Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Virtual Wings: Cygnus Spaceworks Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing Pilot Report

“Okay, now this is something different.” I’d test flown the four TIE variants that had comprised the vast majority of the Empire’s forces during the days of the Galactic Civil War. Of the four, the TIE Fighter (TIE/LN or “Eyeball”) was as expected, the TIE Bomber (TIE/sa
or “Dupe”) was a slug, the TIE Interceptor (TIE/in or “Squint”) was a hotrodded deathtrap, and the TIE Avenger (TIE/ad or “Bright”) was a world beater. But the Empire hadn’t exclusively fielded TIE series craft.

While rarely seen in line forces, the Imperial procurement groups had recognized the need for a hyperspace-capable fighter armed with warhead launchers and ion cannons to serve a role analogous to the Y-Wing. Assigned primarily to scout squadrons, the craft would be used for advance scout duties and during rapid capture operations where ion-cannon armed transports would prove impractically slow. Cygnus Spaceworks, designers of the Lambda-class T-4 shuttle and Sentinel-class landing craft, answered the procurement call with the Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing.

Utilizing a folding wing system similar to the larger shuttle designs, the Alpha-class, commonly known as “Assault Gunboats” was able to have a shipborne footprint similar to a standard TIE/ln design. Armed with two laser cannons, two ion cannons, and a large warhead launcher bank, the Assault Gunboat was more than capable as a heavy scout or long-range escort. The Assault Gunboat also carried heavy shielding, and was often equipped with a beam system.

It was also designed to operate semi-autonomously, with landing skids, and a pressurized cockpit that eliminated the need for the TIE pilot’s bulky environmental suit. Entering the craft was much closer to entering a Y-Wing cockpit than a typical Imperial fighter design. After verifying my familiarity with the controls, we closed the canopy and I powered the ship up.

After experiencing a series of TIE craft, the lack of the engine howl was jarring. I had to double check that the engines were even running given that only a quiet hum reverberated through the craft. Unlike the TIE engines, the hum was the extent of engine sounds during normal operations. While the Assault Gunboat could rack launch like a TIE craft, the corporation’s examples were kept in the simpler and more maintainable grounded landing section. Takeoff was a simple matter of calling for clearance, gliding out of the hanger bay on repulsors, and transitioning directly into spaceflight as the wings lowered to flight position and the gear retracted.

Powering into the practice area, the Xg-1’s biggest flaw became readily apparent. Much like the Y-Wing, it was slow and especially ponderous in comparison to the fast as thought maneuvering of most of the TIE series craft. Small wonder that the Gunboat generally fared poorly against X-Wing and A-Wing starfighters, but was more than a match for the typical pirate forces.

Engaging targets showed off the design’s strengths. With ion cannons and lasers mounted above and below the cockpit, respectively, maximum firepower could be brought on target quickly and accurately. The gunboat’s multipurpose weapons bays could normally house a load of sixteen concussion missiles, or twelve proton torpedoes. The cockpit itself had excellent visibility, which came as a relief after hours in TIE cockpits.

Combat proved my earlier theories correct. Against slower, less maneuverable legacy fighters, the Gunboat could easily hold its own. However, faster, more maneuverable foes could easily hit and run, wearing down the massive shield shell without taking more than a stray hit or two. Only advanced units equipped with a tractor or decoy beam stood a chance under these conditions.

The Gunboat was much more like the Rebellion/Republic fighters that it opposed than like most other single-seat craft in the Imperial arsenal. That the design largely dead-ended there, save for some rumored extremely advanced prototypes spoke more about Imperial procurement priorities than it died about the performance of the Xg-1 itself.

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