to Gregory Weagle and Steven Ganske for their contributions
to this profile.
Like a vulture, she swoops out of the sky to prey upon the
defenseless and unwary. Her ominous profile is a familiar
and dreaded sight to cargo pilots. An airship of titanic proportions,
the Iron Vulture belongs to the fearsome Air Pirates
of Don Karnage, who plunder the skyways at will from their
fortress-like flagship. Even the largest cargo planes pale
in comparison to this enormous vessel. A quarter mile in length,
the Iron Vulture is without doubt the largest airship
ever built as well as the most infamous airborne vehicle
The TaleSpin Sourcepage presents Geary Graham's short
story "Fade Away," now available exclusively at
this website. Theories from this fan fiction regarding the
Iron Vulture's origins have been included in the profile.
original TaleSpin fan fiction by Geary Graham
"A Short History of Air Carriers", contributed
by Steven Ganske ("Starkweather")
Mystery surrounds the origin of the Iron Vulture.
Some believe that the Vulture belonged to another pirate
band until Don Karnage "liberated" the airship and
overthrew her former captain. Others rumor that Karnage constructed
the Vulture in secret and used it to turn other pirates
to his side although such an undertaking would have
been hideously expensive and impossible to conceal. Besides,
Karnage is the sort of pirate who would rather steal
something than build it. Of course, it is also possible that
the Vulture belonged to Karnage's family and was merely
passed down to him by a relative.
According to one account, the Iron Vulture was produced
in one of the most ambitious projects of the Great War. During
the War, an alliance between Usland and Thembria culminated
in plans for what were destined to be the greatest airborne
fighting machines of all time the "air carriers."
Designed by Cape Suzette engineers and built by the massive
Thembrian labor force, these airships a quarter-mile
long, carrying powerful weapons and whole squadrons of planes
would lead a massive assault on an oppressive expansionist
nation which was a mutual enemy of both the Thembrians and
After many months of construction, the air carrier was completed
and prepared to enter service. However, an unexpected coup
overthrew the enemy government before the carriers ever saw
combat, and the Great War itself ended soon thereafter. Finding
the air carrier too expensive to maintain now that active
military ventures had ceased, Cape Suzette and Thembria were
forced to retire the idea prematurely.
Over a dozen years later, a daring raid by a ragtag squadron
of Air Pirates led by a young brigand named Don Karnage
led to the theft of the Iron Vulture, one of
the forgotten airships. The incident raised a few eyebrows
among authorities but failed to generate widespread concern.
After all, the carrier had not been maintained for over a
decade, and its technology was woefully crude compared to
the advances in aviation design made since the Great War.
Where could a lunatic band of pirates succeed where Cape Suzette
and Thembria had failed?
The secret lay in Don Karnage's ability to manage his resources.
Karnage hid the Iron Vulture in a secret base, revamping
and refurbishing it to suit his piratical purposes. The ship's
already-considerable firepower was bolstered by the addition
of freshly-stolen CT-37 attack fighters to the ship's complement.
Now the Iron Vulture is the flagship of the Air Pirates,
striking fear and panic into the hearts of cargo pilots everywhere.
Far from being obsolete, the Vulture can hold its own
against a whole squadron of fighters although Karnage
seldom fights when he can flee.
The Iron Vulture is a staggering feat of aircraft
design. From bow to stern, the Vulture spans an incredible
1,200 feet! The rear tail fin adds a extra 300 to this, bringing
the Vulture's overall length to a grand total of 1,500
feet. To enhance the Vulture's already-intimidating
presence, the Air Pirates crafted a look for the ship similar
to that of a monstrous bird of prey. The Vulture's
prow is shaped like an enormous beak, while her towering stern
sail and the protruding designs behind the bridge vaguely
resemble giant feathers. The gaudy purple and gold color scheme
of the airship, personally selected by Don Karnage, further
establishes the Vulture's resemblence to a bird of
The Vulture's beak contains a mechanized "jaw"
platform which lowers to provide access to the interior of
the ship. The main hangar, which makes up most of the Vulture's
interior, is a cavernous bay capable of holding three full
squadrons of fighter planes as well as several cargo aircraft.
The jaw itself acts as a runway extension; it is usually
closed while traveling or landing (often to prevent captured
planes from escaping) and opens to dispatch fighters. A manually-operated
gear system originally served to raise and lower the jaw
when it proved too slow and cumbersome in emergencies, Karnage
replaced the gears with hydraulics.
Iron Vulture's original beak mechanism was manually
controlled; the jaw platform was quickly lowered, but
raised slowly by cranking heavy gears. Now the system
works through a control box (shown above).
As mentioned above, the Iron Vulture can hold up to
thirty planes in its main cargo bay. Most of the fighters
are usually stored out of sight in smaller adjoining hangars,
cleverly concealed behind wall panels. Two large bomb bay
doors in the floor of the hangar can be opened to jettison
cargo, dump plundered aircraft, or launch fighters. For some
operations like deploying submarines, a smaller circular port
within the bay doors themselves can be used. Controls to release
the bay doors are located in the bridge and at key spots in
the hangar; all are linked to an alarm system throughout the
ship that sounds when the doors are opened.
Should the flight deck become too crowded for safe takeoffs
or landings, a hydraulic lift platform carries planes from
the hangar to the upper deck of the Vulture. Other
means of access into the ship are two one-man hatches in the
upper deck of the Vulture, leading to catwalks suspended
at dizzying heights above the hangar floor.
Numerous concealed doors are also installed in the sides
of the Vulture's outer hull, though their exact locations
are unknown. These hatches, all but forgotten by Karnage and
his crew, open directly to the outside and must have been
originally designed as emergency escape routes.
small, round hatches seen here allow access to the Iron
Vulture's top deck, while the door at lower right
leads from a middle-deck platform to the outside. Both
were apparently meant for emergencies.
The Iron Vulture is equipped with twelve vertical
propeller engines, six on each side of the upper runway. When
used on full throttle, they can lift over 100 tons of cargo
(exact specifications are unavailable). It is suspected that
some internal buoyancy system, possibly helium tanks in the
superstructure, bear most of the ship's empty weight. In addition
to the vertical engines holding the Iron Vulture aloft,
two massive rear-facing prop engines drive the ship forward.
Due to the sheer size of the engine system, the Vulture's
engines are powered by turbine generators located deep within
the ship. Because of the unique configuration of the vertical
engine system, lightning strikes can play havoc with the Iron
Start-up time for the engines is remarkably short; the Vulture
can be up and flying in under a minute. The Iron Vulture
commonly cruises at 35 to 40 miles per hour, but she is
capable of exceeding 100 mph at full throttle. Navigation
is accomplished by shifting power between the two rear engines
as a method of steering. The giant tail fin, which deflects
wind flow like a plane's rudder, preserves a stable course.
Since the Iron Vulture was designed as an airborne
battleship, its engines conserve as much fuel as possible
for maximum efficiency. Huge tanks in the aft of the ship
store enough fuel for over an estimated four weeks
of nonstop flight! Whenever possible, Karnage lands the Vulture
in a remote area of the ocean to conserve its precious fuel
supplies and recharge the main generators. The watertight
hull of the Vulture enables it to rest indefinitely
in the water (just as long as nobody opens the bomb bay doors,
that is). No one knows just how Karnage manages to get enough
fuel to keep the Iron Vulture operating as often as
The entire ship is controlled from the bridge overlooking
the Iron Vulture's prow. In a nod to pirate tradition,
the steersman uses an old-fashioned ship's wheel to pilot
the craft. Throttle levers control the power of the ship's
rear engines while a single lever activates and throttles
the main propulsion system. Various gauges and pipes adorn
the base of the ship's spacious main windows, which offer
a striking view of the Iron Vulture's surroundings.
In case the view is obstructed or the steersman simply wants
to see behind the Vulture, a ceiling-mounted periscope
provides a 360-degree field of visibility. Don Karnage personally
commands the ship from a stylish captain's chair bolted to
the floor in the middle of the room.
| The Iron
Vulture's bridge, command post of Captain Don Karnage.
Asleep at lower right is steersman Jock.
serves as an aid for visual sighting...
while this scope is used chiefly to monitor the upper
The rest of the Vulture's interior is contained within
the huge double hulls on either side of the main hangar. These
consist of a veritable maze of corridors, hallways, and catwalks
leading to different areas of the ship. The confusing layout
of the Iron Vulture means that one unfamiliar with
the ship can get lost very easily. Without a map or firsthand
knowledge of the ship's interior, a person can wander for
what seems like hours through the dimly-lit corridors.
Installed almost as an afterthought by the Vulture's
original designers, the ventilation system feeds from the
main hangar bay and circulates air throughout the entire ship.
After so many years in storage, the Vulture is quite
musty and the air smells faintly of mothballs. In addition,
the air ducts are infested with roaches and other vermin which
often emerge in various parts of the ship. Resourceful as
always, the Vulture's crew has learned to make the
best of the situation by capturing a few of the critters and
holding "cockroach races" as shipboard entertainment.
Individuals bent on infiltrating the vessel may use the ventilation
shafts to avoid detection.
Iron Vulture's ventilation system.
garbage ports, emptying to the outside.
of the Iron Vulture's engine works. The doorway
to the upper right leads to the main prison block.
The Vulture's hallways are distinguished by levels.
The upper level of the interior contains the turbine generators
for the engines, as well as the prison block, a section lined
with prison cells and holding areas of all shapes and sizes.
Each cell is different but all are secure and practically
impossible to escape, unless a prisoner is particularly clever.
It is estimated that nearly 200 people could be held captive
aboard the ship at one time, but usually the cells remain
empty. Any occupants are usually victims of Air Pirate raids
few stay for more than a couple of days before they
are released outright, held for ransom, or worse.
Below, right: The main holding cell in the Iron Vulture's
The communications room of the Iron Vulture is also
on the upper level near the aft section of the Vulture.
Once a standard multi-frequency transceiver, the ship's radio
has been rewired countless times and upgraded with jury-rigged
parts and electronics. As a result, the Iron Vulture can
pick up frequencies across the entire civilian range plus
military and other "shielded" channels. Moreover,
it can transmit messages in any of these frequencies
as well as in a special "pirate" shortwave signal
that authorities are still trying to unscramble.
Right: The radio room.
Below: "This is Don Karnage, speaking to you with my
Below: The retractable external speaker.
Patching into secure frequencies is simple for the pirates.
As an added bonus, the radio scrambles signals along that
same frequency on other planes' radios in the area. The Iron
Vulture's radio system can only be accessed from the radio
room or the bridge it is also connected to a retractable
loudspeaker underneath the ship for publicly broadcasting
Karnage's long-winded announcements. The Vulture's
intercom, a separate system, can be accessed at terminals
located throughout the ship; the system feeds into the bridge
radio to relay messages to those at the helm. Additionally,
a small network of voice tubes carries announcements and general
orders from the bridge to the main decks, crew quarters, and
the Vulture's engine room.
aboard ship can be delivered via radio intercom...
||... or through
speaking tubes, such as these shown here.
The middle decks are composed of the crew quarters, small
to mid-sized cabins containing four bunks each. Few pirates
get a room all to themselves, five or six shipmates usually
sharing one room. As a result, the berths are a haphazard
tangle of random belongings and assorted clutter, barely fit
for even the most hardened fighting men. Only the captain's
mates and Don Karnage himself have their own private quarters.
Any unoccupied rooms are used as storage areas for clothes,
equipment, and junk.
Left: Don Karnage's room aboard the Iron
Below: One of many storage rooms holding clothes and other
The Vulture's galley is also located on the middle
level. Like all airship galleys, this small room is built
for economy. Multi-range ovens and compact cooking equipment,
salvaged from downed passenger liners, is installed in available
nooks and crannies of empty kitchen space. While not up to
sanitary standards, the galley is capable of preparing enough
food each day to keep Karnage's men satisfied.
There are two main eating areas in the ship a spacious
mess hall which was converted from a munitions hangar, and
a smaller private room near the galley itself where Karnage
and his more trusted crewmen dine. Air pirates are known to
have sloppy table manners; needless to say, mealtime on board
is not for those with weak stomachs. At full capacity the
Iron Vulture's food stores contain enough stock to
feed the entire ship's crew for four weeks.
Weapons and equipment storage make up the lower deck of the
Vulture. A repair booth adjoins the hangar where pirate
mechanics modify weapons and patch up damaged fighters. Also
on the lower decks is the treasure room, a huge vault holding
the Air Pirates' ill-gotten gains. Valuables stored here do
not remain on the Vulture very long the pirates
commonly unload their store back at base each month. However,
a sizable portion of riches remains on board at all times
for the captain's enjoyment.
The Iron Vulture was designed primarily as a giant
airborne hangar, but it features several impressive weapons
systems that allow it to function independently of fighter
support. The Vulture's primary weapons are the enormous
front cannons. Among the largest and most powerful weapons
ever produced, these huge artillery guns were banned from
production soon after the Great War ended. Kept in concealed
bays on either side of the Vulture, these cannons are
capable of causing massive destruction. In fact, using these
guns the Air Pirates may stand a fair chance of eliminating
Cape Suzette’s cliff defenses. Fortunately, an acute shortage
of heavy ammo forces the Pirates to conserve what few shells
|Only by visual
comparison can the scale of the Iron Vulture's
main guns be best appreciated.
||One of the
broadside cannons ordinarily concealed behind the ship's
Two other large cannons cover the aft section of the Vulture.
For broadside attacks, the Iron Vulture deploys six
medium cannons hidden behind concealed panels along the sides
of the ship. Other weapons aboard the Vulture include
numerous small machine guns scattered across the lower hull,
as well as a rarely-used topside cannon.
Defensively, the Iron Vulture is one of the most well-armored
ships in the air. The strength of the vessel is a testament
to its solid construction. Several layers of bolted metal
plates and armor form an extremely resiliant exterior impervious
to most attacks. Vulnerable points include the propeller engines
and the bridge, as well as the dozens of portholes scattered
across the airship's hull. And even the massive Iron Vulture
is no match for a full-scale barrage from fighter planes or
cliff guns, a fact which makes Don Karnage particularly inclined
to run from a fight once the enemy starts shooting back.
When attacks fail, Karnage commonly employs subterfuge to
mask the Vulture's presence, with varying degrees of
success. Schemes to sneak the Iron Vulture into Cape
Suzette have ranged from the barely plausible to the outlandish
including disguising the ship as an ocean liner, covering
it with a blanket of smoke to resemble a storm cloud, and
painting it 'invisible.' In one notable incident, the Vulture
masqueraded as a Broccoli Day parade float! Each attempt suffers
the usual failure attributable to either poor timing or just
plain bad luck.
Clockwise from left: Depicted here are only a few of the
ways that Don Karnage has tried to masquerade the Iron
Vulture: as an ocean liner, as a storm cloud, and as nothing
The Air Pirates make it a point to avoid direct confrontation
with the authorities whenever possible. Due to this and the
irregularity of the pirates' attacks, authorities are hard-pressed
to determine the Iron Vulture's location with any certainty.
The laws of international airspace also complicate the Air Police's
attempts to apprehend the pirates over "free waters."
Considering the number of chance encounters and close calls
the Vulture has had with coastal fighter planes over
the years, it seems only a matter of time before Karnage and
his men are caught. But as long as the Iron Vulture roams
the airways, the skies will never be truly safe.
THE IRON VULTURE
- Craft: The Iron Vulture
Type: Pirate air carrier
Length: 1,500 feet (overall)
Skill: Airship piloting: air carrier
Crew: 16, gunners: 10, skeleton: 4/+10
Crew Skill: Varies widely
Passengers: 245 (45 pirates, up to 200 prisoners)
Aircraft: 30 CT-37 fighters, plus 5 misc. planes
Cargo Capacity: 100 tons
Cost: Not for sale
Top Speed: 150 mph
- 2 Bow Cannons
Fire Arc: Front
Skill: Airship gunnery
Fire Control: 2D
Range: 100-300/700 ft/1.5 mi.
2 Stern Cannons
Fire Arc: Back
Skill: Airship gunnery
Fire Control: 1D+1
Range: 100-300/500 ft/1 mi.
6 Broadside Cannons
Fire Arc: 3 left, 3 right
Crew: 1 (6)
Skill: Aircraft gunnery
Fire Control: 2D
Range: 30-100/300/800 ft.
- Hull: 5D