The Steel Shrikes are a hot topic in the Plain Dealer's local events headlines. A small squadron of self-proclaimed militia-men, they patrol the skies over the Eastern reaches of the Industrial States of America, safeguarding train routes, Lake Erie shipping, and staging raids into Appalachia from their home field near Canton, rooting out 'shine operations targetting the ISA.
While not officially recognized by the ISA, the Shrikes fly in fierce defense of her interests. Interviews with the Plain Dealer and Columbus Dispatch suggest that Gears Swanson's group hopes that in so doing, they can earn endorsement from the ISA. Speculation on the editorial pages of the Columbus Dispatch suggests that perhaps the ISA is reticent to be seen to officially support any organized groups because they fear creating targets of them to pirates like the Red Skull Legion, or, worse, to disrupt the precarious unofficial state of affairs by which those pirates mostly leave ISA interests alone in favor of heavily raiding the ISA's neighbors.
In any event, rumors disagree on whether the Steel Shrikes have attained governmental support under the table or not, which is likely the only reason Jonathon Kahn hasn't made it a personal mission to blot these young aces from the skies. Some paint the group as receiving second-hand (and thus, difficult to trace) planes and munitions under the table, or whether their slowly expanding fleet and ordnance is the result of their raids over the borders with Appalachia and the Empire State.
The Plain Dealer's domestic affairs reporter, Mitchell Murphy, has had the most direct contact with the group (his one-on-one interviews are being saved to headline successive Sunday papers to bolster summer readership). His impressions are gathered here, referring to his many small articles covering the Shrikes' exploits.
Brett "Gears" Swanson is a likeable, but reserved type. He strikes a balance by being camera-friendly without seeming boastful or elitist, as the ISA public frequently criticizes its neighbor to the East's premier pilots for being. His easy smile, earnest demeanor, and blue collar sensibilities have captured the attention and eye of men and women alike, spreading his deeds westward across the ISA. He's referred to as a deliberate and graceful flier with a passion for the skies. Brett earned his nickname from rumors that he started out his career in aviation as a mechanic for an Appalachian pirate gang, and he's readily adopted it while remaining cagey about the veracity of its source. He's certainly a good hand at maintenance, and insists on making all the repairs and tune-ups to his plane, a Curtiss-Wright J2 Fury he calls "Sparkling Red," himself.
His wing-woman, Juniper "Filly" Kuhl, is a complementary contrast to him in almost every regard. Impulsive and (some say) a bit reckless, her wild and unpredictable nature has lead her out of the sights of many who thought they had her dead to rights. Fearless and possessive of an uncanny intuition, there isn't a daring maneuver June won't coax her Fury through to cover Brett's wing. Rumors of a smoldering romantic entanglement to Swanson are a favorite topic of regional tabloids.
Brett allegedly met Daniel "Cool Man" Jeremy when escorting a coal shipment from Cleveland all the way to Chicago. Originally from the Disputed Territories, Cool Man Jeremy learned to fly in defense of Utah, before becoming the target of anti-Christian persecution. Driven from Utah, he passed the People's Collective by because "I hate Commies." Continuing east, he ended up in Chicago, where he met Brett Swanson. They struck up a friendship, and now Danny flies for the Shrikes. "Cool Man" Jeremy earned his moniker for his calm under fire lining up a suicide collision course on a pirate zeppelin in his plane after suffering a crippling engine failure, despite two fighters tailing him and a magnesium round burning outside the fuel tanks. Bailing at the last second, the incendiary rounds reached his tanks just as it reached the zepp, bringing down a virtually unwounded zeppelin single-handedly. He's since replaced that plane with a rough-and-ready warhorse of a Curtiss-Wright Warhawk.
William "Rusty" Irons is a childhood friend of Danny Jeremy, and followed him from the Disputed Territories to Utah and then to the Steel Shrikes. With a sharp eye and hair-trigger reflexes, he's the squadron's crack shot. He's frequently known to carry a full load of beeper rockets in the Valiant he brought with him from Utah, and "sound out" targets for his wingman's heavier payload to wreak havok upon.
Rounding out the Steel Shrikes are the third lead/wing pair, Benjamin "Short-Wave" Cohen and Anders "Jazzy" Michelson, both natives of the Atlantic Coalition. It's rumored that they are the last surviving pirates from the gang Brett supported, but like Brett, their lips are sealed on this matter. What is known, however, is that Ben's Bloodhawk, stolen straight off the airfield from a Broadway Bombers squadron refueling in Buffalo, if you believe him, is the newest plane the bunch flies; a gem of modern technology sparkling amongst the rugged weathered airframes of his companions. Anybody who thinks that the means by which Cohen acquired this plane indicates his flying isn't equal to its sophistication is quickly disavowed of that notion, however.
Andy Michelson flies an unassuming Raven, and along with Cool Man Jeremy, handles most of the group's heavy ordnance. Unlike Danny, who is prone to pushing his larger plane to maneuvers more suited to smaller fighters than his fighter/bomber, Jazzy Michelson seems to have a knack for throwing enemy pilots off his tail, seemingly by sheer will alone. His steady hand and ability to lose rival fighter escorts before lining up his run on ground targets or zeppelins have proven key to the Steel Shrikes' successful raiding to date.