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Looking for Wings


Amyante
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The first batch of Zargathian recruits to Cochin's Air Warrior Training Center were flown in, ironically, arriving in the city of Urumqi only a little behind schedule. Officially the delay had been due to a minor technicality prior to takeoff, but unofficially it had been an addition to the passenger lists that had been the reason.

Captain Michelle Chen was chosen to be among the first to undergo Engineering training. Though the as of yet still unnamed project she had been leading as part of ZEIS' R&D division had had full priority until then, the simple reason for her to be present now was that at the current impasse, there was little left to do.

The fact that she was ZEIS, or the Zargathian version of Secret Service, didn't bother her much, as one look at the rest of her fellow recruits had her recognize at least three quarters of the faces. Despite belonging to sometimes entirely different Divisions, ZEIS was a tightly knit group with a strong sense of 'family', and as they were trusted the most it made sense for them to be the first to undergo training.

As the plane touched down in Urumqi, she recalled the route, and knew they would still have a long way to go until they reached their final destination, Pavlodar. She was looking forward to the training she would be getting, mostly for the prospects of working with technology Zargathia simply didn't have access to yet. But that might of course change in a few years...

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The arriving Zargathian soldiers were ordered into rank formation by a Squad Sergeant. They stood under the sizzling hot sun for about 15 minutes when an AXE Jeep drove up to them. A short thickset man came out and walked to the group. The man had the physical configuration of a bear but the eyes of a particularly misdemeanored hawk and spoke in a gravelly voice.

"Welcome to Cochin, Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Col. Abdul Sathar. I shall be the commanding officer of your training batch. I was a Squadron Leader in the RF23 regiment of Mig29s and before that a squad leader in RF30 regiment in Vladivostok. I am proficient in Mig29s, Mig35s and Jadayu Mk.1 . I am currently serving this duty rotation in Training Command before being assigned my regiment of Mig35s."

"I shall make it my personal challenge to ensure that you qualify to fly the RCAF Mig29s. I am a patriot, and so I assume must you all be, because you have all volunteered to this training regime. When you pass out of the Air Warfare Academy in Pavlodar, you will be among the best of the best of the best in the community of aviators. Do as I say, obey my commands and you shall graduate. For the next 3 months you are not Zargathian. You are mine."

"Now grab your gear and board that Metac. Double time!!"

A Metac of RCAF was waiting about 200 meters away and the Zargathian troops were ordered to run and board the airplane being paced by the Sergeant. The Colonel was driven to the plane in his jeep.

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OOC: Just for the record, a Wing Commander is equivalent to an army Lt. Colonel. Since you're using army ranks i figured i'd point it out, different system and all :P

IC:

The Colonel would find the recruits to be in file and rank, divided into a group of 25 with a Lt. Colonel standing in front of them, and a smaller group of 15 led by Captain Chen. They waited for fifteen minutes for their welcoming committee to arrive, and though there were a few among their number that appeared to be uncomfortable under the heat of the sun the majority of ZEIS members had been through far, far worse during basic training.

After the Colonel's introduction, the Lt. Colonel would grab the pack next to him and walk over to the Colonel, giving a perfect salute before adjusting his glasses.

- "Good morning sir, i am Wing Commander McFadden, leading this sorry bunch of wannabee pilots. The smaller group is led by Captain Chen, and are here for the Engineering program."

He saluted again, and if the Colonel had nothing to say then he would simply proceed as ordered and board the Metac.

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The Colonel would acknowledge the salute from the Zargathian Lt. Colonel and said, " Welcome Wg. Cdr. Mc Fadden. We shall meet more thoroughly at AWA, Pavlodar. As the leader of the group you wont be exempt from any of the training rigors and I would expect you to become the model for the rest of your recruits. Protocol dictates that I cannot treat you as a Lt. Colonel now. Perhaps after graduation, we may make more cordial introductions. For now, you have to be with your soldiers."

With everyone aboard, the Metac lifted off and set in a Westerly direction for Pavlodar.

Hours later they landed at Pavlodar and 2 trucks and an Axe Jeep pulled besides the Metac.

The Squad Sergeant bellowed the Zargathian soldiers to climb aboard the trucks. Engineers aboard one and pilots aboard the other. The Colonel was driven off to the base in the Axe.

For the next three months of preparations, the Zargathian engineers and aviators would be trained differently under totally different training environments.

The Engineers would be first driven to the Mikoyan Guyerevich Technical Institute where they would be thoroughly indoctrinated on the technology they would be working with as Mig29 technicians. Reaching the institute they would find a barracks being set aside for them. The Barracks were reasonably spartan in accouterments.

The pilots would be driven off to the Aviator Barracks that were no more luxurious than their engineer brothers, with the disadvantage that it was not at all insulated to sound.

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During the trip, Captain Chen had remained fairly quiet, trying to suppress a strange feeling of nervousness similar to what she felt right before important tests. Upon arriving at the Mikoyan Guyerevich Technical Institute, she was one of the first to jump out of the truck, looking around to catch a glimpse of what it was they would be working with. They were led to a reasonably spartan barracks, though that didn't faze her much. At least the sections for male and female trainees were separate.

-----

During the trip, McFadden had been talking to the other recruits, trying to answer the questions they had and telling some of the finer anecdotes from his own time at the Academy in his country of birth. He knew training to be different everywhere and as such found himself looking forward to what variations of basic training would be thrown his way this time. It felt odd to be back in school, but Command had ordered him along for a refresher trip, and helicopters and fighter jets were a world apart, so he could understand why. As the truck reached its destination he was one of the last to leave the truck, making sure no one left anything behind. They were led to a reasonably spartan barracks that wasn't very insulated to sound, but anyone having spent half a month near screaming engines would barely notice it. Too bad the sections for male and female trainees were separate though.

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The two groups were woken up at 0400 by a harsh siren in their barracks. They were given 5 minutes to be ready for morning physicals. Everyone was issued RCAF uniforms. An hour long jogging followed by a series of physical exercises would form their daily routine for the next three months. It was acknowledged that these trainees were experienced soldiers, however certain conditions had to be met for the rigors that they will experience during the training.

Their first class was about the aircraft itself. The class was conducted by Col. Sathar.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to your first day at Air Warfare Academy , Pavlodar. Now I understand that you are all qualified in Mi24, Hinds. Do any of you have experience flying fixed wing aircrafts?"

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McFadden woke up to the siren almost instantly, and after a momentary pause of trying to figure out what was happening, laughed out loud. Oh yeah, he remembered this part all right! When the soldiers walked into the barracks with a stack of uniforms they would find him already getting dressed, though the RCAF uniforms meant he would need to change into them first. It didn't matter though, as he still ended up being one of the first to be ready. Time to run circles around the newbies...

After training, he was led to a room where his first class was to take place, feeling light as a feather unlike some of the others in his group. He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms as he noticed the same Colonel from Urumqi to be the teacher. In response to his question, he was the only one to raise his hand.

- "I have, sir. Couple of flights in a Tomcat, flew an Eagle once but that's about it."

-----

As the alarm went off, Chen tried to jump up, but found herself tangled in her sheets too much, and subsequently fell out of bed. Well, at least she was awake now. Massaging her face, she could tell there would be quite a bruise forming, but that was of later concern as several soldiers carrying uniforms came walking into the barracks. She got changed, but the aftereffects of the blow to the head and leftover drowsiness meant she was one of the last to leave the barracks.

After the morning training, she was feeling like she had been hit by a train, mostly due to tripping during teh course a couple of times. She was a heavy sleeper dammit! As she was led into her first classroom, she tried to ignore how her face was looking and find a place in the back of the room, praying to God for access to a mug of coffee.

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"Okay, Mig29 is a 4th Generation air superiority fighter which has been modified by Gosree Aeronautics Limited as a Multi Role Combat Aircraft, which means with the addition of a few extra mission specific packages it can be converted to a ground attack and deep penetration attack bomber. Now in front of you are the course materials that you have to study for the first week of training. This week you shall study the basics of Mig29, basics of fixed wing flights etc. Next week you shall study about the various technical aspects of fixed wing flying including simulator time for simulation in Piper Training Aircraft.

Once you have gained proficiency in Piper Simulation you will have to fly a Piper and get a Proficiency Grade. Once you have passed Pipers you will be subjected to one week each of flight training in Basic Jet Trainers and Interim Jet trainers and finally Advanced Jet Trainers. Only if you qualify for these aircrafts would you be permitted to pass on to Mig29 training.

Mig29s are expensive aircrafts, and the lives you may endanger when not properly trained are even more expensive.

Now, all this would require extensive study and hard work. The exercises you do in the morning may seem trivial or intrusive to some of you who may have received even more intensive physical training. However do NOT take it lightly. The physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion that you will go through while undergoing this training course would be far more debilitating than any Survival Course. I know what I am speaking. I have done survival courses, in the most extreme terrain possible, but that seemed cakewalk after the pressures of this course.

Only the best are allowed to be RCAF fighter pilots, and I shall make sure that you will be amongst them.

Now on top of all this study materials you each have to appear for one hour of flight per day. Each of you have been assigned to a fighter pilot from the Mig Trainer Regiment and their two seater Mig29 trainers. You shall be the rear trainee and experience the act of flying in Mig29s but would not be permitted to touch any controls. Every day your classes get over at 1700. Precisely at 1730 the Mig29s will take off, with you or without you for an hour of flight. Each missed day would count severely against your Flight Proficiency Grades.

Now these fighter pilots would pull maneuvres that would make you wish you were never born. If a drop of barf or urine falls inside any of my planes you would have me to answer to.

Now your class starts. Today class terminates at 1630 so that you may meet up with the trainers assigned to you. Good luck to you all."

-----------------------

The 15 engineers were met an hour later by Col. Sathar.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Good morning. You are going to take care of the premier strike fighters of your country. You are more important than any aviator, no matter what any pilot tells you. I am a combat fighter pilot with years of experience and hence I know how I would just be a ill trained infantry man if it were not for proficient engineers who got my aircraft ready everyday.

Your jobs may not be glamorous, you may not wear the scarves and goggles, but your job is all the more important because of that. A pilot can eject out of a damaged aircraft, but an aircraft has no recourse other than to crash thus denying vital combat power to your nation and losing millions of dollars of investment.

You shall not be receive much of a formal class room training now. For the next one month you shall work alongside the RCAF mechanics here, learn the trade hands on. These technicians and instructors have trained generations of engineers for Royal Cochin Air Force, Royal Cochin Navy and Royal Cochin Army. After the hands on training and experience you will receive formal technical classes on various technologies you may have to encounter. Never hesitate to ask a doubt. Merit is the sole criterion in RCDF. You can ask a question at any time, at any place. The libraries at MGTI are open all the time. Learn as much as you can about your aircrafts, because when your nation is in war technical expertise from Cochin may not always be timely in arrival.

So, I bid you best of luck."

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McFadden listened to the speech, noting with satisfaction that not much had changed since his own time in flight school. His advantage over the other trainees was that he had been in a fixed wing fighter before, even piloted one, and though his skills were a little rusty at least he knew how his body would hold up under the G-forces. It would be interesting to see how the others would handle it however, he suspected at least half of them to think flying a fighter jet was comparable to flying an attack helicopter. Well, other than trying to keep the thing from making a nice sized crater, anyway.

Class continued on to 1700 hours, and he arrived fifteen minutes early, rubbing his hands in anticipation of being able to fly again. Though he had never flown in one himself, he had heard about the Migs and was looking forward to seeing how they'd handle up in the sky. His mind went through some of the maneuvers he preferred to pull in the Tomcats, and wondered idly if he would end up being more skilled than his pilot.

-----

Chen's unease from the morning was mostly swept away when Colonel Sathar arrived to tell them the training program they had in store for the Engineers. Hands-on training was her favorite kind, as she preferred to leave the pencil pushing to other people. Most of the time, she could delegate the paperwork she was supposed to fill in to her assistant. Most of the time. After Sathar bid them good luck, she made a visible effort not to run to the engineering section where she would waste little time in finding something to do. Working on Migs was preferred of course, but something simpler would do for now.

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The Piper and Basic Jet training having been concluded now it is time for the trainees to get ready for IJT and AJT training. For that each trainee would now undergo centrifuge tests. The trainees would each be led to the massive centrifuge facility and strapped into their cells.

The centrifuge would exert upwards to +-11 Gs in horizontal and vertical axes and up to 85G in Short duration jerks. For the next two weeks the trainees would be subjected to G force tests every alternative days until they show optimum lucidness and are properly conditioned.

Before their IJT and AJT flight tests the trainees would also be tested on the flight simulators. Situated in a massive hangar are around 25 simulators which are customized for each aircraft in RCAF inventory. For now the trainees are exposed to IJT and AJT models. They would be tested through all possible environmental conditions. Combat simulation would be commenced only after they clear AJT tests and qualify for Mig29 trials. For now onus is on flying skills.

------------------------------------

The engineer trainees are meanwhile fully engaged in their own training. Starting from basic systems maintenance, they are also taught about basic engine maintenance. Mockups of Mig29's RD33 engines were disassembled and trainees were all asked to put it back together within one hour.

Their next test would be to analyze another test engine for its faults and to correct it. They would have to disassemble the engine and reassemble it in full working order.

The engineers were also taught about the hydraulics, telemetry, avionics and computer systems in the fighter.

Next they would learn hands on maintenance of live engines and pass muster before the Chief Technicians of the MGTI.

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Much as McFadden had expected, it took a little while for his body to get used to the feeling of high G's again, but it felt reassuring to see how some of the other trainees handled it. He wasn't getting that old after all... Now that training had officially begun, it was interesting to see some division between the pilots start to form. Already you could see some handling it better than others, where some trainees simply slumped against the wall trying to hold their lunch a girl that looked half his age was talking energetically with some of her equally less-pale looking friends. He made a mental note to keep an eye on her progress, though he did the same for what appeared to form into the lower tier of trainee. In here, he was their senior officer, and it would be up to him to keep a check on morale for the duration.

After that came the flight simulators. Though it was a little after his time, he still managed to get used to the controls. To him, this was mostly a refresher course, and his experience had been the very reason he had been sent along for this trip: The students would likely try to outperform him, pulling the average score up more than an inexperienced trainee would have. High ranks had that kind of effect on people.

-----

Chen in the meantime was faring a little less well, most of which had to do with her tendency to experiment improve technology she was working on. More often than not the tests she had been put on were finished a little past the schedule due to her asking why a part was connected the way it did, or analyzing a way where the engine would perhaps be made more compact without compromising heat buildup. Yes, maybe if the air intake was made a little bigger then the cooling could be made smaller to make the plane more agile... But that would likely make the plane slower as it had an effect on aerodynamics... Maybe if--

*BZZT*

Dammit!

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This was the day the trainees were all waiting for. Their first assisted flight in Mig29. Over the past weeks they had spent hours flying as a passenger and no matter how they felt chafed at the indignity, today was payback. During the hours of flight their instructors had pulled maneuvers, some so crazy they would regret not writing their wills. The instructors are all veteran combat pilots with thousands of hours of experience in type. They had all volunteered for this job while waiting for posting in their regimental posts. The best of these instructors would also get a chance to be GAL test pilots and that was a job these aviators craved more than anything else.

So today they would chaperone their wards on their first assisted flights.

Strapped in and ready at 0800.

Capt. Sidhu was flying RF2401, the lead plane, with Lt. Col. McFadden with him. Col. Sathar had told him that this guy had some flight experience. Well today he would have a chance to prove it.

The flight would be plain vanilla. The first flights usually are to give that measure of confidence. Take off , pass through four 3 Dimensional spherical checkpoints of 10 meters diameter and land. The first 10 flights would be of this nature with ever shrinking sphere diameter.

In the next stage, the same test would have to be performed with only instrumental guidance. An opaque cover would be laid on top of the canopy to deny any external visual reference. Take off, check points and landings would all have to be done visually blind with only instruments to guide the pilot. The instructor would take control over at the hint of a serious trouble.

In the third stage, flight recovery capability of the pilot would be tested. The instructor would stall the aircraft and cause aircraft to lose control, the trainee pilot would have to successfully recover from this condition about a certain preset altitude.

In the fourth stage, aerial refueling maneuver would be taught, first by example and then by trainees themselves from an empty Merat. This stage would be performed in clear flying conditions.

In the fifth stage, aerial refueling maneuver would be tested under adverse weather conditions, viz, night.

In the sixth and last stage of flight tests, the trainee pilots would be taken to a different airfield. The trainee pilot would be given the coordinates of his present location and be ordered to fly to another coordinates. The trainee would have to plot the course over a standard field map and fly there, without assistance of GPS or maps. This test would be conducted at night to deny visual references. The trainee once having plotted the course would have to fly to the destination without maps, thus testing his field craft and navigational skills. Only coordinates of the destination would be given, no visual or electronic pointers would be placed to mark the landing strip, the pilot would have to identify the landing strip themselves and land. A Merat Aerial Tanker would be aloft to refuel if necessary, but each refueling would deduct points from their grades.

After the flight tests, the combat tests would begin for these trainee aviators.

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McFadden looked at the controls of the Mig, similar to those he had gotten used to in the simulator but knowing that this time, it would be the real deal again. He wondered idly how the other students would hold up. Their minds would have gotten used to the controls as their bodies had accustomed to the G forces, but keeping one's cool when realizing that their actions directly determined the G forces their bodies would be put under as well as now being the one responsible for keeping thirty thousand pounds of metal in the air required a certain 'edge' he knew not everyone would be able to handle at first. There would be some growing pains to deal with tonight.

Reaching forward, he pushed the button that would start the engine. He didn't care much for how it started, it was the job of Engineering to make sure that it did just like it was his job of making sure Engineering had a working plane to work with upon his return. Taking a little extra runway during takeoff -- not like he was launching from a carrier anyway -- he flew through the air not soon afterwards, doing some basic maneuvers to get a feel for how the plane reacted. Nodding to himself, he steadied the plane, resisting the urge to look at a Captain named Sidhe sitting behind him. Keeping the plane perfectly aligned, he awaited his instructions.

True to his callsign, Ramus, his movements during the checkpoint run were fluid and controlled, flying relaxed like there was nothing to worry about. In a way, there wasn't, given that his prior missions had all been mercenary work, and they usually got the jobs that people didn't want to risk their own pilots on. As a result, he got to enjoy the few moments he wasn't shot at, and this would be one of them. Just four checkpoints on a near-zero chance of hostilities, what more could a man wish for?

In sharp contrast to this was one of the trainees that came after him, a young P.O. called Katina 'Havoc' Sørensen. Preferring to fly at full thrust and, at own admission, full impatience she proved to be difficult to work with. Though still managing to fly through the waypoints okay, the flight simulator lessons showed that she was capable of keeping a plane steady: She just preferred not to. Still, her grades were consistently among the highest of the trainees, despite the demerits for 'misconduct'. With the combat tests about to get underway, it would be interesting to see the results.

Edited by Amyante
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Capt. Sidhu observed McFadden flying, his own hands just inches away from his own control stick to take over in case of a mistake by the Lt. Colonel.

"Well at least the old guy can fly level and straight without much jitters. Good," Sidhu thought.

Meanwhile Col. Sathar was observing the flights from the ATC where he could also observe the feed from the Merat AWACS orbiting overhead. He observed the antics of the pilot Sorensen and tried hard to hide a smirk, after all, he could not let out that the Colonel liked aggressive and maverick aviators! It would undermine the discipline. Col. Sathar made a mental point to go through the recordings of Sorensen's simulation flights.

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Going by the instruments came almost naturally for most of the trainees, McFadden included, as the people in charge had a tendency of pushing a few buttons and envelop the area in the pitch black night or heavy fog as landings were attempted. It had caused more than one test flight to fail, but the true purpose of it was that the trainees would rely less on visual references and more on their instruments as was proven with the second stage of testing.

McFadden's flight route was remarkably similar to the first, steady and smooth barring a few alterations given that the wind had picked up a little for which he needed to compensate. Unfortunately for the pilot guiding Sørensen, her flight was also similar to the first, including a rather aggressive dive to catch one of the waypoints without having to make a second pass.

Colonel Sathar would notice while reviewing Sørensen's simulator data that unlike a number of other students that preferred to forget the crazy maneuvers they were pulled through as passengers, she actually placed a lot of effort in mastering them for her own use, something which could likely be blamed for her current flying style. Ironically, one could note that the pilot was getting a taste of his own medicine...

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Col. Sathar was noting all aspects of flying of every trainee, with a special eye towards Sorensen.

"Too colicky, brashness of youth and sense of invincibility. This girl obviously thinks that death is something that happens to others not her. Flight skills excellent, but better judgment required." This was Sathar's notes after the second stage pass flight of PO Sorensen. He knew that he would have to have a chat with this trainee sooner or later. It would be too bad to lose a pilot like her to pure stupidity.

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The third stage was also familiar territory to McFadden. As soon as the aircraft started to stall and he got the signal to commence, he wasted little time in pitching the nose downward in the direction the plane was descending in, calmly waiting for the aircraft to pick up airspeed and gently pull back up once the warning light had turned off. Stalls were nothing to worry about to anyone with a little combat experience, it was the spins that killed pilots. Tomcats were easy in that regard, though they were hard to get in a spin, they were almost impossible to break free of one as well and ejecting was usually the only choice pilots had. Only one person he knew of had pulled it off, and too many died trying.

To Sørensen's credit, she was almost as quick to recover from the stall as McFadden had been, though a large part of that had to do with her antics in the simulator giving her unintended experience in dealing with stalls and, to a lesser extent, spins. She ultimately pulled up some fifty feet lower than the Wing Commander, most of it due to the fact that she switched to full thrust again after pitching down where McFadden had simply not bothered adding more thrust and allowed the plane to do the work for him.

At this point, things were looking good for twenty out of the twentyfive trainees, the remaining five skirting close to failing grades. Among the Engineers, the numbers were twelve out of fifteen, with Captain Chen having average scores.

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"Capt. Naresh, how is your trainee, P.O. Sorensen holding up?" Col. Sathar asked the instructor assigned to the Zargathian pilot.

"Sir, she has good controls and admirable reflexes. Though I am not really sure how much she is in control of her situational awareness."

"How do you think she would handle in a real crisis, not a simulation, a real crisis?"

"That would be a sure fire test of her mettle. She is too depended on engine power and thus more prone to engine assisted flights."

"How about unassisted flight, how does it look to you?"

"You mean gliding? You really want me to have some fun dont you, Sir?" Capt. Naresh laughingly asked the senior officer.

"Just have some fun out there, Naresh. I shall talk to the maintenance engineers to fix it up accordingly. For the fourth stage, ie, refueling demonstration, your Merat would be farther away and before reaching there your engine would develop a fault and would not start again. The fighter would lose altitude and she must be able to make a controlled crash landing. Since the tank would be empty anyways flight should not be much of a problem. She should know the real art of flying, not just rocket sledding like any dumb jock. Your priority is to make sure that she does not crash and burn, bring back the pilot, forget the plane, do you understand?"

"Sir, yes, sir." Capt. Naresh saluted smartly and went off to his quarters to plan the next flight.

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Sørensen's flight proceeded pretty much as planned. Her plane had simply been given less fuel than the others and the fuel meter had been tinkered with, that being the safest method by far to achieve the intended result. Add to that that the young pilot's maneuvering burned through the remaining fuel at a faster pace than average, and the engine started becoming faulty well before the Merat had been reached.

- "...Eh?"

The engine remained quiet, and she pressed teh button to get the engine started again. It didn't work. She pressed the button again, a couple of times in a row, but still the engine wouldn't catch on. Another meter showed that they were starting to lose altitude, and she tapped some of the instrument meters, checking if the indicator needles were stuck or something. Ejecting was at that point the last thing on her mind.

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Capt. Naresh observed the predicament from his instructor's seat and said, "Sorensen, seems like you have burned up all the fuel through your maneuvering. Now the only option is to glide back or to eject. You should have realized that fuel is not infinite. Your choice, Sorensen."

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Sørensen looked over her shoulder as Captain Naresh spoke, then turned to tap the fuel meter again. The needle still showed she had a full tank, but the engine didn't seem to agree.

- "Yeah but... The damn fuel meter's busted!"

She took a deep breath, then leaned back, balling her hands into fists to build up some adrenaline. Though going by the frustration she was feeling, that wasn't all too hard.

- "Right, this was in class somewhere... Keep airspeed to avoid stalling, and from there into a controlled belly landing, how's that sound?"

To avoid stall, she pitched the nose of the aircraft at an angle down to avoid stalling. The radar told her the Merat was too far to glide towards for refueling, as difficult as that may have sounded, but she refused to give up the plane.

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Capt. Naresh sensed the building panic in the Pilot Officer. "Sorensen, do not panic, the aircraft is still airworthy. I hope you remember the aerodynamics classes? We still have the wings, the tail and the rudder. With zero fuel in tank we are further lighter than normal. Try to get some airspeed over the wings. If you think you cant hack it, you may eject, no problems. I guess the engineers must have screwed up with some thing. There is an alternate air strip 5 kms away. Try to make it there."

Even if Sorensen ejected, Capt. Naresh would have stayed to glide the Mig29 back to the landing strip. With the sounds of an engine flying at this altitude of 25000 ft was truly one of the greatest luxuries an aviator could have, the feeling of soaring like an eagle.

That was the true flying that Col. Sathar wanted Sorensen to learn, not the tom foolery of maneuvers. So long as one knows how to fly, maneuvers come easy.

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Sørensen nodded, keeping a surprisingly stable pace as she headed in the direction Naresh pointed her in. She liked flying, enjoyed the press of G forces pushing her into the seat, but when it came down to emergencies the plane came before her personal enjoyment. She was a little nervous throughout the gliding, with Naresh offering her advice on how to adjust her approach accordingly since she was used to coming in low. She ended up holding her breath at pitching the nose up, timing the braking effect of wind resistance against stall speeds, but ultimately the plane touched down in one piece. The landing was a little on the hard side, but the plane held.

- "GYAH! ...Good going girl, i'd buy you a beer if i could."

Tapping the instrument panel in front of her, there was little doubt who -- or what, in this case -- she was referring to. She felt as if she could feel her pulse in her teeth, and for the continued well-being of the Engineering Squad hoped she didn't run into one before she'd had a chance to get a drink and calm down.

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Hailing a Jeep from the Air Field the two pilots drove to the AWA. They drove straight to Col. Sathar's office. After a scant 20 seconds of waiting, the two officers were shown in. Col. Sathar was in a nasty mood going through some of his regular paper work. He looked up at the two aviators and said,

"Well? What the hell happened up there? I received message from the Merat that you guys took an unplanned stop at AAB528. Either of you want to explain yourselves?"

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Sørensen looked up at Colonel Sathar, feeling more than a little disappointed in herself. While she hadn't ejected, she still felt at least partially to blame for what had happened, yet didn't look away when the Colonel looked at her. Responsibility and defeatism were still quite far apart.

- "Fuel indicator glitched, sir. It showed a full tank during takeoff, and we ran out of fuel before reaching the Merat. Saved the plane though."

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