They count them going out. They count them coming back. For a squadron of Royal Air Force pilots based in the Persian Gulf, the count Friday added up to despair when a second Tornado bomber was lost.
Royal Air Force pilots broke down in tears on their return to Muharraq air base from a strike against Iraqi air installations."At the moment I am going through the full range of emotions," said a tearful Flight Lt. Mark Paisley, 26, from Oxford, England, "from elation right down to dread and fear of dying."
"Whatever your emotions, you still fly the aircraft. We went as four crew, now we are three crew. Tomorrow there might be two or one," he said.
Meanwhile, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, an American fighter pilot reported destroying an Iraqi jet in an engagement over Iraq Friday, saying he watched the enemy craft explode in "a huge fireball" after being struck by a missile.
Capt. Steve Tate of the 71st Fighter Squad gave the first report by a pilot of an aerial kill over Iraq. He said he was escorting a bombing mission early Friday when an Iraqi fighter jet suddenly appeared on his tail.
Tate, of Watersmeet, Mich., told a television pool he maneuvered his F-15 fighter into position, established radar lock and fired his Fox-1 missile at the French-made Mirage fighter, one of the most sophisticated craft in the Iraqi air force.
"I just let one Fox-1 go, and about four miles in front of me I get a huge fireball," Tate said. "I get the missile coming off, which is a big flash coming off."
"When he blew up I could see a piece of the airplane blowing up," said Tate. "It was at night, I couldn't see a parachute or anything. It was a huge fireball, I don't anticipate anyone getting out of that."
One American pilot said he was disappointed at the lack of Iraqi response.
"I've been training for 13 years for this day. It's like being a professional athlete," said the unidentified pilot, speaking to a television pool.
"Today was the first game and the . . . opponent didn't show up. We went out there and ran our first play and it worked great. We scored a touchdown and there was nobody home."But others weren't so gung-ho.
On the British squadron's second sortie, an engine of one of the two-man Tornado bombers caught fire after being hit and crashed. The pilot and navigator were seen to eject and there remained hope they were alive.
Early Friday, another jet crashed on return from a mission. The fate of the crew was unknown.
"You feel guilty that you have survived and they haven't," said squadron leader Pablo Mason, 40, from Birmingham, England.
Mason cried as he tried to explain how he dealt with flying repeated missions knowing that each could be his last.
"You have got to control your emotions. You feel cynical, terribly cynical. There is a constant awareness that in a few seconds' time you might not exist," he said.
Mason's squadron has one of the toughest jobs of the allied air effort in the Persian Gulf. Their jets carry two 4,500-pound JP233 bombs especially suited for hitting airfields.
Wing Commander John Broadbent said the difficult time comes just before reaching the target, when the planes swoop down.
"Your mind just thinks, `Well, here we are, let's go and get it.' All you see are red lines shooting toward the plane," he said.
"You see the flak rising from the ground, but it is actually coming from the target," said squadron leader Gary Stapleton, 37, of London. "You believe that because the flak doesn't appear to be aimed, that it is random, it will miss you. But there is always a risk of being hit."