Trope-a-Day: Drop Ship

Drop Ship: The Sledgehammer-class drop shuttle and its cousins (such as the Piton-class single-legionary drop pod), as carried by a variety of assault cruisers.  Since when you’re actually attempting to get down to the surface of a hostile planet with still-active defenses speed is very much of the essence, the Sledgehammer-class, et. al., are designed for lithobrakingYes, that does mean exactly what you think it means.

Any You Can Walk Away From

“Drop shuttle (n.): An armored crate flown by a maniac.”
– The Unofficial Guide To The IN

Flying a drop shuttle is a unique sort of piloting. You’re always deploying under combat conditions, and often before you’ve established orbital superiority, so people are shooting at you from the moment you undock from the mama bird until the moment you hit ground, which means you want to come in as fast as possible. And flying re-entry at speed makes you a big, hot, glowing target, so you want to come in even faster than that, right on the hairy edge of burning up, and stay that fast until you’re too low for their flak to train on you, and that means damn near treetop height.

How do you decelerate at that height? We call it “lithobraking”. Anyone who doesn’t fly drop shuttles calls it “crashing”. Ever seen the ablative armor they pile on the nose of those things? That’s not for re-entry, and it’s not for flak – that, and the outsize inertial dampers, and the concussion gel that fills the cabin’re all there ’cause you and the ground are planning to get real friendly later. That’s also why they’re single-use. A good landing in a dropper is one that doesn’t crack the egg and smear your ass all over the landscape. Keeping the rest of the ship in one piece is optional, and I’ve never seen anyone opt for it yet.

Still the best ride there is, though. Besides, when you’ve been shooting these runs for a while, it’s hard to get a contract doing any kind of civvie piloting once they get a look at your flight records…