The Colonial Viper is a fictional spacecraft in the Battlestar Galactica science-fiction franchise. It is the primary fighter spacecraft type used by the human protagonists in this fictional universe. Appearing in both the 1978 original series and the 2003 reimagined series, as well as various derivative works, the single-pilot spacecraft are carried aboard Battlestar Galactica and are the humans' main tools of defense against the fictional universe's antagonists - the cybernetic Cylon race.
The popularity of the original Battlestar Galactica series resulted in United States Air Force pilots nicknaming F-16 Fighting Falcons "Vipers". When the reimagined series was created, the Viper was one of the elements that the designers wanted to carry through with minimal alteration.
Original series (1978, 1980)
In the original run of Battlestar Galactica, the Colonial Viper is the only known fighter flown by Colonial Pilots, referred to as "Colonial Warriors". There is only one known model of Viper seen in the series. Some materials list the Viper as a "Starhound Viper" or "Starhound Class" fighter, based on information in the novelization of "Saga of a Star World".
The Vipers are launched from a long tube in one of a Battlestar's landing bays, assisted by a powered catapult mechanism. It appears that a Battlestar can launch at least sixteen Vipers from each bay at once. Vipers are loaded into the launch tubes atop rails which engage recesses in the bottom of the fuselage between the lower wings. The rail system ensures that the Viper remains on the centerline of the launch tube.
Vipers typically use all three of their engines for powered flight, and can use a "Turbo" boost for greater speed, analogous to a modern fighter plane's afterburner. A pilot can turn on or off each engine by a push button, as seen in the startup sequence anytime a Viper is preparing to take off. Vipers can also reverse thrust for rapid deceleration, a useful tactic when being pursued by enemy ships that would then tend to overshoot the Viper, placing them in a vulnerable position. Vipers are capable of atmospheric as well as space flight, and can land and take off from a planetary surface. Viper engines are designed to collect commonly occurring gases in planetary atmospheres and in space to power the ship's fusion reactor. Vipers are also capable of supporting the pilot for up to two weeks in a form of "suspended animation" for extremely long missions.
The main flight control of a Viper is a three buttoned joystick, similar to a jet fighter. The three buttons are labeled FIRE, TURBO and IM, with the fire button being red. The IM button is the reverse thruster. Notably in "Saga of a Star World" and "The Gun on Ice Planet Zero (Pt. 2)" some Vipers have STORES on the joystick instead of FIRE, labelling identical to the camera controls on the joystick of an OV-1C Mohawk.
Armament consist of two directed energy weapons (referred to as "lasers" and "laser torpedoes" at separate points in the series, "The Long Patrol" and "Saga of a Star World" respectively) that are linked together to fire simultaneously. They can also be modified to carry fire suppression equipment, as shown in the "Fire In Space" episode where they are used to battle a fire on the Galactica after the Cylons crash explosives-laden fighters into the launch bays. Vipers' computer systems include not only a targeting system for the craft's firepower, but also includes a military database called "Warbook," that assists warriors in identifying various spacecraft.
In the event of a crash landing, a Viper's cockpit can also be used as an escape pod, separating from the ship and parachuting to the ground. This system does not provide a soft landing—in fact, it can knock the pilot unconscious—but it is effective. A G-suit is worn under the pilot's uniform for protection against gravitational forces, as seen in "Lost Planet of the Gods, Part I". The flight helmet worn by the Warrior pilots resembles an ancient Egyptian headdress and has no faceplate. Viper pilots from each Battlestar have differing forehead ornamentation on their helmets: Pegasus pilot helmets feature a flying horse, while Galactica pilot helmets have a bird design. According to some sources, the Universal wardrobe department came up with designs for other helmets if they had ever been needed-pilots from battlestar Cerberus would have had a three-headed dog on their helmets, pilots from the Prometheus would have had a hand holding a flaming torch, and those from the Solaria would have featured a burning sun.
Each Viper contains spacesuits for its pilot(s). While not normally worn, they can be brought out and donned if an EVA is necessary (e.g. for emergency repairs). Vipers also contain emergency survival kits, which include a backpack with rations and a reflective blanket, a parka, and (following the capture and reverse-engineering of Cylon Centurions) a manual with schematics of Cylon circuitry.