APAGear - Volume 5, Number 4 - June/July 2003
It was a beautiful day, Yuri reflected, pulling on his heavy fleece-lined jacket and trying to hold back his hair long enough to situate his helmet. The warm breeze carried the smell of aviation fuel and growing things, and the mounting heat of the sun on his insulated shoulders began to wring perspiration from what seemed like every pore in his body. Still, at a thousand meters altitude and moving several hundred kilometers per hour, it was going to be plenty cold.
Looking across the airfield, however, he could hardly complain. Sitting squatly on it's wide-set landing gear, the mottled bulk of his aircraft crouched like a mother hen over a nest of bomb carriers and their attendants, his tailgunner supervising the rearming from atop one wing.
Running his gaze fondly over the craft, he smirked each time he noticed a new shrapnel divot or 12mm bullet ding in the thick hide and (originally green) camoflauge paint of his IL-2M Sturmovik ground-attack fighterbomber. With a hide that made some tanks seem thin-skinned, and thirty-seven millimeter wing cannons that similarly outgunned some of their groundborne counters, his charge was a fearsome beast indeed, and the black tiger-stripings of the wings and sharks'-tooth design on the snout complemented that impression nicely when combined with the bold Cyrillic lettering across the tailfin, proclaiming that it was THE one and only Akula. Actually, a Flying Shark! His mind corrected, prompting a toothy grin.
And yet as he neared it, he was shocked to see the belly of his mount opened and it's vital innards strewn beneath it, far more than what would be required for maintainence, and certainly not necessary to repair battle damage, since he'd flown the last mission without so much as a scratch on his beloved aircraft.
"Vassily! What in the name of God are you doing to my plane?!" He shrieked, surveying the metal entrails of his craft neatly arranged on dropclothes under the nose and tail, the mechanic only half-visible as he tinkered with something deep within the belly of the plane.
"Easy Yuri, it will all be back together in a moment, and better than before." The unflappable maintainence officer replied, freeing yet another no-doubt vital component and negligently dropping it to the ground.
"Calm down Yuri. They're upgrading our plane with an experimental weapon." The planes' tailgunner replied, loading a drum of caliber-fifty ammunition into his rear arc machine gun. "The brass say they've developed a Death Ray cannon that will open up those new Tiger tanks like tins of mackerel, and that's why Vassily Yevgenovitch has our planes' oil radiator all apart right now." Pavel, the tailgunner, chimed in. "We won't be able to mount more than two two-hundred-fifty-kilogram bombs and our usual rocket load because the battery cells take up the cassette bomb bays, but they say this cannon could take down a Vodan walker with one shot from half a kilometer!"
"Great, Pavel. We're going into battle -in forty minutes I'd remind you!- with an untried and powerful Tesla weapon bolted around and through the weakest and most flammable spot on the entire plane. Where in the hell is Podkolpovnik Eustace?"
"Right here, Yuri Vilyemovitch." The officer replied from only a few feet away. The bomb-loaders, having completed their tasks, wisely fled.
"G'vorno..." Yuri hissed, wincing. "If I might, Sir, what in the hell is the meaning of this?" He entreated, turning to face his commanding officer and gesturing at the state of his aircraft.
"It's not my idea, Michmanny Shevyneko, but the Radio-technical Institute has built it, Theatre Command has ordered it, and you're going to fly it out to the front and kill the Fritzes with it, and hopefully bring yourself and it home in one piece. Understood?"
"Da, Podpolkovnik!" Yuri barked, snapping to attention and saluting. Atop the wing, Vassily followed suit, then returned to yelling at the stevedores as the officer dismissed them. "Jesus, Vassily, do you think you could have told me the damn airbase commander was standing right beside me?" Yuri roared, as soon as the officer had disappeared around the neighboring hanger. "It's bad enough the Fritzes are always shooting at us, but I could do with a little bit of support from my own close comrades in the face of such un-socialistic opression!" He shouted, glaring at the concentric-ringed cannon now being winched into place underneath his aircraft. "All you do is complain, Yuri. You pilots are all prima-donnas who think they're better than their comrades simply because they fly above the battleground." Vassily growled, feeding a chain of cannon shells into the internal magazine through a port on the wing.
"It's not like you never complain, Pavel. We take off, you whine. We encounter flak, you whine. We get shot at, you cry like a child and then whine. We so much as see fighters, you yell, then complain, and then whine. We land, you complain until we touch down, and then whine about what happened up there!" Yuri countered, passing a thirty-kilo ammunition tin up to his gunner with a grunt and a heave.
Pavels' indignant reply was momentarily smothered by a grunt as he took hold of the ammunition, giving the mechanic time to intervene.
"Forget it, all of us. We are all comrades, good socialists, and have the common cause of helping kill as many of the Fritzes as we can, no?" Vassily mediated, finishing his work beneath the plane and clambering up onto the wing opposite Pavel. "Let's just drop the subject. Could someone pass me another twelve millimeter belt, please?"
Obediently handing up the requested munitions, Yuri could hardly help but stare at the strange appendage affixed to his aeroplane, a ball-ened tube with concentric rings along its' length that made it more resemble an enourmous honey-dipper than a tank-killing weapon.
Ah, the insanity of war. He reflected, affectionately patting the plated steel flank of his aircraft.
"Zveno One, requesting clearance for takeoff on runway one, over." Yuri drawled, cinching his safety belts tighter and trying vainly to peer over or around the nose of his plane. Even with the improvised extension of his tail wheel (because the damn cannon hung so low on the belly it would drag otherwise), the ungodly slant of his aeroplane made seeing the runway he was about to catapult down a difficult proposition.
"Da, Zveno One. You are cleared for takeoff on runway one. Good luck and good hunting. Tower out." The response crackled in his ears, and within seconds he had racheted his flaps into takeoff position and started the massive twelve-cylinder engine inches from his knees.
Giving a perfunctory belch of tarry black smoke, the engine coughed once and then roared to life, screaming as he meditatively bounced the throttle back and forth with his left hand. The propellors clawed air and the engine shrilled as he stood on the wheelbrake, feeling the tailwheel momentarily lift off the tarmac, then bounce back down.
Satisfied with his checks, he released the wheelbrake and felt the plane lunge forward beneath him, the nose coming up with a roar as the craft tilted back on its' landing gear and began to pick up forward momentum.
Working the rudder pedals slightly with his feet, Yuri felt the comforting hand of inertial drag squeeze him back into his seat as the heavily laden plane fought for airspeed. With a lurch, lift overcame gravity and the tail came up to level, the landing wheels in the wings bouncing twice on the rutted concrete before lifting free.
"We are airborne, pull in the landing gear!" Pavel announced as Yuri glanced out the window and saw the ground dropping away. Flicking the appropriate toggle, the plane shuddered slightly and drew its' 'feet' inside, levelling out and picking up speed faster now.
Flaps neutral, throttle to three-quarters, controls responding... Yuri mentally checklisted, glancing behind to see the rest of his wing and their escorts waddle down the runway and claw themselves into the air behind him, accompanied by coordinating radio chatter and the drone of propellors.
"Escadrilla, status check and form on my wings, over." He barked, watching his laden wingmen spiral up to meet him as he patiently orbited the airfield.
"Zveno One-Two, Mikhail and Mikhail ready and all instruments reading in the green, over." Two voices chorused cheerfully, as their Sturmovik drifted into formation off his left wing.
His other wingman sliding into position off his right wing, the radio crackled with a laconic "Zveno One-Three, Nikita and Iosef ready, all instruments reading properly, over." Iosef, silent as ever, waved from his tailgunners' seat in the back of the cockpit.
Overhead, the escort wing of Yak-K fighters began to assemble, their leader waggling his wings as he saw his charges formate. "Akula Wing, this is Vulture Wing. We are ready to go, over."
"As are we, Vulture Wing. All right, gentlemen. Course zero-seven-zero, height one and a half kilometers. Let's go hunt some Germans, eh?" Yuri pronounced, orienting on the distant Odal plain and throttling up.
"Target bearing zero-six-five, range ten kilometers."
"Roger that, they're just between those forests up ahead."
"See the flashes? Our boys are giving those kraut bastards hell!"
"Unidentified aircraft, bearing one-one-five, range about eleven kilometers. Vulture wing?"
"Roger that, confirmed aircraft, look like Stukas. Yes! Stukas! See them diving!"
The unmistakable sounds of battle began to fill the airwaves, and Yuri stretched in his seat, yawning expansively to pop his ears and stretching his legs before reseating them on the rudder pedals.
Cracking his fingers inside their leather flight gloves, he grasped the control yoke frimly and gently nosed his fighterbomber into a shallow dive.
"All right. Akula wing, break formation and acquire ground targets. Two go left and watch for enemy reinforcements from the road, I'll take center and kill some tanks, and Three cover the right and watch for enemy armor trying to sneak in along the edge of those forests." Yuri directed. "Now then, Vulture wing, do whatever it is you fighterpilots do and make damned sure we aren't interrupted."
The crackling reply practically grinned. "But of course, comrade. We cannot expect your sluggish Sturmoviks to hit anything but ground pounders, now can we?"
"Go to hell, you cocky bastards. Just watch for one-oh-nines and at least try to look frightening for the sake of those who wouldn't know better. I've got some germans to bomb. Out." Yuri shot back good-naturedly, taking a moment to make an obscene gesture at the fighters arrayed above him before breaking formation and dropping his nose toward the battefield below.
"One, this is Two, I'm engaging a truck-track column along the road to the west. Shit!! Two Whirlwind Doubles, engaging now!" The radio crackled, as the now-distant speck of Mikhail and Mikhails' plane dove toward an approaching dust cloud, flames and smoke trailing tracers spitting back and forth between the plane and column.
Suddenly, there was a geyser of flame from amid the dust, even as the attacking Sturmovik suddenly spouted a foul-looking cloud of black smoke from its' belly and shuddered as the pilot immediately dropped his bomb-load and pulled out of it's shallow strafing dive.
"Two! Abort your run and evade, you are leaking oil! Return to base immediately!" Yuri shouted, watching the wounded plane come around and skim less than a hundred meters over the broad battlefield, coaxing his battered craft back toward friendly lines.
His voice shaking slightly, Mikhail came back on the radio. "It's a sizeable leak, comrade, but it's in no shape for combat. Returning to base immediately." Waggling it's wings in salute as it passed beneath Akula, the damaged fighterbomber began its' retreat.
"Vulture, if you could provide a fighter to escort for our comrade home safely? Over."
"Da. Vulture Five, break formation and keep our comrades safe on their way home." The fighter leader agreed, his wing already several kilometers away, harrassing the now-retreating Ju-87s.
Now at eight hundred meters, and rapidly approaching the embattled armored platoons, Yuri grasped his yoke firmly and keyed his radio one last time.
"We are beginning our attack run now, wish us luck, over."
And with that, he chopped back the throttle and dropped his nose to bear on the enbattled grasslands below.
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