"These xenos craft could be called fearsome, I suppose. But give me a thousand Valkyries to fill the sky with fire, and we shall see what is left of these alien filth that is worth fearing."
- —Air Marshal Zutrov before the Battle of the Borenza Gulf
The Aeronautica Imperialis is the branch of the Imperial Navy that is dedicated to atmospheric combat aviation.
The Aeronautica Imperialis usually works in conjunction with the Astra Militarum to provide combat transportation and tactical and strategic air support for its ground forces.
The might of the Imperial Navy is unimaginably vast, the embodiment of the Imperial Aquila spreading its adamantine shadow across all of the Emperor's realm. If the warships of the Imperial Navy are its titanic wings, the combat aircraft of the Aeronautica Imperialis are its talons, sweeping down to rend and tear the enemies of Mankind.
Squadron upon squadron of aircraft darken the skies as the Aeronautica Imperialis goes to war. Armoured fighter craft scream through the upper atmosphere, fighting duels with their Heretic or xenos rivals. Lumbering bombers thunder into whipping tracer fire and billowing smoke, filling the air with the howl of plummeting ordnance.
To the rank and file of the Astra Militarum, such aspects of war are distant terrors, which leap into sudden focus when aircraft hurtle down to bust bunkers wide open or riddle infantry with strafing fire.
Squadrons of Valkyries, and their sister gunships the Vendettas, operate in much closer cohesion with the Astra Militarum. Possessing sturdy armour, vectored-thrust manoeuvrability and firepower equivalent to a main battle tank, these versatile attack craft are well-loved by the troops on the ground.
Wings of Valkyries carry entire platoons of Astra Militarum infantry into battle, or sweep Tempestus Scions swiftly toward their crucial objectives. Whether the battle is fought upon the ragged flanks of a burning promethium refinery or in the carnivorous tangles of a Death World jungle, Valkyrie pilots are trained to get their passengers into position no matter the dangers at hand.
Once their human cargo are away, the Valkyrie squadrons typically adopt defensive patterns and remain at low altitude, providing covering fire to the Astra Militarum while staving off enemy aircraft intent on their demise.
The ability of Valkyrie squadrons to ferry Imperial soldiers into war zones, or lift them up and bear them away from danger, is not the only strategic use of these impressive craft. The Aeronautica Imperialis can field Valkyries in vast numbers, filling the skies with armoured aircraft and drumming gunfire fit to negate even the superhuman skill and arcane technologies of the Emperor's myriad enemies.
Those pilots who make it through such punishing airborne slaughters are soon hailed as veteran aces, promoted to be squadron leaders where their fervent faith and hard-earned hatred of the enemy can best aid their comrades in slaughtering the enemies of the Imperium.
Though their aircraft bear armaments blessed and thrice-blessed on the Forge Worlds of the Imperium, courage, determination and unquenchable faith in the Emperor are the true weapons of the heroic Valkyrie and Vendetta crews.
Formed up in defence of their wingmen, muttering devotional prayers between barked orders and Vox-exchanges, these brave warriors of the sky battle the worst horrors of the galaxy imaginable and still emerge victorious.
The mortality rate amongst Valkyrie and Vendetta squadrons is appalling, craft blown from the air by searing alien energies or crushed in the monstrous claws of winged daemons.
It is a testament to sheer human courage that their comrades fight on regardless, holding formation through the deadliest fields of fire and battling their way to victory no matter the terrors inflicted upon them.
Air War in the 41st Millennium
Air war is a vital element within all of the Imperium of Man's ongoing struggles across the galaxy, for when the skies are dominated, control over the land below soon follows. This is the ancient logic of air war, a truth Humanity knows and holds sacred.
Knowledge imparted down long millennia of warfare but, sadly, knowledge often tested and found wanting. Air superiority is often only fleeting, the respite it brings to ground forces all too brief. All too quickly the enemy rallies its strength and the tide of war and fortunes of those fighting changes once more.
All across the Emperor's vast interstellar realm, desperate aerial combat is fought; wings of fighters and bombers sally forth from ground bases and void ships in relentless waves, adding their meagre strength to that gone before them, hoping against hope to tip the balance in their favour and gain some miniscule measure of supremacy that might lead to a lasting conquest.
From sprawling Hive Worlds to desolate Ocean Worlds, from lush Agri-worlds to lifeless gas giants, valiant pilots seek to conquer war zones that ground forces could never hope to claim – war zones that in most cases ground forces could never even hope to survive.
Whole fleets of combat aircraft are committed to the fray. Even as the endless waves of aircraft darken the skies, the wreckage of those that came before them litters the landscape below in an ever increasing detritus of ruined craft, clogging the skies with palls of thick, oily smoke and billowing flame. Casualties are inevitably high. Air war is fast and deadly, the tiniest mistake or miscalculation resulting in a pilot and their armoured steed tumbling to the unforgiving world below in fiery ruin.
No amount of training can prepare a rookie pilot for the reality of what is to come. A pilot can fly many sorties and complete numerous missions in hostile skies, but until they are blooded in combat they have no comprehension of what aerial warfare truly means.
The sheer, breakneck speed and dizzying assault on the senses is something that cannot be experienced in test conditions. Legends can be born or lives lost as a result of decisions made and actions taken in the briefest of moments. Consequently, the one staple, the one unifying trait shared by pilots of any intelligent race, is that their first experience of action may well be their last.
Not all pilots face a swift, fiery end however. For every squadron destined to spin into oblivion, one or two pilots will overcome the dangers and quell their fears. Such natural airborne warriors show an almost preternatural skill, quickly mastering the subtle nuances of their craft, able to jink and dive out of fire arcs and target locks with the grace of a dancer. They develop a sixth sense for danger and a rapacious hunger for the thrill of the kill.
With every enemy callously dispatched, the reputation of the aerial killer grows and becomes more fearsome among friend and foe alike, growing until the pilot becomes lauded as an Ace. Many an Ace pilot rises to command of a squadron, their talent, experience and daring inspiring a new wave of pilots to ever greater deeds even as they continue to carve their own personal legend.
Rivalries develop between opposing Aces active in the same theatre of war, long games of cat and mouse between them played out in a series of aerial duels and close-run firefights. Some Aces will view their enemies simply as villainous scum to be eradicated. Others develop a grudging respect for a hated foe, even coming to feel a strange relish for each fresh encounter, eager to test their mettle against a worthy opponent once more.
Many such vendettas become legends, retold long after those involved have met their inevitable end, stories kept alive amongst the next generation of pilots to carry on the war in the legendary Ace's stead.
Aeronautica Imperialis Aircraft
- Death from the Skies (7th Edition), pp. 6-7, 24-25
- Aeronautica Imperialis (2020 Edition), "Rynn's World Air War Campaign Book" (Specialty Game), pp. 3, 63