs comes in. 30 km and closing. Ashamed of my failure to gracefully maneuver my flight in the bandit's 6 o'clock, I turn left and I position my flight towards a heads on engagement.
Come on, Come on. Where are they?
A glint, a trail of smoke, anything.
They pop out from the depth of the horizon. Conspicuous, clumsy and unassuming. Ready for nothing, it seems. That civilian airplane in the van doesn't help for war looks.
2, 1. Engage bandits ...
My wingman pulls his stick and his aircraft goes high. I push mine and go low.
The negative G maneuver pulls out every single speckle of dust that this aircraft has accumulated over the last year. I am within a cloud now, and my eyes start to blink because of it. I close one eyelid, trying to keep at least one eye in good shape. Which is silly, because in all likelihood I will be pulling the dust back in place shortly.
I try to work on my radar. But is in vain. I can't detect the bandits with it. I am pointing my nose to the terrain and I am surprised that no clutter is visible in the radar tube. Now that's unheard of.
My radar emissions detector goes lit. With my left hand I push forward the throttle and immediately go for the selector that drops countermeasures.
I am a lawn dart now, loosing altitude and gaining airspeed. I lost visual contact with the enemy aircraft and my wingman. I just see the civilian aircraft at my right, trying to stay out of trouble by flying low.
Where are the enemy fighters? Should I break and turn to go for the civilian? Or hold the course for a few more seconds to gain separation and re-engage with a zoom and boom?
Stay tuned for part 3.