Bird of Prey
The Vulture space superiority fighter sacrifices hard point flexibility for maneuverability. Advanced manufacturing techniques have allowed the Vulture to integrate large hardpoints into its relatively small frame, offsetting the ship’s limited weapon count. The Vulture excels in the role of a heavy fighter in strike missions against larger, well defended targets, but its nimble flight characteristics make it equally devastating against smaller targets. A limited cargo hold and passenger capability has not stopped it becoming a preferred personal transport for those who like to project a certain attitude in their dealings. -In-Game Description
Interrupting our regularly scheduled (ha, as if!) broadcast, I took the option of jumping into the preliminary beta test of the 1.2 ‘Wings’ update for Elite: Dangerous. Along with a considerably improved multiplayer experience, 1.2 brings along with it two new ships, the Vulture heavy fighter and the Fer-de-Lance luxury gunboat. Note that since this is a beta build, certain things are subject to change; I’ll alter the article later accordingly as new data becomes available and if necessary.
When I first heard of the Vulture, I was expecting something like a bigger, chunkier Eagle. Sleek dagger shapes, raptor wings, all that jazz. Instead – well hello there. I didn’t get what I expected, but I’m far from complaining.
The basic shape of the Vulture, on the first glance, is yet another space wedge – a long, pointed arrowhead-like shape. Angled armored midnight blue plates with silver trim cradle a distinctive angled cockpit canopy near the front end of the ship, flanked by two absolutely massive gun mounts. Basically, the main hull of the ship seems to consist of two triangular plates of armor, stacked on top of one another, sandwiching a pair of hilariously oversized weapon hardpoints with multisegmented covers (which seem to take up about a quarter of the ship’s top surface!) and a pair of absolutelyfuckinglutely massive engine cells. I’m inclined to say that the Vulture was less designed to carry a pair of large hardpoints and more that it’s an exercise where some engineer decided to see exactly how small of a ship you could build around the guns.
Pictured: Giant fucking space guns
Personally, I like the looks of the ship – there’s a neat contrast between the harshly angled, geometric shapes of the blue-and-silver armor plates, flaring into distinctive short quad wing-fins near the back, the shining silver shapes of the ship’s spine and cockpit canopy and duller, darker gunmetal workings of the ship’s flanks. Even the distinctive split prowl of the ship angles inwards around the cockpit, giving a the impression of claws – or the sharpened mandibles of a biting insect. It feels less sleek and more compact, a lot of gunship wrapped in a small package – brutal, aggressive, no-nonsense. Frankly it’s just the slightest bit menacing, and in the best possible way – kind of like somebody figured out how to downscale an Imperial Star Destroyer.. or like the Batmobile in space. It’s also a lot smaller than I expected it to be – approximately the size of the Cobra, if longer and more narrow, the Vulture actually fits fairly neatly on a small-size landing pad.
On the inside, however, you can easily tell the Vulture comes from the same people who made the Eagle. The forward command console is built rather like the Eagle’s, shining metal in harshly angled geometrical shapes, padded with hex-patterned carbon fiber. Brushed metal, light gray, the occasional spot of darker midnight blue – orange-glowing holographic status screens hovering over the pilot’s shoulder. It’s clean, sterile, industrial, practical – futuristic in a more harshly military kind of way than the sleek rounded shapes of Imperial technology. The cockpit bay itself seems and feels pretty spacious – it is actually a two-seater cockpit, though it’s a ‘one and one’ setup where the primary pilot seat sits at the nose of the cockpit, a secondary seat directly above and behind them. There seems to be even enough space for a little stairwell aisle to the right of the seats.
The canopy, meanwhile, is sloped and angled rather like that of the Viper, simply scaled up – the pilot’s seat sits fairly deep inside the hull of the ship, meaning the canopy doesn’t protrude too much forward from the actual hull. The bulk of the hull extending to the sides of the canopy does limit your peripheral vision to the sides – particularly if you’re used to the expansive Lakon bubbles – but your higher angles are fairly well-established. Armored panels directly above the seats do hinder your line of sight behind you, but all things considered the view from the cockpit is sufficient for a combat ship – while retaining a sleek enough cockpit profile to not make your canopy too much of an easy target.
Based on the appearance of the ship – the narrow triangular profile, the giant dual engine cell, the general feel of the ship – I was expecting something like a bigger, nastier Viper. Instead, the Vulture is essentially a bigger, nastier Eagle. First of all, for a dedicated fighter, the Vulture is surprisingly slow – at 2 pips to its engines, the ship flies around at a stately 210 m/sec, about on-par with the 2-pip speed of the Eagle. However, bringing the drives up to full pips only brings your speed up at about 220 meters per second – and dropping to nothing in the engines will still give you 200. Hitting the boosters, of course, kicks you out to 340 meters per second, and the sheer mass and inertia of the ship lets you maintain the peak for quite some time. Bottom line is that the Vulture doesn’t actually care that much of your engine power setting, speed-wise – your agility and maneuverability do suffer, but your straightline acceleration, deceleration and top speed remain relatively unchanged whether or not you’re running at full or null power. In ‘normal’ 2-pip drive, you’re about as fast as an Eagle, perhaps even just a little bit faster, but the moment the Eagle drives more power into its engines, it’ll lose you – not to mention what’ll happen with anything like a Viper.
Of course, that class-5 thruster array has to count for something – and like its smaller brother, the Vulture does come out on top in pure maneuverability. It’s quickly apparent where all that power has gone – you almost have more power for lateral slides and vertical hops that forwards/backwards momentum, and despite the sheer mass of the ship the Vulture handles beautifully when it comes to rapid maneuvers. Bobbing, dodging, weaving, twisting, squirming, drifting and powersliding, the ship can make an utterly frustrating target to hit – or try and shake off your ass – as long as the pilot knows what they’re doing. You’re certainly carrying a lot of weight for a ship of its size, but the sheer power in your lateral thrusters is perfectly capable of offsetting that when called upon.
Meanwhile, fighter-type ships have been traditionally shafted when it comes to frameshifting – and the Vulture isn’t really an exception. In its default configuration, the Vulture is capable of jumping 7.75 light years in one go – carrying its full cargo complement of 8 tons will drop that down to 7.39 LY. It still beats the Viper’s default laden range of 6.66 LY, but not by too much. Refitting the ship can increase your jump range to 15 to 17 LY in a single jump, depending on how you fit it, but in practice you shouldn’t expect a combat-fit Vulture to get more than 12 LY out of a single jump – it’s certainly not terribly bad, but it’s nothing to write home about, either. Meanwhile, the Vulture’s C4 frameshift unit (identical to the Cobra’s) will eat up up to two tons of fuel in a single jump – paired with the ship’s 8-ton fuel tank, this can make it difficult to travel long distances, especially in sparsely populated regions. An explorer, the Vulture is not.
Finally, Frontier has made a point of making each ship not only look and handle different from the others, but they’ve also put plenty of work into making sure the ships sound different from one another. Here, the Vulture is no exception. Lifting off your pad, throttling up the main engine, the ship reminds me slightly of the Cobra – there’s a familiar bass thrum to the drives, throaty, aggressive, not loud but powerful – right until you start turning the ship. I’m not quite sure what the engineers at Core Dynamics have been up to, but the maneuver thrusters fire with distinctive, raspy, high-pitched shrieking and squawking sounds – flipping the ship around and turning into a nose-dive actually makes it sound like its namesake. Meanwhile, firing up the boosters turns the dull bass rumble into a throaty roar overlain with the twang and tick-tick-tick of stressed metal. It’s not quite as bad as the Cobra (which can and will sound like it’s about to shake itself apart from the sheer strain) but it does kind of drive point the whole ‘built around the engine arrays’ thing.
Ahhh, the meat and potatoes of any fighter – and the most distinctive part of the Vulture. The whole point of the ship is that it’s more or less literally built around a pair of absolutely gigantic C3 guns – sacrificing flexibility for sheer, utter, overwhelming firepower. The hardpoints themselves utterly dominate the upper armor surface of the ship; what looks like a whole quarter of each armor panel simply retracts and slides away in neat segments, baring cavernous spaces for the guns. (Amusingly enough, the ship comes loaded up by default with a simple pair of fixed C1 pulse lasers, which look absolutely tiny in their housings). Angle-wise, they seem well located on the ship – above and behind the nose cockpit, about halfway down the length of the ship. Keeping the slope of the hull in mind, they’re well-suited for both fixed and gimbaled weapons – anything you can see, you can shoot at, including targets slightly underneath the ‘waterline’ of the hull. They also wouldn’t feel too bad for turreted weapons – though with the sheer agility of the ship, it feels kind of a superfluous choice. My only gripe with them is that they’re perhaps just a little bit further away from one another than I would’ve liked – fixed weapons seem to have a little bit of trouble converging on smaller targets like Eagles, Haulers or Sidewinders. Of course bringing just one class-3 gun on such a target is going to absolutely ruin their day, but it still feels kind of a waste. Gimbals, of course, will not have this problem – but you’re trading away firepower and making yourself more vulnerable to chaff and the like. Whether the tradeoffs are worth the benefits is, of course, entirely up to the pilot themselves.
Besides its main draw, the Vulture features four utility mounts – a surprising number for a ship its size. Arranged in pairs, one set of utility hardpoints sits near the front of the ship, immediately on either side of the cockpit; the other sits about two thirds down the length of the hull, immediately behind the main weapon mounts. This arrangement sets up nice overlapping fire arcs above the ship – the rearmost point defense mounts sit at the corner of the hull slope, giving them the chance to fire directly behind the vessel – but leaves the belly of the ship relatively unprotected. Of course, factoring in the sheer maneuverability of the ship this isn’t as large of a downside as you might initially think.
Internally speaking, the Vulture has a surprising amount of internal compartment space, but comes short when compared to ships like the Cobra. The largest internal compartment on the ship is a single C5 internal bay (holding, by default, the C5 shield generator), followed by a C4 internal compartment (with a C3 cargo rack in it). Besides these two, the ship has a single C2 internal compartment (with a basic discovery scanner in it) and two (empty) C1 internal compartments.
Actually fitting out the ship is.. not quite as straightforwards as you might expect it to be. A closer examinations of the specs tells us it’s running a pair of absolutely enormous (and power-hungry) C3 large guns off, along with powerful C5 shield generators, thruster arrays and power distributors (!) off a C4 reactor. Although the generators 10.4 MW of power output is easily sufficient at first glance (only 81,25% of the power output is actually used), this doesn’t count in the fact that the default guns on the ship are actually C1 small guns, and upgrading them to C3 weapons (the whole point of the ship) will easily multiply their power requirements. Like with the other fighter-type ships (the Eagle and the Viper), the Vulture is running on a relatively tight power budget.
My personal recommendation here is that the ship is quite literally built around its weapons, and you should design your fit accordingly. First order of business is upgrading your power generator and distributor to A-rank as quickly as possible. This is followed by mounting the guns you actually want to use on the ship – after that, you can upgrade the rest of your systems and mount utility equipment depending on exactly how much power you have available. Fiddling with your power settings can eke you a little bit of extra power – I have my cargo hatch, fuel scoop, frameshift drive and frameshift interdictor set up at priority 3, my guns, K-scanner and shield cell bank at priority 2, and the rest of my equipment at priority 1. This way when I deploy my hardpoints, my frameshift drive and the like shut off automatically – and automatically come back online when I close my hardpoints. This setup also means you’re unlikely to be left dead in the water if your power generator takes damage.
As for the specific weapons to use, this depends entirely on your personal preferences – and the kind of a target you intend to be engaging. A complete lack of ‘secondary’ weapons means either using paired weapons (and remaining relatively inflexible) or devoting a whole half of your firepower to a ‘secondary’ weapon – the choice is entirely up to you. Mere humble C3 pulse lasers are a simple, easy and cheap option, while remaining highly energy-efficient – burst and beam lasers of course do more damage at the cost of producing extra heat and demanding more from an already overtaxed generator. Either way, the lasers’ lack of ammunition dependancy also makes them an attractive choice. Meanwhile, C3 cannons consume even less power than lasers, but are difficult to aim with and have a relatively short ammo pool – but if you do know how to use them, the so called boomture is capable of absolutely mauling ships of almost any class. Dual C3 plasma cannons (the plasmature?) would certainly also work, though their (in)famous heat output and power consumption make fitting them even more of an exercise in working the fit around the guns. C3 frag cannons are also certainly available, though their absurdly low ammo capacity renders them more of a comedy gimmick option in case you really, really want to fly a Doom 2 Super Shotgun. Of course, you always have the option of running C2 weapons – but at that point, it’s honestly better to go for a Viper and carry some secondaries with them.
Besides the guns, the rest of your equipment will have to depend on the role you’re going for and the amount of power and space you have left. it’s highly tempting to stuff a C4 shield cell bank in that class-4 internal bay, but oftentimes you simply won’t have enough power; it’s better to go either with a class-3 or even a class-2 cell bank, leaving the C4 bay free for other options. If you intend to do bounty hunting, a frame shift interdictor paired with a K-scanner is always a good option. Pirates will probably want to consider a C-scanner and a limpet controller, paired with a cargo bay – the class-4 bay means you’re still able to carry a ‘reasonable’ amount of cargo, at the price of combat efficiency or durability.
One option that’s actually very attractive to the Vulture, introduced along with it in the 1.2 update, are hull reinforcement packages. Each package basically sacrifices an internal bay and some ship tonnage in favor of adding extra hull health – and this bonus stacks in case of multiple packages. As the reinforcements consume no power at all, they’re an easy-to-fit option for a pure combat ship like the Vulture, and paired with the ship’s already impressive shields (and potential armor upgrades) can make you a frustratingly difficult target to actually take out. Shield boosters, however, while attractive, tend to take too much power for the Vulture’s already-limited generator to handle – personally I just go with a pair of point defense cannons to reduce missile threat and trust in my ‘natural’ shields and reinforced hull.
I’m sorry, I had to. Flying the Vulture in combat is fun, in a deliciously evil way. While you’re a little slow getting from A to B, once you reach a target, you can absolutely maul most kinds of targets. Even basic pulse or burst lasers will simply melt most targets at class-3. Paired with the ship’s innate agility and maneuverability, those of us who’ve enjoyed flying ships like the Eagle and Viper will be right at home in the Vulture – there’s a certain adrenaline-driven haze it, jinking and weaving and twirling around asteroids and the remains of exploded ships, dodging stutters of multicannon fire, point defense screaming at inbound missiles. I simply hopped into my Vulture to test it at a resource extraction site, blowing my way through dropships and clippers, assisting a wing of ISS ships in taking down an Anaconda, slaughtering my way through pirate Sidewinders and Cobras – it was, honestly speaking, the most fun I’ve had in the game for a long, long time.
Besides superior agility and firepower, the Vulture is tough. The C5 shield generator the ship comes with makes for a barrier that can absorb downright obscene amounts of punishment. Paired with the ship’s relatively compact size and sturdy hull – well, you have about three times the effective health of a Viper in a package not much larger than it. On the flipside, while the shield bubble is capable of sustaining plenty of damage before going down, it’ll also take a good while to charge itself back up – it can take nearly a minute to raise your shields after they’ve been brought down, so plan accordingly and make sure to pack shield cells. You’re also small and nimble enough to take advantage of a chaff launcher, which makes you all the tougher against targets with gimbals/turrets.
Of course, there are also downsides to packing C3 guns into a small ship like the Vulture – while the C5 power distributor can pour a lot of power into the ship’s systems, it’s still easily overwhelmed by particularly energy-hungry weapons. While basic pulse lasers are energy-efficient enough, guns like burst lasers can rapidly overtax your cooling capacity – you’ll often get maybe three, four full fire cycles out of both weapons before you must cool off.
Putting It All Together
A powerful if difficult to fit heavy fighter, the Vulture offers premium firepower for the discerning pilot. Properly fit, this thing is a holy terror on the battlefield – a slab of armor with two massive guns on one end and huge engines on the other, it’s a ship that few will want to go toe-to-toe with.
Core Dynamics ‘Vulture’ Heavy Fighter
Price: 4,925,615 CR
Hardpoints: 2x C3 Large Hardpoints, 4x Utility Mounts
Internal Compartments: 1x C5, 1x C4, 1x C2, 2x C1
Mass: 331 t (230t hull mass, 347 t fully laden)
Cargo Capacity: 8 tons (56 tons max)
Fuel Capacity: 8 tons
Jump Range: 7.75 LY (7.39 LY fully laden)
Top Speed: 220 m/sec / 340 m/sec boost
Power Plant Output: 10.40 MW (8.45 MW / 81,25% used)
2x Class 3 Large Hardpoints: 2x C1F Pulse Laser
4x Utility Mounts: Empty
Power Plant (Class-4): C4E
Thrusters (Class-5): C5E
Frameshift Drive (Class-4): C4E
Life Support (Class-3): C3E
Power Distributor (Class-5): C5E
Sensor Suite (Class-4): C4E
Fuel Tank (Class-3): C3 (8 tons)
Class 5 Internal Compartment: C5E Shield Generator
Class 4 Internal Compartment: C3 Cargo Rack (8 tons)
Class 2 Internal Compartment: C1E Basic Discovery Scanner
2x Class 1 Internal Compartment: Empty