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"My, who would've imagined a floating aircraft carrier?"—Lloyd Asplund, Code Geass
Flight has always fascinated humanity. First came legends of Winged Humanoids and Floating Continents, then eventually zeppelins and actual airplanes. When the aircraft carrier was invented, its sheer awesome (and force projection) made the battleship a military relic. Considering this, is it any surprise that people have wanted to combine the awesome of the airplane, aircraft carrier, zeppelin and floating continent into one?
Well, the result of this daydreaming is the Airborne Aircraft Carrier! This is a step above the simple boat most video games use to ferry the player around; it is a literal mobile floating fortress and airport, capable of raining Death From Above like few fictional Military Mashup Machines. At its most basic, it serves as a refueling station like an island in the sky; a carrier; add some guns to make it a combination battleship; and if you're into that sort of thing, robot transformations. A similar concept on a smaller scale is the usage of parasite aircraft piggybacking on larger ones.
As listed below, this one was attempted several times in real life. So far, it's only worked once.
- The Arcus Prima, Messis, and assorted enemy vessels from Simoun.
- The Silvana from Last Exile.
- Not to mention every other major battleship in the anime, including the Urbanus, although their use of vanships (airplane analogues) is more akin to battleships and cruisers before WWII carrying seaplane scouts - Silvana was specifically built for vanship operations and using them as part of its offense and defense.
- Not to mention the huge, floating casino in the sky, at which the Silvana docks for some repairs early on in the series.
- The ships are antimatter-powered. They find antimatter lying around on the beaches. This makes sense in context. *What*?
- The carrier in Macross Zero was a regular carrier made airborne by alien weirdness, but it still counts.
- The Gekko from Eureka Seven, as well as the Izumo and other military vessels.
- This is one of the few series in which doing so made sense beyond the Rule of Cool, because the surface had no oceans, the land was extremely craggy and prone to shifting and the planet released convenient particles called trappar that kept them airborne when specialized mirror is used, and only need lesser fuel to move forward than to sustain the entire weight of Carrier.
- The Imperial Capital in Samurai 7, which is along the same lines as the above, except it doesn't transform.
- The Banshee units from Sentou Yousei Yukikaze.
- The Dai-Gunten in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
- The Blue Typhoon in Sonic X.
- The Avalon in Code Geass and several other ships, most notably the Ikaruga which was initially a submarine.
- The Submarine and the Ikaruga are actually two separate ships, despite the common misconception. The Ikaruga, rather, is actually built from scratch with the Gawain's weapons tacked on.
- That said, the Ikaruga does have a submersible mode.
- Hey, the Damocles counts too! Even though it's shaped like a huge anchor. And is loaded to the brim with FLEIJA warheads.
- The Submarine and the Ikaruga are actually two separate ships, despite the common misconception. The Ikaruga, rather, is actually built from scratch with the Gawain's weapons tacked on.
- The Goliath, and to a lesser extent the Tiger Moth, from Laputa: Castle in the Sky
- Although they are conceptionally very different: The Tiger Moth relies solely on its smaller aircrafts for combat whereas the Goliath is not shown to carry fighters but has enough guns and infantry on board to invade a small country (or ancient airborne city state).
- The Gaw and and Garuda class ships from the Mobile Suit Gundam universe.
- The White Base itself counts when operating on Earth. Same goes for the Argama in Zeta Gundam and the Endra class in Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ.
- Gundam Essentially loves this trope, almost every Gundam show/manga features a Sky carrier, (Usually, but not limited to the 'Main' protagonist's ship) which often times doubles as a space ship, a sea ship, and in some cases, even a submarine. And is often times a fusion of Aircraft Carriers and Battleships(Because Anime producers will never let the era of the Battleship end.)
- Mobile Suit Gundam 00's Ptolemaios II is all of the above in an early episode of season two it dives from orbit down into the ocean.
- The Iron Wing, from Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals.
- Strike Witches has one as the final opponent of the first season.
- The Lost Millennium from Fractale have airships that carry smaller, faster airships.
- The Helicarriers, iconic headquarters of the spy organization SHIELD in the Marvel Universe.
- The Aeromarine, belonging to SHIELD knock-off/parody organization HATE in Nextwave, probably counts as well, despite appearing to be an airborne submarine. In fact, dozens of submarines welded together. We've yet to determine whether this is cool or not, it could frankly go either way.
- The Gull Wing from Gold Digger is so enormous that it isn't able to actually land, and processes clouds for hydrogen to keep its engines running perpetually (presumably there are other types of generators to make the necessary energy expenditure feasible).
- In the G.I. Joe/Transformers Generation 2 crossover from the early nineties, Slice (a ninja working for Cobra) comments that the Ark (the Autobots' starship) is bigger than an aircraft carrier, but still flying.
- Come to think of it, does this count when the aircraft are the crew?
- The villains in the 1984 miniseries Crash Ryan had a gigantic prop-driven airplane that itself carried a large number of planes.
- Used by the Lord of Lightning in DC Comics 2010 Doc Savage series.
- The British in Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow have parlayed their naval supremacy into a literal fleet of Airborne Aircraft Carriers.
- The Spirit of Adventure from Up.
- Captain America: The First Avenger features an odd example. There is a massive airplane with rear facing propellers on its wings. It turns out that each "propeller" is actually a detachable mini-fighter plane.
- The Avengers featured the SHIELD helicarrier in all its glory.
- In a recent BattleTech Technical Readout "Technical Readout: Vehicle Annex" a Airship Fighter carrier capable of carrying approximately 6 Fighters was introduced.
- Pulp Magazine superspy Operator 5 confronted an Airborne Aircraft Carrier in the 1930's, making this Older Than Television. That Airborne Aircraft Carrier was merely a large platform supported by balloons.
- Phillip Reeve's Mortal Engines quartet features Airhaven, an entire town suspended from hot air balloons and gas cells, which serves as a hub for many air traders.
- '70s novel A Game of Titans pits the Real Life Soviet aircraft carrier Kiev against the USAF nuclear-powered airship Grand Eagle. The airship carries a contingent of Harriers. It also has cruise missiles and lasers.
- In Dale Brown novels, although at first only single-use submunition-bearing (semi)autonomous cruise missiles are demonstrated, books from Air Battle Force onward show modified transport planes and bombers carrying mini Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles and, yes, the things do rejoin with their motherships for refueling and rearming while both are in flight.
- Deconstructed (along with various other Gerry Anderson tropes) in the Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures novel "The Indestructible Man" by Simon Messingham. SKYHOME is derided as a pollution-spewing technological white elephant that uses the power of a small country just to remain stable (it has a tendency to lurch at unpredictable moments, sending equipment everywhere) and is too expensive to break up, yet can't be allowed to degrade for fear it'll crash on everyone's head.
- Played a bit uniquely in Animorphs, where Tobias serves as the trope, carrying the other Animorphs in bug morph and then dropping them off someplace for a mission.
Live Action TV
- In Doctor Who, the UNIT carrier Valiant is large enough for Air Force One to land on it -- in comparison, real world aircraft carriers barely have enough clearance for their fighters to land safely, with carrier landings being described as "controlled crashes".It also mounts a giant laser cannon Also of note is that it was designed by Harold Saxon, aka The Master.
- Sad to say, for all its awesomeness, it was not up to fending off a full-scale Dalek attack in the next season, and was destroyed.
- A pilot for a Nick Fury television series was filmed starring David Hasselhoff. It naturally included the Helicarrier.
- The Battlestar Galactica spin off show Caprica features these in a virtual manner. In the show there is a "Virtual Reality" video game called New Cap City that is Grand Theft Auto meets Sin City in a historical sim. One of the more persistent threats in the game world are giant Zepplins that launch everything from early-model Vipers to Gyrocopters, all raining Death From Above. One might even go so far as to call them an Airship Galactica.
- The X-303 (Prometheus) from Stargate SG-1 acted like this in the battle over Antarctica.
- Have cropped up now and then in Warhammer 40000 fluff, such as in the Gaunt's Ghosts book "The Guns of Tanith".
- Dungeons and Dragons Magitek settings:
- Mystara has the Flying City of Serraine, a mobile airborne city-state with its own Magitek air force, the Top Ballista squadrons. Skygnome-built versions of WWI-era fighter planes launch from the airstrip mounted along the edge of the city, kept aloft by fantasy physics, tactically supported by winged centaurs and venom-clawed monkeys, and occasionally imperiled by gremlin saboteurs. Yep, Mystara is a weird freaking' place.
- Eberron has Argonth, a floating fortress, which has docking towers for airships and could potentially launch flying monster cavalry, so it probably counts.
- The FASA game Crimson Skies, where Zeppelins were used as aircraft carriers in an alternate 1930's.
- Glory Days, the World War Two supplement for the Brave New World, roleplaying game included "the Liberty", an airborne aircraft carrier that served as a mobile base for the superpowered Delta Squadron.
- Exalted, as a world more or less fueled by Rule of Cool, unsurprisingly has a few. The Titan-Class Aerial Citadels, which took the technical prowess and truly epic infrastructure of 300 perfection-powered demigods several centuries to create, were entire floating cities. More or less indestructible, fitted with massive magical lasers, a beam of death that could vaporize a metropolis instantly AND serving as a launching point for many, many Thousand Forged Dragons (which were superweapons in and of themselves), having one of the four that were created attack your country would be rather like the entirety of the United States military force taking on your house.
- The protagonist spends some time on a skyship such as this in Gauntlet Dark Legacy's Sky Dominion world.
- Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri has this disabled by default, but by switching a certain 0 to a 1 in the "alpha.txt" file, you can add the Carrier Deck to aircraft.
- In Jak and Daxter 3, the Krimzon bots have a gigantic floating war factory that can pump out several full sized tanks and UA Vs whenever needed.
- The Lost Frontier also gives us the Phantom Blade and the ACS Behemoth, large airships capable of carrying and deploying smaller fighter craft.
- The go-anywhere Submarine from Xenogears. It starts out as a land-sub capable of traveling below the desert... then becomes able to sail underwater... and fly... and transform into a gigantic energy-cannon for a city-fortress turned Humongous Mecha. Rather than aircraft, it can launch giant robots (Gears).
- Too many shoot-'em-ups to count. Many are airborne aircraft carriers that transport your player ship(s) to the war zone, others are Boss Fights:
- Dr. Eggman loves building these.
- In the Master System/Game Gear version of the first game, the last level, Sky Base Zone, is the franchise's first example of the trope.
- It started showing up in the 16-bit games with Sonic the Hedgehog 2's Wing Fortress Zone.
- Sonic 3 & Knuckles featured Flying Battery Zone as the second level of the expansion.
- The massive Egg Carrier from Sonic Adventure. It's also the first one whose abilities other than flying and being really big are shown. It's armed with missile launchers, a fleet of robotic jet fighters, laser cannons (tons of these damn things in Sky Deck), robot staff, transformation capabilities, and to top it all off, a Wave Motion Gun. He has a second one in reserve, even.
- In Sonic Heroes, he really ups the ante with an entire fleet, with the flagship being at least as twice as big as the original Egg Carrier, and twice as armed.
- Altitude Limit Zone from the first Sonic Rush game would be an example if it had some actual structure and was more than a flying rail system. It still has plenty of aircraft, though.
- In Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Eggman uses a redesign of Adventure's Egg Carrier. It's mostly seen in cutscenes, and there aren't any levels on board, although Sonic's final boss is fought on it.
- The opening of Sonic Unleashed features a whole fleet of these similar to the Heroes example, only they're in space. Sonic still has no trouble destroying them, despite the lack of air. The first boss, the Egg Cauldron, is a less exotic example.
- In Sonic Generations, another one of these is seen terrorizing Spagonia. If you're really skilled, you can even destroy it on foot.
- Sky Fortress Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is very heavily based on Wing Fortress Zone (acts 2 and 3) and the level immediately before it, Sky Chase Zone (act 1 and the boss). It even has elements of Sonic 3's Death Egg.
- The Ace Combat combat flight sim series usually features at least one airborne carrier per game; however, Ace Combat 5 subverts this twice. First, the huge, scary aircraft is not a carrier, but a next-generation space-shuttle/orbital platform that will probably have an equivalent in reality this century. Second, the large implausible aircraft carriers are oversized submarines instead of aircraft.
- Ace Combat 6 plays it straight with Estovakia's kilometer-wide Aigaion airborne air-carrier, which takes it a step further by having its own airborne fleet for anti-air defense and electronics warfare. At the start of the mission where you have to shoot it down it's seen undergoing mid-air refueling by six tanker aircraft, each of which is small enough (compared to the Agaion itself) to be sucked into to air intakes for its gigantic engine arrays.
- Also, the UI-4053 Sphyrna from Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere.
- The Belkan XB-0 Hresvelgr from Ace Combat Zero is a quasi-example of this. Although its simply a super-massive bomber, the series mythology states that it served as the testbed for the technologies used to make the Agaion in 6. This is hammered home by a Mythology Gag in the Agaion mission, where the man who designed both aircraft shows up as an enemy ace.
- Nearly all Zeppelins in the Crimson Skies series also serve as aircraft carriers, most notably Pandora, Nathan Zachary's flagship.
- And before Crimson Skies, there was Air Power: Battle in the Skies, an alternate universe flight sim where the player is one of four nobles trying to gain control of the empire after the death of the old emperor. The tools at the player's disposal are a fleet of combat zeppelins, including an aircraft carrier that serves as the player's flagship.
- True to its Independence Day homage roots, the Aeon's experimental saucer from Supreme Commander does both this and packs a core-based death beam. The downside is it's rather fragile, and relies a great deal on its flying complement to protect it and draw fire.
- Battlefield 2142 has Titans, flying bases that are the center of a certain gamemode. The goal is to bring the enemy Titan down either by missiles launched from silos on the ground, or by invading it and destroying vital elements. The Titans launch fighter craft and drop ships from its' decks.
- The Protoss in Starcraft have Carriers, which can maintain a fleet of Interceptor ships which are used to attack both ground and air units. The Carriers, however, break the pattern ever so slightly by only launching minuscule unmanned ships, visibly smaller than a single-man fighter.
- Then again, since a motorbike is longer than a fighter, and a tank is about half as long as a battlecruiser in-game, we should really not judge sizes by the unit models.
- For Star Craft 2 the Terrans were going to have an upgrade for the Starport called the Starbase, which was basically a permanently flying Starport that could still create all their air units. Sadly, the building was cut from the final build of the game.
- Terran Battlecruisers are often treated as this in the novels.
- The Halberd from the Kirby series, which makes a return both as a stage and a plot element in Super Smash Bros Brawl.
- The Scrin Planetary Assault Carrier from Command and Conquer should count, though in its case its literally nothing more than an engine, a control system, and a long, narrow span connecting the two that is lines with dozens of drone fighters that swarm over anything they see. Powerful enough that it can challenge the other Tiberium Wars Game Breaker, the GDI Mammoth Tank.
- It actually has a rather good attack of its own, but most people overlook it. The thing can create an Ion Storm around it, giving it an immediate-area attack field. The storm also buffs up any other Scrin aircraft around it. The Mammoth stands no chance.
- Most of the battleships from Super Robot Wars house small hordes of Humongous Mecha as well as a few fighters, and at least one is secretly a Transforming Mecha itself.
- Little-known game Project Nomads has you flying about in a small gravity-defying mass of land on which you can build hangars that, in turn, build and deploy small fighters. The fighters can be controlled by yourself or left to their own devices, but it's wiser to take control because otherwise they tend to charge headlong into massed defense fire.
- In Final Fantasy XII, the Bahamut as well as the heavy carrier class airships (such as the Leviathan) use these as well. The Bahamut deploys Valefor-class fighters as a means of offense against Resistance forces while the Mist cannon is charging, and heavy cruisers often deploy, among other things, Atomos-class transport ships, as well as the aforementioned Valefor-class on the Archadian side, unnamed fighters on the Resistance side.
- And Final Fantasy XIII has the Lindblum, which is freaking huge.
- TownShip in Breath of Fire II supports a whole flying town.
- The Flying Krock from Donkey Kong Country 2.
- In Blazing Angels 2, The Final Boss is Project-C, a shielded(!), World War Two era(!!), Airborne Aircraft Carrier.
- The Great Fox in Star Fox is a rather moderately sized version of this, holding only about six vehicles at most. In one mission in Star Fox 64, you can even enter it for repairs. Some bosses are also able of launching smaller ships aswell as missiles, such as the Assault Carrier.
- Star Fox 64 also has the Saruzin, the flagship of Andross' fleet in Sector Y, which transports the Shogun Warlord mecha-suit into the boss battle. It continues moving until it reaches the center of the boss arena, then stop as serves as an obstacle/platform for the boss to stand on. Strangely, it has no offensive capabilities of its own.
- In Skies of Arcadia, Galcian's flagship the Hydra is one of these.
- Sci-fi flight sim Echelon has both flying aircraft carriers and the standard watery sort. The flying type is equipped with significant anti-aircraft defenses and is usually defended by flying destroyers as well. Somewhat interesting is that these ships fly at low altitudes, and several missions have them assist in the destruction of ground targets.
- In Just Cause 2, a floating club aptly named the Mile-High Club features loud music, strippers and a small runway with a private jet.
- Virtual On Oratorio Tangram has one as a battle stage; in the endings that do not belong to Fei-Yen and Angelan, the heroes are rescued by their fellow soldiers and carried back to the carrier for repair.
- Supreme Commander 2 has UEF's Experimental Mega Fortress - Airborne Aircraft Carrier with impressive damage output and more effective than a basic air factory.
- The first Supreme Commander features the Czar, a gigantic Flying Saucer with aircraft manufacturing capabilities. Naturally, it has a Wave Motion Gun in the middle.
- Airforce Delta Strike features one that the player launches from in the opening mission.
- The final boss in Sky Gunner is a massive floating battleship that also carries an enormous complement of fighters. It's about the same size as the city levels you fly in.
- To further emphasize on how Saints Row the Third is absurdly batshit-insaner than its predecessors, STAG uses a behemoth airship carrier called the Daedalus which proceeds to bomb the entire city just to root out a single gang. The airship is destroyed singly-handedly by the protagonist.
- While not really sharing the look, Gohma Carriers from Asura's Wrath do carry smaller gohma that can't fly into space to fight.
- The final boss of U.N. Squadron is one of these, though it more resembles a flying battleship/dreadnought with a few plane launch hatches. Interestingly enough, the game also features a land-based traditional aircraft carrier, which runs on tank treads out in the desert.
- In Girl Genius, Baron Wulfenbach has a fleet of dirigible fortresses and assorted lighter-than-air craft as his mobile base of operations, including the enormous Castle Wulfenbach. Also, most airships have escape pods that are themselves miniature airships.
- Castle Wulfenbach is so large it's practically an Airborne Airborne Aircraft Carrier Carrier.
- Some were seen in Alpha Shade.
- In one of Sluggy Freelance cross-dimension stories, humans have some of those, as seen here. Their usage is justified because the "zombies" cannot fly and staying in the air or space is the only real safe point to be, along with sheer practicality of a mobile base.
- The Iron Vulture in Disney's Tale Spin.
- Spectrum's Cloudbase and Skybase from Gerry Anderson's original Captain Scarlet, and the CGI reboot, respectively. Almost certainly inspired Valiant from Doctor Who mentioned above.
- Seen in the Wartime Cartoon "Japoteurs" from the Fleischer Superman theatrical shorts, after a fashion. A giant bomber, larger that anything ever built, carried a number of small, one-man fighter planes aboard, launching then off the top of its fuselage.
- Cobra had two different Hellicarriers in the G.I. Joe cartoon series. One was based off an unused design for the SHIELD Helicarrier from an abortive Nick Fury cartoon. It appeared in the first mini-series and in the opening animation of "GI JOE: The Movie" (possibly two different carriers as the one in the mini was captured). The second type appeared only in the opening animation for the second mini-series and subsequent episodes. It looked like a giant cobra insignia. It is destroyed by the end of the opening animation.
- The OSI from The Venture Brothers have a mobile fortress called the Hoverquarters which is very much like the SHIELD Hellicarrier making sense since the Venture's OSI is a parody of SHIELD.
- Thunderbird 2, in Thunderbirds served as a flying carrier for the smaller vehicles that International Rescue used, such as the Mole and Thunderbird 4. Another example appeared in an airshow in one episode-it was a giant aeroplane which could carry another.
- In Storm Hawks, the title group uses a flying capital ship/aircraft carrier as their travelling home.
- The 60s Spider-Man had an episode where Spidey fought a former WW 1 ace who had a flying aerodrome - and Fokkers that fired laser beams.
- The Kids Next Door have a craft called the Gihugecarrier that went down while fending off a Teenager attack.
- The Magic School Bus once transformed into this.
- The USS Macon and the USS Akron. Of course, they also had the dubious distinction of being the last rigid Naval zeppelins, since both of them ended up crashing into the ocean in separate incidents, with the Akron losing 73 of its crew; since one of the leading proponents of airships among the Naval brass happened to be aboard (and was among the dead), it's not hard to see how they didn't catch on more.
- The concept comes up in modern circles every few years as a replacement for the aging and shrinking fleet of P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. An airship would have significantly longer range and loiter time, and a significantly larger payload. The latest version includes proposals for UA Vs that can be launched, recovered, and rearmed in flight, thus bringing things full circle from the Macon and Akron.
- The USAF was experimenting with using parasite fighters, the XF-85, to provide fighter escort to B-36 bombers. Eventually, this plan was scrapped as the increased range of jet fighters coupled with in flight refueling allowed regular fighters to accompany the bombers throughout their missions, in addition to the fact that the XF-85 was outperformed by conventional fighters.
- FICON (FIghter CONveyor) Project: Putting an F-84 fighter inside the bomb bay of a B-36 and using the former to deliver a tactical nuke. Got a few flights in before the U-2 came along and the B-36 became obsolete. Determined to be an idea that worked better in theory than in practice.
- The Soviets also conducted their own experiments in the 1930s called the Zveno Project. Tupolev bombers would carry little Polikarpov fighters aloft, the most ambitious version actually carrying five fighters at the same time. The final version has a pair, rolled under the carrier's wings and hanged there instead of bombs. See photo. The interceptor variant was supposed to cut calling fighters time from "scramble and climb all the way up there" to "release bomb locks". The dive bomber variant had a long-range bomber carrying two fighters armed with bombs too heavy for them to take off on their own. These teams flew more than 30 missions, being among the most successful in Soviet aviation before the project ended in 1942 due to the involved aircraft becoming obsolete. You can fly the Zveno aircraft cluster in Il-2 Sturmovik.
- And a relatively more mundane example, many of the early X Planes (the experimental rocket and jet planes that paved the way for supersonic flight and manned spaceflight for the Americans in the Cold War) were carried aloft by carrier planes such as the B-52 Stratofortress, and launched in mid-air. They landed on the ground, however.
- The B-52 would similarly be used later on to launch recon drones which would fly out on a preprogrammed path, take pictures, and fly back to a rendezvous location where a plane trailing a net would catch the drone and reel it in.
- Similarly, there was a variant of the C-130 Hercules that could carry up to four drones on the wings and launch them in flight, controlling them remotely.
- The Daimler-Benz Project C was a proposed plan from Nazi Germany for a massive bomber-like aircraft that would carry six-to-eight "parasite fighters" on the wings and fuselage that would be detached and launched in-flight. These jet or rocket propelled aircraft were at first conceptualized as fighters, but later iterations of these aircraft became human-guided bombs for targeting bridges, ships and bomber formations. While these bombs would have escape chutes underneath them, the likelihood of escaping alive was so low that they may as well be categorized as suicide aircraft. However, none of the Daimler-Benz Projects ever got off of the drawing board.