Thunderbolt vs Fighta-Bommer

9.07.2009

POSTED IN Blog, Featured | TAGS : , ,

Thunderbolt vs Fighta-Bommer

The air war over Armageddon was dominated by two types of aircraft - the Imperial Navy Thunderbolt and the Ork Fighta-Bommer. Between them these two aircraft would account for more than 40% of the air forces of the two combatants and more than 50% of the air to air kills during the war. As such it is worthwhile to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the two aircraft.

The Thunderbolt has been in Imperial service for centuries and has proven a versatile and robust aircraft, able to carry out air to air, air to ground and even limited orbital duties equally well. Manufactured on numerous Forge Worlds across the Imperium it can be found in almost every one of Mankind’s theatres of war. In addition to versatility and toughness the Thunderbolt also packs tremendous endurance and range as well as considerable firepower and maneuverability. The Thunderbolt’s key weaknesses are a relatively low cruising speed and poor top speed, indeed several types of Xenos bombers cruise at close to the Thunderbolt’s top speed, one reason that it is being supplemented in many areas by the Lightning interceptor.

Like the Thunderbolt the Ork Fighta-Bommer can be found across the galaxy, indeed it is nearly as widespread as the Orks themselves. Crewed by two, an Ork pilot and Gretchin gunner for the twin ‘big shootas’ mounted in the dorsal turret, the Fighta-Bommer excels in the air to ground role. With its high cruising speed and limited thrust vectoring capabilities the Fighta-Bommer is more than capable in the air to air role as well. Considerably faster than the Thunderbolt at cruising speeds, the Fighta-Bommer is hampered by poor acceleration, a lower operational ceiling and shorter range. These factors are offset by tremendous short range firepower and the toughness of crew and airframe which allows the Fighta-Bommer to pull off maneuvers other aircraft couldn’t even attempt for fear of structural failure or the pilot being incapacitated by G-forces.

Imperial Air-to-Air Tactics

Thunderbolt pilots rely on their superior training, sensors and ground control systems to ambush Ork aircraft where possible. Their greater acceleration and ceiling also lend themselves to hit and run attacks and most experienced Imperial pilots will maneuver to place themselves above a Fighta-Bommer formation before diving to attack and zooming back up to safety, repeating this attack until the enemy is destroyed or driven off. Given the natural inclination of Orks towards fighting and the tremendous endurance of the Thunderbolt it is not uncommon that Imperial forces are able to harass much larger Ork forces in this way for a considerable length of time, often forcing the Orks to turn for home before their mission is done as a result.

Experienced pilots avoid turning fights with almost all Ork aircraft but particularly with Fighta-Bommers. Not only is the Ork aircraft able to turn more tightly, thanks to both its thrust vectoring and the ability of its Xenos crew to withstand more G-forces than their human counterparts but even when an Imperial pilot out-turns his enemy he is often subjected to defensive fire from the dorsal turret before he is able to bring his weapons to bear. When caught in a turning fight Imperial pilots can resort to the use of the Thunderbolt’s rocket booster to disengage from the battle. Many Imperial commanders frown on such behaviour as cowardice, others simply object to the tremendous stresses use of the rocket engine under non-ideal circumstances places on the airframe and engine and such action is considered a last resort by Navy aircrew.

Perhaps the largest advantages Imperial aircrew have in Thunderbolt vs. Fighta-Bommer engagements are their much greater tactical and communications capabilities. Ork pilots are the most extreme members of the Ork Kult of Speed and rarely operate in a unified manner, this allows Imperial units to use ambushes, decoys and myriad other tricks to gain an advantage over their Xenos counterparts. Greater radio communication and better sensors as well as the many skilled ground/orbital fighter controllers in Imperial service also offer an advantage to Thunderbolt units. Finally the traditional Imperial tactic of flying as a pair affords human pilots greater situational awareness and offers a degree of protection not experienced by most Orks in air-to-air combat.

Also of note when facing Ork aircraft is the range advantage offered by Imperial weaponry. This allows Navy pilots to attack at medium or long range with a reasonable chance of a kill and then disengage using the Thunderbolt’s higher rate of climb and top speed before an Ork opponent can get into the effective range of their heavy but short-ranged weaponry.

Ork Air-to-Air Tactics

Ork Flyboyz, as the Xenos who fly these aircraft are known, are less inclined to the elegant aerial tactics of the Imperial Navy foes and prefer combat to be fast, loud, noisy and brutal. Their aircraft are designed for speed and close range firepower and it is in close ranged dogfights that Fighta-Bommers excel. Flyboyz are drawn from the Ork Kult of Speed and share the fellow Kultist’s almost physical obsession with speed, an obsession which often affects their decision making. For example it can cause them to attack at uncontrollable speeds where they have little chance of hitting an enemy or to waste the element of surprise in uncoordinated individual attacks where Imperial units would strike as a whole to cause much more damage.

They also generally lack the co-ordination shown by Imperial units, though a number of Ork Skwadrons did display considerable tactical skill and knowledge during the Third War. It is believed these elite ‘Deff Skwadrons’ were specifically created and trained by Ghazghkull to seize control of the air, an objective they managed in the opening days with the support of by their less skilled but much more numerous brethren.

Although considered mad by their ground bound relations Ork Flyboyz share many of their traits, including a certain base cunning and an uncanny sense for the weakest member or unit of a formation. They often exploit this skill by attacking the least experienced or least numerous enemies they face first before turning their on the remaining enemy and swamping them in typical Ork fashion. Experienced Imperial units have been known to use this tendency to lay traps for Flyboyz, a tactic that Captain Neymeyer of the 609th Fighter Wing would perfect in the opening months of the Third Armageddon War.

Where possible Flyboyz will mass in large numbers and attempt to overwhelm enemies with sheer firepower, Imperial pilots on Armageddon during both the Second and Third Wars often reported being outnumbered four or five to one and in the early stages of the war suffered heavy casualties when opposing the Xenos directly. In actual combat Orks will attempt to use the maneuverability of their aircraft and their tolerance for G-forces to out-maneuver their enemy before using the tremendous short range firepower of their aircraft to knock them down.

Final Assessment

In a one versus one fight between two pilots of equal ability the Thunderbolt has the edge over the Fighta-Bommer. The real life skies of Armageddon were seldom so simple however and myriad other factors played a role in the outcome of any dogfight. During the early stages of the war the Ork Flyboyz held the edge over their Imperial Navy foes. This was particularly so when they were led by the elite Deff Skwadrons whose tactics and actions, particularly their strikes against Imperial air bases and supply lines, would prove decisive early on.

However by the middle period of the war the the Navy’s Thunderbolt squadrons had once more, despite their dire supply situation, exhausted pilots and battered aircraft, had evolved a series of effective counters to both Ork numbers and the Deff Skwadrons and although unable to maintain planetwide air superiority could maintain local air superiority for moderate periods of time in selected areas. This in turn would play a large part in turning the tide against the Beast and his hordes and would ultimately be a key factor in Ghazghkull’s retreat.

2 Responses to “Thunderbolt vs Fighta-Bommer”

  1. Darth Potato says:

    Awesome write-up SCC. It reminds me of the assessments, comparisons between aircraft, and background material seen on the show called ‘Dogfights’ from the History Channel.

  2. SCC says:

    Yeah, good show that and one of the inspirations behind this piece along with the Osprey Duel series.

    I also wanted to get clear in my own mind the strengths/weaknesses of the two aircraft so I had a solid basis for the history and short story stuff I’m working on. A well built foundation is the first step in building a world…

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