Dragon Gunship

The Dragon was originally developed for troop insertion, close air support and battle theater coordination roles. But over the years, in several wars on Earth, the Dragon earned a reputation as an aerial weapon platform capable of inflicting heavy casualties in forward strike operations. It has been hardened for use in Pandora's fierce electromagnetic fields. (Read more)
The assembled firepower makes the Dragon a near-perfect killing machine, especially on Pandora, where the enemy uses such crude weapons. The sentry guns were adapted from automated perimeter defense stations to lock onto oncoming enemy missiles/rockets, or any other object not coded and recognized as friendly, and then the targeting computer punches them out of the sky.

The unit's four massive prop rotor systems produce lift sufficient for the Dragon to climb and maneuver rapidly, despite its blunt airframe. This climb performance is even more impressive in Pandora’s dense air and low gravity. Each of the four ducts contains two co-axial counter-rotating prop-rotors, with three blades each. Each of these prop-rotors can vary pitch collectively, but does not have cyclic pitch control. Flight maneuvers are performed by angling the ducts independently and by controlling the collective pitch of each coaxial rotor system independently of the others. These complex coordinated rotations and pitch changes are controlled by the flight computer based on inputs from the pilot’s conventional flight controls: “cyclic” stick, collective stick, and yaw pedals, in the traditional layout used in rotorcraft since the mid-20th century. The flight deck is laid out simply and classically, allowing single pilot operation.

Aft and to starboard of the pilot’s position is the Nav Station. The navigator can receive input from all the Dragon’s imaging devices and instruments, and can display imaging feeds from other aerial and ground units. The role of the so-called “navigator” is really battle theater coordination, and he will typically act as Forward Air Controller in operations with multiple aircraft, and may coordinate ground operations as well.

The Dragon’s role is typically command and control, with its weapons being used defensively. The Dragon can provide close air support for ground operations, and can coordinate aerial attack as well as aerial defense. Its weapons systems are controlled by a single central gunnery station. The “Gunner” is the human part of a team consisting also of multiple targeting computers. The gunner will designate targets and assign tasks to different gun and missile systems, then those systems will execute the order autonomously. The gunner may also take direct manual control of any single weapon system aboard, via joystick controls at his gunnery station. The gunner has excellent visibility of the battle theater from his separate cockpit to port of the pilot’s cockpit, though some gunners complain about the lack of visibility to starboard. In any case, the weapons systems are controlled by imaging instruments on board and in the weapons themselves, and do not rely much on the pilot’s vision (except in instances of high EMF interference, such as occur within the fluxcons of Pandora).

The composite triple-blade rotors have an 11.58 meter diameter and are stacked in a co-axial configuration within each of the four ducts. The ducts are arranged in a four-poster lift configuration at the corners of the wide, flat main fuselage. Between the four and aft rotor systems on each side, are the mid-fuselage weapons pods, which carry a large number and variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

The power plant has two D5-"Jimmy" turbines, rated at 15,000 shp 725 kW. The turbines serve power to a master bus, from which power is distributed to the dual coaxial ceramic motors in each of the four rotor hubs. Loss of a single turbine does not produce asymmetric lift, merely a reduction of overall power. In a turbine-out scenario, the remaining turbine can be operated at 150% to provide enough lift for forward flight and hover, although the climb rate is significantly impacted, and operation in this mode is restricted to twenty minutes maximum.

In the event of a failed prop-rotor (due to mechanical failure or enemy fire), the diagonally opposed rotor system must be ‘feathered’ to zero pitch within forty milliseconds to prevent asymmetric thrust from inducing a catastrophic coupled pitch-roll effect. This is performed automatically by the flight computer. Such a failure will require an immediate emergency landing. Lift for a controlled landing is provided by pitching the remaining two rotor systems to 150% of normal operating pitch and by throttling up to the Contingency RPM setting (at which point the rotor blade tips are barely subsonic). This condition can only be maintained for two minutes without causing permanent damage to the rotors and rotor-hub gear boxes.

On Pandora Dragon’s best rate of climb is 427 meters per minute. The unit's service ceiling is 2,750 meters (in Pandoran atmos).

Like all aircraft operated by the RDA on Pandora, the Dragon required modification to fly in the local atmosphere. The turbines required a four degree repitch of the blade tips at the time of manufacture. The turbines are manufactured on Earth and installed in the airframe on Pandora. The airframe and rotor systems are manufactured at the in situ stereolithography plant at Hell’s Gate. Missile tracking and guidance electronics are imported from Earth, but missile airframes are manufactured in situ.

In situ manufacturing is necessary because of the extremely high cost of transporting mass from Earth to Pandora. Only exotic electronics and other specialty items are manifested as ‘upmass’ from Earth. The rest is made locally, including all ground vehicles, bulldozers, mine equipment, weapons, clothing, modular building elements, etc.

The construction of the Dragon was controversial, because it was a ‘one-off’ which did not, in the opinion of the in situ plant managers, justify the tooling necessary to build it. However, Colonel Miles Quarich lobbied strongly for the vehicle, saying it was necessary to accomplish his mission of security for all on-world RDA assets. Given his sterling record as SecOps commander on Pandora, his will prevailed and the Dragon was built. A second Dragon airframe was fabricated, but the turbines and other components necessary to make it operational have not, at the date of this writing, arrived from Earth.