Floats Like A Butterfly, Stings Like A Viper
Another Faulcon-Delacy design, the Viper will most likely make its first appearance to a new player as the preferred ship (alongside the Eagle) of most police and system authority forces. It’s also readily available to the beginning player – while it’s not sold in quite as many stations as the Cobra is, the Viper is less than half the price of its ‘big brother’.
Like its ‘brothers’, the Viper maintains the traditional Falucon-Delacy wedge shape as its basic aesthetic. Unlike the Cobra and Sidewinder, however, the Viper is fairly narrow and long, shaped rather like the head of its namesake. The ship’s main engines sit in a pair of pods at the back corners of the ship, protruding slightly from the main hull. This, paired with the ship’s distinctive split extension prow, gives the Viper a character of its own; although clearly a FalDel ‘space wedge’, it’s got its own distinct personality and profile that makes it instantly recognizable. Its default paintjob is a no-nonsense mixture of dull urban greys spiced up with yellow racing stripes. The back of the ship, meanwhile, features the gill-like pattern of thermal dissipation slats found on many FalDel ships – when the ship runs hot in combat, these slats glow as a distinctive set of stripes across the flanks of the ship. All in all, the Viper is a sleek, aggressive craft – downright menacing, really, even (or especially when) you first see it looming on the hangar deck.
The Viper’s cockpit sits surprisingly deep in the ship’s sleek hull. Just sitting into the single seat and looking around confirms the impressions given by the exterior; the ship is a combat ship only, and the aesthetics inside reflect that. The interior surfaces, made of dark, angled gray plastic panels, the control console all gunmetal gray and geometric angles. The only spots of color in the cockpit are the lights of the control panel and a few strategically places rusty orange trim panels and edge stripes – and, of course, the FalDel ‘diving raptor’ symbol, stamped on the central console and marked on the side walls in the same rusty orange. The space itself feels perhaps a little bit cramped, but not terribly so, a little bit more worn and not nearly as sterile as the Eagle’s cockpit. Aside from a few sets of supply straps on the inner walls, there are no places for supplies or personal effects – the pilot of a Viper is clearly expected to be focused on one thing only, doing his job with efficiency. As a little detail, the top edge of the canopy has a pair of handles built into it to make it more easy for a pilot to maneuver himself into and out of the seat in null gravity.
The canopy itself is shaped to conform to the Viper’s sleek hull – it protrudes very little from the general angles of the ship’s armored panels, making it less of a target in a combat situation. Despite this, the pilot has a fairly good line of sight out of the cockpit; your visibility straight up is rather limited, thanks to a thickly-armored panel, and the side walls of the cockpit do limit your line of sight directly to your sides, but you actually have fairly good angles to the diagonal angles between the two. Of course the ship’s hull itself blocks the view directly behind and below you, but all in all the Viper offers you a good look at the universe around you – better than the Adder and Cobra, for certain.
Surprisingly, straight off the factory floor, the Viper isn’t that much heavier or larger than the Eagle -the Viper’s dry mass of 99 tons is only 23,75% greater than the Eagle’s, and much like the Eagle, a Viper can actually fit sideways through the docking aperture of a space station. In fact, the two ships share the same class of thruster array and power generator. However, once you actually fire up the engines, the differences become clear; the Eagle’s thruster array is primarily designed for high agility, tight curves and rapid maneuvers – while the Viper’s is optimized for superior straight-line speed and acceleration. Actually maneuvering the ship feels neat and smooth – although nowhere near the nimbleness of an Eagle, the ship does turn pretty well (if noticeably wider on maximum thrust) and its lateral/vertical thrusters feel fairly well-measured for its mass – but that’s not the main draw here.
Hitting the throttle on a Viper feels like flooring it in a sports car – the ship trembles and howls as it shoots off, accelerating quickly but smoothly and controllably. At a leisurely 2 pips to its engine systems, the ship reaches an impressive 223 meters per second; full power brings you speed cap up to 310 meters per second, and hitting up the boost pushes you up to 388 meters per second – well over Mach 1. Sadly, the ship only maintains this peak for a few moments – although the engine cell recharges fast enough on maximum power that it’s possible for a pilot to pull off two boosts in rapid succession, a trick that can become very handy for a maneuverable combat pilot.
Now, compared to the Cobra MKIII, the Viper has a consistently better turning arc and fares better on cruising under normal power – beating a stock Cobra with the same amount of power directed to its engines – but actually comes off (momentarily) worse when the Cobra hits its boosters, something that’s probably best attributed to the latter’s massive primary engine. All in all, however, the Viper is a relatively lightweight ship with a good-sized thruster array, and compared to the sheer mass of the Cobra, the Viper will be building relatively little momentum, allowing for tighter turns and sharper acceleration/deceleration.
Of course, the Viper has to suffer somewhere – and much like its light fighter counterpart, the Eagle, it’s gotten the short stick when it comes to frameshift jumps. The Viper uses the same kind of a frameshift drive as the Eagle does – a class three – while being near a quarter heavier. In its default configuration, the Viper has the singular honor of having the poorest jump capacity in the game – with its cargo bay empty, the Viper can manage a 6,92 LY jump in one go, over half a light-year less than the starter Sidewinder. Carrying its full 4-ton complement of cargo cuts that further into 6,66 LY. A closer examination indicates that the Viper’s frameshift drive is woefully undersized for the vessel actual – the default class 3E frameshift drive has an optimal mass rating of 80 tons, a rating that the Viper exceeds by 25% when completely dry. Paired with a 4-ton fuel tank and a fuel consumption of 1.2 tons per maximum jump, the ship can also only handle up to three maximum-range jumps without a refuel, too. (The fuel cost of an individual jump, however, remains relatively low.) Fluffwise, this probably makes sense for a law enforcement craft primarily intended to patrol a single system – but of course a more wide-ranging Commander’s first priority should be to upgrade the cheapo model to something actually worthwhile. Upgrading the ship’s systems to lightweight D-grade equipment will alleviate the struggling frameshift drive, and even a class 1 fuel scoop will fill up the 4-ton fuel tank in relatively short order.
Despite sharing a thruster array with the lighter Eagle, the Viper’s drive sound is very distinctive – a deep, low, throaty vibration, rather like the purr of a very big, very happy cat – a sound that rises into a growl when you hit the throttle and peaks into an intense bestial roar with the boosters. Under more casual operation, however, it’s surprisingly quiet for a ship that’s supposed to be about engine power – discounting an interesting quirk, namely, every now and then while dropping out of supercruise and into normal space, the main drive will emit a noise that sounds suspiciously like a Wookiee roar.
A dedicated fighter vessel, the Viper features a total of four hardpoints – two medium and two small hardpoints, the same loadout its ‘big brother’, Cobra, does. This allows the ship to carry a most impressive set of weapons for its size, particularly when considering its impressive top speed and maneuverability. The hardpoints themselves are positioned in an interesting inversion compared to the Cobra hull – the smaller, ‘secondary’ set of weapon hardpoints sits at the customary Falcon-Delacey spot at the nose of the ship, directly below and to the sides of the cockpit. Well-positioned with the slope of the hull in mind, they are, again, capable of shooting at practically any target the pilot can actually see. The larger set of hardpoints, however, sit a ways back on the underside of the hull, directly ahead of the rear landing legs. Much like the Cobra’s secondary hardpoints, the sheer amount of hull above and in front of them limits their firing arcs towards the top of the ship – although they do sit fairly close to the centerline of the ship, not too much further apart than the nose guns.
Besides its weapon mounts, the Viper is equipped with a pair of utility hardpoints for secondary equipment. These are located at the very rear of the ship, on the ship’s top surface. Positioned very near the top angles of the ship’s wedge shape, the two do have fairly good lines of sight – besides the usual equipment, a pair of point defense turrets here would likely be able to protect the vast majority of the ship’s top arc, at the cost of leaving it fairly unprotected against missile attacks from the ship’s bottom front arc.
Besides its fairly impressive hardpoints and utility mounts, the Viper has a.. surprising amount of internal space available, for a dedicated combat ship. The Viper comes with four internal equipment bays total – two class 3 bays, one class 2 bay, and one class 1 bay. Out of these, the stock Viper has three of them filled with a class 3 shield generator, a class 2 (4-ton) cargo rack and a basic discovery scanner. Oddly the cargo rack is actually mounted in one of the class 3 compartments, leaving the class 2 compartment empty.
Actually fitting out the Viper should be relatively straightforwards – it’s a dedicated combat ship, so dakka is the order of the day. The primary hardpoints’ positioning underneath the ship’s ‘wings’ and the general maneuverability of the ship drives me to suggest hard-hitting class 2 directfire weapons in the primary mounts – with your general agility you can bring them to bear most effectively, and weapons like class 2 railguns, cannons and the like pack a downright obscene punch. Dive in for a ‘strafing run’, hit them hard, hit them fast, then use your superior speed and maneuverability to reposition for your next dive while your weapons recharge. Meanwhile, weapons like gimbaled lasers or multicannons of your preferred flavor give you flexible and easy-to-aim ‘fallback’ weapons for the secondary nose guns. Down their shields with the nose guns, line up a shot with the heavy primaries, enjoy those sweet sweet bounty credits. Of course nothing prevents you from mounting quad gimbaled weapons and going with the classic ‘point and shoot’ – your primary weapons can’t fire too far above your waterline, but that doesn’t make them entirely useless down there. Plasma accelerators, cannons and frag cannons will specialize your ship towards fighting heavy, slow-moving single targets or lightly armored, nimble targets, respectively – although so highly target-specific and temperamental weapons will force you to rely on your nose guns more. The general configuration of the hardpoints would also lend itself well to a kind of a ‘strike bomber’ design where you load up the C2 mounts with dumbfire rockets or torpedo pylons and divebomb the hell out of your target.
Meanwhile, having two utility mounts gives you a little bit of more flexibility to toy around with. The mounts’ positioning makes them alright with point defense in mind, should you be worried about opponents with seeker missiles. Otherwise, aim to compliment your given playstyle – a bounty hunter will most definitely appreciate a kill warrant scanner, increasing profits from downing his foes, and possibly a frameshift wake scanner to keep up with more elusive opponents. A privateer/pirate will find a cargo scanner most useful. Chaff launchers will give that little edge against enemies relying on turreted or gimbaled weapons, especially should you go hunting for bigger, heavier targets, and pilots who prefer heat-intensive heavy weapons or rely on stealth will most definitely want to carry a heat sink launcher.
As for the internal compartments, the Viper has a surprising amount of internal space available to it – for a dedicated fighter. If you absolutely wanted, you could mount a bit more cargo space in order to carry a whopping total of 12 tons of cargo – 14 should you remove the discovery scanner. Although nowhere near the capacity of a Cobra, or even a Hauler, it does open up the potential for neat little side profits between bounty hunting – or privateering. A pirate could carry a limpet controller module and an expanded cargo rack to scoop up choice bits from his or her victims – a class 3 cargo rack, a class 2 limpet controller and a class 1 cargo rack would net you a total of 10 tons of cargo space, something that can fetch quite the nice profit on the black market.. should you manage to fill it with gold, coffee, tobacco or similar luxury goods. Alternatively, you could utterly and totally frustrate your enemies by mounting secondary equipment like field repair systems and/or shield cells to extend your longevity on the battlefield. A skilled pilot in a Viper is deadly – a skilled pilot in a Viper capable of self-repairing damaged systems and regenerating its shields is a nightmare. (Generally speaking, shield cell banks are just so good right now that if you intend to fly in combat, you will want at least one of them.)
However, there is a catch – isn’t there always? Most of the Viper’s equipment is class 3 or 2, and while upgrades are cheap, many of the vital systems – such as the thrusters and the frameshift drive- are running on fairly narrow margins. The power generator, though sufficient for the stock configuration’s needs, quickly hits its output ceiling when mounting the ship’s full possible weapon compliment and does run fairly hot. Although the stock ship by itself is relatively cheap, the pilot must be careful when purchasing upgrades – it’s easy to find yourself going over one tonnage limit or another, particularly when purchasing heavier armor for the ship. On the other hand, when compared to the Cobra, the Viper’s reliance on lighter, lower-class equipment and its generally lower mass and tonnage means you’re carrying all the firepower you could potentially fit on a Cobra in a package that’s noticeably harder to hit – and more importantly, costs considerably less to purchase and upgrade.
Oh, it’s on. Fighting in a Viper is fun, in that adrenaline-fueled, slightly spastic kind of a way – there’s an even chance that you’re fastest thing out there, and the sheer amount of firepower carried by the ship, coupled with its speed and agility, makes it a very, very deadly customer. Agility-wise, the ship falls somewhere between the Eagle and the Cobra, not quite as nimble as the former but definitely more maneuverable than the latter. The superior speed also gives you the ability to pretty much dictate your engagements to your liking – anything you do not outgun, you can outrun. Your sheer speed and straight-line acceleration makes it very easy to disengage from a fight that’s going sour, angle yourself for a more favorable approach, and strike again from unexpected angles – let alone keeping up with fleeing enemies. Also, the shield generator on the Viper feels surprisingly beefy; you can absorb a lot of punishment for a ship of its size before you start taking hull damage, making for a fairly robust platform when paired with the ship’s natural agility.
In its default configuration, however, the Viper is far from an endurance fighter – my first trial run with the ship involved running simply quad class 1 gimbaled burst lasers and I actually had to keep an eye on my temperature gauge. The stock power plant’s heat radiator simply isn’t quite effective enough to handle four energy weapons – let alone two medium guns in addition to lights – and should be one of your first priorities for an upgrade, directly after the frameshift drive. The default power distributor also has a bit of trouble keeping up with four guns, but that is thankfully a relatively cheap upgrade. Nevertheless, the Viper is quite the deadly ship even in its fresh-from-the-factory configuration, once you fill out all those weapon mounts – with a bit of love and care, it can doubtlessly be an extraordinarily powerful tool for the right pilot.
Putting It All Together
Far from being a mere watered-down version of the Cobra, the Viper is a powerful, vicious, razor-focused combat vessel that most definitely can stand on its own feet – only hampered by a relatively undersized power generator and frameshift drive. If you like the idea of a tough little ship with all the firepower of a Cobra, sheer balls-to-the-wall speed like nothing else in the game, and the operating costs of an Eagle – by all means, give this slick customer a go.
Falcon DeLacy ‘Viper MKIII’ Heavy Fighter
Price: 142,931 credits
Hardpoints: 2x C2, 2x C1, 2 utility mounts
Internal Compartments: 2x C3, 1x C2, 1x C1
Mass: 99,5 tons (106,5 tons fully laden)
Cargo Capacity: 4 tons (22 tons max)
Fuel Capacity: 4 tons
Jump Range: 6,92 LY unladen (6,66 LY fully laden)
Top Speed: 310 m/sec / 388 m/sec boost
Power Plant Output: 8,00 MW (6,19 MW / 77,3% used)
2x class 1 weapon mounts: Empty
2x class 2 weapon mounts: 2x C1F Fixed Pulse Laser
2x utility mount: Empty
Power Plant (Class-3): C3E
Thrusters (Class-3): C3E
Frameshift Drive: C3E
Life Support (Class-2): C2E
Power Distributor (Class-3): C3E
Sensor Suite (Class-3): C3E
Fuel Tank (Class-2): C2 (4 tons)
2x Internal Bay (Class-3): C2 Cargo Rack (4 tons), C3E Shield Generator
2x Internal Bay (Class-1): Empty
1x Internal Bay (Class-1): C1E Basic Discovery Scanner
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by CMDR Zhor.