High in the lookout post on the mountain, a flash of reflected sunlight caught Viper’s eye, coming from low on the distant horizon followed in quick succession by another. The young Muslim tensed and attempted to line up the sight of his Sam 16 missile launcher resting on his shoulder as the approaching dots in the dawn sky grew larger. One of his scarred hands gripped the stock of the green missile launcher, which was in full automatic mode for fast targets. The Viper tracked and held the lead Tornado in his sights and waited for what seemed like an eternity for the target’s infrared signature to lock-on. The red indicator light flashed and the buzzer moaned and squealed as the missile acquired lock on. He pulled the trigger and the booster motor launched the missile from the tube with a loud whoosh, unfolding the two forward steering fins and four rear stabilising tail fins as it went. In a split second, the rocket’s main motor fired accelerating the missile away into the sky at twice the speed of sound, leaving a fiery trail behind it.
‘Allah be praised!’ shrieked the Viper as he staggered from the recoil of the missile launch, looked up and defiantly thrust his clenched fist upwards, expecting the jet to turn into a fireball in the sky and slam into the ground.
‘Jesus fucking Christ!’ shouted Brains in the rear cockpit of the Tornado as his electronic warfare management panel lights lit up warning of the incoming missile. Scanning and quickly assimilating the information displayed, he activated the chaff and flare dispensing defences and in a calm, professional voice called Falcon over the intercom.
‘Incoming missile, break starboard, break starboard, go, go, go!’
‘Break starboard, Roger that.’ affirmed the pilot.
The jet banked steeply towards the missile to shield the hot exhaust gases streaming out behind from the Rolls-Royce RB 199 turbofan engines, which the infrared lens of the missile would seek. However, the closing speed of the missile and the low proximity of the Tornado to the ground made evasion difficult and with a resounding thump, five kilograms of high explosive exploded in the tail pipe of the starboard engine.
‘Shit!’ shouted Brains as the jet shuddered from the impact and dropped towards the ground, the instrument panel in front of him illuminated like a Christmas tree as red fire, pressure and temperature warnings lit up in unison.
‘Roger that!’ exclaimed Falcon, shoving the lever controlling the variable wing geometry forward to return the wings to their normal, subsonic flight position, giving the pilot a better chance of handling the heavy jet as it slowed. Quick as a flash he realised that the Tornado’s fly by wire system was down, probably taken out by shards from the exploding missile. Falcon muttered a small prayer of thanks that the Tornado, equipped with a basic hydro-mechanical backup system for limited flight control, allowed him rudimentary use of the control surfaces. He applied full power to the un-damaged port turbofan and eased the control stick forward, and managed to get the nose up, shuddering on the edge of a stall, just before the jet hit the ground.
In the rear seat, Brains felt a bump as the rear fuselage of the jet kissed the ground. The damaged Tornado entered a contest with the laws of physics of thrust and lift verses drag and gravity. With the magnitudes and directions of the two forces, whose resultant was bordering on zero and being almost in equilibrium, the jet still flew, but only inches above the ground. Brains cursed and started praying hard as he saw the small rocky ridge ahead through the side of the cockpit.
In the front, Falcon engaged the afterburner on the port turbofan.
‘C’mon Thunderbird, get your nose up for Chris sakes!’ he urged.
In answer, to the screaming banshee of sound, the increased power from engine thrust them over the ridge, although Brains swore that he felt another bump as the fuselage cleared it. The Tornado entered a positive rate of climb, the screaming engine kicking up a swirling sand storm of dust from the ground in its trail. Sweat streamed down his face from under his bone dome as Brains marvelled the fact that they were still flying. His earlier instincts about the skill of the young pilot had been fully justified, for in the hands of a lesser man they would now be spread all over the ground like so much strawberry jam.
Falcon nursed the Tornado back into the air where it belonged and scanned his instrument panel. All was bad news. The starboard turbofan and nozzle temperature gauges were off the clock and the loud warble of the engine fire warning wailed out continually. Both crew worked furiously, going through the emergency action drills to give them any chance of survival.
The voice of their wingman in the other Tornado burst through the static on their headsets.
‘Starbuck leader, you’ve got a massive engine fire! Eject guys, eject!’
‘Negative.’ replied Falcon.
The last thing on the crew’s mind was to eject over hostile territory, knowing the fate of other aviators who had done so in terrorist populated areas. Brains remembered very well the fate that had befallen two of his 31 Squadron colleagues following their capture in one of the first sorties of the Gulf War.
‘Affirmative!’ confirmed Brains in the back who had already seen the orange glow in his rear view mirrors. ‘And I can see structural damage to the starboard wing and tail plane.’ he added.
‘Roger that. No wonder she’s handling like a stuck pig!’ replied Falcon.
‘Confirm the engine shut down checks, Brains.’
‘Right throttle high pressure fuel shut.’
‘Right throttle shut.’
‘Right low pressure fuel cock, shut.’
‘Right low pressure, shut.’
‘Right fire extinguisher, press.’
‘Right fire extinguisher, pressed.’
‘Did it work?’ queried Falcon.
Brains glanced up at his mirror. The brightness of the fiery glow behind seemed to be diminishing as he studied it and then it went out, leaving a thin plume of smoke or fluid vapour trailing behind the damaged jet.
‘Affirmative, the fire appears to be out.’ he replied.
Falcon breathed a sigh of relief and now that the Tornado had now attained sufficient height shut off the afterburner on the screaming port turbofan. He gently lowered the nose.
‘Better make tracks for home.’ he cracked and eased the thirty-ton jet into the start of a turn.
‘Starbuck leader to Starbuck 2, we’re heading home.’
‘Roger that, Starbuck leader. The fire appears to be out. I will abort the mission and escort you back. We’ll hit those bastards another day. Anyway, the next pair is due in in thirty minutes.’
‘Better warn them about the position of the Sam launchers. I’ve got my hands full at the moment.’
‘Roger, leader will do. We’ll pick up the pieces as they fall off so the erks can put it all back together again after you land. A bit like Humpty Dumpty and all.’ the other pilot chuckled, to bring some levity to the dire situation the other crew were in.
‘Well she’s handling like a brick but she’s flying. Give me a course for home, Brains.’
On the ground below, the Viper’s joy at the direct hit of the missile on the infidel jet turned to disbelief that it had not tumbled from the skies to crash into the desert sands. He fumbled to reload the missile launcher with his scarred fingers as the jet touched the ground and then miraculously climbed away. Viper cursed and wondered if he would ever get the chance to avenge the deaths of his family again. In his wildest dreams, he could not then know that soon he would join an elite team of jihadis for an attack that would send shudders throughout the western world. An attack where he would come face to face with the pilot of the damaged jet now disappearing into the distance.