A fighter that saw limited service during the Cylon War, and was the first true atmospheric and space capable design, known as the Viper Spaceplane (and rarely as the Mark Zero) served with the Colonial Military, Picon and Imperial Virgon. A requirement by Virgon for a new Viper capable of "conventional take off and landing, with the easy means of entering orbit and travelling through space" was set some twenty years before the Cylon War and was to counter a similar Caprican requirement.
The development period was rushed, in part due to the arms race in the Colonies immediately preceding the Cylon War, and the first production run entered service with known issues. While being 'back heavy', short-range and slow turning, the twin-engined Viper Spaceplane had impressive acceleration and was relatively unsophisticated, having been forced to make-do with 'off the shelf' and 'proven' components to beat other designs into service.
A squat design, the forward section encompassing the nose back to the cockpit was "sawn off" or rather shortenned. It comprised an intake, forward manoeuvring jets, forward landing gear, avionics, DRADIS equipment along with nose landing gear and a cramped cockpit. The rear section was dominated by two thrust vectoring engines and reverse engine motors, fuel tanks, flat wings that housed light guns and their ammunition, and the rear landing gear. It was typically finished in the pinkish khaki scheme associated with Virgon's Military with 'Squadron Colours' along the wings and registry on its stubby 'fin' vertical stabaliser.
The cockpit is small with a contol column on the right, and throttle and manoevring jets managed by a thrust lever, set on the left, and foot pedals. It is described as 'cosy' with a fully-sealed pilot aboard. Visibility over the nose and behind the pilot is sub-par. A small screen infront of the pilot displays DRADIS with gauges and control switches either side of it. A keyboard and switches under the screen allow for pilot input while a jack allowed the pilot's helmet to be connected direcly to the spaceplanes onboard computer. 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.
Viper Spaceplanes entered service with Imperial Virgon but were soon released for sale to Picon (to avoid Queenstown optioning a Caprican design) and never numbered more than a few hundred. Though they were the first true starfighter that entered active service, and for a brief moment were the premier small space combatant in the Colonies, the spaceplane was soon superseded by another Viper type and the Raider design.
War UpdateEditAt the start of the Cylon War a second production run of the Spaceplane was being arranged. The newer Viper was a radical re-design that was supposed to be the 'technological' leap to incorporate specifically designed combat subsystems which had not been ready to be installed at the time of the first order. However the new realities and necessities of war with the rebelling Cylons meant that when the second run began it was purposely kept 'dumbed down' in order to reduce the vulnerability to electronic attack. Other changes to the design were more immediately noticeable: the vertical stabaliser was removed for a 'hump' that stored an armoured, enlarged fuel tank; the wing was raised and its main armament changed to larger cannons fixed at the wingtips rails to make the Viper a dedicated 'gunfighter'. The nose intake was capped and due to the lack of availability of Voram engines (prioritised for use in the Mark I Viper) four smaller DDG turbo thrusters and reverse motors were installed instead- giving a noted performance boost. Orders were cut and production eventually stopped so Virgon industry could instead take-up Colonial Fleet work; assembling Viper Mark II's. As survivors were considered obselete the Military did not block sale to private security concerns and merchant marines.
The design brief was hastily issued by Virgon's Parliament when it was found that Leonis was in serious discussion with Caprica to option a Viper type that the CAF were evaluating against a 'Raider' design. Feeling it necessary to press a spaceplane of their own into service before Leonis could arrange an order of next generation Caprican fighters, specific requirements were sent to local manufacturers. Virgon planned two production runs, the second to be a larger number of 'up-rated' marks of the spaceplane.
The Cylon Raider and Viper Mark One were considered comparable to the spaceplane but both performed far better in combat than the slightly older Virgon design. The wartime redesign had impressive acceleration and a heavier armament but because the guns were spaced further apart, and in the field needed constant re-harmonization was required, this advantage was a troublesome one to maintain. Veteran pilots would manipulate the thrust levers of each engine independently to produce 'signature' right angle turns and flat spins to quickly reorient the craft. The issue of its relatively poor manoeuvrability was never solved though and instead pilots developed tactics to make full use of the Viper's edge in acceleration over the Cylon Raider and accordingly remained threatenning in combat.