Airsleds and Thread Fighting
Written by Melissa

‘Sleds’ are the major form of transportation, or individuals and materiel, over long distances on Pern. They are more accurately known as atmosphere planes, as they are incapable of space flight; in fact, as the Pernese were not anticipating the need for aerial combat, the majority of sleds are unpressurized and thus have an effective flight ceiling of about 10 000 feet.

In shape, sleds are similar to stealth aircraft. There are a handful of different types, and the conformation varies between the small, less-equipped but speedier single/double pilot sleds; the functional medium-sized ones; and the slower, cargo-carrying large ones full of equipment. Small single/double pilot sleds are generally of three conformations: flying wing, delta wing, and aero-diamond (such as Storm Shadow, Black Manta and B2 Spirit jets); larger sleds tend towards an X-29 Switchblade swing-wing design, which can change conformation, through adjusting wing orientation, for a variety of tasks. One important difference between the sleds and earlier aircraft is that the sleds run on small power packs hooked up in a trunk in the power locker at the rear of the vehicle; thus, the extensive fuel-housing accommodations of early planes were made redundant. As a result, sleds fuselages could be made much smaller and sleeker.

A release button on the exterior of the plane is depressed to gain access to the vehicle; it causes the canopy over the cockpit to either slide back or pop up. Larger sleds also have rear doors to get into the passenger and cargo areas. In the cockpit, the pilot sits in front of a steering yoke and control panel with an array of fancy gadgetry, including the power toggle (to turn the sled on), ‘fuel’ gauge, altimeter, speed indicator, accelerometer, pressure gauges, temperature gauges, engine switches, warning lights, and landing gear toggle. In addition, there is the more recently-rigged panel of flamethrower controls including an HNO3 level indicator and the trigger buttons. ‘Cruise control’ warnings were added in to alert pilots when they stray from their assigned altitude in the fighting squadrons, and proximity sensors give warning to keep sleds from crashing into one another. Each sled is equipped with comm.units for all crew members.

Flamethrowers are mounted on the underside of the sled, 2 forward and one aft. These cause the sleds to be nose-heavy, so safety harnesses are to be worn at all times, especially during takeoff and landing when unexpected gusts of wind can flip the smaller sleds. Safety harnesses consist of a flexible siliplastic webbing that fits around the torso.

Sleds have incredible flexibility in terms of speed. The are capable of cruising along at anything from a few kilometers per hour all the way up to a cool Mach 3, depending on the model in question. However, as higher speeds drain the power packs faster, moderation in speed is the rule.

Power Packs
The power packs which run the sleds also run a variety of other equipment, and come in many sizes because of this. Small ones can be linked to provide power to larger equipment if a full-sized pack is unavailable. Essentially, power packs are fancy rechargeable batteries. They are of alien design that incorporates technology beyond Pern’s ability to reproduce, so once the packs reach the end of their useful life (originally projected to be 50 years from Landing, now revised to roughly half that with the current demand) that’s all, folks! Sleds can be rigged by proficient engineers to run off of the fuel sacks which powered the shuttles, but there is little of this sort of fuel left. A fully-charged power packs can last many hours, depending on the demands put upon it; under Threadfighting sled conditions, the packs last about 6 hours, more or less the length of a Fall (fortunately!). They must then be recharged, which is done in a large room off of Oceanside Cavern; this process can take from several hours to several days (the latter if a pack is fully exhausted, which is best avoided).

Threadfighting tactics
Sled-based Threadfighting comprises mostly formation tactics. Squadrons of 7 sleds in a stacked wedge formation fly at 100-meter altitude intervals, back and forth across the 50 km-wide Thread corridor. Each squadron has a leader appointed by the Commander, who oversees the entire sled contingent (in DD, this was Kenjo Fusaiyaki). This wedge is fortunately economical on the power packs, preventing a lot of wasteful zipping around, as well as reducing midair collisions and accidental injury of firelizard helpers.

Each sled is manned by one pilot and one or two (fore and aft, or port and starboard) gunners, though these tasks may be switched off to prevent boredom and resulting carelessness in Fall. The best pilots are assigned to fly close to the ground, using a more dogfighting-oriented approach to clean up Thread that eludes the formations higher above. Only the small and medium sized sleds are used, as the large ones are too slow and unmaneuverable.

After the Fall is over, the pilots drop altitude and cruise back over the corridor, checking for burrows to alert the groundcrews of, who then head out on the speedy ground-skimmers to take care of it with HNO3 throwers and enthusiastic firelizards.

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