Thursday, October 20, 2016

Virtual Wings: Kuat Systems Engineering RZ-1 A-Wing PIREP

"Looks fast sitting still." was my first impression of the corporation's A-Wing starfighters. While X-Wings and Xg-1 Star Wings make up the workhorses of the corporation's fleet operations, they maintain a flight of four Mark II A-Wings for fast aggressor and recon jobs. Nicknamed Mara, Ashoka, Shalla, and Bhindi, they tend to live up to the A-Wing's reputation as maintenance nightmares.

For my visit, only Shalla was in operational shape, with two others in various maintenance levels, and another in deep regeneration after a rough landing that collapsed the nose skid. I'm told that an average of twenty maintenance hours are required for every flight hour, far more even than what is required for the much older Y-Wings.

It's also worth noting that the Mark IIs are less temperamental than the Mark I versions flown by the Rebel Alliance during the Galactic Civil War. Hand-built from whatever was available, then hotrodded for every ounce of speed they could squeeze out, the original A-Wings were sometimes almost as dangerous to their pilots as to the enemy.

The first challenge for me was simply fitting into the cockpit. I'm not built like a Wookie, but neither am I a Sullustian. The A-Wing's cockpit was a tight fit, just one of the reasons the craft had earned the nickname "Slims" by their pilots.

With the canopy closed, visibility was excellent save for straight back. Keeping visual contact with enemy fighters in a dogfight would be simple, provided the pilot can keep enemies from slipping underneath the fighter. Set in the center of the A-Wing's wedge, the fuselage blocks most lines of sight below the fighter.

Spinning up the ship's MPS Bpr-99 reactor and feeding power to the twin Novaldex J-77 Event Horizon engines showed immediately why this fighter was the hotrod of the fleet. Particularly after flying the Y-Wing, the acceleration was rapid as the fighter pushed to its top speed of 120 MGLT, just a hair faster than the Imperial TIE Interceptors that were its primary opponents.

To reduce the maintenance burden a little bit, the Corporation's A-Wings had been modified to fix their wingtip mounted laser cannons straight ahead. While the pivoting system was useful in combat, it was another complex, easily broken system.

Conducting my usual speed checks revealed few surprises. Standard top speed was 120 MGLT, while running max recharge to all systems gave 60 MGLT. Combat configuration with just lasers at increased charge gave 105 MGLT, still faster than a TIE Fighter, while lasers and shields at increased (or only lasers at maximum charge) gave 90 MGLT. Optimal maneuvering speed came around 80% throttle. Combat configured, the A-Wing was still faster than a TIE Fighter or X-Wing, while holding a significant turning advantage, and the ability to simply throttle up and leave the fight on its own terms. Dumping all energy into the engines gave 180 MGLT, and showed why this fighter was the recon ship of choice.

Finally it was time for some dogfight practice. Engaging TIE Fighters was remarkably simple, as the A-Wing's superior speed allowed me to boom and zoom - screaming into gun range, making firing passes, then pulling out of range almost immediately. Against Squints I faced a much bigger challenge, with their lack of shields being somewhat compensated by their heavier firepower and tight weapon grouping.

Much like the B-Wing, the A-Wing is less a jack-of-all-trades, and more of a specialist that's used best in specific roles. Allowed to boom and zoom, or used in maneuvers such as the A-Wing slash, it provided intercept and space superiority capabilities far better than the X-Wing. Used poorly, or when maintenance issues reared their heads, the A-Wing can be more liability than utility.

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