The Academy Years

From Wing Commander Encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The following entry continues the memoirs of Lt. Col. Carl T. LaFong as found in Wing Commander I and II: The Ultimate Strategy Guide.


Previous Memoir Entry: Foreword

Meeting a Maniac

It was a tired, nervous and impatient group. We'd gathered here the night before, 1200 kids who had traveled from the corners of Confederation space, to take the shuttle to the Space Naval Academy on Hilthros. We were the 201st plebe class, and after a short orientation by Midshipman Third Class Mariko Tanaka, we'd been ordered to report early the next morning for our flight to the new facility.

The ship was absolutely immense. Only 1199 of us reported on time, so we were stuck in the launch bay, worried about meeting our jump time to Hilthros. We were waiting for Todd Marshall and gassed that he was delaying our flight. After all, we had worked toward this goal for 18 years and were ready to get the show on the road. The anticipation was devastating.

The cabin door suddenly burst open and a panting, red-faced Marshall stumbled in. He tossed his duffle into the overhead storage compartment and turned to Lt. Mariko.

"I know I'm late, but I had to say my goodbyes to that waitress from the sky-lounge," Marshall said with a wide grin, "and she wouldn't let me go. I'm sure my classmates don't mind. After all, I'm the one who's going to shatter every academy record and graduate Number One in the class."

The hoots and groans died down when the passengers noticed the rage building in Mariko. The red face, tight jaws, and clenched fists were a dead giveaway.

"Stow your gear and hold your tongue, catbreath," she bellowed. "You're starting your space academy career with 15 demerits and the only record you're likely to break is for the number of times you pull KP or worse."

Mariko stalked toward him until only two inches separated her face from his.

"We're at war, Mister. And from what I've seen so far I could put your brain on a spoon and it would look like a marble rolling around in one of the moon's craters. That's not a great recommendation for a prospective combat pilot. Now take your seat and stay out of my sight."

Unfortunately, the only empty seat was next to me. "Boy, she's a bit touchy this morning," he whispered.

"I can understand why," I replied.

For the next three hours, Marshall treated me to the "short" version of his life story. He boasted of his grade point average, placement-test scores, athletic prowess and sexual conquests. He was undaunted when I tried to nap, and would nudge me repeatedly before continuing to harangue me with stories of his flying experiences (his father owned a charter flight service on Leto) and educational awards. The guy was as cocky as anyone I'd ever met, and personified almost everything I find unattractive in an individual.

Finally I lost it. I reached over, grabbed the front of his shirt and twisted. "Marshall," I whispered, "I'm giving you only one chance. Steer clear of me or you'll think you've run into a runaway laser saw with a taste for flesh. If you're good, you can prove it at the academy, but words won't impress me."

The Plebe's Handbook

A voice came over the shuttle's speaker system and cut through my anger. "We're approaching our jump point, so please return all tray tables to the upright position and fasten your safety harnesses. The captain will turn on the harness light when it is safe to move about the cabin."

Although the gee-force effects were negligible, the change in our speed was reflected in a dazzling light show outside the porthole. Apparently, new ranges of the light spectrum become visible when the neutron warp drive is enabled. It seemed like an hour, but it was only minutes before the jump was completed and the lights were replaced by black space.

Mariko walked to the front of the cabin, grabbed a micro-phone, and turned to face the 1200 plebes. "You're in for a surprise when we arrive at the academy," she announced. "I will pass out the official plebe handbook and I strongly suggest you take the last three hours of our trip to study it. Don't waste any time." I took my book and began reading. I noticed that Marshall was already asleep.

The handbook detailed everything expected of a plebe. It explained how beds were to be made, shoes and buckles shined, and the exact placement of every piece of clothing in the footlockers in each room. An entire section dealt with the 800-year-old Honor Code that would guide our actions throughout the next four years. The honor code wasn't a written regulation, but a principle that bound every midshipman. Basically, it stated that lying, cheating, and stealing would not be tolerated. In practice, it also meant that a midshipman must report any instances of lying, cheating, or stealing. A middie who knew of such behavior without reporting it was as guilty as the individual who committed the act.

The regs also included more than 50 lists that we were expected to memorize, information on formations, mail call, telephone usage, and restrictions on relationships between the sexes.

As I thumbed through the book, a single folded sheet fluttered to the floor between my feet. On the front was written A Special Message from the 1st Class. I picked up the sheet and turned the page to discover the following:

As a Plebe, you represent the lowest form of life at the TCSNA. You are lower than a sand worm in the Brimstone System, lower than the bilge in an ancient frigate, lower than a hairball in a Kilrathi's innards. Until the end of your first year, you will be known as "youngsters," and as such, you will cater to the whims of those who arrived at the academy before you. The members of the 3rd, 2nd and 1st classes of the academy look forward to your imminent arrival.

Before applying to the academy, I had read every article I could find about life at the most prestigious educational institution in the galaxy. I was astounded to learn how many traditions had managed to remain intact through so many years. Since the beginning of the Galactic War, however, the focus had changed. While the original space academy was preparatory to flight and support classes, since 2634, when war officially had been declared, the academy had become a training ground for combat pilots and support personnel. In any event, I felt I was prepared for anything. It wouldn't take long for me to discover just how naive I had been.

A Welcoming Committee

We docked at Hilthros and proceeded by grav-sled to the academy grounds. Marshall had latched on to a couple of nervous-looking plebes and was regaling them with the same tall tales I had already heard. When the door slid open, the two suns of the system were blinding. The sound was deafening.

"Move it, you pitiful collection of brain-dead mutants!" The words came from the lips of a middie who looked like he might have eaten a jar full of razor blades for breakfast. His voice must have been amplified with reverb. "Double-time to the white lines, drop your gear, fall in and do it now!"

We stumbled all over ourselves as we scrambled to the white lines. Other middies collected our duffles and threw them in a growing pile.

"Stand at attention, arm's length apart, suck in your guts, eyes front, hands at your sides, and no talking!" barked the officer. It took 1200 of us some time to form our lines, and I must admit we were not a pretty sight.

"I'm Midshipman Lieutenant Mickey Bitscoe, and I have the unfortunate, and incredibly dull task of leading you through your first day at the academy. As you can imagine, I am not a happy man..." Suddenly, he stopped and stared down the line to my left. I cut my eyes in the same direction and saw that Marshall had stepped forward and raised his hand.

"This oughta be good," I thought.

The lieutenant stalked toward Marshall. A sneer was growing as he approached the grinning cadet.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it seems that one of your friends has a problem. I enjoy solving problems," he said. His tone was dripping with sarcasm. "Is there something I can help you with, youngster?" he crooned.

"Well, sir, I was just wondering about those duffle bags. Where are they taking them? You see, I brought along some things to help me decorate my room and I have some other personal effects I brought from Leto that I'll need as soon as ..." The lieutenant cut him off as he put his arm around Marshall and led him forcefully to a position in front of the formation. We'd only been standing outside for a few minutes, but sweat was already staining our clothes.

"I really thought everyone in this year's class would have a three-digit IQ," the lieutenant bellowed. "Obviously I was mistaken. Since Mr. Marshall is so concerned about his gear, I'm going to allow him to load all 600 bags on the conveyor while we wait. He won't, however, load his own bag. That one he can carry with him for the rest of the day. "

It took Marshall almost two hours to finish his task. Meanwhile, the rest of us stood at attention and watched beads of perspiration drip onto the grey dust of Hilthros. The lieutenant sat in the shade of the grav-sled, sucking on ice cubes. We were really thrilled with Marshall and excited to be standing around.

"What have I gotten myself into?"

The lieutenant called out names and organized 1200 of us into twelve companies. The twelve companies were divided into four battalions and two regiments. I was in 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment. Marshall was too.

The company commanders, under the direction of Lt. Bitscoe, took over. Then we started marching. We marched to the barber, where we stood in line until everyone's head was shaved. We marched to the medical facility, where we waited in line until everyone had received a physical. We marched to the administration building, the mess hall, and the quartermasters, and we waited in those places too. When the commanders discovered a few minutes of free time, we marched for their amusement, since even six hours of trying to walk in formation hadn't yet taught us to march in step.

The only real respite from the grind came during and immediately after the swearing-in ceremony that night. If fact, until that moment we weren't really plebes. Everyone was milling around after the big event when I saw Marshall heading my way. I tried to duck him, but I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Hey, buddy, I just got some good news," he said. "You know those demerits Mariko gave me on the shuttle - well, they were just a lot of hot air. Since I wasn't a plebe yet, they didn't count. I'm home free!" I congratulated him and walked away.

I really took my commitment to the academy and the Confederation seriously, but when I finally reached my room that night, I was questioning my sanity. I didn't feel like I had any freedoms left in my life. As a plebe, I couldn't date, couldn't drink, and wouldn't be able to leave the academy for the first time until Thanksgiving. I was being told how to make my bed, stow my gear, and shine my shoes. I was told when to march, when to study, when to appear in class, and when to exercise.

My life was out of control.

The September Blues

It had been a couple of weeks and I really couldn't believe I had put up with all the incessant badgering by the upperclassmen. If it hadn't been the quickest way to learn to fly and the only chance to combine flying with fighting the Kilrathi, I'd have walked a week before and never looked back.

I understood the importance of discipline, the value of following orders, and the need to strip away the veneer of individuality, but I couldn't believe this was the most effective way to teach those goals. I'm afraid I was a casualty of the old-boy network that said, "I put up with all the crap when I was at the academy, and you will too." You'd think 800 years would have resulted in some progress. The only positive change I had heard about was admitting women, and that was almost 700 years ago.

Activity in the mess hall reflected just how incredibly non-sensical this experience could be. I could put up with standing at the table with my food tray until all the upperclassmen were seated. I even sang some of those silly songs at the top of my lungs while perched on one leg on top of the table. One day, though, I almost lost it.

As we all know, table manners are vital to the war effort. We'd been taught that a plebe's left hand always stayed in the lap unless cutting or holding something with a knife. Once you'd finished cutting a food item, the knife was to be placed on the right side of the plate at a 45-degree angle, with the blade facing the inside of the plate. Unfortunately, I was the victim of the dreaded "Protractor Patrol."

I knew someone was behind me, but I never gave it much thought until an incredibly loud "Stand up, youngster!" was shouted into my ear. I jumped up to attention and put on my 'Plebe's Face." That was the one where you stared straight ahead focusing on nothing, set your jaw, and prepared for disaster. This definitely qualified in the disaster category.

To my shock and horror, my knife was measured and found to be resting at 50 degrees. I was stunned.

"Sir, permission to speak, sir." I gave it my best effort. "I must have bumped the table when I stood up, sir. I've spent hours working on my knife-angle routine. I think this is just a big mistake, sir."

"Are you telling me I'm wrong, blister-face?" he intoned. "Are you questioning the integrity of a 1st Classman?"

"N ...N...No, sir," I stammered. "Not wrong, sir. I just think you were so engrossed in studying my table manners that you failed to see me hit the tray when I stood up."

"Give me fifty," he screamed, "while I think up a suitable punishment for your transgression."

I was surprised at his use of three-syllable words, but I hit the deck and started counting out my pushups. By the time I finished, he was ready.

"Since you're obviously not ready for the intricacies of dining with traditional utensils, snail-brain, I've decided that you can dine without them for the next seven days. Both hands will remain in your lap once you're seated in the dining room. If you spill any food, we'll add another week to the punishment. Commence eating."

Why do they have to humiliate us, I thought. It's hard enough passing the white-glove inspections, making sure you can bounce a nickel off the bunk, and worrying about fingerprints on your spare belt buckles. I've already cleaned a latrine with a toothbrush, packed and repacked my footlocker until the company commander decided I could do it with a blindfold, and stood a three-hour midnight watch over a dead bug found in the hallway outside my room. I was seething as I leaned forward to take a bite of pasta and ended up with sauce all over my nose. Using a napkin with no hands is a real treat as well. Things had to get better, and they did.

The Best of Times

While I was turned off by the academy's juvenile life-style during plebe year, by the end of the first semester the instruction and the opportunity to fly had exceeded my wildest expectations. The schedule was grueling, with classes in physics, calculus, engineering, current events, and military history requiring more study than my first 14 years of school combined. The competition was intense, since only 800 of the original 1200 would make it through the first year. Many washed out due to the rigors of the hazing regimen, but most simply failed to pass the accelerated courses. I wasn't going to make that mistake. I'd come to the academy to learn combat strategy and tactics from the people who had lived it. I wanted take on the Confederation's best in a simulated dogfight, learn about the Kilrathi from people who had encountered them, and fly the most advanced ships in the galaxy. I wanted to be a combat pilot.

First Lessons

We spent hours in the simulator during the first semester, working on launch, recovery, and basic flight drills, but it was pretty boring stuff until we incorporated combat strategy and tactics.

All of a sudden, the atmosphere changed. Everyone buckled down, even Marshall, knowing the information could spell the difference between living and dying.

While official strategy and tactics classes didn't begin until January, the discussion during instrumentation instruction often drifted to issues that affected our decision-making process during battle.

Major Sarlee Rathji, our instructor and a veteran of the McAuliffe Ambush, repeatedly pleaded that "awareness in the cockpit is the key to a successful mission. You'll never become proficient from books, lectures or holo-vids, " she said; "only practice in the simulator and real space can do that. But take these lessons seriously now and they'll turn that vital visual sweep of the cockpit into an unconscious skill. You must be able to determine your ship's and weapon's status, the enemy ship's condition, and the location of friendly and enemy ships in your area. And it must become second nature."

It didn't take us long to realize that our radar was the single most important piece of electronics in the cockpit. After all, what could be more important in a dogfight than knowing where missiles and laser fire were coming from? What other piece of gear tells you whether to launch that Pilum Friend-or-Foe missile that can lock onto your wing-man as easily as your enemy? It was also the least intuitive display, and that created problems.

Before we ever hit the simulator, I pored over the sample radar displays in our training manual, trying to visualize the position of every blip in 3-D space. I thought I knew the information cold, but once we entered the simulator and the operators started moving the blips around, I just couldn't keep track.

I used to go back to my room at night and draw diagrams that tracked the movement of enemies in 3-D space and the resulting radar displays that showed that movement. I never saved those drawings, but I think this same insight they did me.

Radar Screen 1: The Enemy Approaches

It's easy to tell when the enemy is directly ahead: the blips appear in the center scan circle on the screen. The Kilrathi won't you with a head-on approach very often, though. When your wingman screams that the enemy is heading your way, and it's usually more than a single wing under combat conditions, you'd better understand the situation - in a flash!

Radar Screen 2: Caught in the Middle of a Maelstrom

Nothing is more frenzied than a dogfight in the middle of an escort mission. With your wingman, the ship you're escorting, and multiple enemy fighters on-screen, you can quickly develop a case of vertigo. If you can't take in all the information in this diagram in two seconds, you'll probably collide with someone or hear the eject warning real soon.

Radar Screen 3: The Most Threatening Enemy Positions

Kilrathi pilots smell your blind spots and vulnerabilities. Then they go for your throat. When you're concentrating so hard on your target that it's tough to scan all the cockpit displays, just take a quick glance at your radar and look for the following positions. If the blip is red, it's time to kick in the afterburners and try some slippin , slidin , and rotatin'!

Strategy and Tactics in Space Flight Combat

While I thought I could fly after the first semester, I wasn't naive. I knew that pilots who survived combat missions were more than just ion jockeys with good reflexes. That's who I wanted to learn strategy and tactics from, and that's why I couldn't believe it when I found out that the instructor for the course would be Lt. Colonel Raymond Blakely, the savior of Enyo. Fifteen years ago, he had designed and implemented the mine and jump point strategy that saved a quarter-million human hostages from Kilrathi orbital guns.

Without looking carefully, I rushed up behind the first person I saw and tapped his shoulder. "Can you believe it?" I said. "Lieutenant Colonel Blakely is teaching Section 04 and I'm in it. He's been my hero since I was nine years old."

Marshall turned around. The smirk said he didn't share my view of the most honored hero in TCSN history.

"How can you get so worked up by some old greyser who hasn't flown a mission since 2643?" Marshall said disgustedly. "This guy's ancient history in my book. He'll teach a bunch of by-the-book maneuvers that the Kilrathi have seen since their first dogfight with a human. That's not what we need. I'm looking for new ideas, not a bunch of 'when I was young' ramblings from an old man."

Well, that's the end of my academy career, I thought. This guy didn't deserve to be a plebe. He was maligning one of the greatest men to ever graduate from the academy. I was stepping into position to throw a left hook and give Todd a little chin music, when I heard the footsteps behind me. It was Midshipman Third Class Mariko. "Looks like you two are going to be late for class," she snapped. That's all she had to say, but before I took off for Labri Hall, I turned to Marshall and whispered, "That's one I won't forget."

Blakely's class was the toughest in the first-year curriculum, but I didn't care. In hindsight, it would turn out to be the greatest instruction in my years at the academy. He taught me to have a purpose behind every maneuver and a target within range for every shot. He taught me to be a flight leader and a wingman. He taught me when to be cautious, when to be aggressive, and when to turn and run. It would take another book to outline all that Blakely knew, but on the following pages are what I found to be his most valuable lessons. On more than one occasion in the Galactic War, I felt I owed him my survival.

Avoid the Initial Wave of Enemy Fighters

It's been obvious from news and military reports that TCSN fighter pilots are greatly outnumbered by their Kilrathi counterparts. Luckily, the Terran pilots' skill and their access to more advanced technology help even out the odds. The fact remains, however, that you will stare into the gun ports of more enemy ships than a Kilrathi pilot will. You'd better be ready.

When a wing of flying cats turns to attack as a group, they present a lethal array of firepower. If they're Jalthi, each ship carrying three neutron guns and three laser cannons, they are the most devastating offensive force in the arena.

Kilrathi pilots don't get cute in their initial blitzkrieg of a wingleader. Instead, it's a straight-on wave of gunfire and missiles, with each ship slightly behind and to one side of the leader. It's intimidating as hell.

Rookie pilots often try to slug it out the first time they discover a group of cat-carriers heading straight at them. The adrenalin is pumping, the pulse is racing, and who knows what other reactions the brain is stimulating. It's known as "Furball Fever," and it has cost the Confederation more first-mission casualties than any other form of pilot error. Be patient, and take evasive action until you can gain a tactical advantage.

Employ Disciplined Firing Methods

Even veteran combat pilots must fight the impulse to just cut loose with the guns when enemy targets appear in the viewscreen. Among students flying in the simulator and rookies on early missions, it's almost compulsive behavior. It's also one of the least effective tactics in combat.

The power of the laser, mass driver, and neutron guns on TCSN fighters is generated by blaster generators. Every time you fire, stored blaster power decreases, with the amount dependent upon the type of gun. As power decreases, the power of a shot is weakened. If you deplete blaster power, your guns aren't functional until the storage capacitors have regenerated.

The current thinking among combat analysts suggests that pilots who make a serious effort to keep blaster power at a maximum are the most successful. They sneak in close to enemy targets and fire three- or four-round bursts at full power, never wasting shots when enemy ships are out of range. They spend hours in the Train-Sim, learning to anticipate enemy maneuvers and practicing the amount you must lead an enemy ship from varied distances, angles, and speeds. Practice!

Use Speed Changes in Your Evasive Maneuvers

Too many pilots rely on rolls, spins, loops, and turns when trying to escape an attacker, without considering speed changes in concert with these aerobatics. No matter how polished your twisting evasive maneuver might be, Kilrathi pilots can match your moves if you maintain a constant speed. Eventually, they’ll roll in behind you and open up on your rear shields.

Slamming on the afterburners in the middle of a spin or roll shifts the odds of escape in your favor. Now you're adding an element they can't anticipate. Recent studies have shown that a dramatic decrease in speed is just as effective, and the backspace key on all computer keyboards in TCSN fighters has been reprogrammed to allow such a move. The exact effect varies depending upon the ship you fly, but hitting the backspace key is like standing on the brakes in a ground vehicle. It automatically sets your KPS to zero. Be careful, though. If you forget to immediately increase speed, you're a sitting duck.

Give Your Missiles a Chance to Strike

When Lt. Colonel Blakely spoke of his own experiences in combat, the focus often shifted to a single dogfight. He told us of taking on the Kilrathi Ace Dakhath in a pitched battle that lasted more than 60 minutes. An astounding length of time, since most dogfights last less than five!

"You have to realize that Dakhath was younger and less experienced when I ran into him," said Blakely, "but he was already an ace with nine confirmed kills. I was so scared that the joystick almost jumped out of my hand. It was just Dakhath and me.

"We went round and round for about 40 minutes, each just feeling the other out and evaluating the performance of the other's fighter. Finally, Dakhath made a mistake, and I found myself right on his tail. I couldn't miss. The Javelin tracking system locked on to his engines and I quickly launched the heat-seeking missile."

"Now I'll deliver the coup de grace. I flipped back the fire cover and starting thumbing the fire button for the lasers. I figured two weapons were better than one. I saw the missile swing into position, and just then I realized my mistake. The missile exploded when my laser fire caught up with it. Dakhath escaped from the explosion and fled. I couldn't catch up with him. I've never made that mistake again," Blakely said to the class, "but one of you probably will. I hope it doesn't cost you."

Stay Ready to Use Your Afterburners

Few tools in the cockpit offer as much flexibility as the after-burners in both offensive and defensive scenarios. The best pilots, and even the playtesters of the Roberts-designed holo-vid, always keep a finger on the afterburner fire key.

Lighting the afterburners on a confederation ship rapidly burns through your fuel reserves. Using short bursts, instead of sustained burns, typically offers the same tactical advantages but reduces fuel consumption.

Afterburners don't always help. Anxious pilots sometimes hit the afterburners as soon as they decide to attack an enemy wing. It's like they can't wait to start the fight or see how it ends. When you rush into battle, you're eliminating a strategic advantage. At slower speeds, and before an enemy wing is in range for auto-targeting, it's easier to determine the direction traveled by the enemy. How can you identify a strategy if you don't know which way they're heading?

Taunt the Enemy

If you can make them take the battle personally, Kilrathi pilots often lose sight of their primary objective. When trying to protect a capital ship from an attacking force, target the enemy and taunt them with as personal an affront as you can muster. It's probably the younger ones who can't ignore it, and about 50 percent of the time they'll turn from the target to attack the pilot who insulted them. This is also a good tactic to protect a beleaguered wingman.

Don't Leave TCSN Capital Ships Unprotected

When your palms drip from the constant tension in a one-on-one confrontation, you can concentrate so hard on your target that you lose track of the ship you're escorting. Realizing that tendency, veteran Kilrathi pilots intentionally try to draw you into a dogfight and lead you away. They leave the dirty work of destroying the main target to the rest of the wing.

Escorting pilots must make a conscious effort to stay within 5000 kilometers of the ship they are protecting. If you venture farther, it's unlikely you'll be able to return in time to stop the destruction of the TCSN capital ship.

As wingleader, ordering a wingman to "break and attack" instead of "attack my target" helps ensure protection while you chase a retreating enemy. It's not a fail-safe measure, since your wingman might chase a decoy at the same time, but at least you're not ordering your wingman to follow your lead.

For Tighter Up or Down Movements, Roll and Turn

The arrangement of thrusters on Hornets, Scimitars, and Raptors produces an unusual flight characteristic: up and down movements cannot be completed in as tight a radius as a turn to the left or right. Aerospace engineers are trying to correct the flaw in the new Rapier class, but it is still unknown whether their efforts have been successful.

The effect isn't pronounced, but pilots have recently started employing a roll-and-turn maneuver instead of just pulling or pushing the stick to move up and down. The end result is the same. You end up turning toward the same location. But this movement is faster and more difficult for enemy pilots to track. The diagram below shows the basic movement and the decreased radius of the roll and turn compared with a simple nose-down or nose-up. The two diagrams on the adjacent page show how the maneuver can be employed against enemy targets that are above or below your position.

Once you've decided to make the move, don't forget to combine it with speed changes for optimal results. Hitting the afterburners during the turn adds that extra element of surprise. Above all, practice the tactic until you can accomplish the two movements without thinking. Then experiment in the Train-Sim with speed changes in different parts of the turn.

Turn and Slide Using Afterburners

If you punch up the afterburners and turn hard to the left or right, your ship begins to slide. The movement is transparent from the cockpit, but understanding it is the foundation of the most effective tactic in space combat.

The integrated gun targeting and firing schemes on Kilrathi ships allow them to consistently hit one of our ships moving in almost any kind of simple turn, roll, or spin at normal speeds. Speed changes are an effective defense, but hardly foolproof.

When one of our ships is sliding, however, the movement is not translated perfectly by the Kilrathi's computer systems. The slide is an outstanding defensive tactic. It can also be an offensive weapon. When a wing of Kilrathi approaches directly from the front, you can use the slide to avoid their fire and put yourself in a perfect position for a side attack on the lead and following ships (see adjacent diagram). The following procedure details the steps:

1. With the enemy at 3500 meters and approaching from dead ahead of you, begin a turn to the right. Take care to avoid any diagonal movement.

2. At about a 30-degree angle, or when the enemy ships are just barely visible on the left side of the viewscreen, punch the afterburners hard. Get to top speed.

3. Turn the ship directly to the left (avoid any elevation changes). The rear end of your ship begins to slide.

4. If your timing is correct, you quickly slide into the perfect position for a side attack with your guns. You're close, the enemy is powerless and vulnerable, and blaster power is full. What could be better than that?

Use Target Lock to Direct the Fight

Author's Note: The following tip really has nothing to do with what I learned at the academy or during the war. I discovered it while I was working as a consultant on the new Wing Commander holo-vid and thought I should include it for the benefit of the game players who purchased this book. After all, I'm old, retired, and tolerated, and I can try what-ever I want.

Due to memory and storage considerations, Roberts had to limit the communications options in his game. You can order your wingman to do a lot of things, but you can't tell him to hit a specific target while you go after another. Or can you?

This method is limited in scope, but it is possible to use your targeting system to direct your wingman to attack a specific enemy plane - and it leaves you free to direct your guns against a different enemy ship. The procedure really comes in handy when you want to finish off a target you've already weakened, but you have to break and go after another ship that's pounding your shields. Here's the procedure:

1. Before you break your attack, press the "L" key to lock in your target. The bracket indicating a targeted enemy becomes solid. No matter which direction you fly, the locked target remains identified by the computer.

2. Tell your wingman to "attack my target." Now he will go after the locked target until it's destroyed, you change your target, or you transmit another order. With just a few well-aimed shots, your wingman can finish off the target.

3. You are free to pursue other enemy ships with your guns or dumb-fire missiles. Spiculum IRs and Javelins need a lock, and therefore a bracketed enemy target, but your guns and dumb-fires are effective at close range against any ship you can place between the crosshairs.

4. To ensure the success of this tactic, don't forget that you must leave the original target locked. If you press the "T" key and select another enemy, your wingman will break and attack the new target.

Attack Enemy Capital Ships from the Rear

Highly maneuverable turreted lasers are the primary defense on Kilrathi capital ships. Hundreds of Terran pilots have fallen when the sophisticated targeting system that directs the guns locked onto their signature. Porcupine mines are also found on some of the destroyers, cruisers, dreadnaughts, and carriers, but they are more a nuisance than a real threat. Since the first attack by Confederation pilots on these massive enemy ships in 2634, controversy has surrounded the best tactic for taking them out.

The one point that every pilot agrees on is that the fighter escorts must be eliminated first. It's hard enough to dodge the turreted lasers from the capital ship, much less do that while also eluding the guns and missiles of nimble fighters.

The first successful attacks on capital ships targeted the right and left sides. While armor is more substantial on the sides than in the rear, pilots didn't have to break through shields before causing damage. Most pilots weakened the armor with gunfire, then launched Spiculum IR and dumb-fire missiles to finish the job. The tactic was successful, but casualty rates were unacceptably high among Terran pilots from the laser defenses.

The current thinking among combat analysts is that a rear attack is preferable. While you'll have to dodge an occasional Porcupine, you won't run into as much laser fire from the rear. You must break through the rear shields, but the weakness of the rear armor makes it worth the effort.

The diagram on the adjacent page shows the route and timing of a highly effective rear attack. Begin your maximum-velocity rear approach from long range, beyond 4000 meters, and make sure you have full blaster power. If you have any missiles left, you can launch them from between 3000 and 2000 meters. Watch out for Porcupines and lasers as you approach, and cut loose with your heaviest gun starting at a distance of 1500 meters from the rear of the ship.

When you reach 1000 meters, break hard to the left or right and hit your afterburners. You should be traveling straight away from the rear of your target. Circle back with another hard left or right turn and you should be aiming at the rear of the capital ship again. Since you fired your afterburners, you're far enough away that you don't risk a collision during a hard turn, and have plenty of time to regenerate blaster power and shields before resuming the attack. Be patient.

Simulated Dogfights

I'll never forget stepping into the Hornet simulator for my first dogfight. All the hours of studying texts and holo-vids, and discussing theory and tactics, were going to pay off. The days spent practicing launches, landings, and other flight drills would be put to the test. During the first semester, we were just learning to fly and use the sophisticated electronics; now we would fight, and discover whether we had the instincts of a combat pilot.

The academy had designated the final two months of the second semester to concentrate on weeding out the weak from the strong, the incompetent from the skilled. They needed com bat pilots for the war, and they needed them fast. The process took place in the simulator.

Our first dogfights featured computer Kilrathi opponents. We spent almost a month fighting these electronic enemies. Flying Hornets, we first encountered small wings of two or three [Dralthi]] or Salthi. The sim operators gradually increased the skill level of the Kilrathi and the number of enemy ships. Then they would throw in new types of ships until we had battled pilots in Krant, Gratha and Jalthi. During the progression of opponents, our own ships were upgraded to Scimitars and Raptors.

At the end of each day, we retired to our rooms and waited for the results. It was the most nerve-wracking period in the first year, since a call from the battalion commander meant you had washed out of the academy and your dreams of becoming a combat pilot were history.

If you made the first cut, as I obviously did, you spent the final month in a single-elimination tournament in the simulator, dogfighting against your own classmates. The top 200 would continue their training as fighter pilots, while the remaining plebes were relegated to flying transports or worse. The winner of the tournament received "bragging rights" and a choice of assignments and schedules for the second year. It also never hurt to have the honor in your record when promotion time came around. I was going after it.

I waltzed through my first few battles in the competition, but all the scuttlebutt concerned Midshipman Marshall. I hadn't watched him in action, so I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. Apparently, however, Marshall was dusting his opponents in record time and using some unorthodox tactics to do it. My roommate, Midshipman Michael Anthony, was one of the casualties. "He doesn't do anything by the book," Anthony noted. "I was in perfect position, right behind and to one side of Marshall, and ready to throw the mass drivers up his tubes. He hit his afterburners and I followed. Then it looked like he put on the brakes, 'cause I flew right by him. He just rotated, fired a volley, and I was done. The whole fight only lasted a minute. He set me up and I took the hook."

As you've probably guessed by now, Marshall and I were opponents in the finals. I was thinking of what he had said about Lt. Colonel Blakely when I came up with a scheme to get back at him. Non-violently of course.

First, you have to understand the setup. For the dogfight tourney, each pilot flew from a separate simulator cockpit. Each simulator was assigned a plebe who helped the pilot get dressed, harnessed, and helmeted. With cameras and microphones in each cockpit transmitting to an outside theatre, the tourney was as much a spectator event as a competitive contest. The sim operators could also open a microphone and transmit instructions into the cockpit from the theatre. Everyone would be watching the final dogfight. It was the perfect setup.

You also have to understand Marshall. He wasn't the type of guy who responded positively to embarrassment. He just didn't really have the self assurance that he tried so hard to display when he met people.

Anthony and I had set the stage when we filled a spare helmet with a mixture of manure, grease, oil and whipped cream. Anthony made sure the helmet was in the cockpit, but out of sight, just minutes before Marshall arrived for the final match.

I stayed in the packed theatre area while Marshall arrived and climbed into the simulator cockpit. I made sure the micro-phone was open so that Marshall would be able to hear the reaction of the crowd.

Anthony helped Marshall into his suit and harness and began hooking up all the electronics that monitored the pilots' reactions during combat. It took a few minutes, and the whole time Marshall was pumping himself up for the final dogfight.

"This is going to be the shortest tourney final in academy history," Marshall boasted. "LaFong doesn't stand a chance. I'm going to take him out slow and make sure he understands who the best pilot really is. In fact, I'll fly circles around him and make sure everybody realizes what a wimp he is. Get my helmet on, Anthony, and we'll get this show on the road."

Earning Nicknames

Anthony was more than happy to oblige. The pilot was checking the gauges when Anthony placed the helmet over his head and the smelly, gooey mixture started squirting out around Marshall's neck.

Everyone in the theatre started howling, and Marshall could hear every guffaw in the cockpit. I was rolling on the floor.

He ripped the helmet from his head to reveal a face that was even redder than his hair. He was covered with slop. Marshall was trying to find his assistant, but Anthony had bolted away.

I grabbed the microphone, knowing he recognized my voice. "Good morning, Midshipman Marshall," I crooned. "It looks like you'll need a few minutes before we can start our match. I just wanted to be sure you knew who had delivered the first annual 'Official Badge of False Bravado.' You earned it."

Well Marshall cut loose with some of the foulest language imaginable. He just couldn't stand the fact that I had embarrassed him in front of his peers. I stalked out of the theatre and headed for my simulator cockpit to get ready for the action.

I must have really ticked him off, because Marshall was like a wild man when our dogfight started. On his first pass, he didn't even fire a shot, instead just hitting the afterburners and trying to ram me. I couldn't believe it. This was only simulated, but the first thing a pilot must think about is his own survival. That apparently didn't matter to Marshall.

I was sweating bullets. I didn't like Marshall, but he sure could handle a joystick. It seemed like he'd been born in the cockpit seat, the way he made the Scimitar dance around in space. I thought his anger at my prank would be to my advantage. It wasn't. I was spending so much time dodging his attempts to ram me that I couldn't concentrate on my own strategy.

"This maniac is going to destroy both of us," I screamed. He didn't, but he took out my ship with the most precise flying and shooting I had ever encountered. Even the computerized Kilrathi opponents at Ace skill level couldn't have touched him.

Marshall won the bragging rights, but still hadn't done anything to endear himself to anyone in the class. He wouldn't shake hands after the match, and ignored the plebes who tried to congratulate him on his victory.

Thinking it would bother him, the plebes started calling him Maniac. It didn't even faze him. In fact, it fit right in with the image he was trying to develop. They named me Prankster.

End of Year One

Not all our final examinations were as enjoyable as the dogfight tournament. In history, engineering and physics, the finals were about as much fun as walking barefoot across a bed of hot coals. I can't count the hours I spent in the library, in study groups, and at the computer keyboard. For luck, I even tossed some pennies in the space academy's replica of Tecumseh Fountain, a tradition started hundreds of years ago at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Maniac might have defeated me in the simulator, but I came out on top when the final grades were posted for the 4th-class midshipmen. He didn't really take the rest of his courses very seriously, thinking his natural smarts would allow him to get by. He got by all right, but just by the skin of his teeth, and I couldn't resist throwing a barb his way when I saw him walking toward the board where the score sheets were posted. There was a good crowd around too. That helped.

"Hey, look, everybody," I said loud enough for Maniac to hear. "Here comes the guy from Leto who said he would graduate at the top of our class. Let's check his standing." Of course I already knew that there were only three plebes below him.

He marched up to the board, checked his ranking, and turned and stared right at me. "Paper grades are great for show, Prankster, but fighting and flying is where you earn your dough." "Touche" I said to myself.

Tecumseh Fountain wasn't the only tradition we stole from what we called the "Water Navy." In Annapolis, at the end of each year, the plebe class must remove a Dixie cup (the hats worn by 4th-class midshipmen) from the top of Herndon Monument. Removal informally signals the end of plebe year. What makes it difficult is the mixture of grease, manure, and paint that's been spread on the statue. It takes hours for the plebes to slip, slide, and finally form a pyramid until one can climb to the top and remove the symbol. Legend has it that the individual who removes the cap will eventually become admiral of the fleet.

At the TCSN academy, we have a statue of Admiral James Halworthy, the founder of the academy. I spent so much time making sure Maniac wasn't the one to reach the top, and vice versa, that a diminutive plebe from the 2nd Battalion, Tanya Benbow, shimmied to the 45-foot statue's peak and captured the hat. We weren't youngsters anymore and were no longer subject to the whims of upperclassmen. What a relief!

Sailing Through the Academy

What a difference a year makes! After just one summer of sun and fun, I could hardly remember how terrifying my first day at the academy had been. At the same time, I couldn't forget how much I resented some of the inane gyrations the upperclassmen had put us through during our first year. I refused to repeat the actions of those who had preceded me at the academy. I may have been the only one who did.

It was amazing to me how some of the most introverted individuals from my plebe class had all of a sudden become brazen, obnoxious upperclassmen. They were constantly searching for scuffed shoes, dirty belt buckles, improper haircuts and unmade beds - anything they could use to dress down a plebe. They pulled white-glove inspections, always keeping a dirty glove in their pocket, just so they could watch the 4th-class students squirm, or make them perform 100 pushups. They loved it.

I think this was my way of rebelling against the system. I always made sure that a plebe realized I was just playing a game and didn't take hazing seriously. I'd find a single hair out of place and make a youngster give me one situp. I'd pull someone who had missed a marching step out of formation, and instead of making them march for three more hours like my classmates would, I'd give them a 10-minute break. The plebes liked my attitude; the rest of my class thought I was making a mockery of the system. I really didn't care what they thought. For the first time at the academy, I was having some fun. The fun didn't last, but things sure got interesting.

The Academy Changes

The second year is kind of a blur. When the war heated up and the Confederation became increasingly desperate for qualified pilots, emergency legislation was passed to create an accelerated program at the academy. Starting with our class, summer leave no longer existed. Students left the academy after two years to spend a year in on-the-job training on a TCSN ship. Then they were sent to permanent assignments, usually on the front lines.

With the change in our status, there wasn't time for fun and games. Other than intramural sports, the academy was all business, and the business was cranking out people who could get the job done. I can't begin to estimate the time we spent in simulators, computer labs, the library and the classroom. And now everything we learned was specifically related to the war.

While instructors had always integrated the war into our courses, in the new program we pored over the dynamics of every battle, debated each engagement's strategy and tactics, and studied the Kilrathi's ships, weapons and pilots. It was what I'd envisioned when I first applied for appointment to the academy. It was what I'd come to learn.

The Tiger's Claw - Assignment of Choice

As we dissected recent successes in the Kilrathi war, I noticed that the name of the TCS Tiger's Claw kept appearing. Everyone at the academy had heard in history class the story of the Claw's shakedown cruise in 2644 when they unexpectedly encountered and routed a superior Kilrathi invasion force. More recently, the Confederation's largest carrier had fought an unbelievable delaying action known as Custer's Carnival. It set up the escape from Kilrathi space of 10 Confederation Draymans carrying more than 2000 ground troops.

Ultimately, the Tiger's Claw was where 1, and most other pilots, wanted to serve. It was the assignment of choice, not only because of the success it had achieved in the war, but also because of the personnel on the carrier. Colonel Halcyon was known throughout the fleet as a leader who always supported the decisions his pilots had to make in combat. Pilots like Captain James Khumalo, Major James Taggart, Captain Jeannette Devereaux, and Major Michael Casey carried reputations as the most professional and effective pilots in the war. Why would a young pilot want to serve anywhere else?

Kilrathi Ship Tactics

It was vital that new pilots understand the strategy and tactics used by the enemy. As Terran Intelligence received information from mission data, they used computer analysis to determine a profile based on ship type. Those profiles were our main resource in developing our own strategy.

The information we received at the academy on each enemy fighter type was based on the state of the engagement and the amount of damage already incurred by that ship. For example, for each Kilrathi ship the tactics were based on nine categories that indicated the state of the confrontation:

1. Enemy Near - our fighter(s) were close by.

2. Enemy Slow - our fighter(s) were moving slowly.

3. Enemy Far - our fighter(s) were in the distance.

4. Enemy Tailing - our fighter(s) were close behind.

5. Head-to-Head - our fighter(s) approached head on.

6. On Enemy Tail - close and behind one of our fighters.

7. Missile Coming - one of our missiles approaches.

8. Laser Hit - fighter hit by our laser/gun fire.

9. Enemy Destroyed - ship destroyed one of our fighters.

Terran Intelligence also determined that different tactics were used based on the amount of damage that the enemy ship had already taken. For example, an enemy ship might attempt a different tactic when heavily damaged than before taking any damage. So for each of the situations listed above, Intelligence provided tactics employed when:

1. The Kilrathi fighter had taken little or no damage.

2. The Kilrathi fighter had taken medium damage.

3. The Kilrathi fighter was almost destroyed.

Unfortunately, computer analysis wasn't an exact science and the profiles couldn't tell us what an enemy ship would always do in a specific situation. Instead, they provided percent ages that told us how likely it was that a specific tactic would be employed. The percentages were provided for each of the nine categories and each of the three states of damage. For example, the profile would tell us that in a missile-coming situation when the Kilrathi fighter had taken no damage, the fighter would try a fish-hook maneuver 60 percent of the time and a tight loop 40 percent of the time. On the following pages are the profiles for each fighter type in the Kilrathi fleet.

Salthi Light Fighter

Wc1salthi-vdu.gif


Enemy Near

No Damage - 70% try to tail; 30% random offense
Medium Damage - 80% try to tail; 20% random offense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage - 80% strafe attack; 20% get distance
Medium Damage - 50% strafe attack; 50% try to tail
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 90% break left; 10% random defense
Medium Damage - 90% break left; 10% random defense
Almost Destroyed - 100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 50% random defense; 50% random offense
Medium Damage - 80% random defense; 20% rand. offense
Almost Destroyed - 100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage -100% random offense
Medium Damage -100% random offense
Almost Destroyed - 100% random offense

Missile Coming

No Damage -100% random defense
Medium Damage - 20% break left; 80% random defense
Almost Destroyed - 100% run away at full afterburners

Laser Hit

No Damage - 100% random defense
Medium Damage - 25% break left; 75% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Destroyed

No Damage - 100% veer away
Medium Damage -100% veer away
Almost Destroyed – 100% veer away

Dralthi Medium Fighter

Wc1dralthi-vdu.gif


Enemy Near

No Damage - 40% try to tail; 60% random offense
Medium Damage - 70% try to tail; 30% random offense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage - 80% strafe attack; 20% get distance
Medium Damage - 50% strafe attack; 50% best strafe
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 50% tight loop; 50% random defense
Medium Damage - 50% toll over; 50% random defense
Almost Destroyed - 100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 70% random offense; 30% rand. defense
Medium Damage - 60% rand. offense; 40% rand. defense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage -100% random offense
Medium Damage -100% random offense
Almost Destroyed -100% random offense

Missile Coming

No Damage - 100% random defense
Medium Damage -100% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Laser Hit

No Damage - 50% corkscrew; 50% random defense
Medium Damage -100% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Destroyed

No Damage - 100% veer away
Medium Damage -100% veer away
Almost Destroyed -100% veer away

Krant Medium Fighter

Wc1krant-vdu.gif


Enemy Near

No Damage - 80% try to tail; 20% strafe
Medium Damage - 80% try to tail; 20% strafe
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage - 80% strafe attack; 20% get distance
Medium Damage - 50% strafe attack; 50% try to tail
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 60% random defense; 40% rand. offense
Medium Damage - 60% rand. defense; 40% rand. offense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 30% zip past; 70% random offense
Medium Damage - 30% zip past; 70% random offense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage -100% strafe enemy
Medium Damage -100% random offense
Almost Destroyed -100% random offense

Missile Coming

No Damage -100% random defense
Medium Damage -100% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Laser Hit No Damage - 50% strafe enemy; 50% random defense
Medium Damage -100% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Destroyed

No Damage -100% veer away
Medium Damage -100% veer away
Almost Destroyed -100% veer away

Gratha Heavy Fighter

Wc1gratha-vdu.gif


Enemy Near

No Damage - 50% try to tail; 50% strafe enemy
Medium Damage - 50% try to tail; 50% strafe enemy
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage -100% sit and fire
Medium Damage -100% sit and fire
Almost Destroyed - 100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% intercept enemy fighter

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 30% burnout; 70% strafe attack
Medium Damage - 98% random defense; 2% drop mine
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 90% strafe attack; 10% strafe and roll
Medium Damage -100% strafe enemy
Almost Destroyed - 100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage -100% random offense
Medium Damage -100% random offense
Almost Destroyed -100% random offense

Missile Coming

No Damage -100% random defense
Medium Damage -100% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% random defense

Laser Hit

No Damage - 50% turn and fire; 50% random defense
Medium Damage -100% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Destroyed

No Damage -100% veer away
Medium Damage -100% veer away
Almost Destroyed -100% veer away

Jalthi Heavy Fighter

Wc1jalthi-vdu.gif


Enemy Near

No Damage - 40% try to tail; 60% strafe attack
Medium Damage - 40% try to tail; 60% strafe attack
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage -100% sit and fire
Medium Damage -100% sit and fire
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% intercept enemy fighter

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 90% random defense; 10% turn and fire
Medium Damage - 90% random defense; 10% burnout
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 100% strafe attack
Medium Damage -100% strafe attack
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage - 100% random offense
Medium Damage -100% random offense
Almost Destroyed -100% random offense

Missile Coming

No Damage -100% random defense
Medium Damage -100% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Laser Hit

No Damage -10% turn and spin; 90% random defense
Medium Damage -100% random defense
Almost Destroyed -100% random defense

Enemy Destroyed No Damage -100% veer away
Medium Damage -100% veer away
Almost Destroyed -100% veer away

Know the Kilrathi Pilots

As the war progressed, pilots on the Tiger's Claw and other Bengal-class carriers identified individual Kilrathi pilots through repeated contacts. These enemy pilots were the cream of the crop, the aces who inflicted the greatest damage on the Confederation fleet. Terran Intelligence requested that our pilots begin reporting on the tactics employed by the enemy aces. As the amount of information grew, they were able to provide profiles of these pilots similar to the ones generated on the Kilrathi ships to the students at the academy. In all cases, the tactics employed by the aces differed from those of other enemy pilots who flew the same types of ships.

Bhurak Starkiller, flying a Salthi-class light fighter, carried a reputation as the finest pilot in the Kilrathi space navy although the number of confirmed kills he claimed was unknown. He was an unusual character who seemed to consider dogfights a pleasurable pastime. When the fighting ceased to be fun, he would often run and hide.

Dakhath, flying a Dralthi-class medium fighter, had recorded 55 confirmed kills before the Vega Campaign even started. He was the most ruthless of the enemy pilots and wouldn't break off from an engagement while any Terran ships were still able to fly.

Similarly, he wouldn't break his attack on a specific Terran ship until it was destroyed.

Khajja the Fang, flying a Krant-class medium fighter, was known as the most single-minded of the enemy aces. He wouldn't respond to taunts, and always went right after the mission objec-tive, often ignoring fighter escorts.

Bakhtosh Redclaw, flying a Jalthi-class heavy fighter, considered himself to be the best Kilrathi pilot, although we placed him at the bottom of the list. His greatest strength was his accuracy with the Jalthi's six-guns, but his flying skills left a lot to be desired. He responded to taunts and hated being called cat-face.

Bhurak Starkiller

Cm-bhurak.png

Enemy Near

No Damage - 60% try to tail; 40% strafe attack
Medium Damage - 60% try to tail; 40% strafe attack
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage - 80% strafe attack; 20% get distance
Medium Damage - 50% strafe attack; 50% try to tail
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 50% fish hook; 50% corkscrew
Medium Damage - 75% kick and stop; 25% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 60% zip past; 40% strafe and roll
Medium Damage - 60% zip past; 40% strafe and roll
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage -100% tail fire
Medium Damage -100% tail fire
Almost Destroyed -100% tail fire

Missile Coming

No Damage - 50% kill missile; 50% turn and kick
Medium Damage - 50% kill missile; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Laser Hit

No Damage - 50% kick; 50% turn and kick
Medium Damage - 50% hard brake; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Destroyed

No Damage -100% gloat
Medium Damage -100% veer away
Almost Destroyed -100% veer away

Dakhath

Cm-dakhath.png


Enemy Near

No Damage - 50% try to tail; 50% strafe and roll
Medium Damage - 70% try to tail; 30% strafe and roll
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage - 80% strafe attack; 20% get distance
Medium Damage - 50% strafe attack; 50% try to tail
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 97% burnout; 3% drop a mine
Medium Damage - 95% turn and kick; 5% drop a mine
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 40% zip past; 60% strafe and roll
Medium Damage - 20% zip past; 80% strafe and roll
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage - 50% tail fire; 50% strafe and roll
Medium Damage -100% strafe and roll
Almost Destroyed -100% tail fire

Missile Coming

No Damage - 50% fish hook; 50% turn and kick
Medium Damage - 50% kick; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Laser Hit

No Damage -100% turn and kick, then turn and fire
Medium Damage - 50% burnout; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Destroyed

No Damage -100% gloat
Medium Damage -100% gloat
Almost Destroyed -100% veer away

Khajja the Fang

Cm-khajja.png


Enemy Near

No Damage - 70% try to tail; 30% strafe attack
Medium Damage - 70% fish hook; 30% strafe attack
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage -100% sit and fire
Medium Damage -100% sit and fire
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 50% break right; 50% turn and kick
Medium Damage - 75% burnout; 25% break left
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 30% zip past; 70% strafe attack
Medium Damage - 50% zip past; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage -100% tail fire
Medium Damage -100% tail fire
Almost Destroyed -100% tail fire

Missile Coming

No Damage - 20% kill missile; 80% turn and kick
Medium Damage - 50% fish hook; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Laser Hit

No Damage - 50% fish hook; 50% kick it
Medium Damage - 50% burnout; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Destroyed

No Damage -100% gloat
Medium Damage -100% veer away
Almost Destroyed -100% veer away

Bakhtosh Redclaw

Cm-bakhtosh.png

Enemy Near

No Damage - 80% try to tail; 20% strafe and roll
Medium Damage - 90% try to tail; 10% strafe and roll
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Slow

No Damage -100% sit and fire
Medium Damage -100% sit and fire
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Far

No Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Medium Damage -100% intercept enemy fighter
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Tailing

No Damage - 50% hard turn; 50% turn and kick
Medium Damage - 75% fish hook; 25% kick it
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Head-to-Head

No Damage - 50% zip past; 50% strafe and roll
Medium Damage - 50% zip past; 50% strafe and roll
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

On Enemy Tail

No Damage - 80% tail fire; 20% strafe and roll
Medium Damage -100% tail fire
Almost Destroyed -100% tail fire

Missile Coming

No Damage - 50% fish hook; 50% turn and kick
Medium Damage - 50% kill missile; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Laser Hit

No Damage - 70% kick it, 30% break left
Medium Damage - 50% turn and spin; 50% turn and kick
Almost Destroyed -100% run away at full afterburners

Enemy Destroyed

No Damage -100% gloat
Medium Damage -100% veer away
Almost Destroyed -100% veer away

Preparing to leave the Academy

Other then Maniac, we'd all taken the tactical information on Kilrathi ships and pilots quite seriously. It would be impossible to memorize every single situation, but it didn't take long to understand the scenarios that were most valuable. I spent my time making sure I knew what the enemy would do when I was on their tail, in a head-to-head confrontation, with a missile coming, and after a laser hit.

Maniac was vocal about how he thought the whole deal was nonsense. It happened in class one day and almost cost him his chance at OJT training on a Terran capital ship.

"Why are we spending so much time working with the printouts from a bunch of computer jockeys?, he asked our instructor with disdain. "We should be spending our time in the simulators, or better yet, flying real ships in space. Everyone knows the best pilots use their instincts, not a lot of gibberish that'll just keep you from reacting to the situation!"

I thought the major would burst a blood vessel. His face got red, his hands clenched, and he was trembling with anger. "For someone who has never been in a real dogfight, you've got a lot of nerve," he said. 'Tm tempted to bring you up on charges of insubordination and bounce you out of the academy faster than a laser takes to reach its target. One more outburst and its definite."

As it turned out, Maniac was able to control himself, at least in front of the instructors, and stayed in the academy until we were ready to receive our space assignments on large ships. There we would receive six months of flight training, then jump into one of the systems where we would provide support for the war effort. We had spent two difficult years at the academy, but it would all pay off when we finally reached space.

As one of the top graduates in the class of 200, I was able to select my assignment.

Only eight positions were available in the Exeter-class destroyers, second in size only to the carriers, and I decided on the Formidable. Maniac and three others were assigned there as well.

We wouldn't have a formal graduation, since our academy training would actually end while we were in space. Our class however, informally gathered before everyone took off to their assignments. It was kind of strange. In our accelerated program, we didn't have the opportunity to socialize that most classes had before us. We really didn't know each other that well. I guess that's part of what happens during a war. Everyone's lives are disrupted.

TCS Formidable

I'd been on some large passenger-carrying spacecraft before, but I wasn't prepared for the sight that greeted me when I first saw the Formidable floating in space. At 360 meters, the 8,000 tonne destroyer dwarfed its fighter escort. The scene looked like a swarm of mosquitoes buzzing around an intended target. "So this will be my home for the next year," I thought as we approached the docking bay. "I guess there's no turning back." Our first month was spent in training flights in the Hornets. I can't count the number of times I launched, circled, and returned to the destroyer. We practiced flying in different formations, worked on our communications skills and even engaged in mock dogfights. I was surprised how our simple simulator training at the academy had prepared us for flights in real space. Of course, our instructors kept us well clear of asteroid fields while we were in the beginning stages of flight training.

Unusually, Maniac was even enjoying this segment of our training. Since we were actually flying now, he was right in his element. The only problem he ran into was that his enthusiasm translated into some hot-dogging maneuvers that didn't ingratiate him to all of the instructors. He couldn't approach the docking bay on a straight line like everyone else. He had to pull a few snap rolls and then level out at the last second. He couldn't pull escort duty and just fly a simple circling path without flying a few loops and buzzing the conning tower for effect. He kept everyone on their toes.

"I just can't control myself in the cockpit, Prankster," he said after one of our flights. "It's like the joystick has a mind of its own. It's not something I do consciously, it just happens."

Our training progressed to where we were finally practicing combat maneuvers. We flew into asteroid fields, practiced after-burner slides against unmanned drones, and worked on keeping track of targets by radar in crowded conditions.

Weapons training began in the final month before we would jump out of the practice area and into the Vega Sector. We hit stationary and moving targets with our lasers, dumb fire missiles and heat-seekers. We learned to lead targets moving at different speeds with the guns, and how to gain a lock with the Javelin. We wouldn't actually use Pilums, Porcupines, IR's, mass drivers or neutrons until we flew in Scimitars and Raptors, but our training ensured that we were prepared to employ them when we reached our next destination.

Using Your Ship's Guns

There's more to bringing down a target than just putting him in your sights and blasting away with your guns. Every gun has unique characteristics that must be calculated into the equation when you determine your strategy against an enemy fighter.

Laser Cannon - At this point, the laser cannon was employed only on the Hornets, although scuttlebutt indicated that a new class of fighter, the Rapier, would use them as well. The laser's range and speed are its most important characteristics. It's the weakest gun in Terran arsenal, but it reaches its target rapidly, doesn't deplete blaster power quickly, and has a range of 4,800 mrrs (meters relative to range and speed). The range is 1,800 mrrs more than any other gun. As a pilot, this information indicates that you don't have to lead moving targets as much, can fire more shots in a burst, and can hit targets while they're far away.

Mass Driver - The Scimitars and Raptors were equipped with the mass driver cannon, the only weapon in the Terran arsenal where explosive power is not affected by the distance from the target. While you must be within 3,000 mrrs to hit a target, the effect of a hit with this gun is the same at 500 mrrs as it is at 2000 mrrs. The effectiveness of the lasers and neutrons decreases the farther away you get from your target. The mass driver packs more of a punch than the laser cannon and takes more blaster power for each shot.

Neutron Guns - It eventually showed up as the second gun on the Rapier, but at the time the Raptor was the only ship that carried the neutron gun. The neutron was the most powerful gun in the Confederation's arsenal, carrying an explosive force that's 25-percent higher than the mass driver. It's effectiveness de-creases the farther away you get from your target and it uses blaster power quickly. As a pilot, it's best to get in close with this weapon, fire a few quick bursts and then wait for blaster power to reach maximum before firing again.

Full Guns - On the Raptor, and eventually the Rapier, you could fire two guns at once. With the Raptor it was the mass driver and neutron. Later, on the Rapier it was the laser and neutron. Full guns really pack a wallop, but they use blaster power at an alarming rate. It's often a difficult call whether the added power is worth the drop in blaster power. Our instructors recommendations were to use full guns when you had isolated a single target or capital ship, but to stick with the neutrons in a crowded dogfight.

Your Ship's Missiles

Hanging around in the pilot's lounge, you heard a lot of conversations where the pilots were discussing the merits of one missile over another. It seemed that every combat pilot had a favorite. Unfortunately, after hearing a few of the conversations, I realized that the pilots were often contradicting themselves. The truth is, that even our best missiles didn't pack enough of a wallop to take out enemy ships unless their shields were damaged. The best way to damage their shields was to blast them down with our guns.

Terran ships carried a full complement of missiles, dumb-fires, heat-seekers, image-recognition, and friend-or-foe, but we couldn't rely on the explosive power of a single missile to take out enemy ships. With a lucky hit at incredibly close range, we might take down a light fighter, but the odds were always against us. Using multiple missiles is equally ineffective. In most situations, the enemy's shields regenerated before the second missile had a chance to strike.

While Terran scientists were working on improvements, the missiles in our inventory carried about the same amount of explosive material. Hitting an enemy with a Javelin HS was about the same as hitting one with a Pilum FF. What made a real difference, was the range from the target. A missile at long range was almost worthless unless the enemy ship was so damaged that the pilot was ready to eject. At close range our missiles could really jolt the pilot and make sure he knew we were nearby.

While we studied all the missile statistics in the classroom, the greatest lesson we learned was to rely on our guns in combat. We could take out every enemy ship known at the time with nothing but the laser cannon on a Hornet, although it was much easier with the mass drivers or neutrons.

Joining the War

It wasn't fun and games anymore. We jumped into Vega Sector and prepared for our first missions in space. No more drones or target ships. No more mock dogfights or training maneuvers. This was real, and I was scared.

Since we were still in training, we would operate in the safest section of the Vega Sector. The destroyer would be our base of operations as we flew escort missions in Hornets to move sup plies around where needed. Normally, we escorted Draymans, flying as wingmen with veteran pilots. We didn't expect to meet the enemy on these missions, but Confederation policy dictated that every convoy include a fighter escort.

My first 20 missions were routine. I just stayed in formation, behind and to one side of my wingman and kept an eye on the radar display. It wasn't much different than the training flights I'd flown months before until my 21st mission.

We had moved a little farther into the sector and were protecting two Draymans filled with medical supplies. The convoy was headed for the second planet in the Ardai System, an area controlled by the Confederation.

I was flying as wingman with Major James J. Jones on the farthest left flank of the convoy. From my position, I would be the first to pick up any enemy activity from that side of the convoy. I was almost mesmerized by the blue, grey and white blips on the radar when a new color caught my eye. I didn't believe it at first and was a little slow in telling the major that an enemy ship had appeared. It was the first red blip I'd ever seen since my assignment to the Formidable. I even hit the display screen with the heel of my hand thinking the blip was just a glitch in the system. It wasn't. Later, Jones told me I almost blew the speakers in his headset when I screamed out my warning.

The major told me to form on his wing and I swung into position. I guessed he was waiting to see whether a single enemy fighter would approach our large convoy. By the time auto targeting identified it as a Dralthi, Jones was ordering me to break and attack. I couldn't believe this was really happening and I fought to control my bladder.

I broke left and down and stayed in position to protect my wingleader. We didn't stray too far from the Drayman, but the Dralthi just kept coming. Jones fired two shots from the laser and I let loose with a dumb-fire at long range. The Dralthi wasn't stupid, and turned to run. We let him and moved back into position with the convoy. Jones was calm, but I couldn't settle down. I kept such a close watch on the radar for the rest of the flight that I was lucky I didn't run into my wingleader or one of the Draymans.

I was surprised when Jones complimented me at the mission briefing with Commander Della Guardia. I have to admit my head swelled by a few hat sizes, even though I didn't think I'd done anything special.

As it turned out, that was my final mission from the Formidable. Soon afterward, the academy trainees all received their commissions as 2nd Lieutenants and permanent assignments. Maniac and I would transfer to the Tiger's Claw in a few days, while the other five trainees would remain with the destroyer. I thought I was ready.


Next Section: The Vega Campaign