I’ve been building a flying ship over the past couple of weeks.
Yes, all right, I wasn’t actually building it, I was modelling it in 3D, but the early stages of the process are surprisingly similar: tons of research and figuring out how stuff works.
The ship was originally inspired by an old Russian fairy tale; however, because the model is intended as an element of my webcomic, At War’s Edge, I had to tweak the design quite a bit.
The flying ship of the fairy tale is usually depicted as a traditional Slavic “lodya”, an open boat quite similar to the Viking longships.
While I loved the aesthetics of it, I had several practical issues – mostly because my story is fantasy, not fairly tale.
The major problem was the size and the lack of cabins. For the story, I needed to pack about 50 people into that boat, as well as a few dozen horses and supplies to last that crowd for a few day. I also needed them to fly the ship in conditions comparable to Canadian winter.
That didn’t look like it would work with a traditional lodya, so I went on to look at the more advanced version of it – the 17th century Pomor boat – as well as a bunch of European ships, such as the cog and the carrack. I’m doing fantasy here, so I have no strict ties to any specific time period, but I think of my world’s non-magical technology as being somewhere at the 16th century Europe level, and some of my fashions tend to mimic early 17th century. Which meant I definitely wasn’t going for the later, Pirates-of-the-Caribbean and Captain-Blood style ships, but anything before 1650s was fair game.
After much deliberation and head-scratching, I came up with a rough concept design that looked like this:
A lot more like a carrack than a lodya, I admit, especially since I got rid of the oars and added a rudder. Technically, in real world, both oars and rudder need water under the keel to function, so it’s magic either way, but I felt like a ship this size propelled by rowing would be getting uncomfortably close to a slave galley. Which wasn’t exactly the image I had in mind.
My big hurdle number two was weapons. At first I assumed there’d be cannons on the ship. Then I discovered that in 16th century cannons weren’t really used in naval warfare yet, due to being insanely inaccurate at everything but really close range.
An additional problem for a flying ship, of course, is that most of the shooting would have to be directed sharply downwards. My research gave me no confirmation either way, but, my cannons being smooth-bore, I strongly suspect cannonballs would simply fall out as soon as you try to aim them. Might as well just throw them down and not bother bringing a cannon 🙂
In the end I provided no gunports. I might add a couple of guns to the forecastle, just in case my characters have something to shoot at directly ahead. Otherwise the main weapons would be bombs and muskets, and possibly crossbows.
Here are the results so far:
As you can tell, there’s still lots of work to be done – mostly on sails, rigging, gunwale, shields, and the fact the deck is still ridiculously empty. But I think I like where it’s heading so far.