The first model of the venerable Viper series, the Mark I served with the Colonial Military early on during the Cylon War but was phased out in favour of the Mark II Viper. Designed for a Caprican fighter contract and evaluated against a Raider prototype, the Viper performed well and was considered a great leap forward in Colonial military capability.
The Mark I was championed by the 'gunfighter mafia' of the Caprican military, while the Raider was promoted by the 'Missileers' who wanted a starfighter that carried missiles as its primary weapon. A large fighter, the Mark I followed the same basic arrangement of previous Vipers:
A large boxy design, the forward section comprising the nose back to the cockpit was long. It comprised an intake, forward reaction control system, forward landing gear, avionics, DRADIS equipment along with nose landing gear, armoured fuel tank and a cramped cockpit. The rear section was hefty and dominated by three thrust vectoring engines and reverse motors, fuel tanks, downward angled wings with a pair of cannons in the wingroot, near the rear landing gear. It was typically finished in a white scheme associated with the Colonial Fleet with red lines along the wings, over the engines and to its 'shark fin' vertical stabaliser.
The cockpit was comfortable and featured two control sticks either side of the pilot. Futher the Viper could be controlled by a voice system; its advanced flight computer (CORA) was a competent pilot aid that streamlined operations, prioritised incoming data so as not to overwhelm the pilot, and assisted to complete complex flight manoeuvres. The result was a Viper that could be flown impressively in combat by only a single pilot (whereas the Raider required a crew of three). Infront of the pilot, televisual displays of DRADIS and all flight information were projected. Keyboard and command buttons either side of the large screen allowed the pilot to input data or reconfigure the display as necessary. Most sensor data, flight information and target tracking calculations were displayed onto the pilot's helmet visor utilising interface technology similar to the civilian holoband while Viper management options were exclusively kept on the 'look down' display. The Mark I also carried a sophisticated wireless unit, advanced sensor equipment and onboard database known as the 'warbook' which gave the Pilot an exhaustive, quick reference guide on whatever might be encountered. The Mark I had an impressive range which allowed it to carry out sweeps and loiter for long periods while on patrol.
Originally the Viper was not chosen for adoption by its designer; the Caprican Military who favoured the Raider. But an order from Leonis, who wished a fighter capable of easily being deployed from its Battlestars, prompted production of the type. While simple in appearance the Mark I was troublesome to assemble, Cylon labour did not turn out examples of suitable quality and only the most modern factories were equipped to handle its production. With the beginning of the Cylon War and Centurions flying Raiders against the Colonies the Viper Mark I was immediately adopted by the unified Military and became its primary starfighter during the early period of the Cylon rebellion.
The Mark I was a robust, sturdy and advanced fighter masquarading as an uncomplicated looking update of the Viper. Unlike the Spaceplane before it which was truly bare-boned and the Mark II after it which was light on 'distractions' the Mark I had sophisticated 'smart' software and modern hardware aboard. While specifically optimised and hardenned against electronic attack it was still believed vulnerable to Cylon infiltration (though very few instances of this are reported) and Fleet strategy limited its use in Viper sweeps against Cylon Raider 'packs' once the Mark II became available. The Mark I was out-turned by the Raider and later Viper; but its huge Voram engines allowed a brief 'turbo boost' that pilots were cautioned to use sparingly (because of the effect on engine life) but instead engaged at every opportunity to become 'the brightest, fastest thing in the furball'. The plane did have greater surviveability than both the Raider and its replacement but was considered 'over-engineered' by aces that would later fly the Mark II. Its supporters considered the Viper a real asset to the Fleet. It's onboard systems were capable of giving the pilot 'more information about the worlds than the Squadron Intelligence Officer did in a tour' in the first few moments behind the controls; and despite referring to the onboard computer 'co-pilot' as 'cranky CORA' were very appreciative of the way it eased pilot workload and allowed them to take maximum advantage of the plane's performance.
Most Mark I aces operated in two Viper elements; the fighter was often sent on long range patrols where it's impressive scanners allowed it identify targets before being spotted, set-up the most advantageous attack vector and 'turbo thrust' in. Its Thraxon cannons were considered 'one burst killers'.