The Joys of Multi-Vector Thrust

In case the title didn’t make it obvious enough, I plan to geek out a little today. The inspiration for today’s geek out….. Netflix sent me the miniseries that started the new run of Battlestar Galactica. Specifically, the starfighters used in Battlestar Galactica.

Everything has a center of gravity. Force applied to that center of gravity will cause the object to move in the direction the force is pushing. If force is applied anywhere other than the center of gravity, then the object will tend to turn. For a simple example… if a person is pushed in the center of their shoulders, they’ll move forward. If you push their right shoulder, they’ll tend to turn toward the left due to the imbalance of force. You can fix this by pushing on both shoulders at the same time. It’s a principal pilots in multiengine aircraft always have to be aware of. If you have two engines on each wing, and one on the left goes down, then you have to shut one down on the other wing, or compensate in some other way.

If I was a physics teacher, I’d be tempted to use footage from the dogfights in BG to illustrate the effects of force vectors and balancing of forces. Because BG has excellent visual representations of these principals. The starfighters actually show the maneuvering jets. The main thrust is in the back of the fighter, but in the nose they have several small jets. The key here is the vector (direction) at which the force is applied. The main thrust is along the center of gravity, so it makes the craft go straight ahead. But the maneuvering jets are all at angles to the center. So when they trigger, they make it turn.

Now if you’re still with me, all this mumbo jumbo boils down to something simple. It makes those things maneuverable as hell. It means they can be flying north, and with a quick kick of one of their maneuvering jets, they’re facing the opposite direction. It’s not that important if you’re going to the liquor store for more scotch, but it comes in handy if there’s an enemy behind you with guns blazing. And it makes a pretty visually spectacular scene to watch, especially when used in three dimensions instead of two. So I guess I went through all of that to say…… the dogfights in Battlestar Galactica ROCK.

I think one of the things that makes BG good is that it just feels more real than most science fiction. It uses principles that we use ourselves now. Vectored thrust and maneuvering jets are used in cruise ships, and the space shuttle. The spaceships don’t shoot magic, colorful lasers. They use good old fashion bullets. And the radio communication they use is scratchy in a way anyone with a cell phone understands. It makes it feel within reach from where we live now. I suspect this is one of the reasons the Cylons on the new BG are mostly human looking (and look like fashion models), rather than the boxy robot forms used in the old version. The unworldly futuristic appearance was great in the 70s, but it moves it from something real to something surreal. The new BG does a good job of portraying the technology so that it’s more in reach, and makes it easier to picture yourself in the action. I think that’s one of the reasons it has done so well this time around. But great writing and character development don’t hurt.

Just in case my clumbsy, geekish praise has convinced you to watch. Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica starts this Friday. And if you want to catch up, they have a 44 minute synopsis called “The Story So Far” available for a free download on iTunes and various other locations. ( I think I actually scooped Michael on that one.) UPDATE: Okay, so I didn't exactly scoop him, but I was a bigger geek.

Okay, I think I got the geek out of my system for now. Do me a favor and pity The Lady Friend when I make her watch with me this Friday.


Blogger Exador said...

That little bit of detail was one of the first things I loved about the new BG; that, and the hot cylon chick in the red dress.
I also love the fact that they have "pilotless" fighters. It always struck me as dumb that the old series had machines flying machines.

5:06 PM, October 15, 2006  

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