Against Overwhelming Odds, Scout Flight Destroys Sarsun Cruiser
By Jasmine Folks
United Republics Navy Press
Marine Captain Jack Fletcher was more than surprised when his flight of four scouts burst from deep space and into the middle of a Sarsun fleet.
“Surprised would be an understatement,” Captain Fletcher laughed during an interview in the pilots’ lounge of the cruiser URS Saratoga.
“Scared out of my wits might be more appropriate,” the five-year veteran pilot said.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to think of Captain Fletcher as frightened by or of anything. As leader of Number One Flight, Fourth Scout Squadron, the trim Marine has faced more than his share of dangers while searching for and finding Sarsun ships.
Senior officers recognize Captain Fletcher’s abilities, as do the pilots he leads.
“Jack Fletcher is one of the best pilots and finest officers I have ever known,” said Lt. Col. Matt Mapes, commander of Fourth Scout Squadron.
“Not only can he fly anything that has wings, he also has a nose for where the Sarsun are hiding,” the lieutenant colonel added.
It was that sixth sense, perhaps, that led Captain Fletcher and Number One Flight into the Sarsun fleet of six cruiser transports, an even dozen escort ships, and several ancillary vessels last week.
Four scouts against eighteen warships. Not the kind of odds most pilots would want to face.
“It didn’t take too long to figure out we were a bit outnumbered,” Captain Fletcher said.
Outnumbered and outgunned. Stripped of almost all weapons in order to have space for scanners and additional fuel cells, each of Captain Fletcher’s SF3F Rattlers (SF for “Scout-Fighter”) carried a single automatic cannon, three short of the F3F’s usual armament.
And, in addition to the eighteen Sarsun warships, Captain Fletcher and his flight mates had to contend with two dozen Sarsun fighters, launched from the cruiser transports when Number One Flight dashed through the enemy fleet.
“The Jakes (Sarsun fighters) are larger than a Rattler, but just as fast,” Captain Fletcher said. “The Rattler is more maneuverable, though, and the maneuverability gave us an edge.”
In the hands of an experienced pilot, that edge often means the difference between winning and losing, between life and death.
On the day Number One Flight met the Sarsun fleet, though, one of Captain Fletcher’s pilots was on her first combat mission.
Junior Lieutenant Shala Felps was graduated third in her flight school, but that rating did not prepare her for the sudden appearance of an entire Sarsun fleet.
“You learn what to do, how to handle the Rattler,” Lieutenant Felps said of her training, “but when you streak through eighteen Sarsun warships, the surprise goes beyond anything you experienced before.”
She added, “When I saw the Sarsun ships, I knew we would either keep going, or Captain Fletcher would turn us around and attack the enemy. I was glad when we kicked our Rattlers around and went full bore at the nearest cruiser.”
Going at the largest Sarsun ship did not mean the Rattlers faced an easy kill. Not only were defensive guns active on the cruiser, but there were the Jakes to contend with.
Captain Fletcher considered the Jakes, of course.
“I figured if we went right at the cruiser, the Jakes wouldn’t follow too close,” he explained. “They might get caught by the cruiser’s antiaircraft systems.”
Captain Fletcher did not have his pilots line up for individual passes at the Sarsun cruiser.
“We went in on line,” said Senior Lieutenant Marcos Walls. “Our wingtips were no more than a meter apart. Captain Jack knew we had to concentrate our fire in as small an area as we could.”
Had the Rattlers been fully armed -- 16 cannon and not four -- pilots could have brought fire to various vulnerable parts of the Sarsun ship.
“As it was,” Lieutenant Felps said, “we concentrated all our shots at the bridge. If we could take out command and control...Well, good things would happen.”
Flying on Captain Fletcher’s wing that day, Lieutenant Felps lined up on the center of the Sarsun command bridge.
“The formation Captain Jack put us into worked out so that I had the middle,” Lieutenant Felps said,
Captain Fletcher was to Lieutenant Felp’s left, while Lieutenant Wells and Junior Lieutenant Salum Bordax were to her right.
The four Rattler pilots opened fire at maximum range and quickly closed with the cruiser.
“We got good hits all over the bridge,” Captain Fletcher said. “My guys did an excellent job.”
Winner of the gunnery trophy in flight school, Lieutenant Felps recognized the value of good training.
“In flight school, firing at drones was exciting,” she recounted. “But this ... Seeing my shots shatter the Sarsun command ... Nothing compares with that.”
Because of the number of Sarsun ships, Number One Flight made only one pass at the cruiser.
“I figured we could get our shots in, and then we better get out of the area,” Captain Fletcher said.
That one pass, though, was as good as it gets for high-speed pilots.
“Our on-board sensors and cameras showed the bridge on fire,” Captain Fletcher said.
Additionally, data analysts in the Saratoga’s intelligence section said the fire most likely was not brought under control for some time, if at all.
“I wish we could have remained in the area and watched the cruiser burn,” Lieutenant Bordax said. “That class of cruiser carries a crew of one thousand and a landing force of fifteen hundred. Nothing would have given me more satisfaction than witnessing the death of twenty-five hundred Sarsun.”
Transcript of Radio Calls During Fight Against Sarsun Fleet (with explanation of combat flight terms)
Captain Jack Fletcher -- Flight Leader
Junior Lieutenant Shala Felps -- Captain Fletcher’s Wing
Senior Lieutenant Marcos Walls -- Leader Second Section
Junior Lieutenant Salum Bordax -- Walls’ Wing
NOTE: Transcript begins with First Flight’s egress of jump and sighting of Sarsun fleet.
LT. FELPS: Holy shit!
CAPT. FLETCHER: Full vertical, full burn, now!
(Rattling and shaking noises as aircraft go to maximum military speed in a vertical climb.)
CAPT. FLETCHER (after four seconds of burn): Off burn, now! Everybody still in one piece?
(The other pilots answer “Affirmative.”)
LT. WALLS: Pucker factor of nine.
CAPT. FLETCHER: Understood. Let’s flip over and see what we’ve got.
(By turning 90 degrees, upside down, the pilots can see below, through the aircraft canopy.)
CAPT. FLETCHER: By eyeball count, it looks like six cruisers, twelve escorts and a bunch of little ships that don’t matter. Scanners agree.
LT. WALLS: We got Jakes coming up.
CAPT. FLETCHER: I got ‘em. Okay, folks. We’ll make one pass on the nearest cruiser’s bridge, then get out of the neighborhood. Attack angle, thirty degrees, increase angle as we near the cruiser. Set weapons for burst fire at maximum range. Go manual and hold the trigger down when we get hits. We go straight through the Jakes. They’ll open fire at max range, and when they do, we go full burn until we’re through their formation. Questions?
CAPT. FLETCHER: Okay. Roll left, now. Good. Attack angle, now. Okay. Everybody’s looking good. Jakes should start firing … Full burn, now!
(Sounds of shaking noises, then loud ripping sound as cannon fire in half-second bursts.)
LT BORDAX: Sonofabitch! That Jake almost hit me!
CAPT. FLETCHER: A little short. Getting closer. Go to manual fire. Increase angle forty degrees. Fire, fire!
(Sustained ripping sounds for five seconds as each cannon fires 750 rounds.)
LT. FELPS: Hits, hits! We’ve got hits on the bridge! Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!
CAPT. FLETCHER: Cease fire! Pull up. Level flight. Full burn, now! Okay. Jump in ten seconds.
LT BORDAX: Did you see that? Did you?
CAPT. FLETCHER: Jump in seven seconds.
LT. WALLS: Sonofabitch is on fire!
CAPT. FLETCHER: Five seconds. (Short laugh.) Well, Shala, not bad for a first mission, huh.
LT. FELPS: No, sir. Not bad at all. Can we do this every mission?
CAPT. FLETCHER: Probably not. Jump … Now.