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Towards the Heavens We March

Mara Lithaen

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In the early morning, one fine, cold Alaskan winter day, Lord Marshal Adrien O'Malley stood in the control tower of the testing range at Bristol Bay AFB, sipping hot, sugared coffee. The first rounds of tests were to begin today on the engines for his personal brain-child. He was unusually reserved today, thought his assistant Lieutenant Keynes, but it was perhaps merited. They had no idea whether or not it was to work, for without these engines it might as well all be for naught.

Captain Travis Mayhew, the scientist behind the Aerospace Research Lab's "Comet" program upon which all hopes rested for the success of the project, absently chewed his fingernails as he watched the countdown timer leading to the start of the test, despite knowing how it would make him look to both his subordinates and superiors. He felt, however, that he'd earned a bit of nervousness, damnit! He'd built the bloody engine.

"T-minus ninety seconds to test, all personnel clear the testing area." came a voice over the intercom as alarms outside began to howl. "All personnel clear the testing area."

Mayhew walked over to stand behind the technical sergeant manning the command station that controlled the Comet engine, and watched the numbers float along on the screen. Good. All outputs, all temperatures, and all the thousand-and-one other little details measured nominal, in the green.

"T-minus sixty seconds to test, all personnel MUST be clear of the testing area for safety purposes." said the voice again. "All personnel clear the testing area immediately!"

"Here goes nothing." The Lord Marshal said quietly, seeming to teleport to Mayhew's side. Mayhew gave a choppy nod, swallowing a lump in his throat.

"Indeed, sir." Mayhew replied, taking one last look at the measurements before resolutely walking to a view-screen, showing the testing pad a half-mile away, showing the engine mounted on a rocket-test stand. The huge V-shaped engine dominated the stand, seeming barely held on to it by the gripping arms of the test device.




"T-minus twenty seconds..." Time seemed to crawl. The fuel lines that lead from a hydrogen tank a half mile distant from the test stand and directly opposite the control tower began to charge with their highly volatile cargo, streaming fuel to the engine.

"T-minus ten seconds..." The ignition coils began to heat.

"Five, four, three, two, one...Ignition! Ignition! Ignition!"



As the readouts remained in safe limits, first for ten seconds, then twenty, thirty, a full minute, Captain Mayhew relaxed. After five minutes running full-tilt, the engine was shut down. Lord Marshal O'Malley was beaming. "Captain," he said, clapping the younger man on the shoulder heartily, "you've just earned a promotion and a budget."


The Comet linear aerospike engine, fueled by compressed liquid hydrogen, was merely the first step in the construction of the Imperium's future air combat vehicles. The engine was specifically built to propel exo/atmospheric craft at high speeds, and then to let them hover for long periods of time, having an efficiency boost of 80% over normal motors of that size and power (I.e. large rocket motors)(and I'll expand and give nitty-gritty tech details shortly. LYNNETH!)



Edited by Mara Lithaen
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(moving forward, having decided to place the first post canonically as having occurred an IRL month ago so that I can get an IC year of development out of the way -)

Major Mayhew, now used to giving presentations and showing the results of his work, stood relaxed against the wall of the Armaments Review Board, situated in the Imperium's military hub, the Octagon. A youthful (and pleasing to the eye) Lieutenant exited from the behind heavy oaken door, flashing him a charming smile as she informed him that "The Board will see you now." A smile and a nod were his replies, and he picked up his peaked cap from the table next to him, tucking it and his tablet under one arm and stepping past the LT into the room beyond, and his heart started to pick up the pace as he beheld the massive amount of glittering silver, gold, and medals that occupied the room - then of course, the twelve people that sat behind those same medals and ranks. The room surely should have imploded under their finery's combined mass, he thought, and fought to keep his mouth from quirking in a slanted grin.

As it was, he walked up to the foot of the table, eyes fixed on the wall behind all of them, and raised his right hand in an Academy-sharp salute, returned by the head of the Board alone - Major General Alice Trenton. "Please be seated, Major." she said, voice hoarse with age but her mind sharper than 99% of the rest of the planet's population.

With a nod, he did so.

"Major, we were told you had a rather... intriguing idea to share with us." she said, leaving the sentence hanging so that he could pick it up from there.

"Yes, ma'am. As you all know, the Comet engine tests of a year ago were more successful than even I'd hoped." he began, and heads nodded. "We've been working on them since, at the behest and personal direction of Lord Marshal O'Malley. The purpose of the development of the engine was quite intriguing - propelling large objects at good speeds, or small ones at ludicrous speeds. We recovered -" he started, laying his tablet out on the table and connecting it to the media center, a display for which was in front of each of the Board members. "some old archives, from approximately the early two-thousands that began us down the path of what is now the Comet Linear Aerospike."

"Put simply, the Comet Linear Aerospike is a very, very efficient and very, very powerful rocket motor, fueled by liquid hydrogen. A large wedge - the most defining feature of the motor - allows for the engine to be placed in a tighter configuration than other motors, as well, allowing us to put more of them onto a given chassis while also allowing us the advantage of thrust-vectoring for better movement. This development will also certainly aid us when we finally decide to make the leap into space." He brought up a slide.


"The advantage of the aerospike design is that at low altitude the ambient pressure compresses the exhaust against the nozzle. The recirculation in the base of the wedge can then raise the pressure there to near ambient. Since the pressure on top of the engine is ambient, this means that base gives no overall thrust - but it also means that this part of the nozzle doesn't lose thrust by forming a partial vacuum, thus the base part of the nozzle can be ignored at low altitude. This, overall, means that we're not losing efficiency to the rocket having to burn harder just to push itself up at low altitudes." Mayhew said, then stopped and took a drink of water, and segued into the next slide, but froze the output.

"Now, the main reason behind this - as well as the development of our helicopters' Hydrogen fuel cell refit and the edge-spun turboprops - is that Lord Marshal O'Malley wishes to obtain for the Imperium flight capability for... large objects." he said. A pause.

"What kind of large objects, Major?" asked an elderly full-bird colonel.

"At the moment, we're still in the concept-development stage, but here's a very, very, very preliminary idea drawing for one proposed design for the Flying Carrier, Experimental." A mutter and a stir ran about the table.


"Now if you'll see, the carrier is a flying wing design, with the main lift being provided jointly by the massive, six-hundred-foot wing and the pair of huge edge-spun turboprops. The advantage of the edge-spun props is that there is no potential lift power lost trying to get around the engine assembly itself, which is stored in the wings. Additionally, these engines are also multi-pintled - that is to say, there are eight points of moveable connection to the main body, but six of them can be engaged at any time, allowing the remaining two to pivot the engine, giving it a sort of thrust vectoring, as well as a very slow acceleration capability on fans alone. They are powered by our second-gen hydrogen fuel cells, as well as a slow-recharge capability using solar power and electrolysis, when floating on water. There [i]is[/i] a nuclear powered variant that we are exploring. Speaking of which, this is a seaplane of sorts - a necessity given its' size."

"Along the rear interior of the wing, aft of the engine housings and between the marked flaps section and the main body, as well as inside the rear flaps - which are also, coincidentally, heat shields - are the actual Comet engines, intended mainly to be used for when the FCV needs to [i]move[/i] at the speed of heat. They are powered by an onboard reservoir of liquid hydrogen in the wings that can be refueled by a specially-designed B-787, and started with the help of the onboard generators that power the fans. Additionally, within the wings, an amount of helium will be maintained to prevent potential explosions, and to add extra lift to the design. That little feature, in particular, actually pervades the airframe - it should be very, very hard to make the plane catch fire."

"Now, for the reasoning behind the craft in the first place -"

"Firstly, this can act as a flying launchpad for our future space program, reducing fuel costs and thus launch prices, as it is very easy to keep it aloft once you get it off the water, for which hydrofoils have been designed into the underside of the airframe to assist in the doing of."

"Secondly, no other nation has an in-flight rearming and repair capability like this would give us. None. At all. Excluding sea-based aircraft carriers, of course, and our main advantage over those is speed. This craft isn't as fast as a fighter jet or even a passenger liner, but even then it is many times faster than an aircraft carrier, and can operate high out of the range of most SAMs, up at around eighty thousand feet, dropping to angels forty to launch and recover aircraft, or lower if needed."

With a click, he shut off the projector."The project would be an expensive one, to be sure. I'm certain, however, with a bit of time, effort, and a goodly budget, we can make something happen along the lines of the FCV(X)." he said, unplugging his tablet. "Officers of the board, would you like me to leave while you deliberate?" he asked. The members of the board, none under the rank of Colonel, looked at each other, exchanging looks, all eventually coming to rest on the frail-looking woman at the table's head.

"I don't think that will be necessary," she said."I think that our answer is yes."

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  • 2 weeks later...

A long-winged, short-bodied, curvy aircraft sat before Major Mayhew's eyes, watching it from the control center built along the edge of a largish lake some 30 miles to the north of Bethel. The 1/20th scale prototype's 25 meter span was a sight to behold - 21 meters of wing and a 4 meter wide body. It was already larger than many fully-functional aircraft. Conformal pylons were down in the landed position, holding the wing edges of the FCV(X) prototype out of the water. Not only was this a prototype for the flying carrier, it was also a prototype for future drone development. [i]Would be a great platform for a drone bomber,[/i] he thought, and filed the idea away in his head for a later date. He turned to the raft of control pods, and walked towards them. Three pods were set side by side, and in each sat a crewmember in a well-cushioned flight chair, with a bank of multi-function displays arrayed in front of and about them. He pat the shoulder of Lieutenant Walburg, who looked up.

"Let's get this show on the road, Dan." Travis said, and the LT nodded, and looked over at the sergeant manning the engineering station.

"Sergeant MacIlhenney, let's get your bird in the air." he said, and a pair of levers were pushed slowly forward. Major Mayhew turned back towards the huge window that dominated the opposite wall of the room, and he watched with a growing sense of happiness as the big drone began to inch forward, gathering speed. The pintles rotated, so that both of the big edge-spun rotors were tilted forward, and soon the pylons rose back into their hidden stations in the wings as the belly of the aircraft rose out of the water, revealing the hydrofoils that were pushing it clear of the surface. About a mile out (and with Travis now watching on a large flatscreen that was wired in from the ceiling, held in front of the window and tracking the plane via high-speed high-magnification cameras), the drone lifted clear of the water, and a little cheer went around the room.

As the bird began to move faster, the turbines tilted until they were vertical, acting as in-wing props. The tech sergeant in the third station was monitoring the computer systems in the bird, logging each and every fault and jitter in the programming (and there were many). While she was doing that, Sergeant Mac and Lieutenant Walburg put the bird through its paces, testing the pintles, slowing to a hover, then translating side to side, then backing up, then moving up and down diagonally in the air. The powerful turbines were still very, very audible even at five miles away.

This continued on for about thirty minutes, and then Major Mayhew made a decision. “Open up the Comets and let’s see how she really handles.” He said, eyes still fixed on the monitor.

The LT’s voice came back to him, sounding wary “You certain? It’s still the first test.”

“No better time than now.”

“If you say, sir.”

Travis watched, listening as the orders were passed to Sergeant Mac, and a glow soon appeared at the tail end of the aircraft. The glow soon grew into a full-fledged star-streak across the sky as the FCV rocketed across. The monitor techs in the room, started to laugh and cheer a bit.

After about five miles had passed, the star streak became a very brilliant (and very expensive) fireball.
The cheering died. Travis could feel all eyes on him, waiting for his reaction. He turned, and saw Lieutenant Dan and Sergeant Mac’s mortified faces staring back at him.

He was not looking forward to the next progress report at the Board meeting this week.

Nor was he looking forward to replacing the hundred-million-dollar prototype.

Or the copious amount of ass he was going to be missing by the time the Lord Marshal was done with him.

Edited by Mara Lithaen
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  • 2 months later...

Major Travis Mayhew, head boffin at the IAFRD, railed silently against his current posting in Cameron, Louisiana, preferring to be in Calgary with his factory, where it was at least drier. He wiped sweat from his forehead that had literally just accumulated on the walk from his car to the office-building, and the coolness of the building was a welcome relief. He sat down at his terminal, and pulled up his email, scanning the messages he'd received while he was out at lunch.

[i]Been a long road, getting from there to here. Three years of development on the Comet, and the FCV, and we're only just now ironing out the final kinks... but damn, does this feel good.[/i] he thought to himself, and sighed with a content smile on his face. [i]The fact that I'm going to get part of the profit out of it doesn't hurt, of course.[/i]

He looked out his window, over the churned-up field that would eventually be the Imperial Space Center, out into the Gulf of Mexico. He couldn’t wait to start sending up sounding rockets, all of which would use the Comet-series engines for their propulsion. The aerospike engines, with a lot of development, had turned out to be very, very highly efficient in the upper atmosphere, after you got about a mile off the surface. Beneath that and it wasn’t nearly as efficient, but the same could be said about any and all rockets.

[i]Sometimes I think that the Lunar Republicans had it right,[/i] he thought[i], as there are times I don’t want to live on this planet anymore, either. Others, though…,[/i] he trailed off.[i]At any rate, it won’t be long now before we’re following right up after them… though without the complete removal of our population, at any rate! That has to be costing them like crazy… but then again, probably not.[/i] He concluded, and turned back to his message screen.

First and foremost was a message from the Lord Marshal, congratulating him on his success and yadda yadda yadda, most sincere thanks from the Empress, yadda, oh look, you’re a Lieutenant Colonel now. That perked Travis’ mental ears, and he felt like a well-stroked pup. [i]And the fact that my pay just jumped about ten thousand dollars doesn’t hurt, either.[/i]

He scrolled on and on through the readiness reports, sending out orders and requisitions as he deemed necessary. More high-strength steel for the engine facility in Anchorage, more concrete here, another test stand for Calgary and Bristol Bay… more more more.

His last message read, he leaned back in his chair and saw three hours had passed, and grimaced. He needed to get down to the construction site and see how things were going. [i]They’ll likely get tired of me being underfoot…[/i] he thought sarcastically, and shed his uniform jacket to walk down, waving to Senior Master Sergeant Kolokoltsovna as he passed her desk on his way out.
It won’t be long now…[/i]

Edited by Mara Lithaen
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