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In a medieval technology level Earth like world, a small widely dispersed group of individuals have access to technology at a level comparable to our near future (mid 21st century, hard science). For various reasons these people wish to live and remain hidden among their low technology neighbors and not draw attention to themselves or their advanced technology, at the same time they want to be able to periodically travel and transport small goods around the world to far off destinations in a reasonable amount of time.

What types of stealthy transportation systems should they be using to allow high speed transport for individuals or small groups, without alerting the locals that something strange is going on?

My current ideas:

  • Underground tunnels with high speed rail. This is obviously going to be incredibly labor intensive to build and maintain these types of tunnels even given advanced robotics, and there is going to be a long lead time for tunnel construction to any new destinations, making them more effective for shorter distances between commonly traveled locations.

  • Some form of high altitude or low orbit flying vehicles, possibly with a vertical takeoff capability, these are likely to be loud and highly visible during takeoff and landing (helicopter style or a rocket launch, neither is particularly stealthy) which could be mitigated by avoiding populated areas, but this seems like it would make them less useful if you have to travel by traditional means for days to/from isolated landing areas.

  • Some kind of submarines could be useful for travel in and around certain areas with lots of water, but the speeds seem pretty slow, in the 30-40 mph range.

Would these kind of transport types work? Or are there better alternatives I'm overlooking?

I am aware that a system of multiple types of transport working together might solve the individual problems and am open to solutions that use different modes of transport together in a functional system.

I'd like to keep the hand-waving to a minimum, so no teleportation, invisibility, or anti-gravity; just realistic technology available now or in the near future.

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closed as too broad by Mołot, Azuaron, L.Dutch, JBH, sphennings Dec 1 '17 at 16:15

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ How are they hiding everything else? For near future "technology" to exist, they would need a lot of obvious interaction with their surroundings, I don't think transportation is the biggest clue for the "primitive" people (but I agree that it is a problem that needs solving). It might help if we knew how you figured out the rest of the hiding so far $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 30 '17 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ All of their technology infrastructure is either underground, underwater, or in space. Also there are very few high tech individuals (<100 around the world) to support requiring much less infrastructure. $\endgroup$ – Josh King Nov 30 '17 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ You're already handwaving mid 21st century technology in the middle ages. Whatever handwaving you are doing to make that happen should easily cover how they transport goods to market. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Nov 30 '17 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ 21st century technology requires a massive amount of infrastructure to exist. Refining petroleum, or uranium is a massive undertaking, so is extraction and transport of raw materials. There is not way to conceal such activities. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Nov 30 '17 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ People are right in saying you cannot have modern technology with only 100 people to mine the ore, drill the oil, design the refineries, build the refineries, ... ; however you seem to be implying that all the technology is imported, ready-made, from somewhere else. So I might suggest that you have a hand-wavy (spaceport, magical doorway) supply chain. If that works for your setting. $\endgroup$ – P Chapman Nov 30 '17 at 17:46

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I suggest using an airship of some sort. They don’t need to be massive like the Hindenburg (depending on what needs transporting), but would need to be located in more remote locations. I would have thought that a large barn might act as an entrance to an underground enclosure where the airship would be stored and serviced when not in use.

When needed, they would wait until night fall then checks would be made to ensure that no one was around. When they get the all clear the roof of the barn can be opened and possibly one of the walls (or alternatively large doors can be fitted over a large pit in the ground. When the doors are closed the surface looks like bare ground. When needed the doors open and allow the airship to be released up into the air.

The air ship would then ascend quickly to several thousand feet and then travel wherever it needed to go. Local journeys up to a few hundred miles could be made over night and the airship could then land at a similar facility at the target, radio communications ensuring that the craft never descended when any locals were around (unlikely at night in a remote location).

Trips of thousands of miles would be achieved during the day at a higher altitude. Even a relatively large airship would be hard to see at high altitude and if the surface were made of material that could be made to change colour it could be light blue, black or shades of grey depending on circumstances. Helium would be an issue but supplies could be moved around by airship and hydrogen could be used as a supplement in an inner ballon.

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    $\begingroup$ If the hidden community is sufficiently far from anyone else, as is the destination, you don't need an airship. An airplane would be sufficient. At a few thousand feet, you aren't going to hear even a jet very well from the ground, if you're flying at night you're almost impossible to see and the contrails will be gone not long thereafter, and with no other air traffic, you don't need navigation lights. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Nov 30 '17 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ In near future you could even argue that it's electric, so even con trails aren't an issue. Secondly, would they even care? There are tribes today that think planes are just big birds. So long as they dont see people board them its just a "dragon" and it's hangar is a "lair". If they kill people who wander in, well... "dragon got 'em" $\endgroup$ – Stephan Nov 30 '17 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison True. But it all boils down to how remote the sites need to be. I suggest that the airship sites would be much more stealthily and could operate closer in to a populous area than an aircraft could such as rural areas just outside of cities. The other advantages of airships are the ability to stay aloft for long periods of time and fly long distances using electric power and solar recharging. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Nov 30 '17 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison I'm being pedantic, but you can definitely hear planes (even GA props) at a few thousand feet. Airliners cruise at ~30k ft, which is still occasionally audible when you're out in the quiet wilderness. $\endgroup$ – Carl Kevinson Nov 30 '17 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ So Slarty proposes his airship. ...I thought it was called aircar? "High Speed High Tech Stealth" seems to fit perfectly, at any rate... $\endgroup$ – leftaroundabout Nov 30 '17 at 22:58
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A10 Warthogs in green scaly paint jobs! Based near volcanoes or on remote islands.

So think about this, the A10 is able to travel very fast. The jet engines make a loud roar, and it is able to breathe devastating fire. You now have your dragon available for travel. That's how relatively primitive societies would view such a thing. You hear a loud roar, look up you see something flying and then fire billowing out from the front, and wherever the fire points, things get destroyed. It always comes from a long way away.

You would need to be able to handwave the facilities that would be required for maintenance. A10's require less advanced runways than many other jets and were designed for use in more primitive conditions. This is going to help tremendously. Fuel requirements can be met with Biofuels coming from corn and algae. Those fuels are still being tested, but have been used to power a dassault falcon. Maintenance robots can take car of things in the hanger. The biggest problem I can see is coming up with adequate supplies to arm the huge cannon on the front of the plane. Lead and brass are easy enough, but the ingredients for the gunpowder are going to be hard to find in sufficient quantities. You are going to need massive amounts of automation for this stuff.

You have to keep in mind that even with all of the awesomeness of flying around in an A10, if any part of your supply chain or automation breaks, you are going to be screwed. Algae and Corn for fuel is not your weak spot, but materials to make replacement parts for the Warthog. Fuels and oil filters may be hard to make with local materials. Seals break down over time, and high heat gaskets aren't going to be easy. Don't get me started on the titanium and aluminum processing.

For your lair, which you need because you have a dragon and seemingly perform miracles, You will need a small cadre of almost peers, and a small army of loyal fanatics to work the land around you. Your almost peers are in on the secret and kept loyal by you being a decent guy and sharing wealth and treating them right. They are also heavily armed.

Your Fanatics will be adequately armed, and will be the outside face of your organization. They will be harvesting the Corn and algae to feed the dragon, gathering other raw materials for your alchemy.

Try to be a decent distance out, and not have anything that represents massive wealth out in the open. Massive cattle herds, lots of gold or salt might draw unneeded attention your way. That's also why I brought up Algae as abases for aviation biofuels. Land that grows Corn is very valuable, while swamps are not. Get in good with the local ruler for additional help with that.

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  • $\begingroup$ I enjoyed this suggestion immensely, but I think it falls a bit short in the "without alerting the locals that something strange is going on" metric. $\endgroup$ – EightyEighty Dec 1 '17 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ more than just a bit. That's why I suggested basing it a way out in some undesireable territory. Absolute stealth adds a lot of layers of complexity. Easier to create a new normal in a place that nobody goes anyway. an adjunct would be to create some "hidden" roads through the swamp to get to more normal areas. That way travel to and from would be by horseback, but you remain hidden as the locals will have a hard time finding or using the hidden or submerging roads. Use the A10 for special occasions $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Dec 1 '17 at 16:18
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A combination of a satellite network and a combination speed boats/snowmobiles/motorcycles. You use the satellite network to ensure you are plotting out a path where there are no people to observe you.

Speed boats are the best option since it’s a simpler matter for the satellite network to track for other humans at sea (Large ships). Speed boats are also safer and can carry more people and supplies per driver. Currently the world record holder for fastest speedboat is 262 mph. With a little better tech you could probably mass produce vessels that can travel 100-200 mph and be camouflaged to look medieval. You just slow down when near other people or avoid them entirely.

Motorcycles and snowmobiles can handle the land legs for speed. They can also get over 200 mph. However terrain is likely to keep that from safely happening. Also, it is more difficult for satellites to track human travel in varied terrain.

Snowmobiles are my ideal land transport. If you’re using them in open plains of snow you can keep your high speed. They can drag sledges for extra equipment and passengers. The snow also makes satellite surveillance simpler. If the planet has Polar Regions like the earth they are mostly uninhabited as well. They are not that loud.

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    $\begingroup$ The boats put an image in my head of ship crews spotting it at a distance and pursuing at high speed only to have their quarry disappear across the horizon. It would end up being like an average sea-faring myth from our own history, ships that behave abnormally or seem to vanish under the waves. $\endgroup$ – thanby Nov 30 '17 at 20:24
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There are several ways to ensure something is not seen. With stealth, we normally associate a situation where a watcher won't be able to see an object (or a situation). This will be extremely tricky unad unreliable: it has to work every time, and if it fails just once you lost.
then there is the other kind of stealth, where people see an object or a situation, but don't understand what they see. This is most of what stage magicians do all the time. But it is also what movie set designers (whatever their actual job description may be) do for a living.
And the third form is where the onlooker isn't looking.

In a medieval setting, i would advise to combine the second two.
Start from remote locations, and travel in the dark. And help an onlooker to mistake things for other things. They won't understand a motorbike, because they have no concept of such a thing. Maybe you can disguise it as a strange creature. Use electric motors, both for the sake of the environment, and for noise reduction.
Use electric motor aided gliders in some suitable camouflage paint, and use those only at night, and only when you absolutely have to.

Remember, at the period you describe most people never venture far from their birth place, and travel is usually done by day, and only between villages.

So, starting off from remote locations and just being low profile, and using some sort of decoy for those few occasions where someone actually sees you should keep you hidden for a long time.

And whenever that fails... fatal accidents were a lot more common then than they are today.

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    $\begingroup$ Robotic flying dragons. $\endgroup$ – peufeu Nov 30 '17 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ Demons with glowing eyes lurking in the night. They kidnap whomever they come across and their bodies are never gound. $\endgroup$ – Nick Dzink Dec 1 '17 at 10:47
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Sometimes the best of stealth is right under everyone's nose. Take a normal carriage, styled after the fashion of the time. Pad the bottom with high capacity batteries, or some noiseless generator (i.e. a fuel cell). The batteries can be styled like wooden planks, just heavier. Place an electric engine underneath the vehicle, I'd suggest along the axles of the front wheels. The engine is small, powerful and not particularly noisy. It may buzz a bit, but even then, you can always make sure that your wheels squeak louder than that. Also, you can disguise it by some form of ball-bearing of the time, or some other metal device to hold the axles in place.

Let the horses pull it when in town (poor animals), and carry the horses on a second, lighter cart when outside town.

Also, make sure you have drones watching the surroundings from above your head, to prevent being ambushed or spotted. Best if disguised as birds. Remember to carry bird cages with actual birds, in case someone too curious wishes to have a closer look.

Added: link to electric carriages in history

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    $\begingroup$ I would say the same, but with boats. A ship with sails... and a hidden electrical propeller underwater. When in deep sea, you turn on the propeller and don't care of the wind. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Dec 1 '17 at 12:25
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They can design a lightweight plane using a high altitude balloon for stealth vertical take off and a parachute for stealth vertical landing.

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    $\begingroup$ Or just use gliders. $\endgroup$ – PCSgtL Nov 30 '17 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ Travel by night with no running lights and you wouldn't even need to be particularly high altitude. $\endgroup$ – Lex Nov 30 '17 at 17:04
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Boats

Not inherently conspicuous in themselves, can be fitted with outboard motors to achieve reasonable speeds and are a good source of income too. With radar you can avoid other ships so no-one sees you unless they have radar themselves.

One downside is that the authorities will take some interest in what you are doing, as they do today, but not so much interest that hiding the outboard motor is implausible.

There is also the option of hiding it outright like a smuggler. A boat with a computer and radar could hang around a few miles from shore unmanned, stay well clear of other boats and could be called to shore when the coast was clear. The main advantage of this is that it does not have to look like a medieval boat, it can be a lightweight fibreglass thing with very little drag and a nice big motor

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Modern technology is mostly useless and unachievable without the infrastructure to build/use it. Knowledge will give them an edge but keeping hidden will wipe that out and then some. With only a hundred people they would be lucky to be able to make a wooden ship much less anything more advanced.

If they all live in the same place, and there is no one else to see what they are doing, and they buy a lot of materials from the outside world, they might, might manage to build a steam powered ship in a few decades.

They just don't have the labor to build advanced materials or devices. Even if you handed them modern vehicles they would not be able to fuel or maintain them. Sorry you are going to need some heavy handwaving.

Water based transport would be the best choice that at least minimizes the infrastructure needed, and you don't need advanced materials or machinery like you do aircraft.

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Looking at this from a totally different perspective, the best stealth transportation available to the locals is a Viking longship.

enter image description here

Modern reproduction of a longship

Local people cannot see it coming until it is practically upon them. The Vikings could take advantage of the shallow draft to sail fairly far up rivers, and even possibly protege them over places where river travel isn't possible. Even if you can't portage the boat, it is small enough to pull ashore and either guard or hide under foliage.

Considering the Vikings were able to sail around the North Sea, Baltic, upriver to create the kingdoms of the Rus and down to Byzantium, along the Atlantic coast to England, France, Spain, Sicily, Italy and even across the Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland and the New World (Vineland), your sailors will have the ability to sail to most places known to the people's of the world.

enter image description here

Oh the places you can go....

So using totally known and unremarkable local technology, you have the ability to travel long distances and be able to reach a great many areas without arousing too much comment (well, outside of the impression that locals have of Vikings). Once out of sight of land, navigation could be done via a small computer built into something like a smartphone, and even a hidden engine could be brought into play if the technology can be compact and inconspicuous.

So while not "high speed" in the context of the 21rst century, it is still high speed by the standards of the day, and capable of getting the intrepid explorers to many of the places they want to get to.

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    $\begingroup$ less better stealth as better mobility, but I like the idea of using modern navigation to go places others could only find by luck, although depending on how you define medieval compasses may have been around. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 1 '17 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ Variation: Use the major ocean-going ships of the time, upgraded with modern seafaring capabilities: Electric bilge pumps, electric motors, better construction techniques to improve seaworthiness, etc. Most people will still see just another galleon (or whatever), and will not give your ship any more thought than they would the next galleon over. Ordinariness is great for concealment. $\endgroup$ – Codes with Hammer Dec 26 '18 at 15:40
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I liked Thucydides answer for sea travel. Here are some other ideas. Remember that you can combine stealth technologies with subterfuge, so you have lots of options available, depending on what you want to accomplish.

  1. Tunnels: if you want to connect two communities, this just can't be beat.

  2. Aircraft: You can use black vtol aircraft and only fly on moonless nights. You can dress them up as dragons, so people think they're something else in a pinch. You can mask the noises with some obscuring sound that fits into the local mythology.

  3. Superstition You can foster superstition to keep people away from sensitive locations (aircraft hangers, tunnel entrances, whatever). Good storytelling, foul odors (sulfur!) and frightening sights (a mauled lion --scary!) are examples how you cultivate this.

  4. Electric Dirtbikes. A good option for personal transport is an electric off-road motorcycle. Being able to travel 200km in a day would be serious magic for a medieval world. Paint it black, with black safety gear -- who would know how to interpret such a thing. A bystander at night would only perceive a bright light racing at unholy speeds through the woods or down the road. In the daytime you'd think you'd seen a demon. Sightings could be cut down to virtually zero by using thermal scanners to avoid encounters -- perhaps a fly-ahead drone. 200km is avaiable with todays technology. Add hypothetical power sources and you can have arbitrary ranges.

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  • $\begingroup$ Dirtbikes would leave distinct tracks in the dirt. It would be pretty obvious to anyone that something had been passing through. One thin rope tied across the path at neck level would be enough unseat any rider. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Dec 1 '17 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ You're assuming anyone would be able to interpret the tracks. $\endgroup$ – Spacemoose Dec 1 '17 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ They'd see the track, not recognize it, and attempt to figure out what made it. They could follow it and be lead to either where the traveler set out from or their destination. Or they wait concealed by the tracks. At the speeds a dirt bike travels the human form would still be recognizable on it. By the third ride on a rout they could set a trap for them. This makes using dirt bikes for stealthy travel unsustainable in the long term. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Dec 1 '17 at 15:57
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I'd probably go for an exotic rail-gun inspired hyperloop. Once the railgun accelerates you in near-vacuum, the electromagnetic flux will be able to keep the vehicle centered in the tube, and you can install a lift station at the destination. If the track is layered at a downward angle, gravity can provide the needed propulsion. This solves a few problems: 1) no constant power required. Power only needed at launch and destination. 2) If all the tunnel low points at least superficially connect, you have only one air removal station.

The reason why this has not been done (yet) is because of the boring costs.

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Just use the

STARS

aka Fulton Surface-to-air Recovery System.

High altitude stealth drones could be following your "future people" all the time, if they fly high enough you can't see or hear them. When necessary, a person or packaged goods could be equipped with a transparent balloon that rises into the sky carrying a rope or cable. The drone then picks the cable up and drags the person or goods with it. The reverse is also rather easy, as pointed out in other answers, just use a parachute. With enough advances in technology I guess this method could become rather safe and almost impossible to beat on the stealth level.

The problem with many other means of transport is that they're loud, difficult to hide, difficult to maintain/refuel. Sure they might give you more freedom, but this method is pretty hard to beat on the stealth level.

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Since the general inhabitants have only primitive sensor technology, then 'stealth' means only local in-person sight and sound. No radar, lidar, remote sensing, recording, radio, infrared, night vision, and so on.

The local inhabitants would also be prone to explain things they DO sense in terms of their own experience and technology.

So, doing things at night, for starters, using craft with no lights. Heat, electromagnetic signatures, and radio are non-consequential. They can not be detected anyway.

Strange noises can be masked by even stranger louder noises. Artificial thunder, for instance.

So an electric ducted VTOL aircraft, completely painted black, flown only at night, would go unnoticed. Since no one has any means of aerial surveillance, keeping them hidden behind high walls in a castle-like enclosure would also just blend in.

And since on medieval Earth, the world was limited exclusively to Europe, you have the rest of the Earth to establish a base. There is absolutely NO communication with anywhere else. No local technology to make it happen. In medieval Europe, the entire North American continent could be 21st century technology, and no one in Europe would know. Perhaps the best continent to establish a base would be Australia. There were indigenous peoples, but they were not nomadic. They were exclusively territorial, and clung to the coastal areas.

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