An Edleson Design Institute Hall of Fame inductee in 2902, Leonard Casse has earned a place in the annals of history as one of the top spacecraft visionaries of the Messer Era. While the general populace may wind up considering his creation of the Hurricane fighter the most enduring part of his legacy, his effect on the industry overall is not limited to that one design. Cited by ship design luminaries such as J. Harris Arnold, Silas Koerner, and Jules Parliegh as a prime source of inspiration, Casse’s influence can be seen in many spacecraft being flown today. From the humble RSI Aurora to the mighty Anvil Hornet, several of the Empire’s most popular vehicles can trace their lineage to Casse’s unique vision.
Hired fresh out of university, Casse began his career as a junior aerospace engineer for RSI in 2587, securing himself a position on the Starbright transport team. This simple and functional ship, often referred to as the Aurora’s spiritual predecessor, had been redesigned for the 2590 model year release and was about to go into full production. Assigned to review the machining specs for the ventral hull piece before the manufacturing run began, Casse noticed that the updated nozzle placement, while adding fuel efficiency, was going to cause potentially dangerous additional stresses to the ship’s frame. He promptly reported his findings to the Starbright’s lead designer, only to be told that the effect was negligible and that he should trust the more experienced members of the team.
Unsatisfied with that result, Casse took his report directly to the head of the company, CEO Thessaly Vanowen. Impressed with the young engineer, Vanowen ordered a separate independent team to audit the Starbright’s testing results. Two weeks later, the project was completely halted for a total rework of the internal struts. The 2590 Starbright would now be released as the 2591, with Casse promoted to a full engineer on the team.
His rise after that was rapid. In 2595 Casse was named lead designer for the 2600 Starbright. RSI saw the new century as the perfect time to relaunch the Starbright and was hoping that Casse would be the ideal candidate to revitalize the aging ship line. He did not disappoint. Rebuilt from the ground up, the 2600 Starbright was praised for its innovative entry system and all-new custom IFCS that integrated flawlessly with the ship’s thrusters for unmatched responsiveness. What was previously thought of as “just another transport” became elevated to “a flying experience that everyone should have the pleasure of enjoying.” Even today, centuries later, collectors still covet the 2600 Starbright for their personal fleets. Perhaps what makes it so valued though, even beyond its quality, is that it would be the only ship Casse designed for RSI.
As soon as the assembly line began rolling out the ship he had labored on for close to four years, Casse announced at the beginning of 2599 that he would be leaving to start his own company. According to later biographers, Casse described his time at RSI as a constant struggle. From that first instance when his suggestions were passed over due to his junior status, he felt that good design was too often sacrificed in order to placate a hierarchical organization trying to justify its own worth. “As soon as you have a ship manufacturing company where almost half the people who work there have nothing to do with manufacturing ships, you’re going to have problems,” he would state in a later interview. He swore that the company he was building, Casse Aerospace, would be different. He would only hire a small team of people whom he could trust to do quality work at the standards he demanded, and then he would leave them to do it. Everyone’s opinion would have equal weight, with all final decisions left to himself. It was unorthodox for ship manufacturing, but under the strong vision and guidance of Casse, the flat organization style worked.
It was 2604 when Casse Aerospace released its first ship, the limited-run Cosmo Sloop. A leisure craft with a focus on ease of use, the hull premiered the open circle signet and curved wings that Casse would use on all his future designs. The reviews of this cutting-edge craft were universally positive, but unfortunately the timing of the ship’s release would prove to be its undoing.
The Second Tevarin War had begun the year prior and with enemy forces pushing their way through Humanity’s defenses, the personal leisure craft market bottomed out. With all their fortunes riding on sales of the Cosmo, Casse Aerospace found themselves struggling to keep their fledgling company afloat and decided that the best course of action was to join the war effort.
The Tevarin fleet had undergone significant tech upgrades during their exodus, and the UEE Naval forces were having a difficult time overcoming the new phalanx shields. In 2605, Navy officials called upon the Empire’s ship manufacturers for a solution. Though he had never worked on a combat ship before, Casse knew that the credits such a lucrative contract would bring could save his company, and so he set about designing the solution to Humanity’s current problems.
Analyzing battle footage of Naval forces engaging the Tevarin led Casse to the conclusion that trying to overwhelm the Phalanx shields was a losing proposition. The bulk of damage that the Navy was able to inflict occurred when a Tevarin was caught off guard. The goal of his design would be to increase the frequency with which those opportunities would occur and maximize the damage inflicted during them. To help his ship achieve this goal, he borrowed a page from the enemy’s playbook. If the Tevarin were operating in teams of two, one pilot and one shield operator, his ship could also be manned by a team, a pilot and a turret gunner. The design he submitted to the Navy stood in sharp contrast to those submitted by industry leaders like Aegis, and it surprised many when the Navy granted a contract to the unusual contender. Casse Aerospace immediately began work on what would become the Hurricane.
Launched late in 2607, the Casse Hurricane suffered some setbacks during the testing phase. Though pilots liked the power-to-weight ratio and the extra punch its quad-turret offered, the high degree of coordination needed between the pilot and gunner had a very steep learning curve. Because of this, the Hurricane didn’t enter active combat until 2609. While they were used to devastating effect in a few instrumental actions, the war ended shortly after their deployment in 2610.
Trying to capitalize on the success of the Hurricane, Casse Aerospace used the goodwill they had garnered to win a contract designing a long-range patrol ship suited to guard the growing Xi’an front. However, before that ship could be finished, Leonard Casse tragically passed away in 2615 after being involved in a deadly in-atmosphere collision. Reeling from the loss of their founder and leader, Casse Aerospace attempted to finish the project, but without Casse’s personal involvement, military officials lost confidence and pulled the plug.
Surviving off continuing Hurricane sales, Casse Aerospace attempted to return to their roots and release an updated Cosmo but again, without Casse behind the project, it was not a commercial success. Things were looking dire for the company, and when the Navy announced the Hurricane would be retired from active duty, it signaled the end. The market was soon flush with surplus Hurricanes and any remaining new sales dried up. With little options remaining, the board sold the company to an investment firm. From there it passed hands several times before falling into receivership and becoming nothing more than a footnote of history for the next century.
When J. Harris Arnold was in school, he was obsessed with the works of Leonard Casse. To him, the mostly forgotten engineer represented everything he loved about ship design. When he eventually started his own ship manufacturing company, Arnold drew heavy inspiration from Casse’s business model and ships for his own designs, utilizing such signature elements as the curved wings and open circle signet. The similarities were such that Arnold and his fledgling company, Anvil Aerospace, was sued by the holding firm who had bought the rights to Casse’s designs. Arnold decided to settle the case by purchasing all of Casse Aerospace’s portfolio himself. Now the owner of Casse’s legacy, Arnold sought an opportunity to put the company’s original designs to use, but one didn’t present itself for close to seventy years.
The UEE was suffering as Vanduul attacks in Caliban grew in frequency in a manner similar to the ones that led to the fall of Virgil and Tiber. Eager to turn their efforts around, the Navy brass were looking for a new ship that would enable their pilots to cut engagement times down. Their theory was that the faster a Vanduul fighter could be taken out, the less opportunity it would have to cause Human casualties. Anvil provided the solution in the form of a resurrected Hurricane. The updated design still bore all the hallmarks of Casse’s original, but with the addition of Anvil’s proven conflict expertise. The result was a game changer for the war effort, and in 2878 a new generation of Navy pilots began to use the Hurricane to devastating effect.
Today, Casse and the company he built have finally taken their proper place in history books, thanks to the efforts of Arnold and others who sought to keep their memory alive. While he may have only designed three ships in his lifetime, Leonard Casse’s contributions extend well beyond what he left behind in the shipyard, as he has inspired countless numbers to see the universe a little bit differently. The plaque honoring him in the Edleson Design Institute Hall of Fame cites a fitting Casse quotation, “Good design solves a problem, bad design creates new ones.”