The Cyberdyne-Grumman AF-29 'Starcat'
The Aerospace Fighter
The first falterings of the Petroleum Era were the grounding of many of the high end jet fighters employed by the world powers. The incredibly capable machines were tethered to readily available fossil fuel based aviation fuel, and few were economic in its use. The 6th and final generation of the petroleum fired jets were amazing machines with vectored thrust capabilities, impressive radar and computer systems and were armed with sophisticated missile systems, electronic warfare systems, and backed up by multi-barrel autocannons buried in the fuselage.
These aircraft would be easily able to engage and destroy many of the electroprop and helocraft commonly used in the Cosmic Era, as they are dramatically faster, and even their centuries old targeting systems would be able to engage and destroy such slow moving craft. But these jets, as lethal as they could be, are easily dismantled and destroyed by the variable frame aerospace fighter.
Union Aerospace F-151 'Corsair III'
The Aerospace Fighter
The Aerospace fighter is a variable role craft that is able to maneuver and engage targets both in the vacuum of space, and within an atmosphere. The craft balances the aerodynamic needs of an airframe with the structural integrity and redundant safety and maneuvering systems of a spacecraft and thermoablative equipment to allow it transition from space into an atmosphere safely. Most conventional aerospace craft utilize a high density liquid propellant that is fired through an ionizing engine for space thrust, coupled with chemical reaction jets for movement in space. In atmospheric conditions, said conventional craft use multi-stage electrojets for thrust. These systems traditionally create a large, cumbersome craft that performs poorly in space and the air.
The Omsk Bronya Korporatsiya OM-3 'Zhir Medved'
The OM-3 was a conventional designed aerospace gunship intended to be deployed from space stations or spacecraft in support of operations on Mars, specifically the Eurasian Alliance holdings on the Red Planet. The craft is capable of moving troops from the station/mother ship to the ground or other hard target and provide armored fire support for the troops once deployed. Code named OLGA by Federation military services, the craft has seen action and has proved itself a function assault transport so long as it is protected from enemy aerospace fighters.
The Variable Frame Aerospace Fighter
The Variable Airframe is the Cosmic Era incarnation of vectored thrust and the swing wing aircraft of the Petroleum Era. Like these craft, the VF is able to functionally change its shape and positioning of it's engines to radically change its performance and handling characteristics. The variable frame fighter is typically capable of moving its engines up to 30 degrees in any direction, and often not in the same direction for vectored thrusting. The nacelle based engines are also mobile within the frame being capable of being moved closer together or farther apart for stability, speed, or a variety of other reasons. The wings are capable of the same movement, sweeping all the way back against the body for an aerodynamic bullet, ot flaring as much as 45 degrees forward for incredibly dynamic acrobatics and alien agility in the air. The cockpit is also often capable of limited transition, moving forward in air engagements for better visibility, and rear for space engagements for greater protection.
Not all variable frame craft are capable of this full range of motion, but most are capable of at least two, while the most sophisticated rival mecha for points of articulation and are basically treated as flying mecha.
The aerospace fighter enjoys many benefits that its predecessor jet and conventional aerospace fighter do not.
The A-Pod: Most all aerospace craft have one to five anti-gravity pods that grant them more maneuverability in space without the vulnerabilities and fuel requirements of chemical reaction jets. While not blisteringly fast, these pods allow for subsonic flight in the air, and 1/2 G force acceleration in space. (the 5 pod models can generally move at 1G in space on just pods). The use of pods allows for the craft to launch and land without relying on propellants and move very economically when not engaged in combat operations.
The LAI: all variable frame aerospace craft require an onboard limited AI to control the shape of the craft. Conventional computers are not up to the task, and a human pilot is usually only able to keep the most forgiving form of the craft in flying trim. The LAI handles electronic warfare operations, the control of the craft, and assists lesser computer systems on the craft in their operation, specifically the combat computer, sensor computers, and the engine and power management computers. The sophistication of the LAIs used in aerospace fighters leads to a great occurrence of sentience in the vehicles.
Advanced Weaponry: aerospace fighters seldom waste space on mundane weapons like firearms or even magnetic weaponry. With their compact and powerful power cores and reactors, most favor energy weapons, with high energy particle weapons and other beam weapons being favored. Their ability to mount weapons usually sees them armed with smart missiles as in semi-sentient guided missiles, or other arcanotech weapons.
Maneuverability: The variable frame aerospace fighter is able to perform frame adjustments in flight, allowing for the aircraft to make maneuvers that are simply impossible for other aircraft, including hovering, or slamming through almost 90 degree turns, using the anti-gravity pods to cancel out inertia and reducing G-forces on the pilots.
Man-Machine Interface: The pilots of aerospace fighters do not sit in seats like old fighter pilots or mech jocks. Rather, they are laying down/standing up depending on the attitude of their craft. They also have fluid suspension tubes that protect them from extreme g-forces. Where the modern pilot can endure up to 9 Gs for short periods of time, the cosmic era pilot is able to withstand up to 30 Gs for a comparable amount of time. With the usual interface technologies, aerospace pilots 'fly' their craft by biofeedback and mental interfacing with the LAI and most do not have physical flight control instruments like sticks or foot pedals.
Advanced Propulsion Systems: The A-pods just make a fighter float and let them zip around at a few hundred miles an hour, no great shakes for a military aerospace craft. The aerospace fighter makes use of much more powerful engines for attaining real speed. There are no set in stone engine types, such as the compression/combustion based jet engines of the petroleum era. The Eurasian Alliance makes use of Vortex Induction Engines that use an arcanotech air manipulation system for thrust, while the SAUR and USSA both make use of similar electrochemical 'rockets' to power their rapid strike fighters. The Federation is leading the pack in engine tech with their forced induction plasma induction systems, which work in the air without an outside fuel source, and in space by consuming liquid ammonia. The power to weight ratios of these engines are very high, allowing most of these aerospace vehicles to reach hypersonic speeds (though most do not, as the drag from external payloads, and atmospheric friction do tax the heat and structural integrity of the vehicles.
The Drone Leader
The advanced electronics and LAI available to aerospace fighters, especially high end craft give them the ability to control more than one craft in flight. This spawned the Drone Initiative in the Pacific Rim Coalition, and was later copied by the Atlantic Federation. The Drone is typically built and stylistically similar to the craft it is intended to be slaved to, but is not much more than an engine, electronic control system, and weapons systems clustered together into a tight package.
The PRC uses the Drone System for larger craft, with the various drones being used serving a variety of functions, such as ECM and electronic warfare drones, like the Screamer which blankets an area with electronic noise or the interceptor which functions as a defensive fighter for large aerospace craft not intended for dogfighting.
The AtFed uses full on combat drones, with their popular and heavily promoted Corsair III aerospace fighter deploying a standard configuration of 3 UAC 'Black Knight' gun drones. These drones, slaved to the SkyMarshall Model 9 LAI used by the Corsair III have 4 external hardpoints, and a coaxially mounted light magnetic 'gatling' style cannon. The highly successful AtFed counterstrike against the USSA after the last international skirmish over New Themyscira involved a squadron of Corsair IIIs attacking in Scorpion Configuration (Two drones forward, one drone trailing behind) and with a successful cyberattack taking out automated defences, the Corsairs destroyed over a dozen USSA Zonda type aerospace fighters, damaged the USSAS Bel Grano, and caused a large amount of collateral damage. The raid has been made into 6 feature films and over 30 interactive CogNet games.
Yakolev-Smirnov YaS-77 'Konetzvezda'
The Konetzvedza performed admirably on both sides of the Eurasian Schism/Civil War between New Moscow and the Cosmograd Space Complex.
Themes of the Variable Frame Aerospace Craft
Deceit: The VFA is by default a deceptive creature. It can change it's shape, and accordingly perform maneuvers that are normally impossible, and it can change role from a spacecraft to an atmospheric craft with relative ease. All these changes are fluid, and as natural to the function of the machine as walking is to a mech.
Bigger, Faster, Higher: The VFA is pushing the limits of conventional, hyper, and arcanotechnologies, with the craft ranging from conventional aircraft size to an intermediary point between aircraft and dedicated aerial warships. In some instances the difference between a picket ship and a large aerospace craft is relative speed. VFAs are faster than both.
Stupid Sexy Machine: the VFA is functionally little different from a mech, mobile systems, incredibly advanced technology, and lots of electronics and firepower. But even the fastest flight capable mech is a lumbering dumptruck in the air. The VFA is sleek, aerodynamic, and contains an almost erotic sense of design.
I feel a need, a need for speed: If the mech embodies raw brutal power, the VFA is the relentless pursuit of maximum velocity. The reaction times of the VFA LAIs are incredibly thin fractions of seconds, the pilots are trained for reflexive agility, there is no think, there is only action.
Additional Ideas (1)
This gallery demonstrates the visual appeal and aesthetic of traditional aerospace fighters in the setting, with dynamic appearances. color schemes, and overall visual appeal. The more exotic fighters such as those in Yukikaze embody the bleeding edge, while these above represent the main line of what everyone can field, from the Federation aerospace reserve units to the SAUR and Indian aerospace forces.