Because the load capacity of the Samson is dedicated mostly to cargo and personnel, there is little armament on board. As big as a 20th century Black Hawk helicopter, the Samson is a twin turbine, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) ducted-rotor vehicle. Its only onboard armaments are two stub-wing mounted missile launchers controlled by a standard targeting computer with IFF lockout. In addition there are two manually operated door guns, in either 50 or 30 caliber.
Note that the 30 caliber gun can only be mounted on the starboard side, due to the gunner’s position when shoulder-firing the weapon. The Hydra 50 caliber gun can be mounted on either side for manual operation, because of its grip configuration. The same articulating pedestal will accept both weapons. The pedestal may be locked with pins to form a rigid mount for fixed-forward firing, controlled by the pilot. In fixed-forward mode the weapons are trained by aligning the airframe to the target, like a WW2 fighter.
The cockpit seats four and is sealed from the outside atmosphere. It maintains a slight positive pressure of 0.3 psi, to prevent leak-back of toxic gases. In the event of a hull breach, such as a small hole in the canopy, an accumulator tank provides emergency over-pressure to “feed the leak” until the aircraft can be returned to base or the leak patched by the air-crew from the inside. In the event of an uncontrollable influx of toxic air, there are emergency breathing masks (BIBS) plumbed to each of the four seats. In addition, there are portable exopacks stowed under the aft seats. Other emergency equipment is standard: built in fire suppression system, portable fire extinguishers, emergency beacons, trauma medical kit, survival rations, portable comm system with throat mikes, and a variety of hand weapons.
Because it was built for Earth's atmosphere, the cargo bay is not pressurized and on Pandora humans riding in the aft bay (which carries up to twelve passengers) must wear their exopacks to survive. Exopacks with external feed capability can be plugged into a breathing manifold, to conserve air. Typical operating configuration is with both doors off during flight. All seats have four-point restraints, and the gunnery stations have safety lanyards to secure the gunners.
An onboard air generator supplies enough air for multiple purge/repress cycles of the main cabin, which allows personnel to move from the pilot’s cabin into the aft bay through a pressure door. The purge cycle is less than thirty seconds. This capability also allows the pilots to exit and re-enter the aircraft multiple times while on sorties to remote sites.
Mission Profile and General Specifications
The Samson has been in use on Earth for more than a century. It is a tried and true airframe with a sterling operating record. With the exception of a few air shows and third-world guerrilla armies, the vehicle is retired from service. It was originally developed to ferry supplies in harsh weather conditions on Earth. Its various trial runs in Antarctica, the Himalayas and in Honduras proved the aircraft could fly well in thin or thick atmospheres or in extreme temperatures, and require minimal maintenance. You don't fix what ain't broke, so when the RDA needed a reliable and sturdy aerial workhorse, they naturally choose the battle-tested Samson. Its electrical system has been hardened to withstand the rigors of Pandora's powerful electromagnetic fields. For Pandoran service, the Samson is retrofitted with fly-by-light controls and has EMF hardened instruments. It does not however carry active EMF cancellation, so in the more powerful fluxcons like the Hallelujah Vortex, the instruments become useless, except for a few like the analog altimeter and the airspeed indicators. Nav and comm systems are highly compromised in this environment, and only the most experienced pilots are allowed to fly VFR sorties in the Floating Mountains.
As with the Scorpion gunship, the Samson is ideally suited for use on Pandora, with a few modifications. Its turbine and rotor systems can be quickly re-tuned for use in Pandoran air, with adjustments to the fuel mixture, re-ramping the intake ducts, and a programmed pitch-offset to the rotor system. The Samson’s heavy lift capacity, while impressive on Earth, gets significantly stronger in the dense air and lower gravity of Pandora. The Samson can lift, and fly to modest altitudes, with a remote lab module slung beneath that is actually heavier than it is.
The vehicle is typically piloted from the right seat, but has dual controls, for training and in the event the command pilot is incapacitated. Downward visibility is excellent, with big chin-bubbles and inward cambered lower door window, which is ideal for operations in hover.
Controls are well placed and cockpit ergonomics are good. Throttles are overhead on the ceiling console, split left and right, with turbine fire suppression levers just forward. Cyclic pitch and collective pitch control sticks are in the standard positions, as are the yaw pedals. Instruments are fully duplicated in pilot and copilot forward consoles.
Airframe and Flight Controls
The composite airframe does not employ any 22nd century exotic ceramics or variable-geometry nanomaterials, so it is readily manufactured in situ on Pandora, at the RDA fabrication complex. The airframe is structurally robust and designed to take extensive damage from small arms fire in hot LZ’s without structural failure. All flight control circuitry is fly-by-light and runs in multiple redundant loom paths throughout the airframe, again for robustness under fire. These features combine to make the Samson an ideal machine for use in the treacherous airspace of Pandora. It is only minimally susceptible to the effects of the fluxcons, because there is very little metal in the aircraft, and attacks by aerial predators seldom bring down a Samson (except of course for a full attack dive from a Great Leonopteryx).
The composite triple-blade rotors are 7.32 meters in diameter and are side mounted mid-fuselage over the side doors.
The power plant consists of two ceramic gas-turbines rated at 2,250 shp 186 kW. The best rate of climb 323 meters per minute with full load. The maximum speed in normal operations on Pandora is 105 knots, considerably slower than its 145 knot rating on Earth. This is due to the drag effects of the dense Pandoran air on the blunt airframe and leading edges of the rotor ducts. The dirty airframe takes a large hit in top speed, but the aircraft more than makes up for it in lifting capacity in Pandora’s gravity.
The Samson is capable of carrying long-line sling loads with a typical belly hook and winch arrangement. Manufacturer specifications indicate that the Samson is capable of lifting 6,000 kilograms, but lifting performance is rated at 150% of that on Pandora.
Pilot’s Comments (from an interview with Capt Trudy Chacon, SecOps Logistics Command, former USMC, conducted by Freemedia Officer Marcia De Los Santos on July 17, 2152)”
“I used to be a fighter jock, in Scorpions, but I got on the shit list of the fighter group CO here, and got kicked to Sampsons. That’s all ass-and-trash missions. Ass-and-trash means flying people and supplies, so it’s boring as hell, except when you get jumped by a banshee or something, and then it’s on. The Sampson is a hog, not really designed as a gunship. But it’s strong as hell and if you know what you’re doing you can make her dance. You’re supposed to have a two man gun crew, but they always stiff us when we’re flying for the science guys. Sometimes I get one, sometimes none, then I have to lock the gun pedestals and keep my eyes open. I like running with the guns in fixed forward, though, because you’ve just set the clock back to the middle of the twentieth century and turned it into a World War Two fighter plane. Then you have to do some real jinking to hit your target, which is where I live and breathe, baby. That’s my kinda flying. They say you have to be a little crazy to stay out here, and a lot crazy to like it. Well, I like it a lot. What does that tell you? I been flying this same ship, One Six, for a while now and it’s like a comfortable relationship. I know all her tricks. She’s a good old ship, older’n me, actually. But the turbines are new, and she goes like a bat out of hell. I’ve hit big vines lots of times. The vine-strike kit, knock wood, always cuts them. But you get pretty dinged up. You can’t hurt this airframe, it can really take a pounding. But the maintenance guys always cringe when they see me coming.
“I’d have gone nuts running out my tour flying ass and trash, but I got assigned to the science sorties. Sometimes I fly the geo survey guys around, looking for more unobtanium deposits, but mostly it’s Doctor Grace’s outfit. Turns out they like me because I can get them into all the squirrelly places the other pilots won’t fly, like up in the Hallelujahs, so they can do their research. Those mountains are a bitch if you don’t know what you’re doing, they can eat you alive. Your instruments are useless the second you enter the Flux Vortex, so you’re back to flying completely VFR. That’s Visual Flight Rules. The stone age of flying. Two centuries of advanced instrumentation made useless. You’ve gotta power down half your console or you’ll blow the electronics. So it’s a bitch flying up there, but I guess everybody’s gotta be good at something. There’s a lot of cloud cover, and the viz can change in a heartbeat so you’ve got to know where the rocks are. Some of those clouds might contain a big unobtanium boulder, and that’ll ruin your day quick. The problem is the damn mountains move around, they actually circulate slowly around the vortex, so if you’re not flying up there all the time, you don’t know what’s where. You have to stay current. So they keep me on the science missions ‘cause I know the mountains, and it would be dumb to rotate me out and put someone else in there, doesn’t matter how good they are, they’re going to hit something.
“So it worked out okay. It’s a fun gig because I get to hang with the avatars and fly them all over the place. And a lot of the sorties we’re out talkin’ to the Na’vi, especially the Omaticaya clan. I fly Grace, I mean Avatar Grace, out to her school a lot, also. So I know a lot of the locals. They’re pretty cool. Everybody around base thinks they’re these vicious savages, but they’re really not. They’re very spiritual, and they know how to party. They love music. And the kids are so cute, even though they’re bigger than I am. I even know a little Na’vi, but the pronunciation is hard. All these P’s and T’s. Grace has been great, including me in a lot of what she’s doing out there, even though there’s no love lost between her and Secops. I’ve even picked up a bit of science, hanging with the nerds. They say I’ve got the natural curiosity of a scientist. But let’s just say I wasn’t exactly ever an A student. Hey good talkin’ to ya. Gotta go fly.”