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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    $\begingroup$ And what exactly would stop armies from making heavier aircraft with better range? I mean, this factor would potentially change warfare even more than mere limit in aeroplane construction. Because there was point in time when flight was limited to ~15 minutes. Humanity progressed past this limit. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 17 '17 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ It's a somewhat long story, but these aircraft are not powered by conventional engines, but by power stored in springs made up of handwavium. As such, ~15 minutes is a fairly hard limit for maximum flight time. Maybe 20 of straight, level flight with no turns. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Oct 17 '17 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ OK, nice, but they will be shot down by planes with conventional engines and after first month or so we will have what we have anyway. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 17 '17 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ Internal Combustion Engines have not been discovered yet in this world. The best they've got is huge, hulking steam engines to power up the springs in their planes. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Oct 17 '17 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ That would change a lot - about zeppelins, about anti-aircraft guns that suddenly are not as portable as expected et cetera. It would change supply lines, including ones that supply airports. It would redefine strategy of all units... if that's what you wish, include this info and all changes you already figured out into your question, please. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 17 '17 at 13:26

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.

  • $\begingroup$ I apologize for sort of invalidating your answer. I added some content to the question that should have been there in the first place. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Oct 17 '17 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ I forgot I was in the worldbuilding tab, not the history one. I apologize. $\endgroup$ – Hiltnflite Oct 17 '17 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ No, the answer was good for the question as written. It was my fault that it didn't contain all the information it should have. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Oct 17 '17 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ If you would like to edit, that would be great. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Oct 17 '17 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ Given the lack of internal combustion altogether, you're basically describing early WWI across the board. Mechanisation and high-performance aircraft were two huge drivers in what made WWII different from WWI. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Oct 17 '17 at 15:23

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.


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