Dawn patrol

In a further development, the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Isil had been able to fly three Russian fighter jets captured from the regime. Though they have not been used in operations, the Observatory said the MiG jets were being flown with the help of defected Iraqi air force officers.

MIGJust before dawn the three chums wandered out to the sheds where the fitters had been labouring through the night. Mohammed reached into the unfamiliar pocket of his flight suit, rummaging through the invisible folds of his traditional robes forgetting that he no longer wore them as they got really flappy in the cockpit at 700 knots.

“Smoke?” He held out the packet of Players to Mohammed and Mohammed.

“Actually old man, best not. Mohammed, you know.”

“Drat this,” Mohammed ejaculated tensely.

“Steady on, old man,’ Mohammed interjected judiciously. “If the CO hears you carry on like that he’ll think you’ve got a case of blue funk.”

Mohammed held his gaze steadily, his brown eyes hardening.

“Blue funk. We have three 40 year old MiG fighters, based on a design that’s 60 years old or I’m a Chinaman. Three.”

“Mohammed old man….” Mohammed exclaimed. “Not in front of the chaps!” He nodded his head towards the fitters still labouring in the sheds. One of them started to whistle a popular tune before his comrades told him to stop promoting decadent Western imperialism. Sheepishly the overalled figure assayed a few bars of “Like A Virgin,” but his attempt at reconciliation fell on stony ground.

“Do you know what each one cost? Well do you?” Fl.Lt Mohammed spat furiously. “$185,000. I went online and saw the advert.

“Allah is merciful, Mohammed old man,” Squadron Leader Mohammed reassured Mohammed.

“Allah might be, but the Allied Re-Engagement Strike Enhancement Force (Air Recon) Command Exercise…”

“A.R.S.E.F.A.R.C.E., old man. Acronyms. Don’t want the chaps hearing things. Need to know,’ rumbled the squadron leader.

“A.R.S.E.F.A.R.C.E. then – isn’t. Our three MiGs go up against fifty brand new Mach 2 fighters guided straight to us by their AWACS and the entire Mediterranean U.S. littoral support capability the second we pull the stick back. If we ever flew against them seriously we’d be coming down Harry Prangers before we’d even got the wheels up. And that’s just the bally advance force in the area.”

“Flight Lieutenant Mohammed! That is enough!” The squadron leader’s tone was icy. “Chaps in the ISIS air force don’t come out with that kind of tommy rot.”

“Fl. Lt. Mohammed didn’t mean it sir,” Wing Commander Mohammed interceded. “It was just banter. He’s flown too many missions lately.”

“He’s flown no more than every other pilot in the ISIL airforce. Either of us,” growled the squadron leader. “It’s like the Battle of Britain. If a chap hasn’t the stomach for it we’ll soon see who has.”

The lieutenant steeled himself. “It’s not though sir, is it?” He rushed on, before his nerve finally failed him. “It’s not like the Battle of Britain. Or even the Battle of Baghdad.”

“No popsies, for a start. No piling ten chaps into a Lagonda and singing “We’ll walk together down a Syrian lane” on the way to the Red Lion. No Red Lion. It’s haram. And not with only three of us in the airforce. No cheeking the unarmed local bobby about closing time, because there’s never opening time. No fourteen pints and get rid of the hangover by snorting pure oxygen from your high altitude mask, because there’s no such thing as fourteen pints, or even one. Just the overwhelming odds. It’s nothing like a Biggles book. Nothing, I tell you. Except for the lemonade W.E. Johns had to put in the books instead of the whisky in the original stories he wrote just after the First War he served in, when Hamlyn started selling them to children in the 1930s. Sir,” he added lamely.

The lieutenant stood disconsolately, his resolution fading as his lip trembled before the Wing Co’s growing fury. Somehow he steeled himself for one last supreme effort.

“Even the only beheading we had around here was when Leading Aircraftman Mohammed pulled that ejector seat handle in the hanger without checking the safety pin was in place.”

A heavy silence hung over the entire ISIS airforce as the three men stood freshly bearded on the tarmac, not smoking, entirely un-hungover, limbs not loosened in a post-coital glow as they didn’t remember the two WAAFS and Flossie the barmaid from the Bunch of Grapes in Carshalton. Each man’s ears twitched for the sound of the Allied cruise missiles screaming across the field. It was going to be a short air war.

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