Prototype Passenger Bio-Aircraft "Manta"

Partly in response to the Nadezhda and partly because they were already working together on other similar projects a joint venture between Xiao Chu and MAST have produced a prototype living passenger aircraft.

The design goals emphasised something with a completely different mission profile than the Nadezhda. They focussed on a small practical atmospheric craft rather than a showy and somewhat impractical interplanetary craft.

The geneticists and engineers were given requirements of maximising the biological, minimising the cost and making it as low maintenance as possible. The Manta is what they came up with.

The Manta's base shape is that of a standard streamlined delta but with a responsive structure and biomechanical frame. They also made it sapient, which they have found to be a very mixed blessing. There have been as many problems with the crafts 'personality' as there have engineering problems.

During flight operation the ship flexes in a biological way that onlookers find disturbing in an aircraft. While passengers have complained it makes them feel seasick.

The chameleon skin also allows the craft to express its personality. Its regular crew having taught it to do set piece skin displays for demonstrations the craft has developed its own embellishments that it varies depending on its whims and is developing quite a reputation for amusing and artistic displays. Sometimes taking on the appearance of different animals and other times mirroring the colourations of regular aircraft complete with insignia. The pair of eyes that flow over the surface following and 'watching' visiting dignitaries or mechanics is a favourite as is making its doorway look like a gaping mouth or other bodily orifices.

The engine is a small fission air-ram that allows it remain aloft indefinitely at supersonic speeds though it seems to prefer minimum speed flying. Having broken the sound barrier once the craft seems reluctant to do it again. The mildly radioactive engine housing also makes the craft feel antsy and it refuses to fly without regular anti-radiation nano .

The craft is fitted with a small cockpit but after hundreds of hours aloft the craft can fly itself better than any pilot and it is growing to resent being 'man-handled'.

One positive engineering feature of the design is that it only needs a landing strip of under a 100 yards long and 10 yards wide. As it weighs no more than a moderate delivery vehicle it can take off and land on ordinary roads or other hard surface.

The prototype has however met reliability and performance targets and the production version is already on the drawing board though heated arguments are still taking place about whether it should be sapient or not...

Manta-class passenger bio-aircraft

Design: 28ft Streamlined Delta (1.4 spaces, Nanocomposite, Lifting Body, Smart, Responsive, Biomechanical, Light frame); cDr/cPF 0.2/1FSB (Nanocomposite armor), Chameleon surface

Modules: Old Cockpit, Very Small PESA, Very Small Radar, Very Small Ladar, 0.25 Fission air-ram, 1 passenger seating (16 seats)

Statistics: LMass 5.1, CMass 5.1, Dry Mass 5.1, EMass 3.4, Payload mass 1.7, Cost M$ 1.7, cHP 5, Size Modifier [hull] 4/1, Maintenance interval 55.4 hours (1.7 hours per day)

Performance: sAccel, Empty sAccel 1.48 G, Air speed (Earth) 2400 mph, Stall speed 77 mph, Takeoff run 76 yards.

Payload: Crew 1, Seated passengers 16, Cargo 0 tons Dietary requirements 9 man days rations per day plus anti-radiation supplements.

Transhuman Space Index