This story takes place roughly during the timeline of the Area 88 OVA (early to mid 1980's), but follows an original pair of characters.
Of course, Shin and his pals will make their appearances, though I did tweak Mickey's past slightly from ex-Navy F-4/F-14 pilot to ex-USAF F-100D pilot. This makes some sense to me as he started off flying an F-100 in the Manga and OVA, which is a somewhat peculiar choice for an ex-Navy pilot. There will be other minor tweaks to the characters and story here and there, mostly in the name of realism.
Some of the scenes are inspired by the awesome History Channel program Dogfights.
Be prepared for clichés. It's wouldn't be a good aviation adventure without them.
Lastly, forgive me if there are technical errors. I have no military experience, nor do I have any sort of technical advisor (other than the internet and my collection of Stephen Coonts novels). I'm mostly flying by the seat of my pants here.
Oh, and I do not own Area 88…
Mercenary Angel - Chapter One
The desert sun shone brightly in the crystal clear skies over the Kingdom of Asran, bearing down on the desert below with its usual might. There was little wind this particular morning; the hostile sands were silent and unmoving, seemingly devoid of life.
From 400 feet up the parched bottomlands and rocky ridges seemed anything but still as they rushed beneath Russell Timmons' F-4J Phantom at over 500 knots. Every feature of the landscape was a fast moving blur as he blasted along the desert floor, his Phantom's twin J-79 turbojets purring at full military thrust. Flying on the deck at the speed of heat was always a thrill for the ex-U.S. Navy pilot. It was hazardous, yes, but as exciting as anything he'd ever done with his clothes on. Watching the terrain fly by at nearly mach one gave one a sense of speed that no other ride could come close to matching. Navigating the ridgelines that he'd grown familiar with over the last few months, he could only smile as the adrenaline flowed within him.
Flying low and fast was not the most comfortable ride, especially for Timmons' back-seater. Heat rising from the desert floor created great turbulence at very low altitudes, jostling the aircaft in ways that reminded Scott Weir of his days as a youth riding dirt bikes and 4x4's. He winced as another bump sent a jolt of pain up the RIO's already sore tailbone. Discomfort was the least of his concern, however; the two contacts on his radar scope had his entire attention at the moment. They hadn't turned into them yet, which meant that they either haven't spotted them or they were foxing them. Weir figured the former; their flight was too low to be detected by ground radar, which the RHAW panel confirmed. They weren't close enough for a visual ID by the bogeys, either. Unless the rebels were hiding a look-down/shoot down capability gained out of the blue, they were safe for the moment. Regardless, he knew that they were in no condition to dogfight a flight of bandits with a dozen 500 pound Mark 82 Snakeye bombs hanging from the bottom of their jet.
Of course, simply using the radar could give them away. In the presence of modern radar warning receivers, turning on one's radar was almost akin to waving a flashlight around in a darkened room. Current intel on the rebels stated that more than half of their ancient MiG-17's did not have working RWRs. Of course, with their recent acquisition of MiG-19's and the pending arrival of MiG-21's and possibly even MiG-23's, this was going to change very soon. In the mean time, he was willing to chance it, and Timmons was okay with that. Radar was Weir's game, after all. It was better than going in blind.
Up front in the pilot's seat, Timmons craned his neck to the right to tally his wingman, an A-4F Skyhawk flown by Greg Gates, a short, pudgy, gravel-voiced Dane. They were both tasked for a close air support mission and were currently en route to a fire base which was all but surrounded by rebels but valiantly holding out nonetheless. Timmons' Phantom was actually the backup aircraft; the flight was to be a pair of Skyhawks, but the past-its-prime A-4C piloted by Rafael Cortes of Argentina was down due to mechanical issues, giving them the go.
They were down in the weeds for a reason; 18 hours earlier a flight of four Jaguars of the Royal Asranian Air Force had been unexpectedly blanketed by radar-guided SAMs in the same area after sauntering in at medium-high altitude, with a loss of two aircraft. Ironically, those same launchers had been guarding against rebel aircraft 48 hours earlier; defection of Royal forces to the rebel cause was becoming an all-too-common occurrence in this particular region.
"Where are they, Beamer?" asked Timmons, addressing his RIO by his old Navy call sign.
"Angels twelve, 15 miles due south" replied Weir. "No change in heading yet. I don't think they see us."
"Let's hope it stays that way."
Weir elected not to inform his air-to-air radar deprived wingman of the threat just yet. The Bearded Bhudda, as the others called him, had plenty to deal with in trying to keep from planting his bomb-laden Skyhawk into the desert floor.
Less then a minute later the two aircraft closed in on their target. With no forward air controller present, avoiding friendly casualties would be especially difficult. Weir, able to gain radio contact with the firebase, began to direct both aircraft as best as he could. The two jets screamed over the base at 520 knots and 250 feet before splitting off to make separate passes on the rebel infantry and armor units below.
"Lead's in" radioed Weir. After climbing to the necessary altitude, the Phantom screamed in to attack a mass of infantry and APC's on the south flank of the base.
"Pickle, Pickle…" said Timmons as he triggered the release of six Snakeyes. The aircraft shuddered as the bombs fell away, and seconds later the heavy thump of their explosions was felt as he slammed the throttles to the stops in order to clear the gunfire they were now drawing from below.
"Off safe." called Weir, indicating completion of the first pass.
"Two's in" called Gates. His pass was dead-on, halting a column of T-62's dead in their tracks, leaving burning wreckage and secondary explosions in his wake as the ammunition cooked off in the burning tanks.
As Timmons made the turn for their second and final pass, the radio crackled to life as the base called with an assessment of their initial drop. They'd completely disrupted the enemy's push on the southern flank, though they'd scared the piss out of their own front lines, the bombs having hit a little too close for comfort. Moments later, he pickled their remaining Snakeyes onto a section of BMP-1's booking it to the south of the base. Just before the bombs struck, Weir, the ever vigilant RIO, managed to spot the launch of an SA-7 from one particularly brave enemy trooper. The missile immediately began homing on the hot exhaust of the F-4's turbojet engines. "MANPAD! Break left!" he screamed as he instinctively began punching off flares. At the same time, Timmons pulled the throttles out of afterburner to cool their heat signature. The combination of hard turning and flares was just enough to defeat the missile, which passed by their starboard wing less than 200 feet away.
"That was damned close, Russ" came the call from Greg, who'd witnessed their evasive manuevers. He proceeded to make his second pass, which wasn't as effective as the enemy armor had spread out by now. The damage was done, however; they were already pulling back. Soon both aircraft in the flight were at a safe altitude away from the SAM kill zones. As they pulled away, the final radio call came from the base: "The rebels are fleeing! May God bless you both on this glorious day of victory!"
"You're welcome" muttered Weir. "Did ya hear that, Milk-Bone? Apparently today is a glorious day of victory."
Hearing his old call sign prompted a chuckle from Timmons. "Really? Had me fooled."
Call signs were one cherished tradition that the two had not given up, even if everyone else at Area 88, even their fellow Americans, had all but discarded them. Russell hated his first call sign, given to him at the RAG: "Timid", a lame play on his last name. "Weird" was not much better in Scott's case. Of course, only losers kept their RAG call signs for long. It was an incident in Subic Bay involving a stray mutt and the series of painful rabies shots that followed that earned Timmons his "Milk-Bone" moniker, while Scott managed to acquire "Beamer" after a night of fun with a Rear Admiral's daughter and her brand new BMW that went wrong in legendary fashion.
"You got those bogeys yet?" asked Timmons.
"Workin' on it" came the reply from the back seat. Weir then decided to kindly clue in their wingman. "Hey Greg, we had a radar tally on a pair of bogeys earlier, probably rebel MiGs. We're gonna see if they still wanna play. You in?"
"Thanks, but no thanks" replied the gruff Dane. "I ain't got enough fuel and I ain't got no 'Winders. They're all yours."
"Roger. Have a safe trip."
Weir switched frequencies to radar control to inform them of their commitment to intercept the contacts they'd spotted earlier. At the same time Timmons checked their fuel state. It wasn't horrible but it could have been better. There were no heavy tankers in the Asranian Air Force, and the pair of KC-130's they did have rarely came their way, leaving no margin for error when it came to fuel. Nearly as worrisome was the fact that he had only four pre-Vietnam vintage AIM-9B Sidewinders for air-to-air armament, missiles which were unreliable even in the best of circumstances. They were cheap, however, as their supplier, a cantankerous old coot named McCoy, had truckloads of them to unload. Once those were gone, the only thing that could save him was his Phantom's blazing speed, as the F-4J, like all naval Phantom variants, never possessed an internal gun. In place of his usual SUU-23/A gun pod on the centerline weapons station he had an MER that, up until a few minutes earlier, had been carrying six bombs. Of course, shitty armament and lower than ideal fuel states meant little right at that very moment - there were MiGs in the air, and he was determined to raise some hell with them.
To reduce drag on the airframe, he released the two external tanks on the outboard wing stations. Much to Weir's surprise he also popped loose the two TER's and MER that had carried their air to ground ordnance. "Hey, what are you doin'? Those racks ain't cheap!"
"I'm good for it" replied Timmons. "Now find me some MiGs."
"Keep your panties on…" muttered the busy RIO as he feverishly worked the Phantom's AN/APG-59 radar. "Got 'em! Bearing two-zero-eight at five miles, angels eighteen. They're coming right at us."
"That didn't take long" said Timmons as his heart began to race. "They must have gotten the call from their buddies on the ground. Here we go..."
Two pairs of eyeballs began scanning the airspace ahead of them. Mere seconds later, Russell gained visual ID on the approaching aircraft.
"Tally ho! MiG-17's, eleven o'clock high! There's four of 'em!"
"Roger your tally" replied Beamer. "Let's get some!"
The classic head-on merge came in an instant as the four bandits flashed by overhead. The lead had fruitlessly opened fire with 23mm and 37mm cannon fire which passed harmlessly over their canopy. While the flight of MiG-17's split off into pairs as they executed tight 180 degree turns, Timmons played to his Phantom's strength as he pulled into an Immelman, afterburners blazing as they clawed higher into the sky. Both pilot and RIO kept sight of the MiGs below them as they came inverted over the top. Russell was the first to notice that the pair breaking right had seriously ham-fisted their turn. Seizing the opportunity before Weir could even open his mouth, Timmons armed his Sidewinders and honked into a diving right turn to place him on the tail of the MiGs. The move worked beautifully, and seconds later he rolled wings level with a pair of MiG-17's less than two miles off his nose.
"Come on, Milk-Bone! Get em'!" shouted Weir, the excitement and adrenaline getting the best of him.
A satisfied smile appeared beneath Russell's mask as his Sidewinders growled hungrily in his headset. "Good tone. Fox two!" he said as he let loose one of the heat seeking missiles. Like a shark after blood, the AIM-9 soared straight up the tailpipe of the trailing MiG-17 and exploded in a brilliant flash of fire, sending the old Soviet fighter spiraling toward the ground, its pilot ejecting safely.
The lead MiG was already breaking left in a high-G turn, and Timmons was on him like glue. He no longer had the advantage, however, as the Fresco could turn much tighter than his F-4. The growling in his headset was encouraging, however, and moments later, he fired his second Sidewinder. The AIM-9B was not an all aspect missile, however, and it struggled mightily under heavy G-forces. This one was no exception as it corkscrewed off into empty sky.
"Shit!" cursed Timmons.
"Two MiGs, five o'clock, slightly high" called Beamer as he did the "Linda Blair" over his right shoulder. The other pair of MiGs had decided to rejoin the party. Timmons unloaded the aircraft and dove to regain airspeed; the subsonic MiG-17's could not keep up.
The three bandits quickly formed a circular pattern known as a wagon wheel, daring the Phantom to enter their circle of death. Timmons pulled out of the dive at three thousand feet and immediately cashed in his excess airspeed for altitude as he executed another Immelman. After leveling off at sixteen thousand feet, he tore straight into the wheel in a slashing attack designed to avoid a turning fight. Getting good tone on a MiG circling to the right, he fired a third Sidewinder which stayed true, blowing off the tail of the hapless Fresco. There was no ejection.
"Bingo!" shouted Weir. "40 grand, baby!" He looked over his shoulder and spotted the remaining two MiGs, likely low on fuel, fleeing with their tails between their legs. They weren't doing much better as their Phantom was getting dangerously south of bingo. The intrepid pair decided to pack it in after a good day's work. Timmons removed his mask and took deep, controlled breaths to bring him back down from his adrenaline high.
"Double-echo, this is Gambler zero-seven" radioed Weir to base. "Spash two bandits, I repeat, splash two bandits. Zero-seven is RTB."
"Roger " came the slightly garbled response. "Greg already gave us the good news on the strike. Good work, zero-seven."
During their return flight they encountered two of their fellow pilots, Shin Kazama flying his old F-8E Crusader and Mickey Simon in his even older F-100D Super Sabre as they headed out on a BARCAP mission. "Two MiGs? Not bad for a ground attack sortie" said Mickey after Scott gave him the rundown of their sortie. Simon was even kind enough to give the underside of their Phantom a peek, looking for any holes that didn't belong there.
Kazama didn't say much, which seemed to be SOP for the Japanese aviator who's English was only passable. It didn't matter to Timmons; he would always have a soft spot for pilots who could wow him in the sky, and Shin was certainly one of those pilots. He'd been amazed the one time they engaged in a mock dogfight. Even now he wondered how a civilian could ever pull the kind of moves he witnessed that day as the two fought each other to a draw over the infamous "Indian Country" just north of the base, where pilots of all stripes would test each other's skills, provided they had enough fuel to burn after their sortie.
They landed amongst the shadows of late afternoon. After their debriefing, the twosome grub in the mess hall. Not long after that, Timmons hit the sack for an early afternoon nap while Weir, with his usual boundless energy, hit the recreation hall to pal around and perhaps organize a game of soccer with the motley ground crew and pilots that he'd befriended since their arrival roughly three months earlier. They relaxed while they could, for not more than a few hours later the two would be back in the air to do it all over again.
Like many adolescent boys, Russell D. Timmons had longed for the glory and excitement that only fighter pilots experienced. He was one of the gifted few who possessed the right stuff, however. He had the smarts, the athletic body, and better than 20/20 eyesight. He also had the intangibles, that confidence that spilled over into arrogance when needed that was a common trait amongst the best of the best. Upon graduating high school, he breezed through the U.S. Naval Academy, his eyes never leaving the prize that awaited him when he finally became a real fighter pilot. Of course, the endless and often arduous training, the terrifying night landings aboard tiny, pitching carrier decks, and the tortuous monotony of life at sea were all a part of that prize, but none of that mattered to the young Ensign the day he entered flight school. All that he could envision was the rush that he would feel as his fighter screamed in for the kill.
Reality had been quite a shock once he'd left the RAG to finally experience squadron life with the Screaming Eagles of VF-51, flying F-4B Phantoms aboard USS Coral Sea. He took it all in relative stride; he was living his dream, after all. His first deployment was to Vietnam where he spent more time moving mud and dodging SA-2's than dogfighting enemy MiGs. It was still combat, something many pilots never experienced during their career. His next two deployments were post-war exercises in boredom that merely served to test the patience of Lydia, the beautiful, petite farmer's daughter that he'd met back home in Wisconsin just before leaving for the Gulf of Tonkin and had married not long after returning.
He'd grown to love Lydia more than anything - more than flying. Once his third deployment was finished he was given the option of leaving behind the career that he still cherished. The mere thought of leaving the Navy while still in his prime had been inconceivable to him, but that was before an ultimatum from his wife came in the form of a plain white letter received late during his last cruise aboard USS Kitty Hawk after a long draught of communication. The letter was straight to the point, just like Lydia had always been, just like he loved. She had grown to hate her husband's chosen career. The long deployments, which certainly took their toll on him, had been far too much for his young wife to handle. Not even shore duty would placate her. She'd already moved back to her hometown early in the cruise. She would return to Miramar to greet him upon his return, but would be heading back to Wisconsin for good shortly thereafter. Whether he accompanied her or not was up to him.
The day Lieutenant Timmons turned in his wings had been the hardest of his life. In spite of that, he felt that he had made the right decision. Soon he was living with his wife in an old farmhouse not far from his hometown of Kiel, Wisconsin. He'd taken a piloting job for one of the small regional airlines flying out of Green Bay. As much as he missed being at the controls of a high performance fighter jet, he was happy. He was still flying, and he still had his wife. Life was good, even if the emotional distance that had grown between them hadn't closed as quickly as he'd wished for.
It was late on a cold and rainy Wednesday evening in March that his life officially went to hell. His flight to Rockford had been canceled, and he was free to return home. He decided to surprise his wife and elected not to call. Arriving home with a single rose he'd purchased at the airport gift shop, he was surprised to find another vehicle in his driveway, a brown Chevy pickup truck that he did not recognize. His pulse quickened as his mind raced with all of the possibilities. He silently made his way up the stairs toward theirbedroom. He cracked to door open slowly upon arrival, and he felt his heart turn to stone and then crumble to pieces in the space of a few seconds.
There was his darling Lydia, the girl he'd given up his dream for, sound asleep in the arms of another man.
Some men might have grown violently angry at this point. Russell didn't; he was too stunned for that. Quietly closing the door, he made his way back downstairs in a daze, leaving the rose on the kitchen counter. He exited the house, got in his car, and began driving to nowhere in particular. He didn't get very far.
It was two days later when he woke up in a hospital bed, horrible pain emanating from his shattered right leg, not to mention the severe concussion he'd suffered. It was a nurse that told him what happened, that he'd ran a stop sign at a rural intersection, plowing straight into the passenger side of a semi-truck tractor. He was lucky to be alive, but he didn't feel lucky, not in the slightest.
Once out of the hospital, the marriage of Russell and Lydia Timmons quickly dissolved. She moved in with Sam, a childhood friend who'd become her lover during Russell's last cruise. After selling the house, he departed Wisconsin for San Diego, sharing a small apartment with Lt. Scott Weir, one of his old squadron buddies, recently removed the Navy himself and now navigating uncharted waters as a civilian. After a lengthy period of rehab for his leg, Timmons attempted to re-join the Navy, but failed his physical due to concerns over his reconstructed right knee. Of course, he was convinced that the doctor was simply an S.O.B. who had it in for him…
It was the morning after a long night of drinking with Scotty, who was going through a messy breakup of his own, that Russell made another fateful decision. He had rarely read Life magazine in the past, but the inset picture of a Vought F-8E Crusader got his attention. Turning to the article, he was instantly fascinated by the tale of a rag-tag group of mercenary pilots fighting in a civil war in northern Africa. Then it hit him, and it was as if a door he didn't even know was there had opened and was beckoning him to enter. Russell Timmons knew what he needed to do.
It was less than two weeks later that he found himself on a 747 bound for Tel Aviv, where he would transfer to a military charter waiting to take him to Area 88, a mercenary airbase deep within the blood stained deserts of Asran. Of course, having flown two-seaters throughout his naval career, he didn't want to go it alone. It took a little work, but he'd managed to convince Scott, one of the top RIOs back in his days as a Screaming Eagle, to tag along with him.
Not long after that, Timmons, almost a million dollars in debt to the Government of Asran , was the proud owner of his very own fighter that McCoy had somehow liberated from the Davis-Monthan bone yard in Arizona. He immediately decorated his jet with a black tail accompanied by a red band at the tip and a rendering of an eagle with talons extended in tribute to his old Navy squadron. Along with the tail, the canopy was surrounded by black anti-glare paint extending from the tip of the nose to just behind the rear cockpit, helping to break up the otherwise faded gull grey paint job. It felt good to be back in the cockpit of an honest to shit fighter jet. It felt like home to him.
Halfway around the world from his small-town Midwestern roots, F-4 Phantom strapped to his ass, screaming along the deck at breakneck speed, Russell was no longer a 34 year old ex-naval officer and divorcee. He was that excitable 18 year-old all over again, with visions of his name sitting comfortably amongst the great American aces. Rickenbacker, Bong, Boyington, Olds, Cunningham, Ritchie…
Ironically, even though he would easily break the record among American jet aces at his current pace, he would never be recognized as such. He was no longer fighting as an American. Technically, he was fighting to preserve the Kingdom of Asran. He could give a rat's ass about Asran. It was a hot, dusty, miserable place to live. Making things worse, the Base Commander, Lt. Col. Saki Vashtar, seemed to be as big a prick as any CO he'd ever encountered in the Navy.
Rest assured, he didn't fight for them. No, Russell Timmons fought for Scotty, his RIO and best buddy. He fought for his wingmen, and the other mercenary pilots of Area 88. He fought to preserve his big, beautiful Phantom, his only prized possession. He fought for that rush of adrenaline that he endlessly craved. He fought for the long and glorious career in the Navy that he was never going to have.
Most of all, he fought against the memories of the little farm girl who stole his heart and then shattered it into a million pieces.