Service entry dates for Confed fighters

YCDTD

Commodore
So, according to some WC canon, the Arrow is actually an old design. The WC3 novelization also describes the Thunderbolt as an old fighter. The Hellcat also seems to be old, as it is outfitted with neutron guns (which were replaced with particle cannons on newer craft, correct?). Do we have any info on when various fighters were introduced into service other than the obvious state-of-the-art fighters (Morningstar, Excalibur, Bearcat, Dragon)?
 

Ilanin

Captain
Some of the confusion is based on the fact that spaceframes are periodically updated and refitted, just as in real life. The F-27 Arrow V that operates off the TCS Victory in Wing Commander III is definitely a modern variant (Victory Streak notes that the Shelton Slide is limited to the newest ships, the Arrow and Excalibur), but the original F-27 frame is clearly much older - one variant was certainly in service as early as 2654. The period after the False Armistice is likely to have been complete chaos with ship types. Terran and Kilrathi fleets practically wiped each other out at Sirius and Earth, and that's especially true for the fighters - I recall reading something like a 90% loss ratio for Broadswords and Sabres somewhere. Add to that the fact that a bunch of the manufacturing was done on Sirius and Luna (spare parts as well as fighters) and the Confederation is scrambling to pull a fleet together from what's left, so anything that can fly and fight is being given crash refits to make them as effective as is economical and sent to the front lines. The Arrow can probably Shelton slide because somebody on the Excalibur program realised they were using the same set of manoeuvring jets so all that was needed was some alterations to the avionics.

For the WC3 fighters overall
Arrow - entered service by 2654 at the latest
Hellcat - don't know of any data here; the implication is that it's been a workhorse fighter used by second-line units for some time, presumably due to being much cheaper than the equivalent Rapier II models.
Thunderbolt - probably extremely old. It's HF-66 designation presumably comes from the same naming convention as the CF-105 Scimitar and CF-117 Rapier, which would mean it's a pre-war design, though likely substantially upgraded.
Longbow - again unclear as far as I'm aware. It makes a certain amount of sense to me that the Longbow and Crossbow were competing light bomber designs, but there's no real evidence for that.
Excalibur - 2669
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Yes, we do see the Longbow in Academy - or at least, an unnamed craft that looks just like the Longbow. The same goes for the Hellcat.

to that the fact that a bunch of the manufacturing was done on Sirius and Luna (spare parts as well as fighters) and the Confederation is scrambling to pull a fleet together from what's left, so anything that can fly and fight is being given crash refits to make them as effective as is economical and sent to the front lines. The Arrow can probably Shelton slide because somebody on the Excalibur program realised they were using the same set of manoeuvring jets so all that was needed was some alterations to the avionics.
While the losses in the Battle of Terra presumably did force both sides to go through all kinds of emergency upgrades, I don't think the presence of Arrows in WC3 is actually an indication of how desperate Confed is. Rather, it must be an indication that the Arrow is still capable of performing well with the latest design modifications. We can imagine that there must have been plenty of Ferrets out there, for example (since they were a patrol fighter used by In-Sys, not just the Navy), but we don't see them reappearing on the frontlines in WC3.
Hellcat - don't know of any data here; the implication is that it's been a workhorse fighter used by second-line units for some time, presumably due to being much cheaper than the equivalent Rapier II models.
If it's a Hellcat we see in Academy, then that would place the Hellcat in 2654. Did Star*Soldier by any chance establish a designation number for the Hellcat? I don't recall.

Thunderbolt - probably extremely old. It's HF-66 designation presumably comes from the same naming convention as the CF-105 Scimitar and CF-117 Rapier, which would mean it's a pre-war design, though likely substantially upgraded.
That's not in any way a reasonable assumption. We see three Confed fighters with CF designations - the Scimitar, the Rapier, and the Broadsword. Since that's two mediums and a heavy bomber, there is no reason to believe that a heavy fighter would have a HF designation. So, what does the HF mean? Well, we don't know exactly how Confed's designation system works. We do know, however, that in the US designation system (with which the creators would have been most familar with), putting an additional designation letter in front (without a slash, mind you) means that a given aircraft model has been modified for an additional role. So, in the US designation system, you might have F-66A Thunderbolt, which is a fighter, and an HF-66B Thunderbolt, which is a fighter adapted for search & rescue. Now, I'm actually inclined to believe that the Thunderbolt's oddball designation probably came from a mistake (i.e., someone at Origin thinking: "If a fighter is F, then a heavy fighter should be HF")... but it actually would make sense for the Thunderbolt to be designated HF, if they were copying the US designation system.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
Good thread!

Didn't we see a Longbow in the Academy cartoon?

If it's a Hellcat we see in Academy, then that would place the Hellcat in 2654. Did Star*Soldier by any chance establish a designation number for the Hellcat? I don't recall.

No designation for the Hellcat. I think a lot of the fan material uses "F-86"... but that just goes back to Psych insisting you can read that in the first cutscene where Rachel is showing you how loadouts work. There is a designation in the scene, but you can't read it (I don't like F-86 myself, both because it doesn't jive with the earlier games and because it feels awkward to reuse a spectacularly famous "real" designation.)

The 'cameos' of the Wing Commander III and IV ships in Wing Commander Academy (Hellcat, Arrow, Longbow and Avenger) have a little history behind them. Their model sheets (and some of that initial footage from Red and Blue) were created in the first place because the show was pitched as a more direct prequel to Wing Commander III. A lot of that still shows through (like Blair's character design) but the initial idea was that it would be a reboot of Secret Missions 2 with all the characters from Wing Commander III. Remember that the process started in early 1995 so the group pitching the show didn't understand that Wing Commander wasn't like Star Trek... you weren't going to have Sulu and Chekov and the same Enterprise in every movie. So the idea was that Blair, Maniac, Flint, Vaquero, Cobra, etc. were the main cast and they'd fly the ships familiar to people who played the best selling game of the series.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and they went with the more 'respectful' finished product... but some of the ship designs survived and MOST of them were included as cute cameos that were supposed to be for hardcore fans to enjoy (the Hellcat is the exception, the intro to Red and Blue was written to burn off some test footage.) Hardcore fans did *NOT* enjoy them at the time, I might add; I think the biggest LOAF-against-the-world scrap I was ever in was defending the Academy pilot for daring to have Wing Commander III ships in it. In the end we didn't see anything with a clearly established history (ie, a Bearcat)... but it did change how we think about some of the ships' histories.

(By the way, other things that survived from the earlier version of the show--Gharal (the "good Kilrathi") is an anagram of Ralgha, the character he was originally supposed to be... and he retained the same backstory (captain of the Ras Nik'hra.) Also, the redshirt wingman "Hyena" is, per the series' press kit, still Vagabond's brother... it just never comes up! And of course the season ending plot with the Dolosians is the Secret Missions 2 story that was originally to have Firekkans rewritten.)

So that history aside, the Hellcat is a confusing beast.

Quarto is correct that the Hellcat (and others) aren't named in Academy, but it's certainly still the intention and should be given some weight as such. It wouldn't be a huge problem if we only saw the Hellcats in the simulator (why, that's practically a Wing Commander Academy game/Wraith reference, with trainsims using a fighter that's not available yet!)... but we also see a STATUE of a Hellcat at the flight school in the same episode!

The backstory I have always loved and hope to make 'canon' someday is that the statue (at least) is actually the WILDCAT fighter from Action Stations and that it just looks very similar to a Hellcat... like the real World War II Wildcat and Hellcat. It's maybe a little too cute, but I like it as a retcon. Nothing official says this yet, of course, I just enjoy it.

Sorry, back on track: the frustrating thing about the Hellcat is that Academy aside it actually has something of a quiet background narrative across several sources. The Wing Commander CCG, for example, actually has the Hellcat as having replaced the Rapier as the Black Lions' assigned fighter... and then the Wing Commander Prophecy material talks about the Tigershark being the evolution of the Hellcat. So statue aside I kind of like the idea that the Hellcat was a hot new prototype in 2654, destined to replace the Rapier. Now a million things have broken that since, including the fact that the Rapier is still around Arena (my fault)... but it was a nice story at one point.

While the losses in the Battle of Terra presumably did force both sides to go through all kinds of emergency upgrades, I don't think the presence of Arrows in WC3 is actually an indication of how desperate Confed is. Rather, it must be an indication that the Arrow is still capable of performing well with the latest design modifications. We can imagine that there must have been plenty of Ferrets out there, for example (since they were a patrol fighter used by In-Sys, not just the Navy), but we don't see them reappearing on the frontlines in WC3.

I've never liked this bit of fan backstory because it doesn't make sense on the whole. The real loss suffered at the Battle of Earth was the carriers, which are expensive and slow to be replaced (and, of course, the top pilots who can't be replaced.) FIGHTERS are mass produced quickly and have to exist in massive numbers outside of the carrier force--because thousands of star systems have their own ground- and station- based fighter units. In fact there's a Privateer quote about the scale of the war which talks about hundreds of fighters being lost each day.

But also while it seems to be a convenient way to explain why we see entirely different fighters in WC3, it doesn't work with later stories. The Lexington in Wing Commander 4 has a /brand new/ factory fresh complement of Arrows, Thunderbolts, Hellcats, Longbows... so they aren't leftovers that the fleet happened to collect. I think it's more just that different units (or maybe even different theaters) have different spacecraft (and Arena, of course, shows us that Rapiers and Broadswords and Arrows were still around years later.)

That's not in any way a reasonable assumption. We see three Confed fighters with CF designations - the Scimitar, the Rapier, and the Broadsword. Since that's two mediums and a heavy bomber, there is no reason to believe that a heavy fighter would have a HF designation. So, what does the HF mean? Well, we don't know exactly how Confed's designation system works. We do know, however, that in the US designation system (with which the creators would have been most familar with), putting an additional designation letter in front (without a slash, mind you) means that a given aircraft model has been modified for an additional role. So, in the US designation system, you might have F-66A Thunderbolt, which is a fighter, and an HF-66B Thunderbolt, which is a fighter adapted for search & rescue. Now, I'm actually inclined to believe that the Thunderbolt's oddball designation probably came from a mistake (i.e., someone at Origin thinking: "If a fighter is F, then a heavy fighter should be HF")... but it actually would make sense for the Thunderbolt to be designated HF, if they were copying the US designation system.

I think we can safely assume that the thought process behind 'CF' was to mean 'Confederation Fighter,' since the Confederation Handbook uses 'CF' for Confederation fighters and 'KF' for Kilrathi fighters. The novels go on to break that read, though: Pilgrim Stars has the "CF-337d Marine Troopship" and "CF-20 ConCom" and Pilgrim Truth has the "CF-229d Spacecraft Ferry" (and possibly the CF-327a explosive device, although in the book the designation is spelled out while the others aren't so it may be intentionally different.)

The 'HF' is a real oddity. It comes from the Wing Commander III novelization, which means almost certainly the mind of Andrew Keith. It certainly does feel like he wants it to mean 'heavy fighter'... but that's *odd*, because if anyone would have understood real fighter designations it would have been the man behind a very popular series of novels about real world aircraft carriers that had been feted for their technical accuracy. Another wrinkle: the same page gives us "F/A-76" for the Longbow, a designation much more true to the current American system. Note also that Origin specifically DROPPED the 'H' when they included the Thunderbolt in the Prophecy Gold manual (I remember this being a conscious decision at the time, with Captain Johnny noting that he didn't like it.)
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Sorry, back on track: the frustrating thing about the Hellcat is that Academy aside it actually has something of a quiet background narrative across several sources. The Wing Commander CCG, for example, actually has the Hellcat as having replaced the Rapier as the Black Lions' assigned fighter... and then the Wing Commander Prophecy material talks about the Tigershark being the evolution of the Hellcat. So statue aside I kind of like the idea that the Hellcat was a hot new prototype in 2654, destined to replace the Rapier. Now a million things have broken that since, including the fact that the Rapier is still around Arena (my fault)... but it was a nice story at one point.
Well now, the Hellcat and the Rapier could have been parallel designs, intended to fulfill different roles. Both are designated as medium fighters, but the Hellcat in terms of armour and manoeuvrability actually resembles the Scimitar, while the Rapier is more like a well-shielded light fighter. I can imagine the Hellcat being designed as more of a strike fighter, while the Rapier was actually intended as a space superiority fighter (though both were obviously capable of both roles).
I've never liked this bit of fan backstory because it doesn't make sense on the whole. The real loss suffered at the Battle of Earth was the carriers, which are expensive and slow to be replaced (and, of course, the top pilots who can't be replaced.) FIGHTERS are mass produced quickly and have to exist in massive numbers outside of the carrier force--because thousands of star systems have their own ground- and station- based fighter units. In fact there's a Privateer quote about the scale of the war which talks about hundreds of fighters being lost each day.

But also while it seems to be a convenient way to explain why we see entirely different fighters in WC3, it doesn't work with later stories. The Lexington in Wing Commander 4 has a /brand new/ factory fresh complement of Arrows, Thunderbolts, Hellcats, Longbows... so they aren't leftovers that the fleet happened to collect. I think it's more just that different units (or maybe even different theaters) have different spacecraft (and Arena, of course, shows us that Rapiers and Broadswords and Arrows were still around years later.)
Yeah, that's kinda what I was getting at. These ships go way beyond WC3, even beyond WC4, so they can't have shown up on the front just because Confed ran out of other ships.

The 'HF' is a real oddity. It comes from the Wing Commander III novelization, which means almost certainly the mind of Andrew Keith. It certainly does feel like he wants it to mean 'heavy fighter'... but that's *odd*, because if anyone would have understood real fighter designations it would have been the man behind a very popular series of novels about real world aircraft carriers that had been feted for their technical accuracy. Another wrinkle: the same page gives us "F/A-76" for the Longbow, a designation much more true to the current American system. Note also that Origin specifically DROPPED the 'H' when they included the Thunderbolt in the Prophecy Gold manual (I remember this being a conscious decision at the time, with Captain Johnny noting that he didn't like it.)
Well, what if Andrew Keith specifically added it for the US designation meaning? As I said, HF means a fighter adapted for S&R duties - so if this was done by someone with as much expertise about carriers as Andrew Keith, then it could be intentional. If that were the case, ironically the decision to drop the H in Prophecy Gold would actually make good sense from the in-universe perspective - because Confed uses dedicated S&R shuttles now.
 

Ijuin

Admiral
Some of the confusion is based on the fact that spaceframes are periodically updated and refitted, just as in real life.
QFT. Notice how the US government has been putting out new refits of the F-15 Eagle and B-52 Stratofortress even after forty or fifty years of service, despite the introduction of aircraft two full generations more advanced (like the F-22 Raptor).
 

YCDTD

Commodore
I always thought of WC as WW2 in space, so from that I always assumed that you were flying the latest and greatest fighters since in WW2 fighter tech advanced rapidly (although I believe it was stated in WC2 that the Ferret is an older design). Only when I read some of the novelizations and heard about the Hellcat being in Academy did I start to wonder.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
World War II did involve rapidly developing new fighters... but you also had plenty of existing designs that were refined throughout the war. You had Spitfires and ME-109s at the start of the war and then significantly improved models still being used at the end.
 

YCDTD

Commodore
World War II did involve rapidly developing new fighters... but you also had plenty of existing designs that were refined throughout the war. You had Spitfires and ME-109s at the start of the war and then significantly improved models still being used at the end.

This is true.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Yeah. And it's worth considering why this was the case. The Germans, for example, would have very much preferred to replace the Me 109 entirely with the superior and more versatile FW 190. But... while the centralised war economy certainly allowed them to order Messerschmitt to start producing Focke-Wulf designs in his factories (which is not a given in every situation, after all, these are private companies who want to protect their patents and designs), this would have come with a distinct cost: for a few months, these factories would produce nothing at all, while the production lines switched over to the new design. At a time when even a small drop in production led to shortages on the front, this would have been intolerable. In addition, the Me 109 was designed to use a different engine than the FW 190 - so an increase in production of FW 190s would have resulted in a shortage of engines. That's why it was frequently better to add small, incremental improvements to an existing design than replace it with a superior design.

We can assume that the same principles apply, on a bigger scale, in Wing Commander.
 

Ilanin

Captain
Quarto said:
Well, what if Andrew Keith specifically added it for the US designation meaning? As I said, HF means a fighter adapted for S&R duties - so if this was done by someone with as much expertise about carriers as Andrew Keith, then it could be intentional. If that were the case, ironically the decision to drop the H in Prophecy Gold would actually make good sense from the in-universe perspective - because Confed uses dedicated S&R shuttles now.

The Victory didn't use Thunderbolts for S&R duties either though - if you eject, you're brought back in in a Shuttle - so that interpretation doesn't make much sense unless you think that either a) Confed is sufficiently short of carrier-capable fighters it's pressing a design which had previously been relegated to S&R work into frontline service (and apparently you don't agree that the TCSF is low on fighters - personally, I agree that it likely has hundreds of thousands of fighters but they may not have received the adaptations which allow them to operate off carriers, and these may not necessarily be straightforward) or b) Blair has reassigned all his combat-capable fighters to that duty and pressed the shuttles into S&R duties; something which might explain why the Midway-class (where he was involved in the design) does the same.

Quarto said:
Yeah. And it's worth considering why this was the case. The Germans, for example, would have very much preferred to replace the Me 109 entirely with the superior and more versatile FW 190. But... while the centralised war economy certainly allowed them to order Messerschmitt to start producing Focke-Wulf designs in his factories (which is not a given in every situation, after all, these are private companies who want to protect their patents and designs), this would have come with a distinct cost: for a few months, these factories would produce nothing at all, while the production lines switched over to the new design. At a time when even a small drop in production led to shortages on the front, this would have been intolerable. In addition, the Me 109 was designed to use a different engine than the FW 190 - so an increase in production of FW 190s would have resulted in a shortage of engines. That's why it was frequently better to add small, incremental improvements to an existing design than replace it with a superior design.

We can assume that the same principles apply, on a bigger scale, in Wing Commander.

Ahh, but can we? You've argued earlier that the limiting factor in the strength of the TCSF's fighter squadrons is its supply of trained pilots. The existence of the Golden Sun medal - an active encouragement for pilots to eject - also suggests that this is the case. If it is true that pilots and not either carrier-capable fighters or the logistic bottleneck in delivering fighters to carriers (I have always assumed that your average Confederation carrier probably has many more fighters than pilots aboard when it leaves spacedock) is the limiting factor in the strength of air groups, then the time taken to retool factories from Raptors to Sabres is well-spent, because it increases pilot survivability. And the only fighter we know goes through a large number of alterations while remaining in service is the Rapier II. Of course, the problem with this is that the Confederation is probably a relatively decentralised society due to the nature of running an interstellar economy and we only ever see a small part of it. The fighters which are the most cost-effective when you're outfitting the Concordia's air wing in spacedock over Luna are almost certainly not the most cost-effective if you have to ship them ten jumps to get to wherever it is the Victory was mothballed to during the False Armistice; and the calculus is different once again when you're considering garrison duty at New Detroit. It's very unlikely that Confederation fighter wings are particularly homogenous. Carrier and cruiser flight wings, which are probably a much smaller group and likely to have to operate with each other, may well be at least in theory - it's entirely possible that in, say, 2660, Rapier II variants were the only medium fighters that flew off TCN flight decks.
 

YCDTD

Commodore
The Thunderbolts are specifically referred to as both "reliable" and "old" in the WC3 novelization. I always thought the T-bolts cockpit instrumentation and avionics looked primitive compared to the other fighters.

Also, the Excalibur and Arrow are the only fighters with a sidestick controller, rather than centre-mounted stick. If the game designers were following current (at the time) trends, then this would seem to indicate to me that they intended the Arrow and Excalibur to be state-of-the-art. Both of those fighters certainly look sleeker and more modern than the others.
 

RC1207

Petty Officer
Great thread! I'd love to see some guestimates. I did have F-numbers of most Confed fighters, maybe that would help.
The Victory on WC3 was also supposed to be an old, so it's fightercraft complement could be of older craft. As the war was getting bad for the Confeds, they prolly reactivated older fightercraft back to active duty.

Cheers,
 

Iceblade

Admiral
Don't forget that all of the fighters we fly in WC3 must be fairly recently built, which says nothing of the age of the original design. These fighters have current tech shields, weapons, and corresponding power plants that allow them to attack capships and do some damage. Also, the fighters are probably replaced every year or two near the frontlines given the attrition and ware/tare of the fighting. This is probably why more backwater and non-frontline garrisons and systems carry a more mixed assortment of fighters.

As for why there aren't Rapiers IIs (a very successful/popular design so far) on the Victory or around the front where the Victory fights:

They were built by two different manufacturers meaning certain advancements in tech may not have been as wide spread. Of note here is the fact that Douglas Aerospace developed the T-bolt, Arrow, and Excalibur. Also, the production facilities for Origin (makers of the Rapier) could have been severely damaged by the Kilrathi attack during 2668. Weren't the Shipyards near the Moon part of Origin Aerospace?

There is also a possibility of issues in retooling for the upgraded design. Origin would have been focused heavily on keeping Rapier production at full force whereas Douglas had the reduced load during the late 2660s they needed to retool for the upgraded Hellcat, which was a less popular design to begin with.
 

-danr-

Vice Admiral
They were built by two different manufacturers meaning certain advancements in tech may not have been as wide spread. Of note here is the fact that Douglas Aerospace developed the T-bolt, Arrow, and Excalibur. Also, the production facilities for Origin (makers of the Rapier) could have been severely damaged by the Kilrathi attack during 2668. Weren't the Shipyards near the Moon part of Origin Aerospace?

I too always figured that this was the reason for the shift in shiptypes seen between WC2 and WC3, that either so many of the mainstay Rapiers/Sabres/Broadswords etc were destroyed during combat with the incoming Kilrathi horde, or that the destruction of the Lunar shipyards lead to other designs (although not necessarily contemporary ones) being manufactured in factories elsewhere. I wouldn't say this specifically means the Arrows and Thunderbolts seen in WC3 are fresh from the factory though, could well be they're decades old but have been revised and simply refitted to improve avionics/shields etc.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Yay, finally a bit of time to reply to this thread.

The Victory didn't use Thunderbolts for S&R duties either though - if you eject, you're brought back in in a Shuttle - so that interpretation doesn't make much sense unless you think that either a) Confed is sufficiently short of carrier-capable fighters it's pressing a design which had previously been relegated to S&R work into frontline service (and apparently you don't agree that the TCSF is low on fighters - personally, I agree that it likely has hundreds of thousands of fighters but they may not have received the adaptations which allow them to operate off carriers, and these may not necessarily be straightforward) or b) Blair has reassigned all his combat-capable fighters to that duty and pressed the shuttles into S&R duties; something which might explain why the Midway-class (where he was involved in the design) does the same.
Right. First up - looking through the WC3 novel, I doubt now that this is what the author meant. Given his detailed description of the roles of the different fighters, and his addition of the support squadron (he thus single-handedly boosted the Victory's ship compliment by a fight, to about 50 ships!), it seems that he would have mentioned it more specifically, had he wanted to imply the Thunderbolt doubles as an S&R ship.

However, it remains a possible explanation, so let's toy with it a bit. I don't think I've really analysed it too much previously. What does it mean, in the WC universe, to adapt a fighter for S&R duties? The answer is, not that much - we see Sabres and Broadswords performing S&R all the time in WC2 (especially Sabres). Presumably, you need a tractor beam and an airlock to bring the pilots onboard. You probably need a rear turret to operate the tractor beam (though this is not a given). We don't know of anything else you might need. We know the Thunderbolt has a turret, we don't know if it has a tractor beam (WC3 does not mention this - but unlike WC2, WC3 does not actually make tractor beams a gameplay feature, so it has no need to mention it - meanwhile, in WC2 every ship that had turrets had tractor beams). All in all, it definitely wouldn't be unreasonable to assume the Thunderbolt is capable of S&R.

This doesn't mean the Thunderbolt would be used exclusively for S&R, mind you. WC2 almost seems to imply that Sabres are the main S&R ship on the Concordia... but they also remain one of the best strike fighters. Heavy fighters in the WC universe simply tend to have multiple purposes.

However, it's still a difficult (at best!) explanation for the 'H' - because it's still the only H-fighter we see in WC. We see S&R Sabres, but they're just plain F-57. We see S&R Broadswords, but they're just plain A-17. Then again, we also see plenty of heavy fighters in WC, and the Thunderbolt is still the only one with an H.

All in all, even if such was the author's intention, the HF cannot mean a heavy fighter. If it was intended to mean a ship modified for S&R, that's possible, but also pretty weird. The explanation, I suppose, would be that the Thunderbolt didn't originally have a turret, and maybe some variants still don't, so the ones with a turret & tractor beam are HF, while others are F; and the Sabre is just plain F, because all variants were designed from the ground up with a turret. It's actually a reasonable explanation - but a stupid-sounding one :).

I suppose, in the end, we can only agree that we don't know what HF means. We know what it might have been meant to mean, but when working with a big universe, the intentions of one author don't change anything unless he spells it out - which, in this case, didn't happen.

Ahh, but can we? You've argued earlier that the limiting factor in the strength of the TCSF's fighter squadrons is its supply of trained pilots. The existence of the Golden Sun medal - an active encouragement for pilots to eject - also suggests that this is the case. If it is true that pilots and not either carrier-capable fighters or the logistic bottleneck in delivering fighters to carriers (I have always assumed that your average Confederation carrier probably has many more fighters than pilots aboard when it leaves spacedock) is the limiting factor in the strength of air groups, then the time taken to retool factories from Raptors to Sabres is well-spent, because it increases pilot survivability.
Now, hang on there - I certainly do believe that trained pilots would be more of an issue for Confed than the availability of fighters... but that doesn't mean fighters are a non-issue. When you have a fighter squadron, it's not as simple as having ten fighters for ten pilots. You need a constant stream of replacements. Whether a pilot ejects or not doesn't matter (of course, it helps not to have to replace the pilot), in the sense that one way or another, you lose the fighter and you need to replace it. And there's more to it than that - fighters wear out, we know that there's a lot more maintenance involved than merely replacing shot-through armour panels. And all of this must happen constantly - if you have a hundred fighter squadrons spread out on a hundred different planets, you'll need to have a hundred streams of replacement parts and whole fighters. Stop this stream for a few days, and you just may wind up putting a planetary defense squadron out of action in time for a Kilrathi raid. And I intentionally only mentioned planetary squadrons so far, because carriers are a whole different kettle of fish, and far more troublesome. A carrier is a ship that sails forth with a full fighter compliment and (seemingly) endless stores of spare parts, then returns to base a few weeks or months later with half that compliment gone, as well as half the spare parts. In a few weeks on a carrier, fighters probably see more intense usage than in months on a planetary base, because carriers don't just float about randomly in space, they go where the action is (or to kick-start the action themselves). So, when a carrier comes home, it needs to be resupplied (often very rapidly, because there just ain't enough of the buggers to go around, so you want to get them back out there ASAP). For that, you need big reserves. And if you don't have them, your carrier gets immobilised.

So, for Confed to operate a particular type of fighter doesn't just mean producing them once-off. It means producing them constantly. The moment your supply chain breaks you're racing against the clock to restore that stream before the enemy notices your problem. The reduction in supply may well mean that by the time you're through transitioning your fighter factory to a new design, you'll be facing acute shortages all over the place... and the factory, post-transition, just won't be able to keep up with demand.

Keep in mind also, when I said "we can assume that the same principles apply, on a bigger scale, in Wing Commander", I was referring to the issue of engines, as well. A fighter is not built all in one factory. You'll have factories out there that produce engines, others that produce guns, others that make radar equipment, etc. - the fighter itself is basically just an airframe with lots of parts attached (and the genius of the fighter's designer is to know which parts will work best). When you switch to a new fighter design, chances are that it doesn't use all the same equipment as the previous fighter did - so now you have to deal with the fact that your factories are making too many Engines A (because you're no longer producing the ship that requires them), and not enough Engines B (because now you need more of them)... and you cannot ramp up production of Engine B, because that particular factory is currently making Engine C, which you need for a completely different ship. During WWII, there were many cases where extremely promising aircraft were killed in planning simply because a given engine design could not be produced in sufficient quantities.

This is why it was often difficult to remove a fighter from service even once it had gotten behind times. For the Germans, replacing the Bf 109 would have translated into improved airpower in the long term... but heavy defeats in the short term, not to mention an increase in Allied bombings over Germany, which could well stop production entirely. And what reason have we to believe this is not the case in Wing Commander?

It goes without saying, fighters did nonetheless get replaced - for the Germans, the big breakthrough was the fact that, where everyone else were trying to design a better Bf 109, with the same engine, Focke-Wulf came up with a design that used not only a different engine, but indeed a different type of engine, produced by a different company. It was a lucky combination, you had a manufacturer who was not at the time producing any critical aircraft, proposing to use an engine that was only being used by a few planes the Germans could do without. It was still something-for-something, however - more FW 190s meant leass Ju 88 bombers.

I've gone into way too much detail here, to illustrate a really simple point - replacing a fighter is not easy, and always happens at the cost of another design. The trick is that the design being replaced must not be critical. You cannot replace the Rapier with the Hellcat. You can replace some other, less critical, fighter or bomber with the Hellcat, which in turn will give you the possibility, further down the line, of replacing the Rapier with some other aircraft - but it's going to be a drawn-out process with multiple stages.

And the only fighter we know goes through a large number of alterations while remaining in service is the Rapier II.
The only fighter we know - well put :). But we don't even know what revision of the Hellcat or Thunderbolt we're looking at, for example. We also don't know how long the Epee (in its fourth revision) has been around, and we don't know how the Raptor and Scimitar (both pre-war fighters) in 2654 compare to their original versions. How many revisions had the Scimitar gone through, in its hundred-year-long service?

Of course, the problem with this is that the Confederation is probably a relatively decentralised society due to the nature of running an interstellar economy and we only ever see a small part of it. The fighters which are the most cost-effective when you're outfitting the Concordia's air wing in spacedock over Luna are almost certainly not the most cost-effective if you have to ship them ten jumps to get to wherever it is the Victory was mothballed to during the False Armistice; and the calculus is different once again when you're considering garrison duty at New Detroit. It's very unlikely that Confederation fighter wings are particularly homogenous.
I would definitely agree with that. I've always liked the notion, for example, that Stilettos are a "colonial" craft, that you'll only get to see in Gemini because they are produced there, or somewhere close by.

Carrier and cruiser flight wings, which are probably a much smaller group and likely to have to operate with each other, may well be at least in theory - it's entirely possible that in, say, 2660, Rapier II variants were the only medium fighters that flew off TCN flight decks.
Possible, but unlikely - we certainly did not see this kind of homogenity in the real world, and WWII was fought on a much smaller scale than the Kilrathi war. In 1945, the Americans had upgraded many of their fighter squadrons to Hellcats and Corsairs, and additionally Bearcats were starting to come into service... but the Wildcat was not only still being used, it was still being produced even.
 

Ilanin

Captain
Quarto said:
I don't think I've really analysed it too much previously. What does it mean, in the WC universe, to adapt a fighter for S&R duties? The answer is, not that much - we see Sabres and Broadswords performing S&R all the time in WC2 (especially Sabres). Presumably, you need a tractor beam and an airlock to bring the pilots onboard. You probably need a rear turret to operate the tractor beam (though this is not a given).

You argue that the Thunderbolt might well have a tractor beam, but you don't address whether or not it has an airlock. The Thunderbolt is 34 metres long, and, if the proportions on the WC3 fighter selection screen are correct, slightly under 20 metres wide and 8 metres high. These dimensions are large enough to accomodate an airlock designed for the retrieval of pilots (probably a cylinder 2.5 metres long with a 1 metre radius or thereabouts), but such a feature is large enough that it ought to be apparent on the ship's surface, which it is not - unless, I suppose, the Confederation logos on the flat surfaces near the engines in the standard wartime paintjob also conceal the airlock seal. I do not think the Thunderbolt design has an airlock, but I can't prove it.

Now, fighter homogenity. There's three factors which apply to the Terran-Kilrathi War that didn't apply in World War II which will substantially change the degree of homogenity in Confederation units compared with US units in 1945

The biggest factor that I think might well have lead to greater standardisation in Confederation equipment (both in terms of fighters and components) is the length of the war. World War II lasted six years (if you're British or German) or four (if you're Russian or American), whereas the Terran-Kilrathi conflict went on for over 30 (though I don't believe we have any conclusive evidence one way or the other as to whether it was a high-intensity conflict for that entire time, which I rather doubt). Over that period of time it would be expected that (especially with a degree of government control over the economy, something President Rodham mentions in passing in Fleet Action) there would be a move towards standardisation of as many components as possible. Now, how far would this have gone? Obviously the answer to that question largely depends on how long planners expected the war to last for at various times. I think it's safe to say that nobody was betting on 30 years in the 2630s but at some point during the war, the TCN and TCSF might have had enough clout to force through a degree of standardisation of components even as complex as engines. It's highly probable that there must have been a degree of standardisation given that Confed is happy to transport fighters to front-line carriers in pieces - that suggests that reassembly is a relatively simple job and that it doesn't require specialised equipment (taking up valuable storage space on a carrier) for each class of ship, which is evidence in favour of modular designs using standardised parts.

The second is the different service structure the Confederation Armed Forces have. As far as I can tell, every fighter belongs to the TCSF (though admittedly the carrier and ISS forces have somewhat different needs), everything corvette and upwards to the TCN, and everyone expected to land on a planet (or a Hakaga) and shoot at Kilrathi is a Marine. (It's almost like the universe wasn't created by somebody familiar with inter-service politics or something.) With a monopoly on demand each of the armed services' procurement divisions will have a much greater ability to mandate the construction of the fighters, engines, etc. they actually want, if necessary under licence, than was the case in WWII. I'm not as familiar with US procurement as I am with British, but a good example here was the navalisation of the Spitfire; Supermarine, with a bulging order book and no realistic possibility of being able to meet demand for Spitfires had no interest in creating a Seafire; Fairey Aviation declined to undertake the project in 1938, wanting to focus on their own designs, and there things stood for another two years (until Churchill cancelled the next attempt, but that's a story for another day). A TCSF that has more or less sole control over development of new starfighters would be in a much better place to dictate what design bureaux and manufacturers would concentrate on even in peacetime, meaning there'd be something of a drift towards standardisation over the centuries.

The third is the nature of the front. This was to some extent true in the Pacific Theatre (though it certainly wasn't in Europe), but it's a much more pronounced factor in WC. Mobile forces are horrifically expensive to produce and keep supplied by comparison to garrison forces. At the start of the Hakaga campaign - that is, after six months of peace to rearm - the Kilrathi have enough supplies and pilots to field five Hakagas and ten Snakeirs, a fighter force Confed estimates at around 3,000 strong. Now, to maintain a force of that strength they probably need at least 6,000 fighters and another 5,000 fighters' worth of spare parts, but it doesn't strike me that significant fraction of Kilrathi industrial capacity would have to be devoted to fighter production to do this. To keep garrisons maintained, yes, that would be more difficult but given the relative attrition rates of mobile and local forces, I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that garrisons were occasionally left understrength to enable front-line troops to receive more modern equipment.

There's another difference, too, but I'm not sure what the effect of this one would be - in 1939, mass-produced internal combustion engines were less than fifty years old, powered flight was 35 years old and military aviation ten years younger than that. I don't know if we have any knowledge of quite how long humans have been building starfighters or fusion and jump drives for but I believe it's a couple of centuries at least.
 

Dundradal

Frog Blast the Vent Core!
You argue that the Thunderbolt might well have a tractor beam, but you don't address whether or not it has an airlock. The Thunderbolt is 34 metres long, and, if the proportions on the WC3 fighter selection screen are correct, slightly under 20 metres wide and 8 metres high. These dimensions are large enough to accomodate an airlock designed for the retrieval of pilots (probably a cylinder 2.5 metres long with a 1 metre radius or thereabouts), but such a feature is large enough that it ought to be apparent on the ship's surface, which it is not - unless, I suppose, the Confederation logos on the flat surfaces near the engines in the standard wartime paintjob also conceal the airlock seal. I do not think the Thunderbolt design has an airlock, but I can't prove it.

If anything an airlock isn't necessary. Pilots do not eject and separate from their seats like in modern fighters. They remain in a pod that is then retrieved. In some cases the pod is then tractored onto a weapons hardpoint for return to base.
 

Ijuin

Admiral
If the pod is just tractored to a hardpoint, then all that is needed is an attachment point for an umbilical (for power/communications and oxygen) and latches to hold the pod.

. . . If such a system is in fact standard for WC S&R, then it makes the MIPS from WC4 that much simpler--they are basically just ejection pods with short-range maneuvering capability.
 
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