Eight Hundred and Eighty Eight: Welkin Sovereignty
In the skies were birds——birds that had a sense of direction, a sense of a goal, a decided route. Flocks of them seemed chaotically flocking around——some falling back, some advancing forth, but they have always flown in a straight line, and contrary to sight, in organized groups.
Such was a peaceful day somewhere in the country of States of Solidarity. The white, puffy clouds accentuated the cyan sky, but something passed swiftly to disturb the sky’s serenity. The birds were scattered.
“’Fly 1’, status.”
“Optimal, instruments reading correctly. Awaiting permission.”
“Standby for grant.”
“Copy, standing by for grant, ’Fly 1’ craft.”
The silver aircraft raced through the sky with a shrill humming sound; its engines were roaring to go, but restrained by the throttle. Just like the birds, this aircraft had a goal, not from itself, but by its pilots; a route already decided, but one that does not end.
Off the radio, the pilot flying called to the pilot monitoring behind, “You ready, Dylan?”
“Yeah! Let’s take off to the skies like no one before!”
The grins of excitement were masked inside their helmets, but not even that could hide both of their anticipations. Their hand movements became sharper; their heads and eyes alert; their body stiffened to prepare for what is to come, which is not ahead, but above.
“Permission granted. Proceed at discretion.”
“Roger,” replied the pilot flying.
“I’m going to activate the VTOL engines now.” The pilot in the backseat fiddled with some levers that were awkwardly placed in the cockpit.
“Preparing for the drop. Ready.”
The master lever was flipped. “VTOL running.”
Then, the pilot flying slowly eased on one set of throttles and slowly pushes forward another. The motion gently changed upwards. The airspeed indicator denoted a drop in horizontal speed, and the vertical speed indicator started skyrocketing.
“That’s—” the pilot monitoring stopped, as he struggled to adjust to the sudden change in momentum. “That feels like 3 Gs right there!”
“Then that means it’s working,” he grinned. “Is the transformation ready?”
At this point, the aircraft has stopped moving forward and only upwards. The shrill noise the horizontal engines made was now the gentler hum compared to the winding noise of the VTOL engines. Though, the horizontal engines weren’t shut down yet. Then, the aircraft slowly hovered to a halt, now unsteadily floating twenty-thousand feet above the desert's barren ground. The pilots inside rapidly went through the required procedures of this flight.
“VTOL elevators extended and active. Rudders split. Instrument readings are correct. All nominal.”
“Confirmed optimal settings, ready for transformation.”
“I affirm optimal conditions. Pre-EWR SOP complete. Activating wing transformation.”
The wings on their flanks seemed to fold and extend; the craft began to dip forward, so the pilot restrained with his controls. After recovering to level attitude, the aircraft slightly hovered backward. In response, the pilot flying slowly gave power to the horizontal engines to stabilize the flight.
“A feisty one, isn’t she?” he said as he achieved level flight.
“Yep, but we’re just getting to the best part!”
Upon hearing this, the pilot flying shut off the horizontal engines and tipped the craft slightly forward to stay still in midair. “’Fly’ craft to Sandgram, status: EWR-ready. Awaiting grant.”
“Copy, ‘Fly’ craft. Five knots at heading 065, gusts of two knots, no wind shear, 45 degrees Celsius, skies are clear. EWR activation at own discretion.” The ATC controller failed to seal the excitement from his voice but maintained professionalism on air. She continued, “We’re about to witness a bird of a lifetime.”
“Copy that, Sandgram. Five knots at heading 065, gusts of two knots, no wind shear, 45 degrees Celsius, clear skies. Flapping at own discretion.” Then, he turned behind him, “Are the recorders ready?”
“Yeah! All in 4K, 240 FPS, action ready too!”
“Let’s flap our wings.”
The bird that had two pairs of wings now had four pairs. The conventional rudder found in fighter jets now disappeared and has become part of the fuselage. Apart from that, nothing has changed in its structure, but it looked like a different beast as if it was an alien craft sent from outer space.
“Powering Reflex!” As he said this, he pushed forward the third power throttle found in his console; the vibrations within the cockpit intensified; the usual shrill hum of the VTOL engines are now subdued by the quickening flutter of the four pair of wings——the wings themselves were vibrating and rapidly oscillating providing much of the lift. In the cockpit, they were silenced by their feeling of novel marvel. Sky-high, they intensively watched the flapping beside them. “We—we are flying… like an eagle!”
After a few seconds which felt like minutes, the backseat pilot broke the silence, “We must move it! Let’s not waste any more fuel.”
“You’re right.” Again, he contacted base, “’Fly’ craft to Sandgram, are you witnessing this?”
A, “Yes,” that was a bit too enthusiastic for a professional air controller. “Proceed to the final phase of testing.”
“Roger that. Before that, can you hear me well even with all these vibrations?”
“Radio is 10-4.”
“Thank you, Sandgram. Now proceeding to— requesting permission to proceed to the final phase.”
“Roger, ‘Fly’ craft.” Then, he switched to his monitoring pilot, “You heard that? I’m turning the VTOL engines off now!”
“I’m ready! Raw EWR power!”
At that instant, the VTOL engines shut off; its hum was now indistinct amidst the rapid flapping of the metal wings.
“Woah, woah!” The craft rapidly dropped and lost a few feet before the pilot throttled up and recovered to level flying.
“Hey, hey, what are you doing?”
He laughed, “My bad, I thought the EWR power alone would carry it.”
“You’re such a moron. Why did you think—”
“I know, I know, the engines were doing most of the work. Don’t worry about it now; I have control all along. Was just testing your heart.” He lied.
“You’d better not do that again, or I’m switching to HTOL.”
“Okay, okay. Chill, chill. We’re just getting started, aren’t we?”
Gradually, the craft moved forward, not yawing or rolling to the left or right——all in perfect balance. The grand engineering implanted into this craft was nothing short of a miracle. The ‘Fly’ project has been in development for almost a decade, and only now has the project seen success, and proof of a working aircraft that now fulfilled S.S. (States of Solidarity) Air Force and Navy’s requirements. This was a type of aircraft the world had seen a few times; only some were seen into fruition, but nothing as capable or versatile as this aircraft. This was a craft that will not only revolutionize transport but also wars. A fighter jet at its speed paired with the ability to have a turn rate faster than a biplane is something that cannot be countered by any other aircraft yet in existence.
“Aircraft stable and nominal. Readings are normal,” the pilot reported back. “Requesting permission to perform evasive maneuvers.”
Unlike the other times the permission was asked, silence ensued. This made the pilots nervous and wonder.
“Do you think they are discussing this right now? Well, it wasn’t included in the test objectives anyway.”
“You already answered your question.”
“Come on, this is a military aircraft, meant for combat! Look at it, we’re not carrying passengers or cargo; we must not let this opportunity pass!”
“You know, you’re right; they wouldn’t let the opportunity pass, but you know you; you’re reckless.”
“It kind of hurts hearing that from a friend,” he emphasized.
“Who’s fault is it, building up a reputation of being bold and rash? As for me, I’m already used to it, but I worry about myself sometimes.”
“Oh, come on, you’re in good hands! I’m the best pilot in all of SS!”
“Yeah, whatever, ”Craft Menace.“
“Hey! What’s that supposed to mean? I haven’t heard of that! Did you just make that up!?”
“This is what our fellow aviators are calling you recently, ‘Craft Menace’—”
“You didn’t have to repeat that!”
“Abuser of aircraft.”
The pilot sighed.
“You know, I’m just happy that you’re not flying a commercial plane.”
“You—! I’m flipping this plane over.”
“Hey, hey, wait! I can court-martial you, you know!”
“I’m kidding! I’m glad you take me seriously.”
“Duh! You have done this so many times!”
“I thought you were used to it.”
“Shut up, idiot. Don’t make me override to HTOL.”
“Okay, okay. Chill, chill.”
As if it were perfectly timed, the ATC replied, “Permission granted. Perform evasive maneuvers are accepted. However, if you drop below fifteen thousand feet and rise above thirty thousand feet and are immediate danger you are to abort and return to base immediately.”
“Copy that, ‘Fly’ craft.” He giggled, “You heard that? Oh!”
“You chill out, alright!? You chill out.”
“I’m already used to it,” he mocked his friend.
“I’m going to switch to—”
“Okay, okay! I won’t fight you anymore. Though, pretty tight for a restriction, isn’t it? I guess I’m limited in which maneuvers to test.”
“Blessing in disguise,” he said under his breath.
After an hour of burning fuel, the aircraft was now at half the fuel’s capacity when it took off. Sandgram base ordered the ‘Fly’ craft to return to base after the pilots reported their observations. This time, they switched to HTOL for their return trip, but, the menace that he is, the pilot flying decided to make one last maneuver.
“What are you doing?”
“Just making a short detour, a scenic route you might say.”
“I’m going to court-martial you.”
“Chill, chill! I’m just going to do a loop-de-loop. Besides, we’re in HTOL anyways. What risks are there?”
“Fair point, but we’re commanded to return to base, so we’d better do that.”
“Oh, don’t you trust me? I’m the best and the fastest pilot in all of SS! Heck, maybe even the entire world!”
“Fine,” he succumbed, “but make it quick——quick enough that the ATC won’t notice it on the radar.”
“Easy!” Instantly, he slammed the yoke to the right and the rudder pedal, causing the aircraft to rapidly turn and tilt away from the base. “Ready for this?”
“Whatever man,” he sighed, but deep within, he was exhilarated.
The aircraft swiftly accelerated near mach one before starting the loop. The acceleration quickly became heavier as the aircraft increased in altitude, but it only dropped a few knots on its climb. At the zenith of the loop, gravity normalized before the pilots experienced weightlessness. Despite all these intense events happening only in a short span of ten seconds, both pilots were fully conscious and successfully finished the maneuver. Both burst into joyous laughter.
“You’re crazy! You’re insane! I’m calling you the Aerial Menace!”
“What’s with that title? Sounds like a child makes it!”
“It just suits you and your childish risk-taking decisions.”
“You’re starting to piss me off, you know? I’m going to do another, this time with a barrel roll.”
“No, no, please stop! We must return to base! They might be sending interceptors by now…” At those words, he looked back, meaning to make a nerve-wracking prank, but, what he saw was a solid white light that seemed to enlarge explosively. “H—huh? Where’s the base?”
“What do you mean? Hey, are you doing one of these edgy jokes again?”
“No, no seriously, is there radio contact?”
Confused, he checked his radio, “No, it’s just static.” Then, a bright flash blinded him, causing him to look down. When his eyes readjusted, he checked his rearview mirror and saw the intense white light, as solid as an opaque concrete wall, with remnants of fiery orange and bloody red dancing within, threatening to engulf them. He knew the light was not there mere seconds ago but now appeared seemingly instantly. Immediately, he knew that danger was fast approaching. “Dylan, hold on!!!”
The shockwaves almost flipped their aircraft over, the smaller shockwaves that followed buffeted the cockpit, threatening to rip its frame apart. The cockpit glass shattered on their faces, but the shards seemed to be at a standstill, being in relative velocity with them before the aircraft succumbed to the sheer forces. Their shouts over their radio were now garbled because of the wind’s howling; they barely heard each other. The alarm lights flashed almost in unison, and the usually noisy cockpit alarms were barely audible.
Stall, stall, stall
The stick-shaker rhythmically vibrated.
“Dylan! Dylan, eject, eject!!”
“I can’t eject!”
Stall, stall, stall, wind shear, wind shear
Stall, stall, stall
“’I can’t’ what!!?”
“No, eject!!! Can’t eject!!”
His eyes widened beneath his helmet’s tinted HUD. He knew he had nothing he could do, but he knew he could do something. The wings that carried them left them; their airframe teetering amidst the now-developing sandstorm.
The craft now spun uncontrollably in all directions, but nothing fazed the pilot, not even the blinding sand, the deafening torrent, the dizzying motions, or the complaints of the aircraft. He was focused on rescuing his copilot, his only friend. But, he could not reach for him unless he detaches himself from his seat, but he knew that if he does, he will be catapulted to the sky, even further from him. All he could do was glance and shout at him. To weigh more on his worries, a fire sparked behind Dylan's seat, and the engine fire light lit simultaneously.
“Dylan! Remember where the redundant goes! This plane’s standard!! You copy!!”
Stall, stall, stall
“I copy!! I’m pulling on it; it’s not working. Even the para—!!”
“I said—” Dylan felt like he was burning.
Stall—terrain, terrain, pull up!
“I heard you—whatever!!” He thought and waited for a few moments, and when he felt that the increasingly dizzying spin slowed somewhat, he shouted, “Okay, listen to me!! You unfasten your seatbelt!! We time it with the spin, you hear!!?”
Terrain, terrain, pull up!
“That’s—!!” Dylan fell silent. He glanced over at his still-working instruments which were sporadically spinning down in numbers. He realized that something was heating up behind him, but he did not need to look back to know.
“That’s impossible!! You’re going to risk both of us!!”
“Dylan!! Come on!! Trust me for once!! I’m going to catch you, I promise!!”
But, Dylan did not respond for a few seconds——a moment that felt like hours. As the background noise of the chaos continued to make its melody, Dylan made his resolve; he knew that he had no chance of living, but his friend had. The mixture of emotions and realizations overwhelmed him and his voice failed him. Despite that, he made an effort to speak loud. “Ha—…,” the radio’s transmission was intermittent, “you kn—, you— th— —st ai——n —r —e.” He took a deep breath, “I’m glad to be your wingman.”
“Dylan—?” He realized that Dylan has already decided.
Terrain, terrain, pull up!
Terrain, terrain, pull up!
“Dylan, I’m coming back for you, so wait for me!! Be chill!!” With tears that instantly dried into the torrid, dusty air, he ejected in time with the spin and was blasted upwards.
Terrain, terrain, pull up! Terrain, terrain, pull up!
With his eyes fixed on the ejected seat skyrocketing into the air, he closed his eyes and took one final breath. “Yes, you will,” a smile and a tear crept down his face, “Aerial Menace.”
Terrain, terrain, pull up! Terrain, terrain, pull up!
Terrain, terrain, pull—