Ski Plane: An ordinary airplane equipped with skis to land on snow or ice. Still fairly common in Canada, where I flew a few hundred hours in small bush planes on skis, they must be somewhat exotic in Australia or Brazil. Nowadays, combination wheel-skis are more common than “straight boards,” because they offer the option of landing on dry runways with the skis raised, or on frozen lakes with the skis lowered. Kenn Borek Air, a Calgary based company that flies extensively in Antarctica has nice pictures of Twin Otters and Turbine DC-3s on skis. Even larger aircraft can be converted, up to and including the C-130 Hercules.
Tech Level: Depends more on the plane than the skis. Let’s say Dieselpunk.
Appeared In: I know I read an account about a woman flying a Herc on skis on a rescue mission that involved landing and taking off in deep snow with rocket assist. It wasn’t really Spec Fic, but if anyone remembers the title or author, I’d love to know.
For Your Plot: Getting stuck in slush is every ski plane pilot’s nightmare. Daylight doesn’t last long in the winter, and the situation will worsen as temperatures fall overnight. It is also possible to break through the ice of a frozen lake or river if the current has worn the ice thin. Other hazards include blizzards and whiteouts. You can mess your hero up good.
Steam powered aircraft: The first powered aircraft to fly successfully was a steam-powered dirigible. As mentioned before, lighter-than-air craft can carry a heavier powerplant than an airplane or helicopter, because power to weight ratio is not as critical. However, a steam powered airplane is (just barely) feasible.
Tech Level: Steampunk, duh!
Appeared In: Sean McMullen’s “Steamgothic,” a short story in his Ghosts of Engines Past anthology. If you’ve been enjoying this glossary, you should check it out. An award winning Australian author, Sean was one of the first in the Steampunk field.
For Your Plot: All the hazards of fringe aviation with the added benefit of lightweight boilers. Turning to airships, I have to say I’m drawn in by the potential for a steampunk romance between a stoker on the soot-covered “black gang” and a bridge officer in a spotless white uniform.