By lex, on September 18th, 2006
Mugger was his name, or his callsign anyway – or very nearly, names having been minimally altered to prevent being placed on somebody’s “People to Kill” list, just in case. He was a drag-knuckle F-14 fighter pilot of the ould mould, flight suit zipped down to his navel, chest thrust pugnaciously out, boots unshined and often even untied, their tongues poking out like labrador puppies from under his pants legs and himself generally displaying but a faint relationship to what was commonly conceived to be a proper and military kind of personal appearance. (I think he was an AOCS graduate.) Never to fret though, for Mugger was thoroughly convinced of his own excellence, implacably certain of himself from tip to top and from long established custom needing little more than a mirror and a little privacy to break down his gruff exterior and have him making soft, cooing noises of appreciation.
Unpredictable he was too, whether that’d be behind the boat, accustomed as he was to throwing slippery madness at the LSO platform in the fond (and often vain) hope that we’d take him aboard regardless, with none of your “eat a joes” lights a-flashing in his beady little eyes for to send him round for another go.
Not entirely ungifted as a fighter pilot though: Distinctly do I recollect that one fine day south of Sunni Pakistan, a place where the ship I had the honor to serve aboard was about to spend four days sampling the very modest, not to say uncertain, pleasures of Karachi liberty * two days on:
Consulting their whimsy more perhaps than their geography, Mugger and his wingman shot off, cleaned up, and pooted up to the hazy north, in the general direction of our incipient port visit, of which the less we say perhaps the better. The mission they were fragged for had them run at each other in slow-motion like, a-hanging on the blades at max conserve airspeed over the course of a 1+30 cycle. Mostly they were saving gas for the end, the better for to hack and claw at one another in full grunt for that lovely, crowded moment before it was time once again to tip it the timely and head back to Mother, that sour-faced harridan, always looking at her watch and tapping her feet impatiently should ever you lose track of the moment, occupied in your own devices or the pleasures of the instant and coming home a moment late, God forbid and she’d have your head for it.
East and west they’d split once fairly north of the old battle ax herself, and a couple of leisurely, languorous runs they’d had of it too, their RIOs busily doing that RIO-shit in the back, while the pilots themselves tried to stay awake by humming paeans to their own perfection, as was the F-14 pilots’ favorite sport in moments of distraction and ennui.
Not content with merely being gifted, Mugger was also widely recognized – celebrated even, among his peers – as a cheating bastard, upon whom it was always wise to keep an eye. Out. For. So it didn’t much surprise the wingie on his hot turn for the next run when his RO picked up a contact twenty degrees right of the nose, which nothing wrong with that but at ten miles rather than the prescribed forty or so. “Aha,” said LT Perspicacious to himself, “That cork-sticking gasper is trying to sneak up behind me and trail me to the merge, so he is, but watch what I do next.”
Turning into the uncoming Mugger, the wingman sought to take out all of the lateral separation, a task made difficult by the speed with which his contact dodged again to the north. “Wasting all of his have-fun gas,” the wingie’s RIO said on the intercom, not without a bit of relief, for Mugger was, as I said, a credible stick and it was hard work, being the gun-ee and having to crane around to look between the tails while the pilot up front picked boogers out of his mask for all the good that it was doing them.
But as the contact broke their radar limits to the right and resolved into a visual contact sweeping towards their six o’clock, it turned out that the truth was something rather other than a squadron mate named Mugger. There they suddenly perceived, to their deep and sudden consternation, not one but two armed Pakistani Mirage III’s (or V’s maybe, no one could ever tell me the difference) coming around hard to six. Fortunately for our heroes, on account of the F-14′s unbelievably slow speed at max conserve, the Mirages – who after all were only launched on alert and patrolling their national airspace after the uncommunicative Tomcats had blundered into it – went scrabbling past the control zone like dogs turning the corner on a waxed linoleum floor.
Now normally, even a pair of Mirage III’s (or V’s) were not a very great deal to worry about for the well-trained Tomcat crew, but our lads had been caught with their pants fairly down around their ankles, so in those precious moments while the Mirages worked their way back up and aft, our heroes put the spurs to their mount and bravely shrieked (in what was later described with great gusto as a “girlish” voice, not that there’s anything wrong with that), “Knock it off, we’re defensive with two MiGs!”
Which, as you now know, was only partly true.
It was enough to bring Mugger back around in a hurry though, for he was nothing if not a good wingman and anyways there were only a very few chances to smoke MiG’s in those days, so you took them where you got them. He joined the newly formed and clearly rattled three-ship a few moments later, easily doing Mach 1+, and turning hard across the gaggles’ collective tail into the vertical. This was not long after a couple of Libyan MiG’s had been shot down in the Gulf of Sidra by F-14 crews, and for the rattled Pakistanis this was clearly gotten more than they had bargained for on a routine air defense zone alert launch. They blew their drop tanks off and headed home as fast as ever their delta-winged platforms would take them, which was plenty fast indeed.
Mugger followed for a bit before his beetled brow furrowed even more, wondering at how such a short-range fighter could find itself so far to sea. Too, there was the nagging voice on the guard radio, some controller on the ship beseeching, imploring them to turn the hell around for God’s sake, and didn’t they know where they were?
They did not, but it was figured out for them once properly back aboard the ship, in a debrief that had any number of powerful and important people, all of whom wanted to have personal insight into how such a thing could happen? At all?
The US Embassy sent along a rather curt note, asking of us to stay the frack out of Pakistani airspace, if that wasn’t too much to ask, and did we have any idea how hard their job was?
We didn’t, and frankly, being young and stupid but knowing that we’d never die, neither did we care, particularly.
Two days later we were treated to the sights, sounds and yes, gentle reader, smells of Karachi, but that’s another tale.
I’ve more * on Mugger though. Tomorrow perhaps. Maybe the next day.
** 08-03-20 Links Added – Ed.