Following an army stint, Sam Wilson explored various fields of interest before he began working for S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury. Sam agreed to give S.H.I.E.L.D. first refusal rights for any discovery or invention his research yielded. Wilson invented his remarkable "wing-pack," which enables him to fly. He also occasionally participated in secret S.H.I.E.L.D. operations. In recent months, he visited the Amazon River Basin to study various plant derivatives and their potential effects on human physiology.
Wilson was recalled to active duty by S.H.I.E.L.D. when overwhelming psionic messages of doom were transmitted worldwide from Tunguska, a region of Russia where an unidentified object had crashed in 1908. Wilson, Fury, and super-soldiers Captain America and Black Widow of the Ultimates located the transmission's source, an abandoned Soviet research base. Wilson deciphered the code to unlock the facility; once inside, they were attacked by an immensely powerful superhuman, powered by a horn-like device implanted in his skull. Wilson slew this cyborg "Unicorn," and after discovering several other cyborgs, the team realized the facility was creating super-soldiers via the surgical attachment of components from the mysterious Tunguska object.
As Wilson and the Ultimates moved deeper into the facility, they encountered Marvel Girl, Wolverine, and Colossus of the X-Men, who erroneously believed the worldwide distress message came from endangered mutants. When the agitated mutants attacked, Wilson disabled Colossus by attacking his metallic, but still vulnerable, eyes. In the battle's aftermath, Wilson discovered the signal was emanating from an alien android known as Vision, around whom the facility had been built. Unable to repair himself for nearly a century, Vision had been cannibalized by Soviet scientists, his alien technology used to create the cyborgs. Wilson convinced Vision to cease broadcasting the psionic signal, and Vision informed him and the others of his purpose: to warn the Earth of the coming of an alien menace known as "Gah Lak Tus". Fury assigned Wilson to accompany Vision back to a S.H.I.E.L.D. base and learn everything he could about the android, information which might prove vital if Earth was to have a chance of surviving the approaching Gah Lak Tus.