Squadron 214 is a multi-spacecraft equipped unit (technically, a “multi-level force applicator”) of the United Empire of Earth. The squadron was formally activated in 2675 as part of the military expansion that followed in the wake of Project Far Star. 214 has seen great success in their 270-year service history. The squadron is especially noted for the seven Medal of Imperial Valor winners on its roster, and for their success in short-range bombing missions, being proudly credited with the destruction of a dreadnaught, four battleships, nine “flat tops” and countless lesser fighters in their lengthy history. The 214th has also occasionally been a propaganda darling. “Twelve Went In,” a recruiting holovid, recounted the bombers’ 2720 all-out assault on a Harvester Dropship.
The origin of the squadron’s nom de guerre is shrouded in some confusion. Modern Black Crow pilots and their supporters claim that the name refers to the squadron’s cleverness and penchant for vengeance (Earth crows, now found on over a dozen worlds, are capable of remembering and attacking offending Human faces for years). Historians say that the truth is somewhat less valorous. The squadron was originally known as “Branton’s Braggarts,” a humorous reference to the unit’s overly-vocal pride over achieving the first perfect score in a HARD+ rated simulated bombing run under their first commanding officer, Captain Charlotte Branton. Fed up with the squadron’s braggadocio, ground crews began painting black birds on their spacecraft to show their distaste for 214’s ‘constant cawing.’ By the time Squadron 214 went into action, they were the Black Crows.
Today, 214 is an exclusively carrier-based squadron assigned two flights of Hornets, one flight of Gladius interceptors and an elite flight of Gladiator light bombers, though it is worth noting that one of the Hornet flights is currently inactive as its flight crews undergo transition training for the upcoming F8 Lightning space superiority fighter. The Black Crow’s bomber flights have flown every single-engine bomber in the UEEN arsenal, from the original Typhoon dive bombers to today’s craft, where 214’s illustrious Bravo Flight are using the Anvil Gladiator to further solidify their hard-earned reputation as one of the best bomber units actively operating.
The recent exploits of Bravo Flight in the Virgil Raid have become so well known that references to the Black Crows now almost exclusively refer to this distinguished bomber unit. The star of Squadron 214’s service record from the very beginning of training, Bravo Flight has been the exclusive designation of the unit’s elite bomber ships since the squadron’s inception. Bravo’s ground crews and flight engineers claim a spotless record, and only confirmed ace pilots and gunners are assigned to the unit.
Bravo garnered attention during the Vanduul push after 2681. Battling the encroaching horde from Orion to Tiber, their Gladiators pulled double duty as S&R craft up to the last minutes of the Tiber pullout. Since that time, the ‘bloodthirsty birds’ have found themselves forward-deployed to counter suspected Vanduul clan movements time and time again.
Dateline: Vega System, just off the heavily guarded Virgil jump point. On the morning of August 9, 2932, a detached UEE Battle Group went to action stations. After a tense twelve hours with guns ready, the force issued an all-clear stand down. Aboard the UEEN Typhon, temporary home of the 214’s Bravo Flight, word quickly spread: Virgil’s aging Early Warning satellite network had relayed a distress signal from somewhere in the system. Admiral Bonds requested permission to jump his force to Virgil to investigate, but was ordered by High Command to abandon any investigation. Remote sensing had identified a 55% probable Vanduul clan in the system’s environs, and Command was not to risk personnel or materials investigating a system that had not been inhabited in a century.
The mood aboard ship was stricken. Here was a military rescue beacon deep in the heart of the site of one of the Empire’s bloodiest defeats. At best, they reasoned, command was letting a fellow pilot die, and at worst they were ignoring an opportunity to settle a very specific age-old score with the Vanduul. “We won’t forget,” flight leader Tam Thackston wrote in a delay-send message to his commanding officer as his crews universally agreed to break ranks and risk court martial to come to the aid of those in need.
Running with low-emission gear, the six Gladiators of Bravo Flight launched with full comm silence (and the suspected collusion of the Typhon’s flight deck officer). Three retained their standard torpedo loadout, while three others were configured with autodocs and other search and rescue equipment. Passing by UEE radar stations and tracking buoys, they were prepared to meet with resistance, but were only met with encouragement and wishes of luck from their fellow starmen. The unit made a low-flash jump to Virgil, and once across, Bravo triangulated the signal and determined it to be coming from the surface of the innermost planet.
Thackston opted to use a larger amount of fuel and proceed in a roundabout manner rather than heading directly to the planet and risking giving away the location of the jump point to the Vanduul. Unfortunately, his caution proved costly: the extended flight plan ran Bravo directly into an enemy patrol. A battle broke out, with the Gladiators attempting to eliminate a quartet of Scythe and a command-and-communications ship before they could call for reinforcements. The fight was over quickly, but with heavy losses: Bravo 3 sustained a direct blade collision during the fracas, killing gunner Paul Ransom and leaving his ship dead in space. The surviving pilot conducted a difficult combat EVA and boarded the S&R equipped Bravo 5.
Once past the Vanduul, the surviving Gladiators approached the planet’s equatorial zone, the apparent location of the now-silent beacon. The flight leader’s ship touched down near the source while the remaining ships provided a makeshift combat air patrol. There, the charred fuselage of a long-lost Wildcat deep space fighter was located in a clearing where its impact had knocked down several of Virgil’s giant trees. Investigating the wreck, Thackston discovered a pair of Human skeletons, one in a tattered flight suit, both wearing Black Crow patches. This ship must have been lost decades earlier in one of Squadron 214’s prior battles with the Vanduul. With some searching, the source of the signal was discovered: the Wildcat’s black box recorder, apparently re-activated in a recent lightning strike.
Thackston hurriedly buried the remains, first removing the dog tags so they could be returned to Kilian, and took off to rejoin his flight, the Wildcat’s flight recorder securely stowed aboard his Gladiator. Believing they had permanently shamed their squadron’s honorable history, they returned home fully expecting to be drummed out of the service for their disloyalty, but upon arrival they discovered that public opinion had come down harshly against Navy command once news of the beacon had spread. With the sack of Virgil still a sore point in Human memory, the pilots of Bravo Flight were feted as incredible heroes for having helped put a small part of that dark day in history to rest, along with revealing the incredible fate of their fallen comrades: the Wildcat and her crew had bravely perished when they opted to stay behind and cover the desperate evacuation in Virgil’s final hours. Together, they are just two more reasons that the Black Crows of Squadron 214 deserves to crow.