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Roberts Space Industries ®






January 10th 2023

Whitley's Guide - Terrapin
This article originally appeared in Jump Point 6.02.

Anvil Aerospace Terrapin-class Pathfinder


Initial deliveries of production model U4A-3 Block I Terrapin-class ships began on September 19, 2796, with the first units forming the core of the newly-established 198th Utility and Support Wing (motto: “we’ve got u covered”) in a formal handover at MacArthur. As part of the United Empire of Earth’s intended phased military reorganization, elements of the 198th Wing were detached to active fleets as they became available, ensuring that the newly minted Terrapins saw action quickly. Indeed, the design’s first blooding occurred only two months after its introduction, when a single Terrapin downed a mercenary fighter as part of a combined forces narcotics interdiction operation off Castra. The Terrapin very easily settled into its fleet operations role, proving itself an effective support craft, armored personnel carrier and, when called, fighting platform. Military planners were extremely pleased with the ease of adoption and frequently cited the Terrapin as proof of the success behind the ‘new model Navy’ initiative of the immediate post-Messer era.


The original Naval order for Terrapins was quickly followed by a second, similarly-sized request from the UEE Marines. Although the Terrapin lacks the heavy guns used by dedicated dropships, its protective armor and enhanced scanning capabilities mean that it is ideal as an armored personnel carrier. Terrapin APCs quickly became a frequent sight on convoy duty and in smaller-scale interdiction missions; it was a UEEM Terrapin which located and then boarded the liner Astoria during the 2820 hijacking disaster. (The boarding Terrapin itself was destroyed during the ensuing explosion, but its crew survived, along with the crew and passengers they helped lead to safety.) Marines are said to prefer travel aboard the smaller Terrapins when possible, their more advanced systems offering a far smoother (if more cramped) ride than traditional troopships. Terrapins have also become popular for ‘safe’ landing operations: generally, any landing where it will face no more than small arms fire. A rumor persists that the UEEM operates an advanced technology ‘improved stealth’ Terrapin for covert boarding operations; there has been no proper sighting of this spacecraft and its existence has been roundly denied by both Anvil and the military.


Reconnaissance and scouting units began transitioning to the Terrapin five years after its introduction as an armored utility ship, though this adoption was rockier than the initial launch. Recon pilots, used to incredibly fast, light spacecraft that rely on speed over armor to escape trouble, were turned off by the Terrapin’s opposite nature. This changed in a single incident: the ship was said to have “paid for itself” in 2814 when a reconnaissance ship flown by Commander Bruce Dunbar successfully tracked a Vanduul raiding party across four systems without being identified. The tactical information gathered from the mission helped form important elements of the modern strategic understanding of the Vanduul; the ensuing interdiction and destruction of the raiding party by elements of the Ninth Fleet was also a major public relations victory for the UEE. In the three years following the incident, every single front line reconnaissance unit received at least one Terrapin (and crew assignment).

The largest downside to the early Terrapin was the difficulty of power management, which required that a pilot become particularly familiar with the design in order to use it most effectively. With multiple flight configurations, some of which significantly alter the design’s on-orbit geometry, the difficulty in ‘mastering’ the Terrapin became apparent. Later models would ease this, adapting from the tricks developed by the early pilots for managing such an unusual set of abilities. Anvil Aerospace began rolling out the modified U4A-3 Block II version in July 2845, with battlefield upgrade kits converting extant Block I models to parity over the course of the following 24 months. The U4A-3 Block II transition was the result of a massive review of pilot experiences from the previous half-century; thousands of current and former Terrapin-drivers were interviewed and countless hours of combat and flight footage were reviewed as part of the improvement process. The biggest takeaway from the process was that the ship’s durability would make it ideal for exploratory roles it had not yet filled. As a result, Block I models dropped a largely unused remote chin turret and were given extended batteries, improved shielding and a sensor suite capable of gathering and storing more data than would ordinarily be required for a fire support spacecraft. Though the changes were not the result of a formal request for proposal, the Navy quickly saw the value and began purchasing Terrapins specifically for exploratory services assignments.


Although the Terrapin’s active service includes lengthy periods of peacetime, it is a design that is considered in-demand under any circumstances; Admiral Vos Kant famously claimed that the Terrapin’s multirole capabilities meant that there was no single spacecraft he would rather have in ready five position. Indeed, Terrapin pilots quickly adapted to keeping track of more than a ‘kill score’: auxiliary and support squadrons typically treat with equal importance the number of missions flown, the number of rescues performed, or the number of boarding operations conducted. Exploratory squadrons compete in terms of raw data uploaded. In all these areas, the Terrapin has become a recordsetter; a Terrapin currently holds the record for ‘live rescues’; pickups of humans who have been exposed to pure vacuum.

Terrapin were among the first spacecraft dispatched as part of the Synthworld project. The massive construction project was such a drain on Navy resources that by the early 30th century it was estimated that three in five Terrapin had been assigned to the effort at some point in their service. In addition to APC and S&R duties, multiple attempts were made to modify them for small-scale ore transport and mineral analysis. These modification efforts were not notably successful, although a well known Synthworld project patch displays an anthropomorphic Terrapin toting a shovel and bucket. Construction-oriented Terrapins received a distinct yellow-and-black paint scheme during this era, which is still commonly associated with the effort.

In 2910, the Terrapin became an unexpected household name following a “starring” role in a popular vid. To the Stars, partially financed by the Empire’s office of civilian outreach, featured a ragtag band of Humans aboard a garishly painted purple-and-orange Terrapin affectionately named Maxwell. The Terrapin was ‘played’ by an active duty U4A-3 Block II model on loan from the Navy, nominally assigned to the UEEN Declan Smith. Referred to early on as an “ugly lump,” the spacecraft ultimately saves the day and becomes a home for its crew of explorers. The ubiquity of the film and the popularity of the personified spacecraft led to a brief craze, with a number of companies producing Terrapin-themed merchandise for an eager civilian population. Maxwell itself returned to active duty after filming, but was ultimately donated to the Garber Aerospace Museum where it was restored to its on-camera appearance and is now on permanent display.


The “modern” U4A-3 Block III model premiered in 2899, featuring (among other things) upgrades to weapons hardpoints and a number of control surfaces. The Block III model also formalizes a longtime ‘trick’ used by Terrapin pilots, the ability to release energy by toggling flight modes. While no battlefield upgrade option was created, Block III spaceframes have now fully replaced the Block II model. Recent years have seen the Terrapin fill out its combat history, as battles with the Vanduul have become larger and more commonplace. In a noteworthy 2944 engagement, a flight of six Scythe fighters happened into a quartet of Terrapins operating with systems low in stealth mode as part of a training observation. With their emissions low, the Terrapin crews spent a terrifying eight minutes avoiding detection before ultimately being in a position to turn the table and get the jump on the Vanduul. The UEEN flight suffered damage but lost no spacecraft, while five of the six Scythes were destroyed. Gun camera footage was not able to determine the fate of the sixth, but it is considered to be a probable kill.

It was also around the turn of the century that civilians began more widespread operation of Terrapins; the Navy surplused thousands of Block IIs as part of the transition and then began rotating out Block IIIs on a fifteen year cycle. The civilian refurbishment program, operated by Anvil out of a dedicated decommissioning facility at Nova Kyiv, makes veteran Terrapins available to corporations and individual users. ArkJen was the first large corporation to adopt Terrapins en masse, adapting the ships’ reconnaissance capabilities for their traditional survey work. Noteworthy civilian operators today include Meridian Transport, where Terrapins are used for higher security planetary hops, and GRUT, where they have become instrumental in search and rescue missions.

Individual Terrapin owners have also become extremely common in recent years, with thousands of the ships on the official registry. Owner/operators consider them to be a sound investment, even used: a solid spacecraft capable of meeting many essential, common roles while still being rough-and-tumble enough to adapt to a constantly changing galaxy.

This extract is from the 2947 Whitley’s Guide to Spacecraft’s U4A Terrapin Service History. Reprinted with permission. Whitley’s Guide is the property of Gallivan Publishing, 2860-2948, all rights reserved.

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