My second day on New Larson.
As per military protocol I got up early at 0540, had breakfast, cleaned my dorm area, and then began calisthenics. Now that I was a real fighter pilot, I was expected to remain familiar to what had shaped me up for this moment. What I had to concentrate on was maintaining my fitness and squadron synergy, and adapting to the new aircraft.
After physical exercise, I proceeded to the office of my commander, Major Keighley. It was 0630 at the time; when I walked in, I saw a guy standing in front of the Major. Without giving the unfamiliar person a side glance, I stood next to him and saluted Keighley. She was standing behind a desk, staring right at us with her firm blue eyes.
"Welcome, Lieutenant Aiden Christie. Very soon, you will notice that the pace here will intensify from your days with the 435th. Right now, I am assigning you your plane. You will also be flying with me since you are a part of my Flight." She said.
"Yes ma'am!" I replied.
The Major continued, "From what I can tell from your records from Texas and Colorado, you are highly diligent. Not only you completed over 250 logged hours of flying time, you accomplished your advanced soldier training too, which includes ground training. It's also said that you're accurate in fire arms."
My head was stiff; I wanted to nod my head in agreement, but I continued to listen without moving, even when she put forth a startling statement,
"But that may not be enough, Christie! Pilots of the Axis powers back in World War II had over 500, and that was lax. What makes a fighter pilot is indeed experience. But, there is something else. I will explain more of that later today, but for now keep simulations in mind." The Major said.
What was that "something else"? "Real experience"? It's true that I had plentiful combat simulation experience back in Texas, which also included in FSTD (Flight Sim Training device), but I was under a safety hood. When it came to the wars, all I could think about to ease my apprehension was to try and give it all I got.
"Also, don't forget that you're sent here because of faith. I cannot turn my face from a fighter pilot, but teamwork instincts are like ongoing gears. Do not let your youth and forthcoming war cause you to buckle. And always remember that being a pilot means that you must practice intensively." The Major said.
"Yes Ma'am!" I replied again.
"Now, the F-15E , the F-22 and F-16 would usually be open to you as choices, but there is also the F-37." Keighley explained while shuffling through some papers on her desk, "it is difficult to both incorporate new aircraft into the squadron and assign aircraft of low quantity. I first thought of assigning the only two Lancers of the 1063rd to Pro fliers of the squadron, but I think that this is their chance for true combat experimenting. Plus, I am not interested in flying it at this moment. However, having it in Flight Alpha is a good idea since it is inclined to long, multirole battle. Christie, would you like to fly it?"
My eyes widened and I lost my officer prompt. While my answer was repressed, the Major added,
"These days, technology improves to make flying and combat easier and efficient as we continue to depend on fast, automatic systems. Recent models like the Lightning II and the Strike Lancer emphasizes this. Both aircraft are expensive and are not readily sent out, so assigning them is difficult. You saw the Lancer yesterday right?"
"Yes ma'am." I merely said, to which made the Major ask me,
"What do you think of it?"
"I found the F-37 an amazing fighter, ma'am. Its unique design and your explanation of it made me curious." I said.
Major Keighley gestured her hand over two hardcover booklets, each with a comb bind, "Here are two AFM (aeroplane flight manual) on the new aircraft. Both of you take one. Oh, also," The commander paused, and then moved her hand towards the man beside me.
"This is 2nd Lt. Ace Warrington from Flight Charlie. He is also assigned to the F-37, therefore I chose him to help you with your first test. This is his third month here." She said.
I looked over to the side to see the man next to me. He had a youthful profile similar to mine, a medium build, and close-cropped blonde hair.
"Both of you suit up and meet me at the Lancers' hangar at 0830. Should be nice and bright at that time. Dismissed!" The Major ordered.
"Yes ma'am!" Both Ace and I took the manuals, saluted, and then left the office.
Having two hours to spare before I had to meet with Warrington and the Major, I first took some time to look into the Lancer's AFM/POH (pilot's operations handbook). I was really looking forward to my flight, so I entered a quiet room and opened the manual to see what I was getting myself into. The first couple chapters were about on-ground operations and the basic controls. So far, I quickly absorbed what I was reading since there was little difference between the jet trainers that I've been in and this decade's fifth-generation fighters. The manual also showed diagrams of the Lancers' multi-function display (MFD) windows and HUD (head's up display), and real photos of the controls, including the thrust lever and joystick. When I reached the sections about landing gears, engines, and brakes, something quickly caught my attention. I saw a missing fundamental – there was nothing on oil and fuel. I tilted my head at the discrepancy and searched through the pages for info on the power source, which led me to a section called "engine and battery power".
I placed my hand over my mouth, holding in my voice. Inside my head, my thoughts screamed,
"Oh my God!" Was I reading this correctly?
I uncovered my mouth, suppressed my tone, and the words that I wanted to say came out as a stutter , "T-T-Thermonuclear Engines?"
Before my eyes was the definite example of technology progression, just as the Major said. It was like I was reading a handbook for a sci-fi role-playing board game. In this day of age, it looked like the Lancer would be the first aircraft to steer away from the use of gasoline. I had to wonder how this all worked. In this decade, the use of nuclear power was large talk amongst geoscientists, who said that oil would soon run out.
I bit my thumb and continued to read, thoroughly immersed in my own curiosity,
"Also called the "Air fighter", the F-37A shoots for perpetual energy. An enriched material cell produces the energy, which is manipulated by control rods, ejected through plenum chambers, and then through the turbines." I read inside my head. While I was shocked by the sight of new technology, I also wondered how this all worked, and wondered over the dangers of using nuclear engines. To a simple point, nuclear energy was used to boil water, which created steam to turn a wheel and make electricity. In an internal combustion engine, bleed air was pulled in to eject heated gasoline out the engines for thrust. For both, a liquid was a catalyst for creating the necessary energy.
I was actually stumped until it was explained in the manual that it would be the air itself, a little of it consisting of water (under 1% underneath the troposphere), that would create the Lancer's thrust.
Was that possible?
I spent an hour reading the manual, and rubbing the bridge of my nose occasionally, and the other free hour exercising and talking to my teammates. When 0830 came, I was at the hangar where the two F-37 Lancers stood vacant, wearing my G-suit. I requested to ask the Major about the F-37's engines, and she simply answered with,
"It is a 're-use', Christie."
"Ma'am, I do not understand." I said.
"This is a revival of an old project. Nuclear powered military vehicles were proposed in the 1940s. Ever heard of the Convair (See Convair X-6)? The project was canceled in the 1950s, but even NASA continues to experiment with designing unmanned nuclear rockets." The Major said.
I asked no more. I couldn't turn back; in order to understand, I had to seat myself into the F-37 and fly it.
"Alright Christie, Warrington, you two are going to have a combat simulation together. The planes' Breaker machine guns are equipped with blunt-nose paint bullets, which will give you that shock feeling of being hit. I ask that you only use the paint guns. Christie, you'll never know when AC Command will send us into combat, so get used to the Lancer. She is yours." The Major said, and I slipped my helmet on.
Ace Warrington, that guy was a pilot on New Larson for three months. I met him on the way to the hangar and he told me that he was three enemy planes away from becoming a Flying Ace. Just lovely. Can I win?
"The F-37 is pretty neat eh? Don't sweat it. It's an easy aircraft to fly." He told me in regards to our training duel, sounding like a real damn expert.
Before Ace and I sat inside our planes, we started exterior inspection.
"We already did pre-flight maintenance, especially the engines, so no need to take too long." Keighley reminded us before walking towards another aircraft.
The wheels of my Lancer's tricycle landing gear were properly inflated and didn't have any cuts; there were no cracks in the wings, the raised canopy, the engines and the Dasher cannons (they were next to each other), the nose, or anywhere in the fuselage. The aileron, rudders, and elevators were not worn out or tight. I also checked if the canopy was clean, then I was able to climb in. I slipped my AFM into a pouch behind my seat, which also carried legal documents and logbooks, and also checked the seat before buckling my seat belts and shoulder harness.
"Check distress beacon, check landing gear, checks battery ignition and indicators." I told myself. Right in front of me was the HUD window with a keypad, and below it were the multi-function display windows and a wide array of buttons. Between my knees was the joystick and ejection seat handle, and to my left was the thrust lever (or throttle). The compact atmosphere, being surrounded by a glass cockpit, made me think back to my old friend from the 435th Training Squadron: The T-38A Talon. It was the second fighter that I've flown, but the first fighter I trained in to learn combat maneuvers. It also helped me raise both awareness and confidence, so I felt that I would have little or no problems controlling the Lancer.
I connected my diluter-pressure oxygen mask and flipped a switch to lower the canopy. It hissed loudly as it closed around me. Next, I turned on the multi-function display windows. They lit up, the left window showing the words, "Welcome!" with a smiley face, like an emoticon that you put an e-mail that you want to send to your friend.
"Cute..." I murmured to myself, fastening my oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. I guess it could have been worse, it could've been like one of those Log-in Windows voices.
Moments later, with guidance from air traffic control, I moved my plane to the clear runway. Major Keighley and Lt. Warrington were already in the air, waiting for me. My left hand pushed the thrust lever forward and I heard a loud roar behind me. My body was yanked back, pushing against the seat. The runway rushed behind me; I looked at my HUD and I saw the number for airspeed in knots rising rapidly.
"Okay!" I said and waited until I hit at least 55 knots (65 MPH or 102 KM/H), then pulled back the joystick. The Lancer's nose pitched upward.
The "feel of the airplane" came to me immediately. I looked around and saw a clear view of trees, hills, and the shore of Strait of Juan de Fuca surrounding New Larson AFB. I turned to six o clock and saw the runway shrink. The white clouds were above me, but I wouldn't have time to sight see for long. I reached the flight level of Ace's and the Major's aircraft. The other F-37 was a few hundred feet ahead of me.
"Been waiting for you, booter. How is it?" I heard Ace's voice ask me through the radio. I didn't answer immediately, being caught off guard from the new recruit slang.
"She's good," I said.
Next, I heard the voice of Keighley, "Okay fellas, hunt time. And remember, you can only use the Breakers, which are loaded with paint bullets. Christie before you start, do a little aviation control check first."
"Yes ma'am." I replied, then watched the Turn Coordinator (TC) on one of the MFD screens. I pressed down on the left foot pedal first, and then right, to make the Lancer yaw its nose.
"Left and right, check." I said. Next, I pulled the joystick to make the nose go up. Then pushed it down to make it descend.
"Up and down, check." Next, I was going to check the bank and the roll, both requiring me to shift the stick to either side. I rolled the Lancer until the wings pointed towards where I wanted to go, leading it into a banked turn. The right was just as perfect; next, after straightening my jet, I rolled the plane in a complete three-sixty.
"Rolling and bank, check." I concluded.
"Looks like your fins are working properly." Said Keighley, "Alright, go get Ace."
"Roger!" I said, and my eyes swerved quick. The engines of Ace's F-37 discharged white-colored fire, boosted further ahead of me, then made a hard left turn. The Major moved right; I pressed a button next to the right MFD window and engaged the target acquisition radar, but Ace's jet wasn't reflecting. The Major's aircraft however, identified as "F16Dinn" in blue, remained at a far distance.
A blinking cone on the HUD pointed towards the direction of my target. I didn't want to lose Ace, so I only depended on my eyes to follow his tail.