Updated: May 28, 2010; April 30, 2011
Like the last time, I'd like to begin by showing you what the model looks like when GIMP-ed against some real background. Just a single image for now. Later, we'll have a full gallery of images and fancy effects. Here you, my flying aircraft carrier in low, slow flight above a harbor in a Vietnam-like setting, firing its twin belly cannon in support of ground forces. Air cavalry futuristic style.
Speaking of creating realistic imagery, I'm exploring Kerkythea rendering software, so we'll see what gives. I am also considering making a few slideshows in Google SketchUp, which might make the existing and future repertoire even more exciting. But that's a different story. Let's focus on my flying aircraft carrier here.
I got hit by a wave of inspiration while reading an excellent book on Soviet-era ekranoplans. One of the concepts mentioned in the book was a lunatic proposal of creating a flying aircraft carrier, a 10,000-ton platform that would skim low above the Caspian Sea or the Black Sea, carrying weapons and aircraft. While it was never realized, Russians did go ahead with Beriev Be-2500, which is no less impressive when it comes to pushing the limits of aerodynamics to new, insane levels.
What I decided to do was take the classic carrier concept and turn it into a flying fortress. Instead of creating a lighter-than-air machine with huge wings, I went for a combination of classic aircraft design and VTOL capabilities on gigantic scale, spawning what is essentially a Harrier-like aircraft carrier. OK, now that you know what lurks in the dark corners of my mind, how about some pictures?
Let's begin with a few isometric screenshots. The flying aircraft carrier looks pretty much like a typical, conventional naval carrier, except its hull is designed for air flight rather than sea faring. There's also a pair of massive wings housing four huge vertical jets and a pair of smaller, canard-like wings in the front, housing two more engines. The six engines provided vertical lift. Seen just below the right wing root is the nacelle of one of the four ventral jets, which give aircraft forward speed.
Other than the fact it is supposed to fly, the carrier has a fairly standard configuration: the command island is located on the right side of the deck 2/3rds toward the stern; the landing strip is angled to allow aircraft to overshoot if they approach at a too steep angle or too fast; the takeoff deck takes the front half.
In the rear, you get a large elevator, which is used to lug aircraft up and down from and into the underdeck hangar.
The carrier is fairly large, approx. 300 meters, with wings spanning some 230 meters. The angled deck is about 200 meters long, while the unassisted takeoff deck is about 150 meters long. The reason there are no catapults is fairly simple; they are unnecessary. When you launch aircraft at 5,000 meters above ground, they are bound to gain speed eventually.
The front canards and the twin tails play a crucial role of reducing buffeting and air vortices, which might impede the air operations on the deck at high speed and altitude. Furthermore, the fore pair of engine nacelles is a little higher than the main quartet, again to prevent buildup of air pressure at the deck.
You must admit the carrier looks quite nice. It looks sleek and robust and might actually work as a real-life design, if anyone were mental enough to place some 50,000 tons of weapons into the air and let it soar. Notice the weapon turrets, we'll talk about those soon.
Well, that's imposing. You can appreciate the heavy built, designed to withstand the enormous forces. Notice the bulky hull and the thick wing cross-section, part in order to support the massive engines, part to carry enough fuel for said engines.
Getting the carrier into the air is not a simple thing; which is why it has a total of ten mammoth jets creating tremendous lift. I'm not sure how much thrust is required to lift a 50,000-ton machine into the air, but it's definitely a lot.
Most of the hull volume is taken by jet fuel, required to power the engines. Fully loaded, the carrier can remain airborne for 48 hours before it has to land and refuel. Totally made up, but who cares?
However, like any huge vessel, the flying aircraft carrier is also equipped with small maneuvering engines, akin to water jets used on big ships for mooring and harbor navigation. These include jets units fore and aft, allowing a hovering carrier to pivot, much like a helicopter.
Since my carrier is supposed to provide air cover and mobility, the offensive weapons systems are mostly positioned on the bottom side of the hull. That does not mean you find an odd gun on the top deck, though. Furthermore, the defensive weapons are positioned all around, in the form of R2D2 Phalanx-like CIWS anti-missile mounts. Compared to a conventional carrier, my vessel faces an additional challenge of fending against surface-to-air missiles. Being large and rather slow and non-maneuverable compared to classic aircraft, even bombers, the flying aircraft carrier is an easy prey for ground defense forces. However, unlike most aircraft, it can afford tons of armor and ECM equipment and self-defense weapons.
The most important and notable weapon is the powerful twin 203mm long-range gun, paired with a smaller, dual-purpose 127mm automatic gun. Both weapons traverse full 360 degrees, so they can engage any which target regardless of the flight direction.
An additional twin gun is mounted in the prow. The carrier also loads sixteen cruise missiles in forward launchers. Again, the added benefit of high-speed, high-altitude capability allows the carrier to fire missiles much further than ground or marine systems can do, as the launched payload does not have to waste much energy in gaining the trajectory.
More weapons are mounted on the rear deck and the island, including additional twin 76mm automatic guns and Harpoon anti-shipping missiles.
Some long zoom shots
With details slightly obscured, realism takes over.
Some shadows to make things even more realistic. Looks dandy, ain't it?
To spice things up, I added several instances of my brown-and-yellow Su-35-like model, creating a lively scene, with a plane taking off and banking away, another landing, and some half a dozen units parked on the deck. First, here's the landing approach:
Some intense Top Gun screenshots:
With aircraft & ground
I thought the most appropriate color for the background is blue, since you would expect a flying aircraft carrier to spend most of its time over the sea. For some reason, you can't really see it chugging above populated areas, at least not in the friendly territory, that is.
With aircraft & ground & shadows
A couple of lovely CGI-like shots, showing the vivid air operations action on the deck, with the carrier skimming low above ground.
Now, the best part. Several images of my carrier, carefully integrated into realistic settings. Not an easy task without proper rendering, but with some small sacrifice of color and details, I was able to make pretty decent images. Furthermore, I even managed a few pictures of the carrier blasting the main gun. Let's begin with the simple stuff: flying carrier, shrouded in clouds, above the sea. In color and BW.
And here's a cinematographic moment:
And finally, the carrier in shooting action! Much like the opening teaser, with a few extras. Creating the gun blast effect was not easy, but I managed. One picture showing dusk overhead artillery action in sick green-saturated Vietnam-era, faded, low-quality style, slightly ruined by oil stains from too much handling by aircraft mechanics around the hangar, and one in black & white.
Like the tank model, I tremendously enjoyed creating this one. The biggest pleasure was conceiving the idea. Of all models I've shown you so far, I believe this one is possibly the most unique and original. It's also saturated with a handful of small details that make a big difference. If I may be allowed to grade myself, a round ten would be in order.
Now, I will soon be exploring new facets of 3D art. You can expect some tutorials on how to work with Google SketchUp, including photo matching and slideshows. Then, we might also try to get this software to run on Linux. Let's not forget Kerkythea. And even more fine models. It shall be interesting. That would be all, fellas. Or rather, onwards into the realm of real rendering. Holy banana.
Time for proper fun ... This is madness, Sparta, uh ... realistic rendering. Here's the same model, only re-created using Kerkythea, after exporting the model using SketchUp Importer for Google SketchUp and rendered with photons and ray tracing and magic and whatnot. You will like this. My dream of making near-realistic models is coming true, finally. Nirvana. Spledidski.
You probably liked my GIMP-ing above. Now, let's see some really realistic work. Let's begin with a simple side shot against an early morning sky. Not bad. The entire ship was redone with brushed metal materials, with low-contrast grays and with engine nacelles sparkling a shiny gleam.
With some GIMP help, you can have the ship blasting its cannon at dusk, in color or black and white. Similar to what I've done before, only it looks even more impressive now.
And here's the same one oil-painting style:
It gets better. Here's a smart low-angle bottom shot. Not bad, you have to admit. The engine nacelles really add to the overall feel. The model feels busy, but it's not chaotic.
A long-distance shot; now you can begin to appreciate the massive, robust shape of the flying carrier, with all the fancy details, like vertical lift engines, the belly array of weapons and radomes, the overhanging slab of the landing deck, thin and fragile yet heavy and durable.
This looks even more impressive:
Finally, here's a top shot at high altitude. Ground is a hazy blur several kilometers below the carrier, obscured by a cloud bank. You can almost guess what's happening in the background, but not quite. I really liked this. Of course, there's always room for improvement, but that's what sequels are for, right.