Ramscoops and Tankers

Chernikov

Spaceman
Wing Commander 2 was the last (?) game where tankers are evident. They are also the last game without evident ramscoops on the majority of the ships (the Gilgamesh has some over-wing ports with red dots that seem similar). I know from fiction (End Run, Fleet Action) that ramscoops were common prior to the battle of Earth and were equipped on small patrol craft such as Ferrets. Do we know if there is a (deliberate) correlation between the lack of tankers and the visible ramscoops, and what the purpose of a tanker would be if even small craft could scavenge their own fuel?
 

Aginor

Vice Admiral
Well, that is an interesting question.
First of all: You are quite right in questioning your first statement: We have Tankers in Prophecy.

But there seems to be some change in technology concerning fuel, although it seems to be more complex:
In the later games the fighters don't use fuel at all (or maybe they gather enough fuel with whatever they use to do that) except for the afterburners. Since afterburners are quite handy when it comes to dogfights they have tankers to supply the fighters with more of it during long missions.
So what did change? (of course the in-universe answer is more interesting, the other one is: It is more fun like that)
 

Dundradal

Frog Blast the Vent Core!
First we have to go back and identify ram scoops. The novels aren't talking about the colored sections on some ships. In the novels, ram scoops are energy fields that can be extended and retracted in order to gather more or less hydrogen from surrounding space. When the scoops are open, speed is greatly hindered, and while closed ships can travel quickly, but burn fuel without replacing it.

The games have fuel for AB for gameplay reasons. The novels tell us that fighters do have fuel reserves (and fuel scoops) that they need to watch.

Tankers are able to provide large amounts of fuel quickly. When a ship has its scoops extended it's greatly hindered in speed and movement. What if you are fighting in an area that has low hydrogen concentration. You'll need to be able to refuel quickly, so tankers accompany the fleet.

WC3 also has tankers (the Torgo Behemoth series). I don't recall any tankers in WC4 (hopefully my memory is working since I just replayed it this weekend).

I don't think anything changed. It's just a matter of different artists with different styles when it comes to Capship and fighter design.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
Wing Commander 2 was the last (?) game where tankers are evident. They are also the last game without evident ramscoops on the majority of the ships (the Gilgamesh has some over-wing ports with red dots that seem similar). I know from fiction (End Run, Fleet Action) that ramscoops were common prior to the battle of Earth and were equipped on small patrol craft such as Ferrets. Do we know if there is a (deliberate) correlation between the lack of tankers and the visible ramscoops, and what the purpose of a tanker would be if even small craft could scavenge their own fuel?

You get a ramscoop! You get a ramscoop! Everybody gets a ramscoop! (Every Wing Commander ship has a ramscoop.)

Short answer: no, no correlation between the rise in references to ramscoops and the decline in tankers. The ramscoops are actually an Origin concept... and there are plenty of tankers in later games and stories!

I believe the ramscoop idea first appeared in the 1991 licensing bible, which is why it's so prevalent in the novels. It was the handwavium that Origin came up with circa Wing Commander 2 to explain how the ships work... and writers like Dr. Forstchen who had never played the game assumed it was a big part of the lore.

The concept is that the ramscoops slowly take in hydrogen which allows the ships to maintain their cruising speeds like a real aircraft (versus real spacecraft, which carry a few seconds worth of fuel and mostly travel based on momentum and orbital mechanics)... which is what you see in the games.

Faster speeds (especially afterburners) burn down your fuel much more quickly than the ramscoops can hope to replenish your tanks. Then the other thing that burns fuel quickly is jumping. It's not a coincidence that the tankers we 'interact' with in Wing Commander II and Prophecy are there to replenish fuel used during jumps and afterburners, respectively.

As we see in Action Stations, a ship that runs out of fuel is essentially screwed--it needs to idle for days/weeks/months to scoop in enough hydrogen to fly anywhere again. (Note also that regular flying isn't a 1:1 thing... in continuity you do eventually run out of fuel. It's just a way to make the spacecraft behave more like fighter planes.)

What you're seeing with the clear 'intakes' in Wing Commander III forward is a conscious attempt on the part of the designers to have a unified design for the ships, per Chris Roberts' edict that the designs be more "realistic".

WC3 also has tankers (the Torgo Behemoth series). I don't recall any tankers in WC4 (hopefully my memory is working since I just replayed it this weekend).

No tankers in WC4, although you are specifically ordered to land between attacks on the Vesuvius for refueling. And Peleus is "a major source of fuel".

Also relevant to the original question--tankers actually show up in every single Baen novel (and Pilgrim Truth).
 

Farbourne

Rear Admiral
There's also a line in the WC1 manual (and a mechanic in the game) where, if you expend your fuel, you can still fly at 50 kps on "reserves" and your afterburners stop working (only happened to me once...luckily I had already taken down all the Kilrathi in that mission).

This could be interpreted as flying with ramscoops open.
 

rapierdragon

Rear Admiral
mostly agreed

from my own understanding, EVERY ship has ram-scoop tech on it (including fighters), but it's only really useful if flying (a) in a straight line or (b) maneuvering at very low velocity.

Just like in privateer; the "fuel" gage goes down any time you jump, use afterburners, or (to a far lesser degree) turn/roll/climb/dive (so in other words, the maneuvering jets are also powered off that same fuel, just to a far lesser degree, you just don't see it cause they didn't really program it in that fuel would be consumed if you set speed to ZERO and then taped the left-turn key down and left the game sitting like that).

Only thing I didn't agree with is that in many other series that have ram-scoop tech (Red Dwarf, Man-Kzin Wars, Star Trek, Star Wars, just to name a few) is that ram-scoops could work at almost any velocity in general space (in some cases, like MK-Wars, with the scoops set to max ships could eventually get up to 98.5% of light speed and maintain it so long as there's enough fuel in the path and years if not decades to spend on the hard-g acceleration).

The biggest argument (or counter argument) is the locale they are used in. Its one of the smarter things Wing Commander does. (Unlike Trek and other sci-fi's where they tend to fight over vast areas of pointless empty nothingness almost as if those areas were as important as food/energy/mineral rich high-content star-system-like areas.)

WITHIN a star-system the free-hydrogen (background gas available to be scooped) is extremely low because gravity tends to suck everything up. Free-hydrogen in space would be near-zero (and you'd probably find more as "dust" around a bed-sized chunk of rock or space debris than in an empty area ten-times that size).
Best bet for a "plentiful" supply would be a gas-giant planet... do something like Destiny does (in Star Gate Universe) and fly down just close enough to scoop a bunch up before having to escape the killer-gravity). My guess is WC does something similar, except that they have two tanker types (one gathers raw from gas-giants, delivers it to a refinery, and the other tanker type goes from refinery to fleet and is the one we typically see in missions that have tankers)

OUTSIDE a star-system the free-hydrogen gets thicker (allowing it to even form clouds that are so thick they can block light). Gas content, if just the right density, can leave tracks indicating what has flown through the area recently; not that anyone bothers with these vast tracts of empty nothingness.
Unfortunately the majority of jump-points occur near locations of higher-gravity... so while a tanker might fly out to go and refuel its massive tanks (with or without an escort) there isn't much point to sending a whole fleet with it. Defending empty space that has no jump points wouldn't make much sense. (easier to steal gas off a gas-giant).
And the resources needed to attack enemy tankers that refuel in such locations is equally as pointless. You can't burn away the background hydrogen gas - its not dense enough to do fission/fussion, and it won't ignite since no oxygen ... nevermind the expenses to recon due to the distance involved (cause no jump points... you'd have to waste fuel just to get there and back; and then it could be more dust or other kinds of gas than hydrogen (or whatever a "looked good but turned out a waste of time/resource" situation would be).
 

Bob McDob

Better Health Through Less Flavor
You can read the "canon" description of how starship drives work from the Confederation Handbook (which itself is based on the original bible entries) here:
Every Citizen's Guide to Practical Science

(Now all it needs is the pictures that actually show how it works)
 
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Chernikov

Spaceman
Ah. I was thinking more of large tankers like the Drayman (that fly to the carrier, not from the carrier) and I interpreted that as the capships may have changed up to a more fuel-efficient system or something. Thanks for the clarification.
 
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