The 999th Test Squadron (also referred as the 999, Squadron 999, and The Wreckless) is an elite squadron for test pilots founded by Michelle Saleno since the beginning of Humanity's journey into the stars. First incorporated in the 2130s, the unit proved its value throughout the centuries to make space travel safer for everyone by testing ships' technological limits and piloting experimental spacecraft fearlessly. Although the 999 designation was used because the squadron started "outside of the normal structure" and supposed to be temporary, it stuck with the unit. Today the 999th squadron is assigned to 18th Battle Fleet and stationed in Chronos system.
Founding and RSI Zeus
Since the introduction of Quantum drive in 2075, Roberts Space Industries had been working to make the Quantum drive commercially viable. In the 2130s, RSI launched the Zeus prototype that is equipped with such drive into test flights, but there are concerns with putting the technology into hands of non-military trained pilots. In 2136-6-23, 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 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.
"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."
Michelle Saleno, founder of the 999th Test Squadron
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.
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.
First Tevarin War
During the First Tevarin War between 2542 and 2546, 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.
A poem by former 999th Squadron pilot Lt. Ralph Kinoi
We push boundaries. To test the limits of what we can do. To say the impossible can not define us. To move us all beyond where we thought we could go. To be the first. The fastest. The best.
It is not easy. Luck is as important as skill. Failure as important as success. But we get better. And we learn. And we get back up and try again. And we carry on when others can't.
We carry on so others can.