How would air tactics in a WWII-type war change if airplanes were limited to a flight time of ~15 minutes, had no radio communications, but were also much lighter due to the non-existence of internal combustion engines? They would be powered by handwavium springs, as would any weapons they had (guns are still possible). How would ground factors due to slower, less effective vehicles (no ICEs) affect this? Would this make a zeppelin aircraft carrier plausible? Would bombing runs still be plausible? How would they be performed? How much would the value of aircraft be decreased?
closed as too broad by Mołot, MichaelK, sphennings, Ash, Anketam Oct 17 '17 at 15:50
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You're describing very early WWI planes. Yes a zeppelin carrier could be possable, but zeppelins are very easy to shoot down, if they were within the area of a ~15 minute flightime artillery could easily reach them. Bombing runs would be changed to carry either a few very heavy bombs or a lot of smaller ones. But more likely the would drop flechettes, or have straifing guns. The aircraft carrier would not be completely useless, but you would see a decline in their use, they could be used from sea/harbor to invading infantry trying to take a beach, or maybe the opposite like Normandy.
If the planes are said to have steam engines (does everything else in this world have steam engines, or did humankind just not figure out how to put a gas engine in a plane?) they would have to be very front heavy and thus clumbersome, unless you had a plane with an engine in the back, then it would be nimble but very hard to control.
If planes had engines in front they would be flying tanks, if they were powered by coal or some other hard fuel the added weight of the fuel would help even out the weight, but you specified that they would be light. If the fuel was liquid they could go faster and presumably be lighter since they would be carrying less fuel do to the generally higher BTUs of liquid fuels. But these both have the problem of being too front heavy in the end, by the end of their flights they would be so front heavy due to the giant honking steam engine in front that they would be almost imposable to land conventionally.
If they had their engine in back they could have a better chance, after their fuel ran out they would be rear heavy, and if you trained pilots how to land this way it would be much easier to land compared to front heavy. Rear heavy comes with its own challenges that I wish I had time to go in-depth about.
I would assume that a shorter flying range also comes with a reduced payload capability, so your planes wouldn't be very much useful for fighting. The weapons, either machine-guns or bombs, would make it heavier and reduce their range even more, so they would be used just as spying/surveillance tools.