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The V-245 Skyranger VTOL is a multipurpose utility aircraft, combining the vertical take-off/landing capabilities of a helicopter with the speed of a turbojet airplane. Although a venerable design by the present time, Skyranger has proven to be so versatile, robust and reliable that it still remains in use, spare parts and various derivative designs still being in active production.

Background

The V-245 Skyranger was developed by the United States in mid-21st century to replace the aging UH-60 Blackhawk and the unsuccessful V-280 Valor as a medium-weight utility VTOL. Although the Valor was a reasonably capable replacement for the Blackhawk, it was unpopular with the troops because of its vulnerability to ground fire and mechanical unreliability. Furthermore, the design was embroiled in the largest embezzlement scandal in the history of US military-industrial complex when it was discovered that Bell Helicopter corporation that designed the V-280 had been deliberately providing false overhead costs to the Department of Defense, defrauding the United States of billions of tax dollars. The following series of lawsuits and billions-worth of fines that nearly led Bell Corporation to bankruptcy buried the V-280 project for good, with deliveries being only partly finished. The US military consequently sought a replacement design.

The contract was eventually won by Northrop-Grumman Corporation with their innovative V-245 Skyranger VTOL. Incorporating many of the latest technologies, the design was more robust and protected than any competing models, and also featured quite heavy armament and limited stealth capabilities. After much deliberation, United States DoD approved Skyranger as the new medium-weight utility/gunship VTOL for the US Army. The Navy and the Marine Corps, having already been refitted with the V-280, remained the sole major users of the Skyranger's main rival.

The Skyranger turned out to be a resounding success in the many world's conflicts of the late 2040's, so much so that several other major aerospace companies in the US and allied nations spent fortunes to procure a manufacturing license. Ironically, the Skyranger also saved Bell Corporation from bankruptcy, the company recovering from the losses inflicted by the Valor scandal by license-producing the Skyranger. In addition to serving with the US Army, a number of Skyrangers were sold to allied nations worldwide.

After the nuclear holocaust of the Great War, surviving Skyrangers became a rare and precious commodity, serving as inspirations for later post-war designs. Despite the existence of more advanced designs, copies and derivatives are still manufactured today, providing robust and reliable air power to private military contractors and smaller nations with a more limited military budget.

One of the most prolific post-war users of Skyrangers is the Baltic Union. Being left relatively unmolested by the nuclear exchange of the Great War, Baltic Union consequently retained a sizable and intact fleet of Skyrangers originally brought there by the US air cavalry contingent stationed in the Baltics at the outbreak of the Great War, along with some purchased by the pre-war Baltic governments. Meticulously maintaining and upgrading it ever since, the Balts have even managed to kept their aging Skyrangers competitive against more modern VTOLs by natively developing several unique upgrades including a highly-effective stealth suite.

Skyrangers in various modifications are also frequently seen in the use of various PMCs, valued for their robustness, heavy armament and reliability, being ideal for extraction of troops under intense fire.

Overview

The Skyranger is a blocky, robust craft. Despite its rugged appearance, it is surprisingly agile, yet very resilient, featuring an "armored bathtub" for the cockpit and passenger compartment protecting the occupants from ground fire, and armored wings protecting the VTOL engines.

Skyranger has a crew of three - a pilot, a co-pilot/gunner, and a flight engineer. In some configurations, the co-pilot and flight engineer may instead serve as door gunners. There is also an optional fourth position for a rear-door gunner, though in configurations in which that position is used, all three door gunner positions are usually crewed by passenger troops instead.

Kept aloft by a combination of three powerful ducted fans integrated into the wings and tail, and a pair of turbojet engines and aerodynamic lift in level flight, the Skyranger combines the speed of an airplane with the agility of a helicopter. Although mechanically complex, the Skyranger's engine package was designed to be modular, engines being produced as single easily-replaced pieces, allowing any damaged parts to be swapped out quickly in the field, with the damaged engines set aside to be shipped back to factory or dealt with in an advanced repair shop at an opportune time. The Skyranger is also notoriously quiet for a VTOL - "quiet" being a relative term, of course. While still quite loud under normal settings, in a battlefield aroar with explosions and gunfire, Skyrangers have been observed to be able to approach positions to less than 100 meters before being heard.

The sturdy armor protects the underside, wings and the lower sides of the Skyranger from most ground fire. It is impervious to practically all small-arms fire, as well as highly-resistant against most autocannons and anti-aircraft guns of up to 40 mm caliber. To protect against guided missiles, the Skyranger carries the usual array of anti-radiation/pyrotechnic decoys, an ECM suite capable of scrambling the sensors of the incoming missile as well as tracing it back to its point of origin, exposing anti-aircraft operators for counter-attack, and a low-observability hull coating that makes the aircraft harder to track by radar or IR sensors.

The Skyranger features a very potent package of weapons, capable of serving as a gunship and ground attack craft, and even have a limited air combat capability. A powerful  nose-mounted 25-millimeter rotary autocannon makes short work of infantry and most light vehicles from ranges beyond their retaliation, being equally effective in high-speed strafing runs and prolonged circling barrages. The Skyranger's main firepower, however, lies in the four external weapon hardpoints capable of mounting a very diverse array of deadly weapons. Guided anti-tank and anti-air missiles, unguided rocket pods, light guided and unguided aviation bombs, bomblet dispensers, auxiliary gun pods and more - whatever the Skyranger can mount and safely lift, it can fire. Its range can be significantly extended by mounting external fuel tanks on the hardpoints at the cost of firepower and some maneuverability. In the gunship/ground attack configuration with fully-armed weapon hardpoints, the Skyranger is a craft to be reckoned with by any standards.

In an assault transport configuration, the Skyranger usually sacrifices some external weapons capacity, instead mounting two powerful miniguns in the side doors and optionally another one in the rear door, providing cover fire for the disembarking troops. Since the doors must remain open for the guns to be used, this configuration limits the Skyranger's operating speeds and altitudes to those commonly seen in helicopters. Due to weight constraints, the Skyranger cannot make full use of external hardpoints when configured for a full-capacity transport mission. The spacious cargo bay can carry up to a full platoon of soldiers, or alternatively a light vehicle with its crew. The Skyranger is also equipped with external winches to airlift supplies and light vehicles of up to 9200 kilograms. Granted, for maximum weight capacity, the craft must be entirely unarmed, even its bulky main gun removed - a feat accomplished with relative ease, given the craft's modular design.

Overall, the Skyranger performs excellently in the roles of an assault transport and gunship, as well as a ground attack craft and light bomber, roles reserved for separate aircraft in earlier times. Although it is capable of limited air-to-air combat, it has little chance to survive a head-on engagement with a proper fighter jet. While capable of fighting off or evading light anti-aircraft fire from IFVs, obsolete AA artillery systems and MANPADS, it should be kept well clear of proper air defense systems for obvious reasons. Operating at treetop height and using terrain to one's advantage is generally the best mode of action, making the most out of the Skyranger's VTOL and stealth capabilities - this way, the craft is very difficult to detect both by ground-based anti-air systems and fighter aircraft patrolling the sky, enabling the Skyranger crews to stealthily insert and extract troops and launch deadly surprise attacks on ground forces at point-blank ranges, giving them almost no time to react.

Trivia

The Skyranger VTOL is obviously inspired by XCOM and the player's eponymous dropship, though the two craft differ significantly in uses and capabilities.

Baltic Union's Skyranger fleet that composes the bulk of their air force is divided between Tier One and Tier Two units. The two can be told apart by the regular army's Skyrangers being painted dark-green, Tier One Skyrangers in turn being black. Asides from cosmetic differences, Tier One Skyrangers also feature advanced custom-built stealth suites and other specialist gear normally unavailable for the regular troops.

The airmen of the Baltic Union keep alive the time-honoured tradition of nose art, having more leeway than in most other air forces in decorating their planes, restrictions generally pertaining only to practicality (i.e. camouflage and stealth properties) rather than size or content. Many Skyrangers are consequently adorned generously by their crews, with themes featured ranging from traditional fearsome beasts, patriotic slogans and scantily-clad pin-up girls in suggestive positions to humorous caricatures and explicit insults to the enemy.

The Skyranger assigned to the platoon of Tier One commandos headed by Cpt. Vanags is flown by a Lithuanian crew from Siauliai, its callsign being "Demon". It is evidently a reference to it's nose art image of a scantily-clad demoness, painted there personally by the Skyranger's pilot Lt. Brazauskas.

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