The Thunderhawk gunship is a multi-use aircraft in wide use by Space Marine Chapters. Each Chapter of the Space Marines maintains its own fleet of Thunderhawks. Normally reserved for large-scale battles, time and time again its use in the various fields of war has been proven. With such might like this, only a great threat to the Imperium can demand use of these mighty craft.
The Thunderhawk was first deployed during the last years of the Great Crusade as a cheaper-to-produce replacement for the Warhawk VI "Stormbird" gunship.. Armed to the teeth with a Thunderhawk cannon and various other weapons, its use become more and more widespread.
Many Marines who rode in the newly-deployed Thunderhawks felt uncomfortable, finding them lighter and flimsier compared to the more dependable Stormbirds. During the Horus Heresy, Captain Remus Ventanus of the Ultramarines predicted that the Thunderhawk was just a "stopgap" design, and the Legions would develop a better design, or revert to the more reliable Stormbird, before long.
The Thunderhawk is armed with a large number of weapons, though the configuration varies. Its primary weapon is fitted on a limited traverse dorsal mount and can mount either a Turbo-laser Destructor, powerful enough to strike down even a Scout Titan with an accurate shot, or a modified Battle Cannon useful for ground bombardment.
It also has two Lascannons mounted on either attack wing and at least four Heavy Bolters in hull-mounted twin-linked sponsons, with room for four additional Heavy Bolters under the main wing tips.[1a]
In addition each wing has three bomb pylons, each of which carry one Hellstrike Missile, three Bombs or Smart Bombs, or an external fuel pod, for a total of six missiles/pods or eighteen bombs. All of the Thunderhawk's weapon systems are controlled by the gunner through remote multi-spectrum surveyors from the flight deck with assistance provided by the Machine Spirit.[1a]
The pilot, co-pilot, navigator and gunner are all located in the gunship's flight deck above the forward hold and in front of the upper hold. The navigator and co-pilot also control the primary narrow-band, long-range communications transmitter located on top of the fuselage, along with the sensor array and electronic counter-measures. The navigational equipment also transmits information to Space Marine command units, while an emergency location beacon will automatically begin broadcasting should the Thunderhawk be shot down.[1a]
Despite their complexity the Thunderhawk's systems are rugged and reliable, and are all controlled by an M33 'Cygnus' class Machine Spirit. Utilizing aetheric and phlogiston feed coils, alembic shielding and pseudo-synaptic relays, the Cygnus has a cognition speed of 40,000 co/sec with a maximum contemplation capacity of 10,000 kilobrains, making it comparable to that found in a Reaver Battle Titan.[1a]
Armour for the Thunderhawk is constructed in a similar manner to that of a Land Raider, giving it an unprecedented level of protection. An adamantium inner hull is layered on top by titanium rolled plates, followed by a thermoplas fibre mesh, and then two layers of ceramite, the second of which is ablative. The ceramite and thermplas fibre layers are increased in depth to provide the craft with additional protection in order to perform repeated atmospheric entries, making them thicker than those on a Land Raider, at the expensive of thinning the titanium and adamantium layers. These armour layers makes the Thunderhawk very well-protected and particularly resistant to Melta Weapons.[1a]
In addition to its armouring, Thunderhawks also come equipped with a Decoy Flare Launcher located in the lower rear fuselage, along with additional electronic counter-measures used to jam enemy sensors and tracking equipment.[1a]
The Thunderhawk is powered by triple RX-92-00 Mars pattern, combination rocket/afterburning turbofans mounted on each wing and under the fuselage. In an atmosphere the turbofans provide enough thrust to propel the craft to approximately 2,000 kilometers per hour. When operating in space the forward turbofan section is isolated from the exhaust and combustion chambers, where fuel from the onboard fusion reactor is pumped in to create a high-pressure, high-velocity stream of gasses which provide thrust.[1a]
Additional retro exhaust nozzles are located around the Thunderhawk's hull to provide maneuverability in zero-gravity conditions.[1a] They also allow the craft to operate in hover mode when in an atmosphere. For improved atmospheric handling the gunship features two 'attack' wings located above the main wings, which provide additional directional stability when making gun attacks. Their movement is synchronized and, during normal flight, are locked into position by bracing on the upper main wings, which are released when the Thunderhawk approaches a target.[1a]
At full capacity a Thunderhawk gunship can carry thirty power armoured Space Marines, or half as many in Terminator Armour, divided between the upper and forward holds. It can also carry a single Dreadnought in the forward hold, which takes the space of five Space Marines, or Space Marine Bike and Attack Bikes, which take up space equivalent to three and four Space Marines, respectively. Embarked troops can enter and exit through a forward assault ramp or two access doors on either side of the forward hull.[1a]
|Type||Orbital Dropship||Operational Ceiling||N/A|
|Vehicle Name||Thunderhawk Gunship[1a]||Max Speed||2000 kph approx.|
|Forge World of Origin||Mars||Range||28,000 km in atmosphere|
|Known Patterns||I-XXI||Main Armament||Dorsal mounted Battle Cannon, twin-linked Lascannons|
|Crew||Pilot, Co-Pilot, Gunner, Navigator||Secondary Armament||4x twin-linked Heavy Bolters|
|Powerplant||3 x RX-92-00 Combination Rocket/Afterburning Turbofans||Main Ammunition||28 rounds|
|Weight||121 tonnes||Secondary Ammunition||2400 rounds|
|Wingspan||26.65 m||Superstructure||55 mm|
|Height||9.8 m||Hull||65 mm|
Various uses and strategies used
As the Thunderhawk's engines allow it to drop to lower atmosphere without landing, it proves to be one of the most useful craft employed by the Space Marines. With the ability to carry three full tactical squads, with precision a Drop Pod can't match, the Thunderhawk is used to insert marines into the thick of it, not just destroy the enemy. Whereas some chapters would prefer to simply launch a full-scale assault on the enemy, or use Drop Pods, many, many Chapters use Thunderhawks. Its tactical range and huge amount of firepower prove it to be one of the most useful vehicles ever created. Not only this, but the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Techmarines still hold the secrets to the creation of the Thunderhawk.
Thunderhawks as Attack Craft
Thunderhawks are not just used for ground attacks. Indeed, they are often launched into a space battle much like "normal" Attack craft where their firepower and Space Marine cargo make them potent additions to a Space Marine fleet.
While slower than dedicated interceptors like the Fury, Thunderhawks are able to out-fight and out-last such craft, usually going twice as long as "regular" fighters before being forced to return to their mother ship for refueling and re-arming. While very useful in its own right, this strength and endurance also means that unlike most assault boats, Thunderhawks are more than capable of punching their way through enemy fighter screens and delivering their deadly payload to a warship for a devastating hit-and-run boarding action without the need for dedicated fighter escorts to pave the way for them.
|Troop Insertion Mission||Close Air Support Mission||Saturation Bombing Mission||Long-Range Bombing Mission||Spaceship Intercept|
Famous wars and battles
- Assault on Black Reach [2a]
- The Damnos Incident [2b]
- The hunt for Kernax Voldorius [2c]
- Vorlinghat's Bane 
- Gladius - personal Thunderhawk of Ultramarines Captain Cato Sicarius[2d][9a].
- Xiphos - Ultramarines 2nd Company[9b].
- Pilum - Ultramarines 2nd Company[9b].
- Spatha - Ultramarines 2nd Company[9b].
- Roar of Vengeance - personal Thunderhawk of Dark Angels Supreme Grand Master Azrael.
The Thunderhawk Transporter is a logistical variation of the normal Thunderhawk gunship. It has many of the same basic design features as the original but is armed with only four twin-linked Heavy Bolters, though it can carry as many as six Hellstrike missiles on its wing hardpoints, and is propelled by four RX-92-00 combination rocket/afterburning turbofans. The most noticeable difference is that it is missing the normal transport holds found on the Thunderhawk gunship, equipped instead with four massive magnetic clamping arms mounted on runners underneath the fuselage. These allow the Transporter to carry two Rhino or one Land Raider-sized vehicles, or an under-slung pod for carrying ammunition, fuel and other supplies. These items can be loaded and unloaded in quick order, minimizing the amount of time the Transporter is vulnerable while one the ground.[1a]
|Type||Orbital Transporter||Operational Ceiling||N/A|
|Vehicle Name||Thunderhawk Transporter||Max Speed||2000 kph approx.|
|Forge World of Origin||Mars||Range||28,000 km in atmosphere|
|Known Patterns||I-XI||Main Armament||4x twin-linked Heavy Bolters|
|Crew||Pilot, Co-Pilot||Secondary Armament||N/A|
|Powerplant||4 x RX-92-00 Combination Rocket/Afterburning Turbofans||Main Ammunition||2200 rounds|
|Weight||105 tonnes||Secondary Ammunition||N/A|
|Wingspan||26.65 m||Superstructure||45 mm|
|Height||8.6 m||Hull||45 mm|
- 1: Imperial Armour Volume Two - Space Marines and Forces of the Inquisition
- 2: Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition)
- 3: Apocalypse, pg. 114
- 4: Planetstrike, pg. 62
- 5: Battlefleet Gothic Resources: Imperial Fleets (accessed 2010.11.18)
- 6: Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War - Part Two, pg. 165
- 7: Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign, pg. 247
- 8: Assault on Black Reach (Novel) by Nick Kyme, [Needs Citation]
- 9: The Chapter's Due (Novel) - Ultramarines: The Second Omnibus by Graham McNeill
- 10: Horus Rising (Novel) by Dan Abnett, Part One, Chapter Seven, pg. 145
- 11: Prospero Burns (Novel) by Dan Abnett, Chapter Seven, pg. 225
- 12: Rules of Engagement (Short Story) by Graham McNeill - Age of Darkness (Anthology), [Needs Citation]
- 13: Pandorax Chapter 12