Do any confederation fighters/bombers have copilots?

ck9791

Rear Admiral
Do any of the confederation fighters or bombers have copilots? Someone who sits behind or next to the pilot like a radar or weapons officer on current two seat aircraft. Also, don't some of the heavy fighters or bombers have turret gunners?
 

capi3101

Rear Admiral
There's a variant of the Sabre that explicitly has a crew of at least three - a pilot, a co- and a tail gunner - which you see in End Run. Also, the Broadswords in the Academy TV series could be flown solo but sometimes had a pilot and a co-, which you see at several points in the series. Those are the only two that come to mind at the moment; there probably are others, which I'll defer to the more knowledgeable crowd to point out.
 

Star Rider

Rear Admiral
Good to see you again CK, it's been a while since our old Wing Commander AAO days.

There's a variant of the Sabre that explicitly has a crew of at least three - a pilot, a co- and a tail gunner - which you see in End Run. Also, the Broadswords in the Academy TV series could be flown solo but sometimes had a pilot and a co-, which you see at several points in the series. Those are the only two that come to mind at the moment; there probably are others, which I'll defer to the more knowledgeable crowd to point out.
Agreed, the F-57 B Strike Sabre had a three man crew, with a tandem seating arrangement in the cockpit for the Pilot and Co-Pilot who would handle the weapons. The tail gunner in the rear turret. There was another version in Fleet Action where the Pilot and Co-Pilot were seated side by side mentioned during the battle of Hell Hole when Paladin was serving as Doomsday's Co-Pilot.

Broadsword crews varied: In Academy you had usually a 1-2 man crew manning a Bomber but during expendable I think there are Five seats shown.. In Wing Commander II you have a Pilot, and gunnery crew (2 waist gunners and a tail gunner) at one point during Special Operations 1 when you're jumping ahead of Concordia from Pembroke to Rigel system Angel mentions during the briefing that due to losses in the last campaign there is a shortage of qualified gunnery officers and that pilots would be filling in as gunners, and she acts as your Chief Gunnery Officer during the mission. Fleet Action you have Pilot, Co-Pilot (Handles the new Laser Torpedo Guidance system) two waist gunners and a tail gunner.
 

David Wade

2nd Lieutenant
Would make sense as there is too much for a pilot alone to handle games aside l. Most of the bombers would have to have multiple crew stations just to keep things manageable this I have learned after talking with bomber crews. It doesn't matter how advanced technology is it still comes down to a manageable workload for the crew
 

Dondragmer

Rear Admiral
From the Wing Commander: The Price of Freedom novelisation by William R. Forstchen and Ben Ohlander, excerpt provided with the boxed version of WC4:

The veteran drew himself up in pride and met Blair's eye. "Yep," he said, "started out as a turret gunner on a Broadsword. Got m'self a field comission as a pilot and flew 'em."

"What happened?" Blair asked.

The man sighed, exhaling a stench into Blair's face. "I din't have no college, so I lost m' commission in the 'reduction in forces' when the war ended."
These three lines are loaded with detail about the perceived value of pilots, gunners and academy training. Incidentally, this is the pilot you meet in the game during the introduction video, and later at the end of Peleus 1.

Along with the WC2-SO1 mission that Star Rider refers to, WC2 Series 5 Mission 4 has some relevant dialog:

WC2 Sabre crew 1.png
WC2 Sabre crew 2.png
WC2 Sabre crew 3.png


Aside from confirming that the F-57A Sabre flown in WC2 does have a gunner position, this strongly implies that there are indeed no other crew aboard. That or some nameless copilot or engineer aboard Spirit's Sabre survived the explosion only to be carried screaming into the Heaven's Gate Starbase.

Part of WC2's design becomes ominous if you think too hard about it. When a Broadsword, Sabre or Crossbow explodes, it only leaves one ejection seat behind, and that always turns out to be the pilot. I'm happy to write this off as an engine limitation, but maybe gunners are so cheap to train that they don't get seats. Real-world aircraft have been designed like this. The RAF "V-Bombers" - the Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and Vickers Valiant - had ejector seats for the pilot and copilot but not for the other three crew. Here's a compelling but not fully referenced article on the subject.

Meanwhile James Martin was still working on the problem, part of which was the structure of the pressurised cabin. In the Vulcan at least, removing a large enough area of the cabin roof to provide a blow-out panel of sufficient size to accommodate the exit of three seats would compromise the structural integrity of the fuselage. In typical fashion, Martin came up with a solution in the form of a complex mechanism that synchronised the operation of all three seats fired through a hole just big enough for one.

After several years of development at the Martin-Baker company's expense, a practical solution was developed using the discarded nose and cabin section of a Vulcan as a test rig. Once the initiation of one seat commenced the centre seat was the first to go. Through a series of interlocking mechanisms the two outer seats then tilted inwards, and one after the other fired through the same hole. Martin carried a series of tests utilising dummies and his new zero/zero rocket-powered seat. The tests were successful but didn't progress beyond ejecting dummies before the heavy hand of officialdom intervened.
Given the way the Wing Commander series emphasises character interactions, I do think it's a lost opportunity that none of the games have you meet your bomber crew and manage their training and morale.
 
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-danr-

Vice Admiral
I think the novels confirm that the rear turrets of the Thunderbolt and Longbow are manned. I remember Hobbes programming his ship's computer to fire the turret automatically.

...and Blair saying in The Price Of Freedom that as he tailed a Confed Longbow, he could see the gunner looking at him.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Yep. And I also recall either the WC3 or the WC4 novel (can't remember which) saying something along the lines of computer-guided turrets being too limited to be useful, or something. I don't recall the details, all I remember is the general gist of it... and myself groaning at the silliness of this explanation for the presence of gunners. I mean, sheesh, if at the end of the 20th century AI was good enough to regularly hit a player-steered fighter in a computer game, it just doesn't sound too reasonable that AI-driven turrets in a 27th century space fighter would be impossible. But of course, there's some advantage to coming up with a daft but serviceable explanation to that effect, because otherwise, we'd risk somebody asking that inconvenient question about the need for pilots in light of more than six centuries of drone technologies... :)
 

ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator
Since I probably won't get around to screenshotting it myself, there's a great scene in Academy where an ejected pilot is picked up by a Broadsword and then is able to disembark and walk into the cockpit where there are multiple seats. That would be a good one for this thread.

The Galaxy and Tarsus also have dual seats, and the Orion has a pair of benches behind the pilot.

Galaxy_Left_Side.png
Orion_Rear.png
Tarsus_Left_Side.png
 

capi3101

Rear Admiral
there's a great scene in Academy where an ejected pilot is picked up by a Broadsword and then is able to disembark and walk into the cockpit where there are multiple seats. That would be a good one for this thread.
That's from the episode "Expendable". I still have the CIC's vids of that from the time before the re-release on DVD at home; I'll try to get some screenies up tonight (unless somebody beats me to it).
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
Yep. And I also recall either the WC3 or the WC4 novel (can't remember which) saying something along the lines of computer-guided turrets being too limited to be useful, or something. I don't recall the details, all I remember is the general gist of it... and myself groaning at the silliness of this explanation for the presence of gunners. I mean, sheesh, if at the end of the 20th century AI was good enough to regularly hit a player-steered fighter in a computer game, it just doesn't sound too reasonable that AI-driven turrets in a 27th century space fighter would be impossible. But of course, there's some advantage to coming up with a daft but serviceable explanation to that effect, because otherwise, we'd risk somebody asking that inconvenient question about the need for pilots in light of more than six centuries of drone technologies... :)

It's an odd thing to focus on specifically, since it's a criticism that would apply to pretty much everything about the game's setting... following the same thought, there's no reason for space aircraft carriers, space fighters flown by real people, ships that look like jets, etc. So it's a little problematic to drop the crushing weight of reality on just this one specific part of the Wing Commander setup. :)

But also: that's not how drones work! You still have human pilots flying them, pulling the trigger when needed and so on... they just don't aren't manned 'in person' like a traditional airplane. And certainly we might now wonder why all spaceships don't work that way in the 27th century (FTL issues?) it's not the same thing as wondering why computers aren't doing all the work. It feels like 600 years from now you will run into exactly the same problem: yes you can build a robotic airplane that flies itself, or a turret that automatically targets and hits things as best as math can possibly let it... but can you trust it to decide when to pull the trigger? (I'd also have a hard time faulting a game made in 1994 for not predicting the rise in the use of military drone aircraft a decade or more later.)
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Well, the turret thing stood out for me specifically, because it seemed so silly to suggest that AI circa 2669 is inferior to the AI that exists in the game that is being novelised. I just think that when writing a novelisation of a computer game, an author should be more careful in disparaging the limitations of AI (unless, of course, we're talking about a Dune novel!). I'm sure a creative reason for gunners could be proposed, and would be very useful indeed, but AI ineptitude just doesn't seem to qualify :).
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
It still seems odd to treat the turret AI that way, separate from the rest of the game. The game coming up with an AI turret gunner isn't any different from the game coming up with an AI Maniac or an AI Iceman... but we don't complain that your wingmen ships /should/ be computers because computers run them in the game.

(And truly, it seems very simple to code an AI that knows 'shoot when you see NPC with value bad'... but much more complex in a real world scenario where the targets aren't being generated and defined by the same system as the AI.)
 

capi3101

Rear Admiral
Here we go - shots from the Academy episode "Expendable"

wc001.png
wc002.png
wc003.png
wc004.png


What else is interesting about the whole sequence is that Payback there (she's the one getting into the chair), is that (movie bullet time effects aside) she's able to move around in the middle of a pulsar jump...
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
The jump also lasts four hours, per Blair's line at the top of act three. And there's another 'time experienced' jump, in The Last One Left, where Blair is writing his dad and Maniac and Archer are playing zero G racket ball.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
It still seems odd to treat the turret AI that way, separate from the rest of the game. The game coming up with an AI turret gunner isn't any different from the game coming up with an AI Maniac or an AI Iceman... but we don't complain that your wingmen ships /should/ be computers because computers run them in the game.
Yes, but the difference is that no one ever tried to explain why we have human pilots out there, so the issue really never came up. I'm singling the turret AI simply because the writer of the book singled it out as something that needs to be explained - and the explanation made no sense given the context of a game filled with AI. It's something that the book could have comfortably ignored, and chose not to ignore at its peril.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
I don't think it was explaining anything about the world (on purpose, anyway) - the book needed to explain why Blair wasn't bringing a turret gunner with him when he defected :)
 

ck9791

Rear Admiral
Good to see you again CK, it's been a while since our old Wing Commander AAO days.
Good to see you too Star Rider, hope you are doing well.

I remember there being references to turrets on some of the fighters and bombers and the part about AI control of the turret vs a human gunner. But I didn't know if there was any mention of any of the spacecraft having a second person sitting directly beside or behind the pilot. I was thinking of trying to write a Wing Commander story and I had an idea for several parts involving a pilot and a copilot. It sounds like the Strike Sabre may be an option.
 
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Death

gh0d (Administrator)
IIRC, Pliers also mentions about Blair having to make due with an auto-gunner for the rear turret of his fighter, due to crew shortages.
 

Mace

Vice Admiral
Yes, but the difference is that no one ever tried to explain why we have human pilots out there, so the issue really never came up. I'm singling the turret AI simply because the writer of the book singled it out as something that needs to be explained - and the explanation made no sense given the context of a game filled with AI. It's something that the book could have comfortably ignored, and chose not to ignore at its peril.
Since you can tail and dogfight purely on eyesight in the Wing Commander Universe, and sensor cloaks were possible during the early days of the war, wouldn't it make sense to have a human gunner using hand-eye coordination and instinct on the trigger?
 
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