|HTL CHAPTER 103: TOEING THE LINE 2- LAYMAN'S TERMS
By James Andrew "JAG" Greenhow
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not
sure about the former." - Albert Einstein
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s
mouth and remove all doubt” Voltaire
TCS Miles D'Arby Flight Wing Briefing Room
Shareholders (Hairy Shoulders) Meeting
0830 Zulu, 11th February 2681 (2681.042)
"Right, new orders from on high that countermand previous ones prohibiting
mock dogfighting - you are to take any and all opportunities to practice
dissimilar ACM with our new allies - we want you to bounce them, intercept
them, wax their tails and rub their noses in it. It's a matter of honour -
so you need to go out and humiliate them. Just this time," Wing Commander
Michael Black glared across at Mongrel, "remember not to actually shoot at
"You'll see that the day's flight schedule has been completely redone
overnight due to our new allies, and in addition to standing CAPs we'll be
sending out in-system patrols to sweep the entire system over the next 24
hours. Any questions?"
"Oh, one more thing; I need some volunteers to go across to the Border
Worlds vessels and help them convert onto type quickly."
"You can't be serious - they're barbarians - can you believe some of them
even smoke!" Michelle 'Maneater' Ross grimaced in disgust.
"Those barbarians, like it or not, are our new allies. We're going to become
a joint force, so you're going to have to get used to working with them. And
"Tanfen? Fer fuck's sake..!" Rat shook his head.
"Get it through your thick skulls - at this point in time there are no such
things as Border Worlders, Confed or Tanfen, only Humans and Bugs, all
"Right. Robber, you and Viking are qualified AWIs [Air Warfare Instructor]
"Good. Jimbo, you're our only Bearcat AWI, so pick someone else to go with
"I'll do it, sir," said an unexpected voice.
Colonel Black looked at Rat, incredulous, "You... are volunteering?"
"Yessir. As you say, we've got to pull together. I may as well start, er,
"Ah... okay," Black frowned, blinked, and carried on. "Excaliburs are a
problem, seeing as some of you are already introduced - screw it: Maneater,
Mongrel - you're going."
"If you think it's wise, sir."
"Blade, you're an AWI too, aren't you?"
"Not on the Thunderbolt. I was on the Arrow."
"Tough - you just volunteered. We need another Bearcat driver - Greaser?"
"I'll do it, sir."
"And another Excalibur pilot..."
"I'll be happy to pass on my vast knowledge to others, sir!" Duncan 'Hog'
Hodgson chimed in cheerfully if somewhat sarcastically.
"Good. Can you be ready to fly over in a couple of hours?" Nods and grunts
of acceptance, and one raised hand - Rat.
"What is it?"
"Why don't we just send them over some sims tapes and stuff and let them get
on with it?"
"We have, and they are, but they're trying to convert full squadrons onto
type, including weapons and CARQUALS in only a week. Typical length of time
to convert onto a new type is four months. You've been flying these birds
for a while operationally and you know all the tricks, troubles and what
they're like without their makeup in the morning. You can help them, and
they can help us. OK?"
"Fair enough, sir. What help exactly are they giving us?"
"Airframes, spares and weapons - they've got some extra, and we get them in
return. And remember - you are diplomats - we've already fucked up once,
don't piss them off any more."
"Aye, Sir!" As Rat finished his perfect salute and his about face, Colonel
Black continued staring at Rat's receding back.
Shuttlecraft, en route to Avernus Station
1047 Zulu, 11th February 2681 (2681.042)
They sat in brooding silence. Restless, stretching and fidgeting, unused to
long journeys where they themselves were no the pilot. Rat had tried a few
jokes initially but failing to get the expected response he too sat
sullenly, staring at the people around him. His companions. His brothers in
arms. He had not chosen them, they had not chosen him, or each other. Yet
soon they would have to form a bond closer than brotherhood if they wished
to survive the coming conflict. They could not afford any infighting or
rivalry amongst their own ranks, or with their newfound allies.
Rat looked across at Viking. Viking glared back. Rat opened his mouth to
make a sarcastic remark, thought better of it and glanced instead at Robber.
The man was lost in his own thoughts, completely oblivious to his own
surroundings. Probably thinking of his wife, Rat realised.
"How long 'till we dock?" Rat asked the pilot.
"How the hell should I know?" Viking growled back.
"I wasn't bloody asking you!"
"About 10 minutes," the pilot quickly cut in, "I'll be asking for clearance
in a few moments."
Good, thought Rat, the sooner we get rid of Viking the sodding better. After
they landed at the Station they were off to the BWS Sicily. Of course, then
he'd have nuggets and Border Wordlers to put up with. He grinned; maybe
they'd appreciate his earthy sense of humour more.
Avernus Station Cafeteria
1241 Zulu, 11th February 2681 (2681.042)
"What's this?" Viking asked, holding up something skewered on his fork for
"Think it's meatloaf," Blade told him, tentatively trying some himself.
"Been a friendly enough reception so far," Robber said. Grunts from Blade
and Viking were his only response. He prodded what he presumed to be some
sort of vegetable around his plate. Hardly thirty words had passed between
them since the morning briefing. Come to think of it, last night at the bar
had been fairly subdued, too. Morale was low, but at least the embarrassing
incident with the Border Worlders had served to direct their anger outward,
if not toward the enemy, at least away from each other. He shook his head
slightly. He took another forkfull, chewed and swallowed without noticing
the flavour or lack thereof. Last night he'd left the others drinking
themselves into a morbid stupor and returned to his quarters. He'd tried to
write a vid-letter to his wife but couldn't think what to say. On top of
that their outgoing mail was being censored. He didn't want some spotty
little ensign in the comms room looking at his personal mail to his wife.
But he had to send something. It could be the last letter he ever sent home.
All the more reason to get it right.
"Shit!" Blade's sudden profane exclamation brought him back to reality with
a jolt. "I'm supposed to be taking the first set of sprogs up at One
o'clock!" He took a last mouthfull of his meal and swilled it down with a
large gulp of coffee, some of which ended on his flight suit.
"I'm going to have to get ready. See you guys later." Blade strode briskly
from the room.
"Yeah, see you later, mate," said Robber without looking up.
Avernus Station Launch Bay
1424 Zulu, 11th February 2681 (2681.042)
When Blade had returned from taking up his set of three pupils, he had
simply shaken his head and headed straight for the bar, so it was with some
trepidation that Robber strode (more of a rolling wallow with all his flying
kit weighing him down) along the flightline, taking a look at the
Thunderbolts lined up ready for flight. There didn't seem to be anything
outstanding about any of them, so he picked one at random.
One of the things the layperson often doesn't realise about military
aircraft is that they are not all identical. Much like high-performance
racing cars, even two built to identical specifications and tight production
tolerances will have slightly different performance. The figures quoted in
"Janes' All the Worlds' Military Aircraft"(speed, weight, thrust, etc) are
arbitrary figures averaged from test flights on the aircraft. Actual values
on service aircraft may vary by several percent, due to age, damage,
modifications, wear and tear and production tolerances. This though, is not
the whole story. Different individual aircraft have different - for want of
a better word - personalities. Some aircraft - no matter how much work was
done to them - had reoccurring problems (even when the parts responsible were
replaced) or went unserviceable more often than others. Some were more
reliable, had better handling or had a little more power. Some of it could
be put down to the crew chief or pilot.
Pilots in a squadron usually had aircraft that were nominally 'theirs'
(although everyone knew that pilots only borrowed aircraft - the crew chief
'owned' it). Obviously, Wing Commanders, Squadron COs and XOs got the pick
of the bunch and almost invariably picked the best aircraft as their
personal mounts. Really this was a bit self defeating as not only did these
aircraft fly less (reducing the squadron's combat effectiveness in a small
but measurable way) but when flying in formation the leaders have to fly
within the performance envelope of the poorest aircraft in the flight. The
flight leader finds the top speed of the slowest aircraft, looks at his own
engine % output and then gives the slower craft another 2-3% to 'play with'
to allow him to keep station. In this way, the lead aircraft may only be
flying to 95% or less of it's performance. On top of this, when new or
replacement pilots have poor aircraft dumped on them it further lessens
their chances of surviving their first few combat missions.
In a small squadron, especially in wartime, pilots flew other people's
aircraft as often as their "own" aircraft and got to know the various
traits, foibles and idiosyncrasies of each. Robber had nothing to go on
when choosing the aircraft he would be flying for the next couple of days
and had to rely on pot luck, but he wasn't going to leave too much to chance.
Robber wasn't usually one for meticulous preflight checks but under the
circumstances, he had to be. The aircraft he was about to fly had just come
out of 'mothballs'. There were no 'yellow sheets' to give him an idea of
previous gripes to look out for. Yellow sheets were not yellow paper - in
fact they hadn't even been paper for a very long time, records now being
kept on computer, but tradition in aviation is a big thing and they were
still called yellow sheets.
On top of this Robber had no trust built up with the Border Worlder fitters
and crew chiefs that had prepared these aircraft and had (allegedly) made
them spaceworthy. This being so, in addition to his usual checks (weapon
arming pins removed [made virtually unmissable by the bright red dayglo
streamers attached for this purpose] loose panels and any obvious fluid
leaks) he went over everything.
Walking anticlockwise around the aircraft he checked every inch of the
Thunderbolt. Electric and hydraulic lines; hydraulic and coolant liquid
reservoirs and pressures. Airframe cracks; undercarriage legs; tyres; brakes.
Lights; emergency gas pressure bottles; control jets; exhaust pipes. Finally
external circuit breakers (the ones in the cockpit would be checked when he
strapped in). He climbed the ladder to the cockpit and before clambering
into the vast cavity he checked the top of the aircraft for loose panels,
fittings or other obvious problems. Satisfied, he climbed into the ejector
seat. In the cockpit, he double checked the seat installation before he
started to strap in.
Unlike the ejector modules in many of the newer fighters (allowing a 'shirt
sleeves' cockpit environment) the Thud still used an open seat ejection
system, necessitating the wearing of a pressure suit. On top of this he
had to wear leg restraints. In the event of an ejection these would
automatically yank his feet off the rudder pedals and pull his legs back
into the seat to prevent him amputating his legs at the knees on the
As well as being attached to the seat by leg restraints, shoulder and torso
harness fastenings, his pressure suit was attached to the seat's built-in
life support system. This would only be used in the event of an ejection,
saving the 8 hours of life support available for if he should really need
it. Until then he was also plugged into the aircraft's own life support. He
had to plug his g-suit into a socket as well.
The g-suit was fed by pressurised gas to inflate the bladders in the suit at
a specific 'g' loading (adjustable, but usually set to about 3.5 g.) Even with
inertial dampers and the lousy handling of the Thunderbolt it was essential,
raising not only the 'g' limit the pilot could withstand but also increasing
his endurance under 'g'.
It worked by pressing on the thighs and abdomen (some worked on the whole
body, raising 'g' tolerance even further) with a vice-like grip, and along
with the pilot straining against it helped stop all the blood rushing from
the brain and torso and pooling in the feet during high 'g' maneouvring and
slowed the onset of g-loc (gravity induced loss of consciousness). G-loc was
heralded by 'greying out' the gradual reduction of the pilot's vision into a
grey tunnel getting darker and narrower until all he can see is black. Even
though his eyesight has gone loss of consciousness does not come for another
few moments, causing the pilot (if he has not already done so) to release
the stick and the 'g'. Blood returns to the brain, whereupon - if the enemy
has not already shot him down - the pilot regains consciousness. Though
inertial dampers had made this almost a thing of the past it still helped
the pilot during the strain of high speed fighter combat.
In addition, he had to plug his helmet connections in, particularly the
communications connections (some newer aircraft had HMD connections - Helmet
Mounted Displays that showed the essential HUD and targeting information
wherever the pilot looked, projected onto his visor. The steam-age
technology of the Thunderbolt didn't have such 'gee-whizz' gadgets though.
And of course, there were the safing pins for the ejection seat, all five of
them. Removing them from the seat, he held them up to the crew chief and
then zipped them into his breast pocket. The crew chief nodded and gave him
the thumbs up, telling Robber that the cockpit rail was clear of
obstructions and that he could close the canopy. With a whirr it closed and
locked with a hiss. He got green lights for the seal and pressure. So far so
Robber raised his right hand and twirled the index finger, the signal for
the start-cart to provide the external power needed to fire up the small
fusion reactor on board the big fighter. As well as providing enough power
to create sufficiently high temperatures to ignite nuclear fusion, it
provided power to the aircraft so that he could start bringing the main
systems to life while the reactor started. The cockpit came to life around
him. He quickly set the navicomp to download the mission data and navpoints
from the station's datafeed and before starting the reactor had a last
glance to make sure the switches were all in the correct positions. Robber
pressed the started button and got an instant response - the reactor
temperature started to rise rapidly and then levelled off in the green.
Satisfied, he switched from external to internal power and gave the
Robber checked that the Navicomp datafeed was successful and got on with his
checklist. He'd already checked the primary and secondary hydraulic systems
during start-up, but now he checked the utility hydraulic system. Either of
the two main hydraulic systems would run the aircraft's main systems on it's
own but the utility system ran all the peripheral systems not essential to
flight. It too seemed fine.
Robber wound the electrically driven seat up so that he could see out of the
huge cockpit and readjusted the pedals to the new height of his feet. Then he
programmed the frequencies of the ten preset buttons into the communications
system and switched the IFF system on. The targeting monitor came on with
this passive sensor input, the nearby Border Worlder capital ships showing
up as light blue blips. He switched the radar/ladar sensor package to
stand-by to allow it to go through its primary BIT (built in tests). In a
few seconds the sensors assured him that they were OK. He couldn't test them
properly until he got out into space, (the emissions were too much of a
health hazard) but at least that was a good sign. He moved the control stick
and rudders to their full deflections and got a thumbs up that his control
surfaces and jets were working. He switched on the aircraft's running
lights, making sure the bright anti-collision flasher was off. He looked to
his left along the line of parked aircraft. Two of the other three aircraft
already had their lights on, telling him they were ready for flight. A few
seconds later the lights came on on the last aircraft. They'd already done
all that in the sims a few times and read the pilots notes. The three D'Arby
Pilots had gone through everything in the briefing and the crew chiefs had
no doubt talked them through it whilst helping them strap in. Looks like it
"Thunderbolt, radio check."
Robber took one final look around the cockpit and keyed his mike,
"Thunderbolt, button two."
"Flight Control, Thunderbolt ready for take off."
"Thunderbolt, Flyco. Clear to launch." Quickly coloured taxi lights and
yellow coated plane handlers had them in position in the launch bay. They'd
take off singly today, rather than pairs or a full formation. It wasn't
worth the risk. It wouldn't take any longer to form up afterwards so all it
would serve to do would be showing off. Robber was waved forward a few feet
and given the clenched fist 'brakes on' signal. The JBD [Jet Blast
Deflector] was raised behind him. Almost standing on the brakes he then
pushed the throttle to full military power. The heavy aircraft strained
back, shaking. The vibration was enough to blur Robber's vision. the
Catapult officer's glow-wand flashed down onto the deck and Robber pulled
his feet off the toe brakes. The big fighter responded immediately, leaping
forward like a wild beast released from a cage. A couple of minor
corrections to keep her straight as it shot down the flight deck like its
namesake and he was out into space. Like a seal or a penguin, clumsy and
unwieldy on land or the flight deck, it was a different beast in its own
element with total freedom of movement. Suddenly he remembered to check the
instruments. Everything was in the green. He flicked the radar/ladar to
'on'. It was working as well. It was almost too good to be true - everything
was working on an aircraft that was as old as he was and yesterday had been
in a crate and covered in Spraylat!
Throttling back, he started a gentle right-hand turn and waited for the
others to form up. Two out of three judged their approach perfectly, flying
a lead pursuit course until the correct moment to tuck into formation. The
last 'Bolt ended up a long way in trail, but managed to catch up quickly.
Because they were cruising quite slowly he didn't have to tap burner to do
it, but Robber was slightly annoyed. The Thud was big and slow and if a
pilot misjudged a simple formation intercept, how was he supposed to dock
with a tanker? Or intercept bogeys? If he got sucked into trail against a
Bug he'd have no chance of catching it.
Still, he shouldn't expect too much from their first flight in a real
Thunderbolt even if they had spent all morning on the sims. It was as much a
familiarisation hop as anything, and for himself as much as his pupils.
They'd take a good look around the
system, and maybe see if they could bounce someone or something on the way
back. They didn't actually have anything lined up for a training attack, but
exercises take some of the fun out of things - everyone knows there's going
to be an attack. By rights, everyone should be on alert anyway. A plan of
revenge started to form in Robber's mind. He smiled.
Vicinity of BWS Sicily
1441 Zulu, 11th February 2681 (2681.042)
"Rat, this is Robber on Guard. Come up on stud six."
"Rat. Go ahead."
"Got a four ship of Jugs itching for some action. Fancy providing some top
"What's the target?"
"How about Avernus Station?"
"Robber, mate - that's the place you're flying from!"
"I know that! They'll never expect it. We'll rendezvous a little way off,
turn back toward them and see what happens. There's a bunch of Banshees
arseing about outside right now. That Onslow guy's teaching 'em how to fly."
"And you want us to help you go through them? Did he give you some grief
about yesterday or something?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"Ok, I'm up for it, but remember my flight are all Border Worlders
"So are mine."
"Yes, but yours are all criminals and misfits that will likely want to do
that sort of thing."
"Christ, Rat! Are you ill? This is right up your street!"
"Ok, I'm in. Give me the co-ordinates."
TCS Miles D'Arby Ops Room
about the same time
"So what's the situation, Michael?"
"Look, Jeff: We've got a flight wing that hates each other and the Border
Worlders as well. The Border Worlders hate us and the Tanfenners. Half of
them are in aircraft they're unfamiliar with, and as for the militia - well,
those that survive the first two or three encounters will make half-decent
pilots. As for the rest..." the Wing Commander shook his head.
"So what are you trying to tell me? In layman's terms."
"In layman's terms? We're screwed."
"Oh..." Commodore Jeff Turnbull rubbed his frowning brow viciously.
"We need a miracle if more than a quarter of us are ever going home."
"It's as bad as that?"
"Jesus H. Bomb!"
TO BE CONTINUED