THE EMPIRE'S TWILIGHT
by Anthony Wilkins
The Falklands War 1982
John's teeth clenched as he fought with the stick of his Phantom FG.1 pulling it back so hard he was sure it was burying it into his abdomen. The Argentine F-5 was so close he thought the other pilot could read the South African serial number of his aircraft and look into the eyes of the Sprongbrook on his aircraft's roundel. Why he should be fighting here thousands of miles from his home in South Africa didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was life. His life and that of his WSO, Sacha Drumner.
The F-5's nose was pointed straight at the rapidly turning Phantom. John could see it on his three o'clock and while it was indeed daunting to be looking down the barrel of a gun his training taught him he was safe for the moment at least. He only needed to worry if the F-5's nose got out ahead of them. If the F-5 fired then he would effectivly be flying his Phantom into a hail of bullets.
"He's losing it!" yelled Sacha. "He's falling out of it just keep the turn on."
The F-5 was unable to keep inside the Phantom's turning circle despite its nimbler flying qualities and was beginning to pass over head. To press home this advantage John threw the Phantom over onto its back and the bulky aircraft began to dive, its speed increasing exponentially. 500kts. 510kts. 520kts. The speed on the HUD was racing upwards as the altitude plummeted.
The F-5 pilot rolled inverted with the intention of following them down but as his own nose started to aim for the murky blue waters of the South Atlantic he could see the large wing of the Phantom appearing to grow larger as John was pulling out of the dive and starting to climb back up. It offered a tempting target for his guns but the Phantom's high speed meant the Argentine pilot barely had a heartbeat to bring his guns to bare.
"He's turning in on us!" yelled John looking up through the top of his canopy at the F-5 appearing no bigger than an envelope from his perspective. Knowing he was in an unfavourable position he abandoned his climb and broke hard right and level. To the pilot of the F-5 the mighty Phantom appeared to do darting off to the right. He rolled his aircraft trying to keep his nose in the direction of the quickly escaping Phantom but his own high airspeed was making it difficult. Not wanting to reduce his own power which he would later have to compensate for he began to yaw and roll his aircraft from side to side which allowed the Phantom to move further away but at a more shallow angle.
"He's coming in behind us, John," said Sacha looking over his right shoulder from the backseat of the Phantom.
"I know, I know," yelled a desperate John who then threw the the stick over to the opposite end. This caused the Phantom to roll out of its sharp turn to starboard and into an equally sharp turn to port but for a brief second the mass of the aircraft remained level and the F-5 pilot waisted no time in taking advantage. The Phantom appeared in his crosshairs for no even half a second but the F-5 pilot's razor sharp reflexes squezzed off a short burst of 20mm gun fire.
The Phantom shuddered slightly but continued to fly under control.
"We're hit!" gasped John.
"We took one in the tail, we're ok," said Sacha who had seen the tracers pass just a few feet above his head before they appeared to fall back onto the vertical stablizer. The F-5 and the Phantom were now locked in a level turning battle where the F-5 still had the advantage of being more nimble than the clumsy Phantom. With John concentrating on flying the Phantom Sacha hit the transmit button for the radio and called out, "Rourke 1 this is Joburg one-one-three we are totally defensive."
"Joburg one-one-three aircraft are on route."
"Well what's taking them so fucking long?" said a desperate sounding Sacha to no one other than John as the Phantom's nose began to rise once again in an effort to cut the circle in half. John was hoping the extra power of his Phantom in a climb would allow him to pull over on top of the F-5. The Phantom was soon passing through six thousand feet having ascended from four thousand. Pulling back once more whilst keeping his eyes on the F-5 John watched as the F-5 appeared to be above him when in fact it was below.
The F-5 pilot knew what he was trying to do and was waiting for his moment to break his own turning circle. If he did so too early or too late then he would overshoot but if he did it just right then he might be able to get a gun lock on the descending Phantom. At this range missiles were out of the question.
John too was hoping for a gun kill but unlike the F-5 the Phantom's guns were in a belly pod and this sometimes jiggled when fired reducing accuracy; another advantage to the F-5. Watching the F-5 until his own nose came around on the still level enemy fighter John;s finger seemed to hover on the trigger when he suddenly had an epiphany. He knew what the F-5 pilot was upto. Over the course of less than two minutes he had been fighting this guy and he had come to know he was no rookie. If he was staying level there was a reason. The epiphany lasted less than a heartbeat but it was enough for John to make a decision to change tactics. He did something no fighter pilot ever opts to do in a battle. He pulled back on the throttles just as the nose of the Phantom was turning back down. With no more energy running through the engines to increase its turning cicle and the inverted aircraft's physics of flight now acting in the oposite direction the nose of the Phantom rapdily pulled around just long enough to get the crosshairs in front of the Argentine F-5.
It was enough.
John pulled the trigger back burying it into the control stick. The SUU-23 cannon pod began spewing bullets in the direction of the F-5. From the radome to the cockpit and to the tail the aircraft was riddled with holes from the cannon pod which was now stained black from smoke. One of the engines of the F-5 began to eject a long line of black smoke as the aircraft began to tumble uncontrollably towards the sea. It hit the water with a huge splash and was gone.
John rolled out of his descent and levelled off just as two Royal Navy Phantoms appeared on the horizon to support them.
"Shit that guy was good," said Sacha.
"He was no beginner that's for sure," said John hinting he had more to add.
"I don't think he was Argentinean. They don't fly like that. I think he was a mercenary."