Airborne Aircraft Carriers are Cool!

There’s a point on Sunday afternoons when there’s really nothing to do and a certain special brand of ennui sets in. It’s too late in the day to start on anything, since you won’t have time to finish it before having to go to bed to be ready for work the next day, you’ve checked all of your regular web haunts as many times as you usefully can and it’s not prime time yet so there’s nothing on TV but kids’ show, motorsports and (for some insane reason) lawn bowls.

(Who watches lawn bowls?)

When faced with this of late I’ve been doing the only logical thing, and watching the kid’s shows.

There are two in particular that I’ve been enjoying, in a sort of world-weary, ironic, hipster fashion. Class of the Titans and Iron Man: Armoured Adventures.

Class of the Titans is your typical “band of random teenagers develop super powers, become best friends and have to learn how to use said powers to save the world” type thing. What makes it interesting though is its reliance on ancient Greek mythology. Each of the… uh… seven I think? Let’s say seven. Each of the seven characters is a descendent of an ancient Greek hero (Jason, Odysseus, Heracles, Achilles, Atalanta, Theseus and Narcissus – hey that is seven! ), and the big bad guy is a portmateau of the titan Cronus, the god Chronos and Roger Delgado.

The plots are fairly predictable but it’s fun to see what characters/creatures from the myths turn up, how accurate they are to said myths (often not very) and how Cronus works them into his evil schemes.

Iron Man: Armoured Adventures is a CGI series rendered to look something like traditional animation. This gives it a really weird look – it takes a while to get used to – and means the characters don’t have much in the facial expressions department. But it’s entertaining enough for twenty minutes.

It’s basically a reinterpretation of the whole Iron Man story, with a teenaged Tony Stark flying around in his suit saving the world in between attending classes and inventing things in his secret headquarters.  Comic relief is supplied by a hyperactive Pepper Potts who’s so annoying that several supervillains have been tempted to kill her just to shut her up and S.H.I.E.L.D threw her off their helicarrier.

And, that bring us to the real meat of this post. Helicarriers.

(Although before we talk about them, can I just say that the Iron Man theme is absolutely dreadful? “He’s a man on a mission, in armour of high-tech ammunition” High-tech ammunition!? What? His suit is made of bullets?!)

OK, helicarriers. “Helicarrier” is the term used in the Marvel comic setting for S.H.I.E.L.D’s big-ass flying base, more or less an aircraft carrier fitted with massive helicopter engines that keep it continually aloft. What interests me however is the appearance of similar vehicles throughout fiction. This isn’t going to be a definitive round up because I’m lazy, I’m just going to mention some that I’m aware of.

The earliest helicarrier has to be the Albatross from Jules Verne’s Robur-le-Conquérant (Robur the Conqueror also known as The Clipper of the Clouds). Published in 1886 it’s a sort of airborne sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea where a couple of lighter than air flight enthusiasts and their (unfortunately quite racistly depicted) servant are abducted by a mysterious, powerful and dangerously insane inventor who takes them around the world on his magnificent flying machine – the aforementioned Albatross.

The Albatross consists of a boatlike hull held aloft by dozens of helicopter blades on tall poles. While not a carrier (although I seem to recall it carries a few smaller craft for quick transport back and forth from the ground) it can be considered as the prototype for all helicarrier type craft to follow.

(It’s also made almost entirely from paper – if you want the details, track down the book).

The next helicarrier is Cloudbase from Gerry Anderson’s 1967-1968 supermarionation TV series Captain Scarlet. The series focused around an international security organisation by the name of Spectrum defending the earth against attack by the Mysterons, a race of Martians that could remotely recreate and control any destroyed person or object on Earth.

Spectrum operated from Cloudbase, a flying airfield virtually identical in concept to Marvel’s helicarrier. It’s possible that Gerry Anderson picked up the idea from Marvel as their carrier first appeared in 1965 – although it could just as easily be one of those ideas whose time had come (like chlorofom – go on, look it up!).

The final helicarrier I want to mention is the Valiant from the resurrected Dr Who. This U.N.I.T facility was built by the Master (under the guise of Harold Saxon) and used in his  scheme to take over the world in the 2 parter The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords. It reappears in The Poison Sky and is reported destroyed in The Stolen Earth. The influence of Marvel’s helicarrier on the Valiant cannot reasonably be denied, although there are plenty of similarities to Cloudbase as well.

So yeah, helicarriers.

As a final note, flying aircraft carriers do not exclusively belong to the realms of fiction. Various militaries around the world have experimented with them, usually in the form of modified heavy bomber aircraft carrying small fighters in their holds. The main problem with such implementations is getting the fighters  back into the mother ship, which is the reason the concept has never really been adopted (apart from in the Japanese Kamikaze program where, for obvious reasons, getting the planes back wasn’t an issue).

An exception did exist for a while with airships. The US Navy operated a couple of airship carriers in the early 1930’s, the Akron and the Macon. Both were capable of carrying, launching and recovering four biplanes. Both ships were destroyed in storms and the Hindenburg disaster put paid to airships not long afterwards.

That’s it. Go and make your own entertainment! 😀

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