1. The Need?
The Cosmic Era has a good deal of equipment in the air. Flying warships and aerostats stations make up the bulk of this. These facilities need access to material support, and that means either the vehicle has to move its tremendous bulk and mass down to the surface, or smaller flight-capable vehicles need to be able to reach it to carry out supply and logistic operations. For something like the large battlestars and civilian air carriers, this is no problem, they have flight decks capable of handling aerospace and conventional aircraft. For other vehicles, or cargo that doesn't fold neatly into shipping containers, like delivering mecha, or bulky components, this is a problem. Thus, the demand for VHL-VTOL craft, or Very Heavy Lift-Vertical Take Off and Landing craft.
The Starion series of VHL-VTOLs resembles an oversized flying saucer with the base model being thirty meters in diameter and having two internal decks, and a topside. The lower deck contains the crew quarters (operating crew of three, a stand-by crew of another three, as Starion lifts can last as little as thirty minutes or as long as three days. It has a top speed of 90 mph, assuming it is not moving against the wind, half that in headwinds, and a quarter in violent weather. It can achieve and maintain these speeds while carrying a fifty-ton cargo, typically lashed down to the topside of the vehicle.
Lift is generated through two mechanisms. The Starion has a robust A-Pod system that lets it move unloaded with ease and agility. When it takes on a heavy load, it has deployable gas/air balloons that allow it its generous lift capacity and long endurance. The balloons are thermo-regulated and can carry the Starion up to 30,000 feet, though most seldom go above 10,000.
The largest hurdles the Starion faced were preconceived notions and a lack of glamor. Everyone had a notion of what they wanted for a heavy lift VTOL, and they were either highly expensive pure A-pod aerospace craft with elaborate linkages and rotating engines, or truly phenomenal turbofan/electrofan helicopters. Instead, they received a giant hockey puck/flying saucer that was incredibly mundane looking. The second was that despite it having all the desired abilities, low price tag, and overall favorable responses from the crews, most could only look at it and see its gas envelopes. How dare something as magnificent as a Hanse super cruiser or Federation Battlestar be demeaned by being resupplied with a glorified hot air balloon?
Their opinions changed when Starions started delivering cargo fifty tons at a time for a fraction of the operating cost of the current heavy lift vehicles or the cost and risk of bringing airships to ground to embark supplies through boarding ramps and cargo bay doors in the hull.
4. Crew Reactions
While initially skeptical, Starion crews soon realized that despite being relatively slow, and the cargo hauling duty being completely lacking in glamor and glory, the Starion was a Cadillac appointment. The craft is easy to manage, easy to handle, and its crew facilities are better than most bunks and quarters on Federation ships. Many crews leaned into the retrotech appearance and operation of their craft, and started naming them in the style of early cinema figures.
Some notable Starions include Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Rosebud, Citizen Crane, and Flex Gordon.
The STR-4N Super Starion increased the crew from six to eight, added three meters to the diameter and increased lift capacity from fifty tons to sixty tons. This coincided with the Federation's introduction of the Wolverine series of mechs as its intended main medium mech, which sat at fifty-five tons, more than the Starion 2N could move safely. The 4N was specifically engineered for the Wolverine, and it was quickly adopted.
The STR-2S and 4S Sea Starion are marine versions of the basic models, mostly modified with different electronics, navigation systems, and a few different components so the VTOL wouldn't be adversely harmed by regular proximity to salt water.
The STR-6X Ultra Starion replaces the gas balloons with two more A-pods and adds full environmental sealing. As such, it has the ability to enter low orbit and operate in worse weather. It is also faster, but much more expensive and harder to handle. The 6X is used as an Intelligence and Covert Ops support vehicle. There are perhaps three 6X Ultra Starions in service.
The Starion has a sterling record, but it also is not a military/combat vehicle, nor is it generally used in any sort of search and rescue missions. The closest it comes to fighting is delivering pre-con tactical bases to forward operating areas, and then that is with air support. The most common image of the Starion is a pipe chomping pilot swinging a mech down to a deck or the ground, dropping the cables and silently whisking away to the next job.
The Starion is a fill in the blank machine for the Cosmic Era. It adds a distinct profile that replaces things we commonly think of in modern context. There are no large rotor-craft flying through the skies to move and deliver things. There are private pods and patrol pods instead of civilian and personal helicopters. A-pod equipped vehicles and aircraft with enclosed turbofans are the norm. Thus, the Starion, and other copycat and knock-off lift vehicles do the work of cargo helicopters. They deliver goods to raft cities, mega-liners on the ocean, aerostats, submarines, isolated outposts on rocky islands, in the middle of swamps, in harsh deserts, and all that.
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