United Federation of Planets
Muilti-Mission Light Starship
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Forward Probe Launcher
A small multi-mission starship, the Aerie Class is a mass produced light vessel in use by both Starfleet and civilian agencies within the Federation. First built in the 2350s, they are ubiquitous throughout the Federation serving in roles that do not require a larger ship, doing everything from scientific research to cargo transport to intra-system passenger service. A dime a dozen, they handle these light duty assignments with quite competence.
Overview & Variants
Aerie-class starships are built in multiple configurations, all of which share a common hull design and basic engineering systems, but which vary in their intended mission.
Engineering systems emphasize reliability and automation, as the Aerie-class typically operates with a crew of between 2 and 24. They’re not generally more than a few days from port, though, so any repairs can often be made at the end of a voyage, further obviating the need for a large crew. The propulsion systems are tuned to deliver consistent performance of Warp 6, at the expense of barely any sprint speed above that; their design limits top out at Warp 6.9.
About the size of an Oberth-class ship’s primary hull, Aerie-class ships are compact and angular, with a hull shape that makes routine planetary landings easier. They are also capable of using larger shuttle bays on space stations. They have a very small shuttle bay on the stern, which usually houses one shuttle pod.
The majority of the interior space not occupied by vital components is reconfigurable to suit a particular ship’s purpose. Modules such as cargo holds or science labs can be swapped out, though the procedure can take several days. Most Aerie-class ships remain the same configuration for years at a time. Some variants, like the passenger variant, require much more extensive reconfigurations of the ship's internal structure, and so those ships often stay in that configuration for their entire life.
In their stock configuration, Aerie-class ships are unarmed.
The surveyor variant of the Aerie-class is equipped for medium-duration missions within Federation space to survey planets. It can also be fitted out for specific scientific sub-disciplines such as zoology or mineralogy to handle more specific operations. There are accommodations for up to 12 crew members, with a minimum crew of two. This is considered the default configuration of the Aerie-class, as it was the first design developed and the reason for the class's existence.
Aerie-class ships are adept at handling surveying planetary bodies, though they aren’t as capable as larger surveyors like the Nova-class ships that came after them. Typically, they are sent into a system after a larger ship has left to focus on a specific scientific question, for example studying an interesting volcano or unusual species of plant life, rather than the comprehensive cataloging done by other science ships. Some of these vessels are specially-modified to serve one particular sub-field of science, such as archaeology or zoology and are attached directly to the relevant bureau of Starfleet Science or a civilian research agency.
Aerie-class ships are equipped with high-grade sensors and a probe launcher; the specific sensors installed depends on the ship’s mission, and they can be swapped out as is needed. There less available surface area for sensor pallets than on large starships, so they tend to be either hyper-specific sensors for a single task or an assortment of general sensors optimized for basic research missions.
A handful of Aerie-class ships have been used for ultra-long-range missions by civilian agencies with minimal crews, including the Raven, which was used by the Hansen family to study the Borg, before being lost in the Delta Quadrant.
Many small research bases have an Aerie-class surveyor assigned to them as a support ship. They are ideal for this role because their ease of maintenance and ease of use makes them capable of handling scientific missions without a dedicated crew--they can just sit docked with their station until needed. Though they can't match the performance of the Nova-class, minor outposts don't generally need that level of performance if the task is just transporting a science team to various sites near to the station.
Indeed, because they can land on planetary bodies, an Aerie-class vessel itself can be used as a light duty temporary outpost for various scientific expeditions.
The most second most-common variant of the Aerie-class ship is equipped with facilities to transport supplies that cannot be replicated and to house up to thirty-two passengers in relative comfort for voyages of up to two weeks; these ships are assigned to travel routes between the core worlds and colonies, often with the same ship being assigned to circuit between two planets or starbases for its entire service life. These vessels carry a crew of ten, have sixteen two-person staterooms for passengers, and two cargo holds. Starfleet officers refer to these light-duty transports as "packet ships," hailing back to nautical antecedents on Earth which regularly shuttled between two destinations without either great speed or great luxury. Officers often catch a ride on these packet ships between assignments, as they're usually the most efficient way of getting between two Starfleet bases, even if they're not the fastest.
Built for short-range missions, the passenger variant of the Aerie-class ship has comfortable seating for up to 500 passengers and twenty crewmembers across two decks. This variant is equipped with port and starboard docking hatches forward, aft, and amidships, as well as additional lifeboats in place of a shuttle bay. The majority of the space not used for passenger seating or luggage is taken up by an enhanced life support system to handle the greater passenger count. They are restricted to intra-system transit only, shuttling passengers between Earth and Neptune, for example. They retain warp capability for traveling to outlying areas of star systems, or to move to other systems to participate in evacuation missions, where they are used to shuttle passengers between a planet's surface and long-range transports in orbit. With a lower passenger count, they could be used for interstellar travel, but given that they lack private accommodations, this would not be a particularly comfortable trip, given that even Earth to Alpha Centauri would take 5 days.
The freighter variant is nearly all cargo holds, with accommodations for a crew of five. These ships can handle longer range missions than the transport variant and are used for transporting technical parts and supplies to the outlying reaches of the Federation. These vessels can be equipped for bulk cargo (such as grain) or for fluids (including fuel), as well, but generally their volume to speed ratio is too small to bother with this except for either very precious bulk goods or situations that require fuel delivered more urgently than a standard large tanker would be able to handle.
Aerie-class ships aren’t suited to diplomatic missions, though they can be configured as couriers. Many Federation governmental agencies, including the Federation Diplomatic Corps, maintain a few of these vessels fitted out as VIP transports to handle travel within the Federation. They are also popular for private agencies that regularly need to arrange transport within the Federation.
The Courier/VIP Variant is designed to transport a single high-priority guest, and their staff within the Federation, or to deliver an important piece of equipment or other small parcel in safety. The engines on this variant have been uprated to deliver speeds of Warp 8, and the accommodations have been tailored to hosting important passengers such as diplomats or civil ministers. As such, their communications equipment and shields have been substantially upgraded as well, though they remain unarmed. They have a crew of ten, with accommodations for eleven passengers (including the VIP).
Starfleet has a handful of these ships for use by important officials intrasystem, but a flag officer or senior captain will almost always be transported by a ship-of-the-line for longer missions. There are rumors of specially-modified couriers existing with top speeds exceeding Warp 9 for the use of the most senior members of the Starfleet and Federation hierarchy when discrete transport is required. Though the President of the United Federation of Planets has a specially-built transport for their use on short journeys and uses a Starfleet capital ship when traveling outside of the core worlds, couriers are often used for less-senior officials.
The least common variant, the patrol cutter, is mostly used by colonial defense forces and has Type-VIII phaser strips covering most arcs. The standard crew of this variant is 24, to handle the additional tactical equipment. Starfleet itself operates very few of these vessels, as a standard starship is preferred for situations in which there is an actual threat that must be mitigated, but they're a good choice for outlying colonies' civilian governments to operate, due to their ease of use and their utility for other purposes: when there's not a threat to deal with, they can be used as a general light duty starship for other in-system tasks.
Because of their ubiquity, Aerie-class ships could make good surveillance or reconnaissance vessels, given that they’re likely to go overlooked by threat vessels and can be fitted with powerful long-range sensor arrays, but in practice this rarely happens because of their low speed. Starfleet Intelligence has, however, used a handful of these vessels as "Q Ships," which appear to be civilian vessels but in reality carry extensive surveillance equipment and defenses to ferret out pirates.
Some small Starfleet outposts (especially border stations) are assigned a vessel in this configuration to serve as a support ship, but they have rapidly been supplanted by the newer and much more capable Aquarius-class light escort. Other common uses for this variant are as a search and rescue ship, which would patrol the star lanes and respond to any distress calls until a larger, more capable ship could arrive, and/or as a customs enforcement cutter, scanning ships to make sure they are following the law, but these roles are also being quickly taken by the Aquarius.
There are a large number of these ships in service, but less than half of them are operated by Starfleet: mostly as packet ships shuttling between starbases or as light surveyors, in addition to those used to support stations and the handful of VIP ships they maintain. Assignments on this ship are generally short and are generally left to the most junior officers in the fleet. Even the commanding officer of an Aerie-class ship is unlikely to be more senior than a lieutenant, given that they have crews of at most two dozen. Usually, they are very boring assignments, either somewhere that you end up because you're not the most talented member of the fleet or because you want a break from the rigors of front-line service.
Aerie-class ships in their standard configuration are equipped with an observation lounge on the stern and a mess hall, but no holodecks or other recreational facilities. Crew quarters are spartan, though the captain, first officer, and chief engineer have their own staterooms. Because they are rarely more than a few weeks between bases, this isn't usually too bad, but they're not in port long so Aerie-class crews need to get their recreation time in when they can.
As support ships, these ships are far superior to a runabout and make medium-duration away missions very comfortable (by comparison).
First envisioned in the 2340s as a replacement for the aging Oberth-class design, the Aerie-class was a response to a need for a small starship that could be configured to suit a number of different mission parameters, either within Federation space or as a reliable, highly-automated long-range expedition ship with minimal crew. Roughly similar to an Oberth-class ship’s primary hull in terms of volume, the Aerie was more compact and efficient, though with lower overall capabilities across all mission parameters. As the design progressed, variants to handle needs such as VIP transport and light duty patrols were created, which led to the cancellation of a number of small designs (such as the Ju'Day-class patrol ship) in favor of this design which was easier to build, but lower in performance. Nevertheless, the class emerged as a staple of Federation shipbuilding, entering civilian fleets, colonial defense forces, and Starfleet itself in droves.
The Aerie was granted to the Hansen family, who used it on a clandestine mission to study the Borg in the 2350s, though this ship was lost when the three Hansens were assimilated. Other vessels of this class have served quietly and without distinction during their long service history, being a common sight in nearly all Federation starports. As of 2399, this vessel is still in production.
The Aerie-class in Play
- This small starship is three to four times the total volume of a modern Boeing 747-8, which is one of the largest airliners in service, but it is substantially smaller than most other starships. In fact, one of the roles for this class would be to transport a large group of people over a short distance within a star system, like a modern airliner. Full of passengers, though, a journey of more than a few hours would be pretty uncomfortable, but it beats riding in a shuttle for six hours across the Sol system!
- The crew of a vessel of this size is often less than ten and the CO would be of very junior rank, if Starfleet at all. They are so easy to operate, though, that even a scientist without much training in starship operations could use one without needing a dedicated pilot. Just tell the computer where you want to go, and it'll handle things for you.
- You would see these ships performing their duties all over the Federation, especially in the core. They would be so common that they would often go without being noticed, which could be advantageous for the small number of them in surveillance or intelligence roles.
- These ships would be great as a portable laboratory set up for a particular branch of science, as they would be much faster to deploy than a small research base. You could find one of these ships at the heart of a research camp on a planet's surface, surrounded by temporary structures and tents for an archaeological or ecological survey.
- While the passenger variant is like an airliner, the transport and VIP variants would feel more like a small cruise ship or ferry. Think Air Force One (or Colonial One) for the VIP variant. If you ran across a ship in this configuration, you'd definitely be surprised to see it and wonder what important official was aboard.
- A few of these are used as patrol ships, but they are no serious threat to determined attackers. They're also used as patrol cutters for law enforcement and search & rescue duties, like a modern day Coast Guard vessel. They would handle first response to civilian distress calls until a larger ship could assist.
- In TNG, we saw several Oberth-class ships being used by civilian agencies; by 2399, the Aerie-class is much more common in that role.