For some backstory, in my world, the United States Garrison is the new military of a post-apocalyptic dystopian US where modern civilization and every single country around the world fell due to zombies and a ravenous virus that wiped out 82% of humanity back in the mid-2000s’. The skeletal remains of the US Government was able to reorganize and reform itself and liberated Washington, giving birth to the District of Columbia, with the federal government hoping to one day liberate and reunite the entire country.

Recently, I’ve been toying around with the idea of introducing three types of VTOL aircraft into the Garrison Air Wing (GAW). These three VTOL aircraft will serve as multifunctional and multipurpose assets that can serve as close air support, troop transport, reconnaissance, etc.

The first one will look like this Titan from the game Battle of Titans. It will be mostly geared towards CAS missions and can act as a recon unit.

The second one will look like this V-22 Osprey-like aircraft, which will serve in a joint-CAS and troop transport unit.

The last one will look kind of like the Dragon Gunship from JC’s Avatar, which will act as a CAS unit as well as a tactical battlefield command center.

But in a post-apocalyptic dystopian scenario where the military and federal government have a territorial reach to the area in the map above, would it make sense to have VTOL aircraft, especially if things like resources and manpower are of some concern to a degree? And what are the pros and cons to VTOL aircraft, especially if they’re gonna act as a CAS unit?

Just to clear some things up:

  • The District of Columbia is the strongest, wealthiest, and most powerful faction in North America (if not the entire Western Hemisphere).

  • DC has a total population of 810,000 people.

  • The education system basically mandates that everyone must learn some sort of vocational trade skill.

  • DC gets its resources from strategic outposts outside of its territory as well as trade with friendly factions.

  • After the federal government and military came in and liberated Washington in 2009, Obama set to work restoring the federal government while also improving and building new infrastructure to help restore DC’s economic and military might.

  • $\begingroup$ So: "practical" in what way? Looking at the pictures, those vehicles are certainly advanced technologically, so I'm going to presume that even with a Pockyclypse on, science & technology have made serious strides in the next two centuries. Are you after economic practicality, strategic practicality, or something else? You might want to tell us what the country is like: roads, traffic, population, customary movement of people. That area in 2020 is a hot mess of traffic (or was before the pandemic) A lot of that territory is not easily reached by road, even in 2020. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ Post-apocalyptic usually means low technology. They could know the physical and engineering principles to build complicated technology but lack of population and trade disruption would mean that they would lack everything else: no specialized raw materials (tungsten, titanium), manufacturing knowledge and facilities, you have to divert much manpower to basic things like farming (again, your tractors are not running because lack of spares)... Building and maintaining such high technology devices would be pretty much inconsistent with "post-apocalyptic". $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I’m after strategic and military practicality. And let me edit my post, I’ll add more information. $\endgroup$
    – user69268
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ Oh no zombie apocalypse youtube.com/watch?v=uhY9Zxv1-oo $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 23:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ At the simplest level, you could fight zombies with an APC (or glorified armored truck) mounted with the same mowing blades you have to cut the grass along the highway - pneumatic armature. No bullets, no exposed people (very messy, though). Drive through a suburban neighborhood, agro the zombies, and literally mow them down. You can even run them over and crush them. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 14:15

4 Answers 4


They would not be practical as ongoing investments. If you already had a stock of VTOLs (and fuel for them - aircraft as a rule require huge supplies of fuel) there are some areas where they would be useful, but not as efficient or practical as other solutions.

VTOLs are generally designed as carrier-based aircraft, especially in air forces that don't have access to full-sized carriers (i.e., most of them). They have better range and speed than helicopters, but are pretty much always at a disadvantage against conventional airplanes. This is doubly a problem because you've chosen to plant your government smack in the middle of one of the biggest concentrations of airports and airstrips on the planet! It should be no problem at all finding a nice level piece of tarmac somewhere in the DC area to base your fliers out of. Conversely, fielding a deep-water naval group including a carrier is somewhat at odds with the post-apocalyptic setting.

A small advantage of VTOLs is that some can perform a maneuver called a "vector in forward flight", where they change their thrust orientation in the middle of combat to throw off the enemy. This may have some applications in the real world, but zombies as a rule aren't going to be shooting back at your aircraft.

In the close air support or air command roles, VTOLs lose out in size, payload weight, cost, and maintainability. On the other hand, when considered as transports or as very close support (e.g., extraction of troops under attack by zombies) they are less maneuverable and cannot hover for as long as helicopters.

  • $\begingroup$ The Harrier was designed to operate from forest clearings, not carriers. And the Osprey was built by the US, which has full-size carriers as well. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 4:46

There are design trade-offs to VTOL, and you would only consider it if it is essential.

The basic trade-offs are:

  • Higher fuel consumption
  • Higher complexity and therefore:
  1. higher maintenance upkeep
  2. higher manufacturing cost
  • Less take-off weight
  • Speed penalty due to more systems devoted to VTOL systems
  • Higher training requirements

In return you get:

  • Ability to land in difficult terrain, making loading and unloading easier
  • In tilt rotors, ability to be faster than a helicopter
  • In tilt rotors, longer range typically than a helicopter

In a resource scarce environment, it would be very difficult to justify a VTOL craft. STOL is much better in all counts, so if you could even create a short runway this removes the need for any consideration of VTOL. So here are some reasons for VTOL to be viable:

  • The need for ultra-mobility. In other words, you cannot even establish a runway. Perhaps your zombies can pop up out of nowhere, and overrun any established base (temporary or not). Therefore your bases are made entirely of VTOL aircraft and runways are not possible.
  • The terrain is simply impassable. Perhaps trees have grown everywhere that cannot be felled, perhaps craters are everywhere that cannot be levelled, which makes STOL too difficult.
  • You have an automated factory and parts that makes VTOL's, and have lost the expertise to make any other type of craft or any other parts (Least likely).

Simple answer - no:

I hate to admit it, but as cool as these would be, the useful tech against zombies would look more like WW2. Machine gun tanks, simple armored personnel carriers, hueys with machine guns in the doors, and fixed-wing prop planes with machine guns and bombs. Simplicity and ease of maintenance and manufacture, plus the ability to operate with locally-produced biofuels. No need to be fast, or hit super hard. Even if ALL your zombies were the smart ones, they still would be extremely dumb compared to even medieval soldiers - no grand tactics, no martialing troops.

Zombies are horrible as they outnumber you and overwhelm, contaminating all they touch. Once the main wave is over, your survivors can cordon off areas with relatively simple means to exclude them. unless there are bats/rats infected with your plague going rabid and randomly biting people (at which point, good luck). Secure areas should stay secure as the nearby zombies will mostly be killed. Moving into new areas, you can have box formations of armored personnel carriers that can shoot at each other move in (no need for speed, great armor) and fire out of vehicles too heavy for the zombies to tip, even shooting at each other to kill the things mobbing them. Simple helicopters with door-mounted guns can supply all the support you need, spraying the vehicles with bullets to clear heavy outbreaks. You run out of ammo, drive home, and repeat.

These really cool weapons are impractical unless your main enemies are NOT zombies, and in that case they won't have anything comparable unless they are much stronger than you anyway. Sorry, the Umbrella corporation must have had giant AI-controlled self-sustaining manufacturing facilities for them to have the cool toys.


As always, it is a matter of resources.

Building aircraft, especially advanced aircraft, requires a massive industrial ecosystem. Even small hobby aircraft are often built out of advanced composite materials, foam cores and epoxy, sometimes requiring autoclaves to "cure" the aircraft parts.

VTOL aircraft have been actively researched since the dawn of flight, and are still a minority of all aircraft today because of the extra demands. Compact and reliable powerplants, gearboxes and extra driveshafts in multi engine aircraft to allow for engine out situations, complex control systems to deal with the transitions between hovering and forward flight and back again, very strong yet lightweight materials to keep the engines from being overstressed....

In a post apocalyptic setting, resource management is paramount. For the resources needed to build or maintain complex VTOL aircraft, you could likely build several conventional aircraft. Indeed , since we are in a post apocalyptic setting, the industrial ecosystem to build aircraft is missing, and the parts and trained technical staff to keep the existing fleet of VTOL aircraft in operation will be exhausted relatively quickly (consider the number of C-130's in existence compared to the number of V-22's. Assume that you have managed to salvage 10% of each fleet, then see just how many aircraft are available to cannibalize for parts).

So VTOL aircraft are rare today for very good reasons, and salvaging them in a post apocalyptic setting will only allow them to be used for a short time before they run out of spare parts to maintain them. The ecosystem needed to build new ones will be missing (indeed, a post apocalyptic setting seems more suitable for things like hang gliders or wooden WWI analogue aircraft than modern aircraft at all), so the chances of using or encountering a working VTOL is pretty slim.


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