25 January 2014

The Flightline: Dropships

The movement of troops, supplies, and vehicles has been one of the challenges of waging wars far from home since the days of the Punic Wars, and it is forgone conclusion that this need will be present with the advent of the warfare on other worlds. One of the key futuristic vehicles developed by sci-fi creators to handle the challenge of space warfare is the dropship. While the concept of the "dropship" is incredibly common in science fiction, how the dropship is projected varies from source to source in the realm of science fiction, and encompass everything from the Pelican from HALO, the retrieval boats from Starship Troopers, to the massive spheroid spaceships fron the Battletech universe, and of course, the UD-4L Cheyenne dropships from ALIENS. But are these fictional space vehicles really "dropships"? Much like the 2012 blogpost on Troop Transports, FWS will try to clear up the confusion about dropships seen in science fiction with our own definition of this staple spacecraft of military science fiction.

What is a Dropship?
Unlike tactical transports, jumpshuttles, gunships, and the aerodyne-APCs, the dropship is designed to ferry larger amounts of infantry, supplies, and armored vehicles from an orbiting starship in orbit (star-side) to the planetary combat zone (dirt-side). These vehicles are not typically designed to ferry troops and/or equipment once the vehicle is within the atmosphere of the planet. Once the troopers, supplies, and vehicles are off-loaded, the dropship is recalled to the mother ship using powerful rocket motors to return to orbit or in some cases, it could be used as a mobile command/supply point for an invasion force. Also unlike most dual atmospheric tropp transports, dropships could be unmanned or remote-piloted from mother ship based operators.

The Difference between Tactical Transports and Dropships
In science fiction, the vast majority of "dropships" seen and described are actually the "tactical transport", due to the manner in which they operate and duties on the future battlefield. These tactical transports are more akin to the modern military helicopter and/or tilt-rotor than say, the NASA Space Shuttle. In these future military organizations, the tactical transport is often the utility vehicle, serving as a gunship, shuttle, troop transport, med-evac, command & control bird, and rescue craft. In both combat and noncombat roles, the tactical transport is the versatile platform for all types operations and different environmental conditions, such as endo and exo atmospheres.
 Unlike the bigger, heavier, and more limited role dropship, the tactical transport is limited in cargo room, passengers, and heavy star-lift capability. While the dropship is technical a dual atmospheric craft, and capable of flight, it is not an aerodyne, and limited on maneuverability, flight-range due to the weight.When it comes to roles, the tactical transport is used as a "battle taxi" to soldiers, smaller mecha, APS wearers, light military vehicles. These elements can be more tactically inserted than with the heavier, larger dropship. The majority of technical dropships, according to the FWS definition, are more designed to delivery large amounts of troops, supplies, and vehicles to the planetary battlesite. One of the most basic design different between these two often confused craft is their look. In science fiction, the tactical transport is more insect or avian in apperance, while the dropship is more geometic, often being depicted as a spheroid or egg-shaped. FWS will be discussing tactical transports in-depth on their own blogpost in the near future.

The Life-Cycle of the Dropship

Deployment to the Front
Far away from the interstellar frontlines of our space war, the dropships of the invasion force are loaded onto the mother ship for transfer to the front. During the entire journey between interstellar locations, the armada of dropships stand idle and most likely, unloaded. Just before the arrival at the final destination, the dropships receive a buzz of activity and attention, loading supplies and war machines. The bitch of the thing with the dropship at this point, is that they are at the mercy of the mother ship. If their transporting vessel is intecepted and destroyed, than the mission of the dropship fails as well. This is similar to the troop transports that were sunk by submarines during World War One and Two.

The Drop
Orbital injection is one the most dangerous moments of dropship's life cycle. Consider that this vehicle will be subjected temperatures over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and any damage to the thermal protection say during orbital combat, could result in complete loss of the vehicles, crew, and cargo. During atmospheric reentry, there could be a blackout of communications and sensor data, allowing for the dropship to be blind, deaf, and dumb. All of this, makes for the prefect opportunity to strike the invasion force prior to their landing on your world. Or is it? Consider that any dropship on the scale we've been discussion that is more than a simple drop capsules from Starship Troopers, and not only is reusable, but can be utilized for a number of purposes once on the ground would need a big power sources, and that means nuclear. Also, any dropship that was used as a base-of-operations, would carry fuel to power the vehicles of the invasion force. Destroying the dropship while descending into atmosphere could rain down nuclear debris across the planet or major population center. Could the planetary defenders justify the risk of Fukusima? Once clear of the reentry phase, the defensive armament and countermeasure of the dropship would become critical to fend off incoming drones, AAA, and fighter-interceptors.

Planetary Operations
If our invading dropships surviving reentry and atmosphere flight, they would touch down in a drop-zone that is either secure by Special Forces Pathfinders or just isolated/distant from the planetary frontlines. During this phase of the dropship life cycle, our brave dropship crew or Cylons would be engaged in off-loading operations, possibly under fire. Depending on the operation, it is likely the large more Battletech-like dropships would be used as a base-of-operations for the invading force. During the initial phase of planetary operations, the dropship would act as a secure shelter, unlit more of a front was established. This could mean that dropships used in this manner would be armed to defend and support the invasion force. It is 100% possible that the DZ for the invasion force dropships would see some of the heaviest of planet-side combat. Much like a Vietnam War-era firebase, the dropship could rain down fire support, or deploy scouting drones, or drive away attacks until the invasion force was ready. Once the dropship is off-loaded, and the invasion force is out waging combat, the role of the dropship is either to return to the mother ship or to act as a ready-made temporary base that could serve as a field hospital, repair shop, C3 center, and billet for dirt-side troopers.

Getting Star-Side.
At some point, no matter how much fun you're having, you have to go home. And just as that applies to us married guys, it also applies to dropships. Once the planetary duty phase of the dropship's life cycle is complete and no longer needed, she will be recalled to the mother ship. Of course, the dropship could be acting as a recovery boat for the invasion force, or even a large medical-evac vehicle if there are a number of causalities. Thus begins the climb out of atmosphere, and one of the real challenges of the reusable dropship space vehicle. Breaking free of the planet's gravity and getting orbit will be solved by Delta-V...plain and simple. Here on Terra, from ground to space is about 100 kilometers or 62 miles, give or take. While you can thrust a small package into space with small rockets, any of the dropships in sci-fi are going to be classified as a heavy lift launch, more than the 118 metric tons of the Saturn V rocket's payload. To solve the issue of getting star-side, future military organizations could field one-shot dropships, which would be more like the cheap one-shot cargo drop-modules from my book Endangered Species.
However, most dropships, are able to land and lift-off, seemingly without issue. In reality, space launches are labor-intensive matters with massive amounts of fuel and preparation time that require a space launch facility. Thing would be easier with future-technology, like anti-gravity motors, or nuclear-powered engines. However, even in the Battletech universe of the 31st century, they mention that spheroid type dropships are completely at the mercy of their own engines. If they fail, the dropship is shit-out-of-luck. There are some advances outside of anti-gravity motors, like Anthony Tate's closed-cycle, gas-core nuclear thermal rocket, or you could say "fuck it!", and use a nuclear-pulse propulsion engine in atmosphere! Greenpeace would not be happy about that! There could be magnetic mass driver launch catapults as well, but they would defeat the idea of a tactical VTOL military vehicle. I do believe that this is one of the central challenges of interstellar combat: getting troops, vehicles, and supplies from orbit-to-ground-to-orbit-again effectively. Even if easy starlift capability is mastered, and we have reusable dropship vehicles, if the planet is not completely secure and air superiority is not achieved, than dropships could be targets on their way up, as they were on the way down.      

Modern Military "Dropships"?
At the moment, there is no military organization that is fielding spaceborne dropships to land space marines and/or space tanks to combat-zones on the red deserts of Mars. Pity. While the modern military does sent service personal into space and onboard the ISS, the bulk of the military's presents in space is via military satellites, and is no plans for space dropships. However, some could make the case that the old Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the current Soyuz capsules could be considered a type of space dropship. As I've stated above, the modern military helicopter and the new tilt-rotor are similar to the tactical transports of science fiction, however with the more limited FWS definition of the dropship, what military vehicles are similar?
 I think that some modern military vehicles, like the military hovercraft, the cargo transport aircraft, along the old World War II glider are all excellent examples of current day dropships. Consider the military hovercraft (AKA landing craft, air-cushioned or LCAC ), like the USMC's LCAC, the Soviet-era Aist class LCAC, the British have their own LCAC, and the current heavyweight of military hovercraft, the Russian Zubr class LCAC. Much like the fictional dropship, the LCAC is transported to the combat zone, via a mother ship or in this case, an amphibious assault ship, and lands troops and vehicles to the beach. After the drop-off at the DZ, the LCAC returns to the amphibious assault ship for another trip.

Around World War II, the Allies and the Axis used the military glider to delivery troops and light military vehicles, and are mostly connected to the Allies' Normandy and Sicily invasions along with Operation: MARKET GARDEN. The Germans, like it it seems with most things in WWII, were the first to field military gliders and use them in combat during the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium. The 3rd Reich had planned on constructing large gliders to transport 130 troops for the upcoming invasion of Britain, called the Messerschmidt Me 321. Due to issues with these massive gliders, only 200 ever built and an none saw combat. American and the British would mostly use the Waco CG-4 gliders, and specially trained soldiers, called glider infantry. While military gliders would fall out usage after the 2nd World War, and be replaced with the helicopter, they would not be completely forgotten with appearance in movies like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, A Bridge Too Far, the Longest Day, and in video games, like Brothers in Arms series.

I personally believed, due to the limited information about military gliders in those dark ages we call pre-internet, that they were developed for the D-Day invasion, and were only used by the Allies. It made sense to me that you would want a silent delivery system on the invasion of Fortress Europa, however that was not the only reason why gliders were used. Given the limitations of cargo aircrafts at the time, air-dropping jeeps, artillery, and supplies were was limited and gliders allow for guided delivery of these items. Unlike paratrooper drops, glider infantry need little in the way of specialized training, and stay together after touchdown to ensure rapid battlefield deployment. Just look at what happened on the D-Day airborne drop.
When it came to ninja-like insertions, the glider ranked above the paratrooper, due to the glider being cut loose from its tow plane many miles from the LZ, and the watchful eye of German AAA. Sadly, the military glider was replaced by the time of the Korean War with the helicopter  improvements military cargo planes. Gliders could be similar to low-cost, one-shot dropships that an future military organization would use for a massive planetary invasion that didn't involve recovery operations. Some might make the case for the heavy-lift military cargo planes, like the C-5 Galaxy being similar to the sci-fi dropship, and I could see a reason for that, especially given their similar to the aerodyne shaped dropships from the Battletech universe.   

Dropships and Science Fiction
Because of the lack of conformity with science fiction creators on the usage of the term 'dropship', and how cool and concise the term really is, it is litter throughout science fiction; from comics, games, movies, and books. As stated above, I firmly believe that most of the so-called 'dropships' in science fiction are actually more akin tactical transports, jumpshuttles, gunships, or even the rare aero-APCs, however, with the easy of the term dropship, it became the keyword for all futurisitic dual-atmospheric troop transports. It also helped that some of the popular works in science fiction and military science fiction use the term liberally. Works like: Starship Troopers, DUNE, Battletech, Starcraft, HALO, as well as any military sci-fi video game or book, you can find the term be used. Why is the term dropship so uniformly used? I believe that all of the attention and impact of the term came be traced back to the Citzen Kane of all military sci-fi films: ALIENS. Due to excellence of the film, continued impact, and just plain coolness, that one mislabeled dropship spawned legions of others. In the few works that feature the dropship being used accorded to the FWS defintion, they are used mostly as large heavy lift space vehicles, designed to bring mecha, infantry, and vehicles to the planetary battlefield. Often, these dropship are more utility than flash, firepower, and sexy appear.  

The Dropships of the Battletech universe
In the first pages of the 1994 FASA Battletech Technical Readout: 3057, the Inner Sphere dropships are front and center, and this tells a great deal about the importance of the dropship to the Battletech universe. In those opening pages, the Technical Readout: 3057, had one of the better quotes about dropships and their role in Battletech universe: "Dropships form the first link in the chain of interstellar travel. These venerable craft transport 'mechs, vehicles, troops, and material from orbit to planetary battlefields." Dropships eat up the first 80+ pages of the only Battletech Technical Readout to cover the spaceships of their universe and between the Inner Sphere and the Clans, there is no less than 40 separate classes of spheroid and aerodyne dropships, most are Inner Sphere, though.

The most familiar dropship from Battletech is the egg-shaped spheroid dropship that is a prime example of FWS's definition of the term "dropship". They used powerful engines to take-off and land with massive thrust, and are not endo-atmospheric flyers, but can mount some serious firepower to protect their cargo and passengers. Throughout most of non-RPG Battletech works, the spheroid is the commonly seen. The aerodyne dropship looks more graceful than the spheroid craft, and appear closer to typical military planes or even shuttles and are not bigger than 35,000 tons in mass. These have two central weaknesses, the aerodynes require long runways to land and take-off and they carry less cargo than the egg-shaped dropships. Their design does not simply allow for the steer vertical-thrust production of the spheroid dropships. Unlike many other science fiction works, Battletech breaks up dropships over five classification: fighter carriers, mech carriers, troop carriers, assault carriers, and finally, the civilian carrier. Each one is different in operation on the interstellar battlefields of the Inner Sphere.
The assault dropship is designed around defensive and offensive firepower, but often less utility as a typical space transport system. Because I've never battled Aerotech, the concept of a dropship being used as a "pocket warship" and in anti-aerocraft/anti-dropship operations is a little lost on me. Some of the assault dropships, like the Inner Sphere Intruder class are used for marine boarding operations and covert operations on-planet. The troop and mech carrier-type dropships are better standard, it is worth noting due to the size of the mecha in the Battletech universe, these spacecraft are giants and carry on many of the roles discussed above, like base-of-operations planet-side. The fighter carrier variant is an interesting dropship. Achieving air-superior on-planet would be a key goal in any combat zone, and these specialized fighter transport craft allow for delivery of fighters from star-side to dirt-side, however they are much more than that.
It seems that in the Battletech universe, due to the Jumpships, these fighter carrier dropship act as sci-fi aircraft carriers in orbital combat. The civilian variant is used like a cargo hauler or passenger liners, and at times, decommissioned military dropships are converted or even in reverse, which are known as Q-Ships. Even the nearly forgotten Battletech: the Animated Series from 1994 had the familiar spheroid dropships. In the near future, FWS will discuss this oddball military sci-fi animated series with a military sci-fi oddities blogpost. Does that mean I have to watch this? The things I do for this blog! Anyway, for me, Battletech was in the introduction to the concept of the dropship and the prime example of the FWS definition of these futuristic military spacecraft.

The AeroTech ISSCV/APC from Space:Above and Beyond
In the 1995-1996 American TV military sci-fi show, Space: Above and Beyond (SAAB), the most common futuristic vehicle used by the USMC during the Chig War is not the SA-43 Hammerhead space fighter, but the space-going utility vehicle: the ISSCV/APC. The Inter-Solar System Cargo Vehicle/Armored Personnel Carrier is a modular endo-exo transatmospheric transport vehicle constructed by AeroTech Space System, and used by all branches of United States armed forces during the Chig War of 2063-2064, most seen in the series were either Marine or Army. Primarily, the ISSCV/APC functions as a both a spacegoing cargo hauler, delivering supplies to planetary-based units, a space shuttle, and an armed APC/military transport craft for operations in and out of space. Helping the modular nature of the ISSCV/APC is a tilt-rotor type He3 thruster design mounted to the "flight arm" section, along with the swap-able underslung section. in the belly of the beast. The flight arm section mounted a few DEW and KEW systems, with a flight crew of two, while the heart of this space transport system was the middle modular section.
During the run of the show, several ISSCV/APC modular containers were shown. One was a basic trooper hauler (APC) with rows of seats, man-able weapons turrets, sleeping quarters, and lockers. The flight arm portion could drop off the container section on-planet, and the Marines could operate out of their new boxy base-of-operations of a period of weeks (as seen in the pilot episode and "the Dark side of the Sun"). It is believed that these modular sections could be fitted together to construct an basic off-world military outpost, as was seen on the disputed planet Tartarus ("The Enemy"). There could even be a more basic trooper-hauler shuttle variant. Also, fitted under the flight arm section was the "Red Cross" modular container. While only seen in the episode "...Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best", it could have been a med-evac bird or even a mobile MASH unit for a ready-drop field hospital. One of the most rare module sections seen during SAAB was the cargo vehicle module...as far as I remember, it was only seen in one episode: "Our Enemy".
Most of the ISSCV/APCs seen on the show only existed on computer screens, and were excellent early examples of CGI SFX, and done by Area 51 studios and supervised by artist Glenn Campbell. Most the interior shots during the series were a constructed set on a sound-stage, and some redressing was done from dropship to dropship. The goal of the production crew was to present the interior of the ISSCV/APC as a real military spacecraft with the all of the military spartan interior design elements. The outside shots of the actors working in and around the module sections were possibly a redressed truck cargo container...hard to get solid intel on this show at times. While I cannot verify this, it would not be out of the realm of possibility that the inspiration for the ISSCV/APC could have come from real sea-to-land shipping containers, or even the modular sections seen on the Starcom: the U.S. Space Force military sci-fi toyline vehicles from Coleco. However, it could be the iconic UD-4L Cheyenne from ALIENS. The impact of the ISSCV/APC has been seen in other key military sci-fi vehicles, like the Pelican from HALO and the DR-4 Viking from the 1997 Starship Troopers movie.         

The DR-4 Viking class Dropship from the Starship Troopers Universe
When it comes time for the Mobile Infantry to take the fight dirt-side, the Fleet transport legions of the troopers to the battlefield via their Corvette class transport vessels, and ships the M.I. down the gravity well via a vast number of the DR-4 Viking class dropship. Much like the Federation's dim view on the rest of their armed, the Viking is a cheap, lightly armed space bus to get the meat down into the grinder. From the ventral view, the Viking appears more like a giant ugly seabird with the bulky box-like module stripped to its belly. This is in contrast to the more sleek shuttle-like dorsal portion that houses the flight crew and the forward propulsion engines.

Seemingly sprucing out of the dorsal flight section, is a set of giant legs that hug the ventral cargo box and are tipped with downward thrusters for VTOL. Vikings are loaded with troopers inside massive lower deck bays on the Corvette class, and then pushed out into the black via overhead conveyor, then "dropped" from the mother ship by explosive bolts, and they use their own thrusters for atmospheric injection. While the DR-4 is widely used by the branches of the Federation armed forces, there is another similar vehicle: the DR-8 Skyhook Jumpshuttle. The Skyhook by the Fleet as a "retrieval boat" for smaller groups of MI troopers in hot LZs, as seen in the film during the Whiskey Outpost battle on Planet-P. The Fleet's own Marine Corps use the sleeker DR-8 for the bulk of their operations, as seen SST:3 Marauder. When it comes to armaments on the DR-4 class, it is hard to see in the 1997 film, but pictures of the model display an number of small ball cannons mounted on the nose and sides of the little ship. My guess would be that these are used for point-defense turrets or even close-air support, but they are never seen in use. The only weapon that the DR-4s use is during the invasion of  Klendathu...but we still don't know what the hell it is or what it was supposed to be.

When the FWS blogpost about troop transport was posted back in 2012, I received several comments on what the very bright discharges are. Some readers said that they were flare launchers, and the lighting in that scene of the film indicated that...but, what purpose would rapid-fire flare launchers be for a 25th century military? While flares are used on modern military vehicles, they are not featured that prominently. Maybe they are a system of marking the M.I. infantry's objectives since the bug homeworld does not have any kind of artificial lights? Could these be some sort of futuristic defense system, like a main battle tank's smoke dischargers? My theory as always been of light artillery fire, to soften up the bugs for the troopers. I think that SFX team used flares for the effects. I decided to see what the SST script says about the DZ on Klendathu and the dropship. Interestingly enough, the script is that available online says that MI are deployed via space-drop capsule, just like in the 1959 book!
According to the website Starship Modeler, the original concept was to have the underslung module be drop-off at the LZ, and the flight section of the Viking return to the mother ship. While this was never seen on-screen in any of the appearance of the DR-4 dropships, the basic design of the model bears witness to it. It is my theory, that the original idea for this came from the ISSCV/APC from SAAB, and the DR-4s were to have modular containers, also, much like the ISSCV/APC. From close examination of the 1997 film (the things I do for you people), I believe there are three variants: cargo, troop carrier, and medical. Paul Verhoven was said to have been inspirited by the landing craft of D-Day for these vehicles and the overall feel of the invasion of Klendathu.

Interestingly enough, several versions of the SST dropship and retrivel boat jumpshuttle have been made into toys! Duringthe 1997's "action fleet" line of SST toys by Galoob. One of these was the DR-8 Skyhook retrieval boat seen on Planet-P in the film, and came with three micro-figures (one was a medic), and free-fall bombs. The DR-4 Viking also got its day in plastic, with a motorized remote-controlled toy and more desert-camo schemed paint job. This was much rarer than the retrieval boat toy, and featured a corded conrtoller that operated a dorsal missile launcher, ramp, and moved via wheels instead of VTOL thrusters. Oh, don't worry faithful readers of FWS...I will be covering the SST toyline in a future Military Sci-Fi Toys blogpost.

The Carry-All from the DUNE universe
Mining the spice-drug Melange is an extremely risky endeavor on Arrakis. The giant sand worms are able to hone in on rhythmic vibrations of the Harvester machines that mine the spine. This has forced the dunemen to employ ground and aerial monitors to watch for worm sign (many of these were made into toys). Protecting the miners (most were contractors) from being eaten up the old man of the desert is the massive specialized aero-vehicle: the Carry-All. The Carry-All operates using the Holtzman Effect to generate an Suspensor Field. This stable platform allows for the Carry-All to life and lower two Harvesters into positions around the endless deserts of Arrakis. When House Atreides took over from their enemies, House Harkonnen, there was an inventory of about 1,000 Carry-Alls. However, given the reckless attitude of the Harkonnen's toward mining the Spice, more than 1/3 of the Carry-Alls were unable to be fielded.
While the Harvesters get all of the attention for their mining of the Spice, they are only able to do their job via the Carry-All. This vital importance of the Carry-All was not lost on Paul Atreides, after witness an worm attack on a Harvester after the Carry-All failed to arrive in time. During the Fremen insurrection led by Paul Muad'Did, Carry-Alls were targeted to grind Spice production to a halt. The model of the Carry-All for the 1984 sci-fi epic (and box-office bomb) DUNE was conceptized by director David Lynch from the pages of the original text, and the wedged shaped model was constructed by model-maker Rafael de Maria y Campos in Mexico. In the novel,  the Carry-All is an large ornithopter, and House Atreides Mentat, Hawat called the Carry-All an "rescue vehicle". The Carry-All is a unique concept in the realm of science fiction dropships, and one of the only endo-atmospheric dropships in sci-fi. In the 1998 PC real-time strategy game DUNE 2000 by Westwood Games, the Carry-All is re-imagined as a more sleek aerodyne design that appears to be more "bomber" like.           

The Y-85 Titan Dropship from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Ever wondered how the hell the Empire got those massive AT-STs onto planet Holt? Wonder no more! Here is the Y-85 Titan dropship! In the Imperial Army, the Y-85 delivery the massive armored walker AT-STs, the smaller AT-ATs, and pre-fab military bases. Once the Y-85 hit the planetary battlefield, the AT-STs and AT-ATs could be deployed immediately, due to them being stored battle-ready, as was seen during the Battle of Hoth. Due to the size of these dropships, only the larger Imperial Navy warships could carry the Y-85 and the accompanying vehicles. The SW wiki-article states that the Titan dropship off-loads the AT-ATs and AT-STs via crane that drops the mecha out of massive ventral doors. That means that the entire weight of the Titan and its cargo are supported by anti-gravity motors or landing gears. That is impressive. These dropships have never been seen in any SW game or movie, while the Y-85 was in some books and technical manuals, like the Star Wars: Incredible Cross-Sections.


  1. Good piece.

    Although canon of course, the Titan is a fugly design. The guys from I.M.P.S. made a much nicer dropship. The fan-made SW episode is both hilarious and awesome, they did a fabulous job creating a Star Wars dropship and filming the actual drop-procedure, answering a lot of "how does the Empire do it" questions. Unfortunately the fan project seemed to have stalled indefinately.


  2. Interesting post... what is kind of funny is that Star Wars and Star Trek don't really feature any recognizable dropships, the former because the Imperial ground forces are only seen after they have landed on Hoth, and the latter 'cause they use freaking teleportation!! XD

    Oh, and the nerd in me doth protest- the AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transport) are the big, four-legged armored walkers that Luke disables with his speeder's harpoon and cable. The AT-STs (All Terrain Scout Transport) are the little two-legged mecha- Chewbacca commandeers one during the Battle of Freaking Teddy Bears on Endor. I had a lot of the Star Wars cutaway books when I was younger, so I became a bit of an expert on Imperial battle technology, ha ha!!

    That was well before the age when I could be called out for not going out with girls enough. ;-)

    In general, I feel that the term "dropship" refers best to all landing craft designed to take heavy cargo and personnel down to the planet. The poor man's way is to use aerobraking to save on rocket fuel, also useful when landing on planets that have strict rules about nuclear radiation. But considering the technology required for true space-faring, I think that a dropship worthy of SF will use powerful enough rocket motors to dispense with such a primitive device and decelerate with its main jets. Obviously all this can end up being mixed with the standard SF idea of the "shuttle".

    I don't think the Carry-All from the Dune movie counts as a dropship, really- it doesn't operate from orbit-to-ground at all! And I would have preferred to see 'thopters soaring in the thin air over Arrakis, really. From the book, I get the impression that the suspensor fields only work on a shorter-range small scale suitable for lamps and personal anti-gravity belts, but not aircraft, or they wouldn't have used the ornithopter craft.

    However, the spaceships used by the Houses in Dune all act much like dropships since they mainly serve to transport you from planet to Heighliner and then back down to a planet again. From the standard Frigate (the largest type of ship that can be sent up in one piece) to the larger armored Moniters and the specialized Crushers (designed to fall on enemy positions and crush 'em!!), all of them are designed primarily for launch from and landing on planets, not deep space. After all, there really isn't anywhere to go once you are up there except a Heighliner's hold.

    By the way, the ships in Dune all use various kinds of rockets for sublight travel, and one ship engine type (the 'Brat) was a fission nuclear pulse rocket according to the Dune Encyclopedia... powerful, but not overly popular with whoever is breathing the atmosphere you are nuking repeatedly. Other craft use fusion reactors to heat a fluid propellent in a thermal rocket engine, or even a fusion torch engine (not as common 'cause it tends to evaporate the landing site).

    As I read Dune when I was an older teen, I really have no excuse for this repository of nerdy knowledge of all things Dune. What can I say, my grandmother gave me the Dune Encyclopedia... I'm sure there is such a thing as "dating for Dune nerds", somewhere? :D

  3. I will admit that the sphere ships from Battletech are not pretty, and the way they are used in that universe is odd...pocket dropship warships? C'mon!
    Well, Mr.Phoenix, I'm now going to call ROTJ Battle of Endor the same from now on FWS! Okay, confession time here on FWS, when I was attempting to find enough examples for the blogpost, normally not an issue, but this time it was. The DUNE Carry-Alls are mentioned on the TV Tropes page, and I thought it could be an example, all be it, an unique one. I actually think that you are right on the money for the Guide Heighliner as seen in the 1984 film. The idea of the Carry-Alls using a suspensor field was from the prop ship in the 1984 film. According to the book, it was an enlarged orthinopter design...thing giant bug-thing. I wonder if Battletech got some of the idea of jumpships transporting dropship to the front from DUNE? Hmmm...
    That DUNE Encyclopedia is a very cool piece of non-canon DUNE information! Hang on to it!
    BTW, Mr. Phoenix, you will be pleased to know that I am researching and writing the long-awaited LASERS: the Killer Light Armory blogpost! Hopefully, it will be on FWS in 2-to-3 weeks. It has been a bitch to write!

  4. Ha ha, yeah, fear the teddy bears, Imperial scum, 'cause flint knives and bearskins are all you need to overcome blaster rifles and mecha if your name is Chirpa Weeka!!

    Well, I was specifically thinking of the Dune book... but the frigates behave pretty much like dropships in both book and movie versions. In Lynch's Dune the space travel scene is pretty much "little ships go up into big jump-ship, big fat worm floats around and spews glowing shit all over the place and to make the jump-ship jump, and then all the little ships leave the big ship and land on Arrakis". I wonder if that is how Lynch described what he wanted the scene to look like to the SFX people? XD

    I suspect that Frank Herbert got the inspiration for ornithopters flying around a desert planet from Cordwainer Smith's (somewhat obscure) short story "On the Sand Planet", the last of his three stories about Casher O'neil roaming the galaxy in search of people willing to lend him soldiers or weapons to free his home desert planet from a military dictator who killed his uncle, the previous ruler. When he finally gets home after being given telepathic weapons capable of overcoming any military force, he finds that the enhanced consciousness that comes with these abilities has made his earlier obsession with revenge seem childish to him, so he elects to take a 'thopter ride into the desert and have religious experiences on sand dunes instead!!

    The Dune Encyclopedia is very cool... it has great sections on both the odd social customs and advanced technology scene in the book! Interestingly, according to the encyclopedia, the Guild Heighliners are giant spherical motherships rather than the cylinders scene in the film. But you still get no in-flight service, just an empty unpressurized hold in which everyone stays in their spaceships.

    The funny thing about lasers is that everyone seized on them in SF so quickly because the concept of producing deadly pencil-thin rays or concentrated light weapons were already so familiar. An early name for weapons that behaved more or less like most people envision lasers was the "needle-beam", not to be confused with "needlers" that fire needle-like flechettes.

    By the way, remember this article from Lightspeed Magazine? http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/nonfiction/future-weapons/
    I have recently reread this one, and on the second reading I must say Jeff Hecht makes some interesting points. It is particularly interesting to consider that laser beams, unlike bullets, do not carry much momentum, so rather than ripping through flesh like a bullet, they can only deliver energy that the target absorbs as heat. Boring a hole through someone means vaporizing the water in their cells, which takes a lot more energy (50kJ to bore a hole right through someone, according to Mr. Hecht), and since some energy would be lost from steam shading the target you would need even more. Couple this with the fact that any laser capable of delivering this energy is probably larger than a fridge, not including the cooling and power supply, and you can see the problem with trying to cram all this into a pistol.

    There are, however, other ways to judge the per-shot cost of a laser. Ironically, a full charge on a laser pistol might cost only a few cents worth of electricity, while a box of .45 pistol ammo might be 20 dollars or more in today's market!! Bottom line is that lasers just don't match up to bullets, not today, and probably not for a long time, although I won't put the idea of beam-pistols totally beyond the pale. Damn it, I still want a laser pistol. :D

  5. Being a member of the Star Trek/Star Wars generation...yeah, I want my damn Phaser! Need to stun some people at Starbuck's! In 1983, I was six, and I must have seen ROTJ about six time, even saw all three films in one showing at a theater at one time, back in 1983. Out of the Holy Trilogy, Jedi is my least favorite, but it better than those shitty prequel movies! I remember wondering as a kid how the Ewok did it, taking down the Stormtroopers. Wish that ROTJ had a different plot. Amazing how those fuzzy bears overcame the might of the empire, and yet Victoria Imperial England runs from the tripods...makes one wonder. Will have to check out "On a Sand Planet" for myself, sounds interesting. Nice catch, Mr. Phoenix! I dug up tons of research on laser DEW devices, used your comments, and I just added your link. Thanks again! Hopefully, the laser blogpost will not disappoint!

  6. The SF of my generation considers bullets better than lasers and other energy weapons for sheer "bad-assness". :D Consider shows like Firefly/Serenity where the heroes all carry futuristic bullet-firing firearms and only the bad old Alliance can afford to use lasers and sonic stunners some of the time.

    Going further, the ridiculously over-the-top Zorg ZF-1 from "The Fifth Element" proves that advanced projectile weapons can make mere laser blasters look simplistic- seriously, does a blaster rifle have a replay function? Or a built in rocket launcher, net launcher, poison dart launcher, flamethrower, and freeze blast?

    Of course some energy weapons are dial-a-gun weapons too, with stun functions as well as variable power settings. Personally I want fan beam setting on my beam pistol. Only to cut down trees. Honest!! ;-)

    Most probably, energy weapons will find niches in combat but not supplant traditional missiles, autocannon, and firearms and the jobs they already do well any time soon. When an energy weapon can do things traditional weapons can't- like THEL shooting down rockets or those less lethal "pain rays" and sonic weapons- they will probably be used. But is there a good reason to try to replace firearms with lasers when the bullet already does a fine job, and the laser kind of doesn't? This seems to be the state of affairs in Firefly/Serenity- energy weapons exist, but tend to be specialized in purpose like the sonic rifles, or just too expensive and limited a technology for most users even if it isn't illegal for them to own.

    The Casher O'neil stories feature lasers, actually. Casher is given a giant green ruby crystal as big as his head on the Gem Planet that, once properly mounted, can generate a laser beam capable of boiling away a city... and later on the Wind Planet a armored ground car uses a laser to cut itself out of a sky whale that had swallowed it. You should check some of Cordwainer's stories- he was an odd fellow, but he created some very imaginative worlds for his SF stories!

    The earliest reference I've found to a killing laser sidearm is in Clifford D. Simak's Way Station. It caused all vegetation to burst into flame and even the ground to melt into glass, leaving a trail of ionized air that led the main character to recognize it as a laser. The real laser had been invented only a year or so before.

  7. I think the future idea of space dropships would be done a bit different. I am trying to write story about Supercarriers (lets say advanced naval battleship mixed up with carrier, something bigger than battlecruiser) onto small habitable moon (let's leave the astronomical and habitable zone matters), so here is the idea:

    Spaceship arrives with cargo that is that supervessel (think of mothership) to be dropped onto planet surface (water here). That big vessel is protected by capsule-like armor during atmopheric entry that is dropped away after critical point of planetfall. Such vessel during whole operation has all equipment and arms inside, systems are rather off-line and so, every stuff inside is secured and there is no crew onboard. The only flaw is that would require rather "peaceful" situation and the crew has to be delivered during second run.

    In my story however, both vessels are dropped onto a new, oceanic-like (with small archipelagos) moon that does not have any civilisation nor sentient species.

  8. Gliders were absolutely not invented by the allies and were used in many operations other than D-Day. The Germans used them for the assault on Eben Emael in 1940 and for the rescue of Mussolini in 1943. The allies also used gliders in many other operations including market garden.

  9. The Aliens dropship always drove me a bit crazy. It can do everything and somehow get to orbit without boosters and it does not look like it as much room for fuel.

    The "Furoshiki" in my Stardust accomplishes a similar mission to the Aliens dropship by using combined cycle engines that work as fanjets in the atmosphere, ram-and-scram jets up high and rockets in vacuum and are powered by methane (which is denser than hydrogen). The air intakes are pre-cooled like Skylon engines and feed off atmospheric oxygen so the mass ratio drops from 25 to 1 (needed for a "brute force" SSTO) to 5 to 1.

    The weapons (belt-fed recoilless rocket cannons that fire a swarm of micro missiles) are stored inside the hull and are deployed on Canadarm-like arms so it can fire from behind cover (because it's not a good idea to expose your return vehicle to weapons fire if it can be avoided).

  10. Using a tiny amount of Californium 251 to compress lithium deuteride fusion stages and using ultra-high-weight molecular polyethylene as propellant, it would be possible to build an Orion-style drive where as much as 97% of the energy comes from cleaner fusion (assuming each pusher unit is like a miniature version of Tsar Bomba, where two fission primaries go off within a microsecond to deliver a one-two-punch to the secondary to maximize fusion yield).