May 11th 2016
“My goal was to make a ship the 999 would be excited to fly.”
So said Consolidated Outland CEO and spacecraft fanboy Silas Koerner during a press conference unveiling the Mustang. From nearly the beginning of interplanetary travel, Squadron 999 has existed in some formal capacity. Their testing of a ship’s technological limits and fearless piloting of experimental spacecraft have helped shepherd Humanity out to the stars. While Squadron 42 is home to the UEE’s best fighter pilots, Squadron 999 can lay claim to many of Humanity’s most courageous.
The origins of Squadron 999 go back over 800 years. During the mid-2130s, Roberts Space Industries began testing the Zeus prototype, a short-range explorer that would eventually make history as the first commercially available spaceship. RSI’s drive to bring people safely to the stars was an expensive gamble.
A little over fifty years earlier, RSI had created the Quantum Core Engine, capable of achieving 1/100th the speed of light, for the military. As time went on, civilians and various industries began petitioning to have the technology made available to the private sector. Fast forward to the launch of the Zeus prototype. RSI had been listening and worked to streamline the Quantum Drive enough to make it commercially viable. There were concerns however with the potential risk that would be involved with putting such a powerful technology into the hands of non-military trained pilots. The early test flights RSI conducted didn’t ease that concern.
The main issue RSI had with the Zeus during these test flights was its hull integrity. These problems culminated on 2136-6-23 when, during a live flight that was being broadcast across the world, the hull of an early Zeus ship ripped apart as it left Earth’s atmosphere, completely destroying the ship and killing the test pilot. The disaster shook people and suddenly the horrifying dangers of space travel transcended the excitement of making it affordable and accessible.
Desperate, RSI turned to the Navy and renowned test pilot Michelle Saleno for help in keeping the Zeus program alive. Saleno, affectionately called Sal by her friends, had extensive experience with RSI’s Quantum Core Engine and held the honor of being the first pilot to quantum past Jupiter. Saleno had been pushing for the training of new test pilots who would be dedicated to cutting-edge spaceships.
At the time, the people of Earth were very much alone in the universe, so while the Navy’s spacefleet was expanding, there was only a small wing of active pilots. Saleno knew that as the civilian spaceflight market expanded to include quantum travel, the Navy would have to rapidly expand along with it to maintain its flight superiority.
The Navy accepted Saleno’s plan and the first incarnation of the 999th Test Squadron was born. Since the Test Squadron was created outside of the normal structure, the 999 designation was just supposed to be temporary until the unit could be properly assigned, but the number wound up sticking. After the deal was struck for Navy resources to be used to help RSI develop the commercial ship, Saleno and her crew spent the first year demanding changes before she or any of her pilots would take a first test flight. She battled with RSI executives over the ship’s hull and drove RSI to completely overhaul their design. Finally, on 2137-3-19, Saleno climbed inside the Zeus for her first test flight.
The new Zeus had been worth the wait. At 15:09 SET, Saleno safely touched down. It would require more testing, but thanks to 999’s hard work, the release of the first commercial quantum drive enabled ship had become an inevitability.
RSI touted their success and overnight Saleno became a media sensation. She was painted as a risk-taker willing to sacrifice her life so all of Humanity could go to the stars. Privately, Saleno bristled at the portrayal and made it abundantly clear that she had all intentions of dying of old age and not during a test flight accident. As she famously said, “A test pilot’s job isn’t about taking risks; it’s about achieving results. It’s about safely landing again, just as much as it is about fearlessly flying forward.”
For two centuries, Saleno’s squadron was used to test ships for the military. They were the ones to put new ships through their paces and to create training protocols for those ships to be introduced into regular use. Their work was so important that when the UNE came into existence, in 2380, the squadron was incorporated directly into the new Naval structure with their 999 designation intact, one of the few squadrons that can make that claim.
During the First Tevarin War, the 999 were the first to test variants of the Retaliator. Some in command demanded a rush on the needed ships going into active service immediately, but (thanks to his heroics at the Battle of Idris IV) a then Colonel Ivar Messer had enough clout to advise that the Retaliators’ deployment be held until the 999 had signed off on them. Historians credit this move with saving hundreds of pilots’ lives. A fatally flawed power transfer unit was discovered and fixed during the testing process.
Today, the 999th Squadron is part of the 18th Battle Fleet and calls the Chronos System home. The squadron uses the system’s vast expanse to test the next generation of military fighters. They are reportedly putting the new Aegis Sabre through the gauntlet to see if it should become a staple of the Navy’s fleet. Aegis executives and Navy pilots alike are eagerly waiting to hear the revered squadron’s opinion of the cutting-edge fighter.
For centuries, the 999th Test Squadron had a reputation as home to some of the Navy’s most courageous pilots, and the squadron’s nickname, “The Wreckless,” fed that repute. In Joyce Tuite’s history of the squadron, Fearlessly Forward, the importance of their nickname was revealed.
According to former members, the first question asked when interviewing to join the squadron was “what does The Wreckless mean to you?” Most young pilots would talk about pushing ship speeds to the limit, or sacrificing their safety for the benefit of Humanity. These adrenaline junkies were weeded out and assigned elsewhere. Pilots who become part of the 999 usually understood something Saleno was fond of saying: “Details matter!” They looked at the squadron’s nickname and noticed the “W”. The 999 is dedicated to pushing the limit while being “wreck”-less, not reckless.
It is recognition of these distinctions and details that has made the 999th Test Squadron one of the UEE Navy’s truly elite assignments, and a vital part of improving Human spaceflight for centuries.