I absolutely adore Gerry Anderson’s works and one of my favourites is Space Precinct from the mid 1990s. While the series was about a bunch of cops policing the tough multi-species metropolis of Demeter City on the planet Altor, the stories often had much more to offer the sci-fi aficionado. In the last episode, “Deathwatch”, we got to see albeit briefly the Scorpion bomber which despite only being on screen for around a minute or so had always captured my imagination.
Rewatching the show in 2018 I was reintroduced to this bomber again and I decided to do a little digging around the internet on it since there are almost always some kind of history written up about the technology in sci-fi shows to help the writers. However, apart from a bit of how the model was made, this amazing looking bomber has been almost totally overlooked.
Inspired, I therefore decided to write my own history to the Scorpion. Please remember this is all unofficial and should be considered a work of fan fiction. However, I set myself a little challenge while writing it. I tried to incorporate as many Gerry Anderson or other sci-fi references as I could in the article so if you like, try and pick up on them as you read through. Answers at the bottom.
Thanks for visiting.
In 2029, the League of Planets Department of Defence issued a specification for a new power projection platform to replace the Vindicator bomber. The new bomber was to take full advantage of advanced stealth technologies provided by the inclusion of Earth in the aforementioned interplanetary alliance. Known as Requirement S/PP-1984, the specification which was drafted with the assistance of the Military Intelligence Agency (MIA) who provided an analysis on all anticipated threats for the following two decades, outlined the missions the bomber would be expected to undertake.
- Delivery of space-to-surface missiles equipped with a high energy plasma warhead to a launch point close enough to the target where it would bypass the bulk of enemy defences but at the same time minimise the risk to the bomber from defences around the target itself.
- Operate independently in a high electronic warfare environment.
- Possess the latest sensor masking technology to reduce the chances of detection to a bare minimum and further inhibit an enemy’s ability to target weapons on the bomber.
- Provide habitation for a crew on an extended mission that would last up to 10 days if necessary.
- Have an unrefuelled range sufficient to operate anywhere within a standard solar system (approx 450 million kilometers).
- Be capable of intersolar system flight with refuelling from a tanker.
- Be capable of operating from a high-G planet with use of a runway or mass driver to assist in take off.
At the time of Earth joining the League of Planets, the Vindicator bomber built by the Creon Heavy Technologies Consortium was the primary solar and intersolar system power projection platform in use by the League’s military forces. This triangular war machine had served with distinction in a number of conflicts most notably during the Phylassic Wars where they engaged in controversial area bombardment missions.
The Vindicator had always used speed as its primary defence but by the dawn of the 2020s, this advantage was quickly being eroded by the latest interceptors and missiles. It was realised in the halls of power at the Department of Defence that no matter how fast a bomber is built the same technology could be applied to the weapons and interceptors aimed at bringing it down. The key therefore was to build a bomber that could slip by an enemy’s defences undetected.
Being relatively late to the game in joining the interstellar community, Earth had to invest heavily in sensor masking technology in order to compensate for their own small fleet of warships compared to other regional powers. Upon joining the League of Planets, this technology was incorporated in a number of Vindicator bombers but the result was never ideal. Human and Creon technology was extremely incompatible resulting in the masking systems having to function independently of the Vindicator’s main computer. Nevertheless it did breathe new life in to the Vindicator allowing it to remain effective while the new bomber was designed and built.
With so much emphasis placed on Earth’s masking technology, Earth’s aerospace companies were in a prime position to bid for the contract. Resistance among the League’s council to giving the still inexperienced Earth the contract was strong however with several member worlds headed by Danae supporting the main contract being again awarded to Creon Heavy Technologies Consortium (CHTC) with Earth being drafted in as a subcontractor to apply the masking technology.
The CHTC felt confident of success and tried to dictate nearly every aspect of the contract to the council while Earth’s two main bidders – Tracey Air & Space Ltd. and Spectrum Technologies – were more accommodating. With the frustration with CHTC growing, the council decided to go with the Spectrum Technologies proposal although both CHTC and Tracey Air & Space would receive subcontracts to manufacture certain components.
Initial research and development was carried out by Spectrum at their Cambridge, England (right) facility while computer and scale model testing was conducted by the Kiev Institute of Space Travel Research in Ukraine. Construction of the first prototype was delayed by a lack of suitable factories on Earth forcing Spectrum to enlist the Lunar Shuttle Company on Earth’s moon to build it to allow testing to begin.
The first prototype was completed in early 2335 and was then loaded on to a freighter for transportation to the Mirren Audax Test Facility on New Hawaii. The first flight was conducted with famed Tarn test pilot Major Penthree and was considered a great success allowing an extensive test program to begin the lessons of which were applied to the second prototype while it was under construction on Earth’s moon.
The new bomber was nearly twice the length of the previous Vindicator and when on the ground sat considerably higher. The main fuselage was almost triangular in shape with the wide rear section narrowing to a blunt front section where the cockpit was located. This fuselage was surrounded by a flat plat like structure where not only were the wings attached but also housed the omni-directional sensor array and two prong-like sensor masking plasma generators on the nose that allowed the bomber to absorb hostile sensor signals rendering it all but invisible.
While the bomber would primarily take off and land vertically with ten equally spaced Tracey Air & Space Ltd. TB-2 thrusters embedded in the lower fuselage, it also featured large forward sweeping wings and canards which would allow it to fly and land in an atmosphere like a traditional aeroplane if the thrusters were damaged. Theoretically the bomber could still land safely if four of the thrusters were offline with vectored thrust vanes compensating for any imbalance in vertical thrust. Each thruster exhaust was covered over when the bomber was in flight by a tightly fitting door. The wings were constructed of Tritanium and had flaps for atmospheric control although until they were needed they were locked in place. If the bomber was operating in a high-G environment then these wings would provide additional lift during a rolling take off or with the assistance of a mass driver that would catapult it in to the air.
The landing gear of the bomber comprised six sets of bogies. The main fuselage had two sets at the rear each with six heavy duty tyres while at the front another two sets had four tyres that sat side by side behind the cockpit compartment. Each wing had another bogie with six tyres located in the mid section and this arrangement allowed the bomber to land safely if one of the rear bogies was damaged or malfunctioned. The bomber could also land with just one forward bogie extended. Unless conducting a rolling landing the wheels were all locked in place meaning they acted like skids during a vertical landing/take off.
Forward propulsion was provided by a bank of six Zodiac XL5 nutomic reaction engines mounted in the lower half of the rear fuselage. These engines were powerful enough to allow the bomber to achieve orbit in a 1G environment even if two of them were offline. In space, they were capable of propelling the bomber up to 41m/kph allowing it to traverse a standard sized solar system such as Earth’s in around 11 hours. During early test flights from Mirren Audax the engines were found to not be as powerful as they had been during ground tests. An investigation found that the Spectrum engineers had used a different throttle body for the ground tests which was more efficient than the one actually fitted to the bomber which were subsequently replaced. The main engines also provided thrust to the reaction control system (RCS) thrusters that manoeuvred the bomber in space. Fuel, lubrication and cooling of the engines was provided by a service module located between the weapons bay and the cockpit.
Typical crew complement of the bomber was four. At the front of the cockpit on the left sat the mission commander who was primarily responsible for flying the bomber and was the most senior crewmember. To the right of the pilot sat the co-pilot who assisted the pilot in flight operations while they commanded the mission. Behind the pilot sat the Defensive Systems Operator (DSO) who as the name implies was responsible for defending the bomber from attack using the advanced electronic warfare suite onboard and was also in charge of the sensor masking system. Behind the co-pilot sat the Weapons Officer who was responsible for both offensive and defensive weapons (in the latter case he/she was subordinate to the DSO). There was a 5th member of the crew in the form of a Robotical Engineering Assistant (REA), a small
robot similar to the so-called “Slomo” robot secretaries found in most businesses and police precincts. The REA can squeeze in to almost any area of the service module of the bomber located behind the cockpit to conduct repairs. Most crews added an unofficial program to their REAs that allowed them to make coffee and sandwiches for the crew while they manned their stations. Behind the flight deck was a small living space with two bunks, a toilet and food preparation facilities for extended missions. In the event of the main fuselage suffering catastrophic damage the cockpit could be separated and act as a lifeboat. While the ordinary person may view the cockpit as claustrophobic, crews transitioning from the Vindicator actually praised its ergonomics.
The new bomber finally got its name when the Department of Defence saw that the weapons bay was mounted in the rear of the fuselage and protruded upwards when it was time to fire. Thus the Spectrum SB-2 Scorpion bomber was born.
The offensive capabilities of the Scorpion was centred around the Aculeus modular weapon system (Aculeus is the Latin name for a Scorpion’s stinger). This gave the Scorpion multiple weapon options with rearmament being made simpler and easier by the whole assembly being easily removed by crane and replaced with a pre-prepared one in under fifteen minutes. The main weapon the designers had in mind for the Scorpion was the Fireflash-3 missile which came in two variants; a ground attack version which had a blast radius of over a mile and an anti-ship version for engaging enemy capital ships. Other weapon options included unguided saturation bombs that were ejected with the Scorpion inverted in relation to the target and batteries of up to 44 Wasp multi-role missiles that could be used against both surface targets and high agility fighter or interceptor class craft. These weapons coupled with its masking technology gave the Scorpion a potent air defence capability. The Scorpion usually carried at least eight Wasp missiles for defensive purposes located abreast of the launch rails for the Fireflash-3s.
As testing neared its conclusion in 2338, the first production models were assembled at Spectrum’s new factory in Venezuela on Earth paid for by the League of Planet’s Industry Development Fund. The first squadron selected to transition from the Vindicator to the Scorpion was the 58th Squadron of the 1701st Combat Wing based on Altor. By 2340, conversion to the new bomber was complete with 12 Scorpions on strength. Early in the year the bombers participated in Exercise Golden Shield IV where they were tested against the best the League of Planets had to offer. The Scorpion performed admirably being able to penetrate enemy defences in 7.8 out of 10 missions.
Training became a reality when a few weeks later, the League of Planets mobilised in the wake of the Omera crisis. An aggressive race, the Omera had set up a staging post in the Straits of Nebulon preparing for an invasion of Altor but when the Demeter City Police Department’s 88th precinct discovered Omera operatives in the metropolis they were questioned by the Military Intelligence Agency (MIA) and the staging area’s location was discovered. Five Scorpions and six Vindicators attacked the staging area, targeting a number of Omera ships in orbit of Nebulon Moon-44 which allowed the marines to land and capture the remaining Omera.
Later that same year, Altor was again threatened but this time from a parasitic lifeform that travelled to the planet on a meteorite and had the power to either consume or take control of all lifeforms. A rogue MIA operative named Captain Tara Weldon and again members of the DCPD’s 88th precinct were able to destroy the lifeform before it burst open to consume the planet but not before a Scorpion (callsign Gamma-Hydra) was scrambled to eradicate it with a Fireflash-3 missile. Operating in orbit of Altor, the crew were forbidden from using their masking technology because of the risk to the dense civilian traffic. This allowed Weldon to detect the bomber and with the DCPD’s help destroy the missile before it became a threat to the people on the ground but it was a close call.
The Scorpion is now fully embedded in the bombardment units of the League of Planets while the venerable Vindicator is bowing out gracefully. While no one knows what the future may bring, the people of the League can rest a little easier knowing this warbird is on the frontlines protecting them.
In case you missed them…
- The Vindicator bomber is actually the B3 from the movie Broken Arrow with a red tint to give it an alien look. The bombers in the book Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler were also known as Vindicators.
- The Phylassic Wars were mentioned in the episode “The Power” by Captain Podley.
- Tracey Air & Space Ltd – a reference to the Tracey family from Gerry Anderson’s legendary Thunderbirds.
- Spectrum Technologies – a reference to the Spectrum agency from Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlett.
- The picture of a futuristic Cambridge is from the last episode of Star Trek The Next Generation “All Good Things”.
- Mirren Audax is the name of a website run by artist, friend and fellow Gerry Anderson fan Tim Parker from Edinburgh. Check out his incredible work on his own WordPress site. (Click here)
- The Tarn test pilot “Penthree” is inspired by Gerry Anderson’s Stingray which launches from Pen 3 of Marineville.
- The TB-2 thrusters are a nod to Thunderbird 2 – the heavy lifter of the Thunderbirds so it seemed apt.
- Tritanium is a material from Star Trek
- Zodiac XL5 nutomic reaction engines – all references from Anderson’s Fireball XL5. Steve Zodiac commanded the ship which was powered by nutomic engines.
- Fireflash-3 was the name of an airliner in the Thunderbirds episode “Operation Crash Drive”. There also was a British missile called Fireflash which I have written about on Defence of the Realm. (Click here)
- Wasp missiles – a reference to Stingray’s World Aquanaut Security Patrol.
- 58th Squadron is inspired by the squadron from Space Above and Beyond. 1701st gets you no prizes for guessing the Star Trek reference.
- The Omera crisis occurred in the Space Precinct episode “Seek and Destroy”. At the end of the episode Podley says that a battalion from the League of Planets destroyed the Omera in the Straits of Nebulon.
- Moon-44 is a reference to Roland Emmerich’s cult movie Moon 44 starring Malcolm McDowell. Check it out its pretty good.
- The alien parasite refers to events in the last episode of Space Precinct where we see the Scorpion bomber.