Flight has always fascinated humanity. First came legends of Winged Humanoids and Floating Continents, then eventually airships and actual airplanes. When the aircraft carrier was invented, its sheer awesome (and force projection) made the battleship a military relicnote Although the potential weakness of the carrier vessel itself, should its air arm ever be somehow neutralized, has more than once induced the theorization of a carrier-battleship hybrid. Considering this, is it any surprise that people have wanted to combine the awesome of the airplane, aircraft carrier, zeppelin and floating continent into one?
Well, the result of this daydreaming is the Airborne Aircraft Carrier! This is a step above the simple boat most video games use to ferry the player around; it is a literal mobile floating fortress and airport, capable of raining Death from Above like few fictional Military Mashup Machines. At its most basic, it serves as a refueling station like an island in the sky; a carrier; add some guns to make it a combination battleship; and if you're into that sort of thing, robot transformations. A similar concept on a smaller scale is the usage of parasite aircraft piggybacking on larger ones.
As listed below, this one was attempted several times in real life. So far, it's only really worked with airships, which are the only thing stable enough to link with the planes, not to mention have the lift and size necessary to house internal aircraft hangars. Airplane aircraft "carriers" thus far have found it too difficult for the aircraft return to the mothership to be considered practical, often resulting in the deaths of test pilots that tried and/or damage to both airplanes. Storage is also an issue; the Goblin, for example, was ridiculously squat in order to fit inside a bomber plane, making it largely useless as a fighter. The previous Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk (the planes flown from the Navy airships) was a biplane and already obsolescent at the time it entered service, and its light armament (two rifle-calibre machine guns) would have been completely useless by the time it would have been called upon to enter World War II - fortunately, the plane was out of service by then, retired with the loss of its carriers. Oftentimes the planes were simply festooned all over the mothership like Christmas decorations◊, which was problematic for obvious reasons.
If it's a Living Ship, it's probably also a Living Gasbag, since flapping wings would be awkward on something this size. Compare to The Battlestar, which is this with heavy armament of its own and IN SPACE! Occasionally part of a Standard Sci-Fi Fleet.
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The Arcus Prima, Messis, and assorted enemy vessels from Simoun.
Kotetsu Jeeg: Orochi, a flying fortress shaped like the mythological beast. It has several serpent-like heads can move and attack independantly.
The Silvana from Last Exile and every other major battleship in the anime, including the Urbanus, although their use of vanships (airplane analogues) is more akin to battleships and cruisers before WWII carrying seaplane scouts - Silvana was specifically built for vanship operations and using them as part of its offense and defense. The ships powered by antimatter, which they find lying around on the beaches. This makes sense in context.
UFO Robo Grendizer: The Vegan Empire had a huge number of oval-shaped carriers to spearhead their inter-planetary conquest campaigns that were armed with missiles and laser beams and were used to store Saucer Beasts and Vega Beasts and mini-ufos. Some aircrafts belonging to several of the Co-Dragons were named, like Blaki's Motherburn, Minister Zuril's Warrior Mothership...
Mazinkaiser: Ghoul, Mykeros and Demonika showed up in this series.
The Gekko from Eureka Seven, as well as the military carriers like the Izumo and several other vessels. This is one of the few media in which doing so made sense beyond the Rule of Cool, because the surface has no oceans and the land is extremely craggy and prone to shifting and the planet releases convenient particles called trapar that keep them airborne, so they only need fuel to move forward. Curiously though, their speed is usually very low, only around one or two hundred kilometers. Even their small high speed ships go only 500 or so kilometers an hour.
Combattler V: Several of them: Graydon's was The Dragon Garuda's personal aircraft, and its specs included slave monster production, missiles from its top, levitation even underwater, an underside tractor beam, teleportation, a buzzsaw hidden in one of six wings, and a pink heat ray; Bromber, Warchamides' attack saucer it had capability to levitate even underwater, an underside tractor beam, yellow eye lasers, and missile launchers at the midsection; and Santomagma, Big Bad Empress Janera's warship used in the final episode. It was heavily armour-plated and its capabilities included tornadoes from its underside, spike missiles from the carapace, mouth flamethrower, freezing wind from front and side mouths, launch-able front and side heads, fangs strong enough to break a Made of IndestructiumHumongous Mecha, and laser beam bolts from all four heads.
Voltes V: Boazanian Flagships, Zeltan and Sugoshin Godor, all of them equiped with formidable weapons and even Deflector Shields.
Daimos: Guranrol and Cobrard. Both could carry around combat troops and several Mecha Soldiers. The first was equipped with giant missiles and four giant blades that could be turned in giant spinning cutters. The second was equiped with four-headed cobras that fired green lasers and a turret shot tinier missiles.
The Imperial Capital in Samurai 7, which is along the same lines as the above, except it doesn't transform.
The Banshee units from Sentou Yousei Yukikaze. It was specifically mentioned in the novels that it was assembled in low-earth orbit and is never meant to land on the ground. Correspondingly, it is nigh-on gigantic, presumably powered by nuclear reactors to keep it flying indefinitely, and is shown to shrug off just about any attack short of a tactical nuclear warhead.
Although they are conceptionally very different: The Tiger Moth relies solely on its smaller aircrafts for combat whereas the Goliath is not shown to carry fighters but has enough guns and infantry on board to invade a small country (or ancient airborne city state).
Gundam loves this trope, almost every Gundam show/manga features a Sky carrier, (Usually, but not limited to the 'Main' protagonist's ship) which often times doubles as a space ship, a sea ship, and in some cases, even a submarine. And is often times a fusion of Aircraft Carriers and Battleships(Because Anime producers will never let the era of the Battleship end.)
The Gaw and and Garuda class ships from the Mobile Suit Gundam. The White Base itself counts when operating on Earth.
The Aeromarine, belonging to SHIELD knock-off/parody organization HATE in Nextwave, probably counts as well, despite appearing to be an airborne submarine. In fact, dozens of submarines welded together. We've yet to determine whether this is cool or not, it could frankly go either way.
The Gull Wing from Gold Digger is so enormous that it isn't able to actually land, and processes clouds for hydrogen to keep its engines running perpetually (presumably there are other types of generators to make the necessary energy expenditure feasible).
In the G.I. Joe/Transformers Generation 2 crossover from the early nineties, Slice (a ninja working for Cobra) comments that the Ark (the Autobots' starship) is bigger than an aircraft carrier, but still flying.
Come to think of it, does this count when the aircraft are the crew?
In a weird sense, the triple changer Broadside. He changes into both an aircraft carrier and a fighter jet.
The villains in the 1984 miniseries Crash Ryan had a gigantic prop-driven airplane that itself carried a large number of planes.
The SHIELD's Helicarrier makes an appearance in Chapter 23 (entitled “Look, Up in the Sky!”) of Origin Story, as SHIELD tries to enforce the “work for us or go to prison” provisions of the Metahuman Registration Act on Alex Harris. It doesn't work out to well for the Helicarrier.
Films — Animation
The Spirit of Adventure from Up. It actually draws inspiration from a Real Life example (see folder below)
Captain America: The First Avenger features an odd example with the Valkyrie, a massive airplane with rear facing propellers on its wings built by the Red Skull and HYDRA. It turns out that each "propeller" is actually a detachable mini-fighter plane, with either jet engines or rockets keeping it aloft. Based on real-life designs, however — see below.
The Avengers features the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier in all its glory. Captain America, fresh from the '40s, claims that nothing will surprise him. He's proven wrong when he sees it liftoff into the sky.
Phillip Reeve's Mortal Engines quartet features Airhaven, an entire town suspended from hot air balloons and gas cells, which serves as a hub for many air traders.
'70s novel A Game of Titans pits the Real Life Soviet aircraft carrier Kiev against the USAF nuclear-powered airship Grand Eagle. The airship carries a contingent of Harriers. It also has cruise missiles and lasers.
In Dale Brown novels, although at first only single-use submunition-bearing (semi)autonomous cruise missiles are demonstrated, books from Air Battle Force onward show modified transport planes and bombers carrying mini Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles and, yes, the things do rejoin with their motherships for refueling and rearming while both are in flight.
Deconstructed (along with various other Gerry Anderson tropes) in the Doctor WhoPast Doctor Adventures novel "The Indestructible Man" by Simon Messingham. SKYHOME is derided as a pollution-spewing technological white elephant that uses the power of a small country just to remain stable (it has a tendency to lurch at unpredictable moments, sending equipment everywhere) and is too expensive to break up, yet can't be allowed to degrade for fear it'll crash on everyone's head.
Played a bit uniquely in Animorphs, where Tobias serves as the trope, carrying the other Animorphs in bug morph and then dropping them off someplace for a mission.
The ekranoplan aircraft carrier from Charles Stross' "Missile Gap" technically counts. (Ekranoplans are ground-effect-vehicles, and thus fly only at very low altitudes.)
In the Gotrek & Felix novels, the airship Spirit of Grungni can launch gyrocopters as scouts or attack craft.
In Doctor Who, the UNIT carrier Valiant is large enough for Air Force One to land on it — in comparison, real world aircraft carriers barely have enough clearance for their fighters to land safely, with carrier landings being described as "controlled crashes". It also mounts a giant laser cannon that helped UNIT fend off against the Sontarans. Also of note is that it was designed by Harold Saxon, a.k.a. The Master. Sad to say, for all its awesomeness, it was not up to fending off a full-scale Dalek attack in the next season, and was destroyed.
A pilot for a Nick Fury television series was filmed starring David Hasselhoff. It naturally included the Helicarrier.
The Battlestar Galactica spin-off show Caprica features these in a virtual manner. In the show there is a "Virtual Reality" video game called New Cap City that is Grand Theft Auto meets Sin City in a historical sim. One of the more persistent threats in the game world are giant Zepplins that launch everything from early-model Vipers to Gyrocopters, all raining Death from Above. One might even go so far as to call them an Airship Galactica.
The X-303 (Prometheus) from Stargate SG-1 acted like this in the battle over Antarctica.
Mystara has the Flying City of Serraine, a mobile airborne city-state with its own Magitek air force, the Top Ballista squadrons. Skygnome-built versions of WWI-era fighter planes launch from the airstrip mounted along the edge of the city, kept aloft by fantasy physics, tactically supported by winged centaurs and venom-clawed monkeys, and occasionally imperiled by gremlin saboteurs. Yep, Mystara is a weird freaking' place.
Eberron has Argonth, a floating fortress, which has docking towers for airships and could potentially launch flying monster cavalry, so it probably counts.
The FASA game Crimson Skies, where Zeppelins were used as aircraft carriers in an alternate 1930's.
Glory Days, the World War II supplement for the Brave New World, roleplaying game included "the Liberty", an airborne aircraft carrier that served as a mobile base for the superpowered Delta Squadron.
Exalted, as a world more or less fueled by Rule of Cool, unsurprisingly has a few. The Titan-Class Aerial Citadels, which took the technical prowess and truly epic infrastructure of 300 perfection-powered demigods several centuries to create, were entire floating cities. More or less indestructible, fitted with massive magical lasers, a beam of death that could vaporize a metropolis instantly AND serving as a launching point for many, many Thousand Forged Dragons (which were superweapons in and of themselves), having one of the four that were created attack your country would be rather like the entirety of the United States military force taking on your house.
VSF miniatures game Aeronef has these, along with flying battleships, flying cruisers, flying destroyers, etc., etc. Basically, the discovery of various forms of anti-gravity in the mid-to-late Victorian era means that the world's navies basically take to the skies shortly thereafter. With the focus on flying ships, ordinary aviation gets a boost as well, leading to dirigibles ("digs") and powered aircraft in service by the 1880s or thereabouts. Naturally, both "nefs" (anti-grav ships) and digs include carriers.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Xyz Monster Phantom Fortress Enterblathnir was developed as the Mecha Phantom Beasts' flagship aircraft carrier, and now with an aircraft carrier to work from, allowing for a variety of missions, they can now be considered a proper fighting force. Its armed high-output engines that are the best of the best at collecting the quantum energy of the decoys.
Wolfenstein sports a truly awesome example of this trope. The Nazis use a Zeppelin so incredibly huge, it carries not only airplanes but other Zeppelins, in addition to hordes of Nazis and their dimension-warping superweapon.
The protagonist spends some time on a skyship such as this in Gauntlet Dark Legacy's Sky Dominion world.
In Jak and Daxter 3, the Krimzon bots have a gigantic floating war factory that can pump out several full sized tanks and UA Vs whenever needed.
The Lost Frontier also gives us the Phantom Blade and the ACS Behemoth, large airships capable of carrying and deploying smaller fighter craft.
The go-anywhere Submarine from Xenogears. It starts out as a land-sub capable of traveling below the desert... then becomes able to sail underwater... and fly... and transform into a gigantic energy-cannon for a city-fortress turned Humongous Mecha. Rather than aircraft, it can launch giant robots (Gears).
Too many shoot-'em-ups to count. Many are airborne aircraft carriers that transport your player ship(s) to the war zone, others are Boss Fights:
All of the Raiden games. The second stage usually has a flying wing carrier as a boss.
The massive Egg Carrier from Sonic Adventure. It's also the first one whose abilities other than flying and being really big are shown. It's armed with missile launchers, a fleet of robotic jet fighters, laser cannons (tons of these damn things in Sky Deck), robot staff, transformation capabilities, and to top it all off, a Wave Motion Gun. He has a second one in reserve, even.
In Sonic Heroes, he really ups the ante with an entire fleet, with the flagship being at least as twice as big as the original Egg Carrier, and twice as armed.
Altitude Limit Zone from the first Sonic Rush game would be an example if it had some actual structure and was more than a flying rail system. It still has plenty of aircraft, though.
In Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Eggman uses a redesign of Adventure's Egg Carrier. It's mostly seen in cutscenes, and there aren't any levels on board, although Sonic's final boss is fought on it.
The Ace Combat flight simulator series usually features superweapons as per its "tradition". Said superweapons often include an airborne aircraft carrier.
The UI-4053 Sphyrna from Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere serves as the first example of this. Despite being deployed many decades after other examples below, the Sphyrna is a blimp and correspondingly, it is relatively tiny in comparison. That being said, it is just as hard to bring down, and while its small size doesn't seem to hold many aircrafts, it holds two of the most important: the ultra-agile UI-4054, an Ace Custom for Dision, and the island-sinking X-49 Night Raven sought after the game's unwitting tykebomb, Rena. The damn thing is so tough, most of the game's routes make you fight it in more than one mission until you can finally bring it down for good.
Ace Combat 6 has the most triumphant example with Estovakia's kilometer-wide "Aigaion" airborne air-carrier, which takes it a step further by having its own airborne fleet of equally gigantic flying platforms for both anti-air defense (Gyges) and electronics warfare (Kottos). At the start of the mission where you have to shoot it down, it's seen undergoing mid-air refueling by no less than six tanker aircraft◊, each of which looks small enough to be sucked into Aigaion's humongous air intakes for its gigantic engine arrays. Even better, the Aigaion is usually home to Strigon Team, the enemy Ace Pilot squadron. To top it all off, is also a flying missile launch complex, able to project its overwhelming anti-air firepower over very long distances. Of course, when push comes to shove, it doesn't hesitate in spamming said missiles on you, point-blank ranges be damned.
The Belkan XB-0 Hresvelgr from Ace Combat Zero is a super-massive bomber. Although it was yet able to carry and launch aircrafts, the series mythology states that technology used was eventually evolved and perfected over the course of two decades to manufacture Aigaion, making the Hresvelgr a forerunner of sorts. To hammer the point home, even the man who designed both aircraft shows up as an enemy ace during the mission where you have to shoot Aigaion down.
For varying definitions of "aircraft carrier", Ace Combat 5 has the Arkbird, a gigantic blended wing body spacecraft capable of short atmospheric flights. The Arkbird can launch UAVs for self-defense, but was originally built for peaceful purposes until the escalation of war see it increasingly militarized.
Nearly all Zeppelins in the Crimson Skies series also serve as aircraft carriers, most notably Pandora, Nathan Zachary's flagship.
And before Crimson Skies, there was Air Power: Battle in the Skies, an alternate universe flight sim where the player is one of four nobles trying to gain control of the empire after the death of the old emperor. The tools at the player's disposal are a fleet of combat zeppelins, including an aircraft carrier that serves as the player's flagship.
True to its Independence Day homage roots, the Aeon's experimental saucer from Supreme Commander does both this and packs a core-based death beam. The downside is it's rather fragile, and relies a great deal on its flying complement to protect it and draw fire.
Battlefield 2142 has Titans, flying bases that are the center of a certain gamemode. The goal is to bring the enemy Titan down either by missiles launched from silos on the ground, or by invading it and destroying vital elements. The Titans launch fighter craft and dropships from their decks.
The Protoss in StarCraft have Carriers, which can maintain a fleet of Interceptor ships which are used to attack both ground and air units. The Carriers, however, break the pattern ever so slightly by only launching minuscule unmanned ships, visibly smaller than a single-man fighter.
For StarCraft 2 the Terrans were going to have an upgrade for the Starport called the Starbase, which was basically a permanently flying Starport that could still create all their air units. Sadly, the building was cut from the final build of the game.
Terran Battlecruisers are often treated as this in the novels.
The Halberd from the Kirby series, which makes a return both as a stage and a plot element in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
The Scrin Planetary Assault Carrier from Command & Conquer should count, though in its case its literally nothing more than an engine, a control system, and a long, narrow span connecting the two that is lines with dozens of drone fighters that swarm over anything they see. Powerful enough that it can challenge the other Tiberium WarsGame Breaker, the GDI Mammoth Tank.
It actually has a rather good attack of its own, but most people overlook it. The thing can create an Ion Storm around it, giving it an immediate-area attack field. The storm also buffs up any other Scrin aircraft around it. The Mammoth stands no chance.
Little-known game Project Nomads has you flying about in a small gravity-defying mass of land on which you can build hangars that, in turn, build and deploy small fighters. The fighters can be controlled by yourself or left to their own devices, but it's wiser to take control because otherwise they tend to charge headlong into massed defense fire.
In Final Fantasy XII, the Bahamut as well as the heavy carrier class airships (such as the Leviathan) use these as well. The Bahamut deploys Valefor-class fighters as a means of offense against Resistance forces while the Mist cannon is charging, and heavy cruisers often deploy, among other things, Atomos-class transport ships, as well as the aforementioned Valefor-class on the Archadian side, unnamed fighters on the Resistance side.
Final Fantasy XIII has the Lindblum, which is freaking huge, and the Palamecia which is even bigger.
The Great Fox in Star Fox is a rather moderately sized version of this, holding only about six vehicles at most. In one mission in Star Fox 64, you can even enter it for repairs. Some bosses are also able of launching smaller ships aswell as missiles, such as the Assault Carrier.
Star Fox 64 also has the Saruzin, the flagship of Andross' fleet in Sector Y, which transports the Shogun Warlord mecha-suit into the boss battle. It continues moving until it reaches the center of the boss arena, then stop as serves as an obstacle/platform for the boss to stand on. Strangely, it has no offensive capabilities of its own.
Sci-fi flight sim Echelon has both flying aircraft carriers and the standard watery sort. The flying type is equipped with significant anti-aircraft defenses and is usually defended by flying destroyers as well. Somewhat interesting is that these ships fly at low altitudes, and several missions have them assist in the destruction of ground targets.
Virtual-ON Oratorio Tangram has one as a battle stage; in the endings that do not belong to Fei-Yen and Angelan, the heroes are rescued by their fellow soldiers and carried back to the carrier for repair.
Supreme Commander 2 has UEF's Experimental Mega Fortress - Airborne Aircraft Carrier with impressive damage output and more effective than a basic air factory.
While not really sharing the look, Gohma Carriers from Asura's Wrath do carry smaller gohma that can't fly into space to fight.
The final boss of U.N. Squadron is one of these, though it more resembles a flying battleship/dreadnought with a few plane launch hatches. Interestingly enough, the game also features a land-based traditional aircraft carrier, which runs on tank treads out in the desert.
The arial city of Columbia is naturally one of these to its hordes of security barges and zeppelins in Bioshock Infinite. It really shows this ability off in the 1980s attack on New York City.
The Flying Battleship Balrog from Strider, a massive aircraft carrier that flies thanks to gravity control.
Sins of a Solar Empire has several examples; the Sova and Percheron for TEC, the Halcyon and Aeria Hosts for the Advent, and the Skirata and Lasurak for the Vasari. Additionally, most capital ships can launch strike craft wings, effectively making them this trope.
In Girl Genius, Baron Wulfenbach has a fleet of dirigible fortresses and assorted lighter-than-air craft as his mobile base of operations, including the enormous Castle Wulfenbach. Also, most airships have escape pods that are themselves miniature airships.
The Nazi dreadnought in Even Death May Die! qualifies, as a seemingly-impossible, armoured zeppelin.
In one of Sluggy Freelance cross-dimension stories, humans have some of those, as seen here. Their usage is justified because the "zombies" cannot fly and staying in the air or space is the only real safe point to be, along with sheer practicality of a mobile base.
Seen in the Wartime Cartoon "Japoteurs" from the Fleischer Superman theatrical shorts, after a fashion. A giant bomber, larger that anything ever built, carried a number of small, one-man fighter planes aboard, launching then off the top of its fuselage.
Cobra had two different Hellicarriers in the G.I. Joe cartoon series. One was based off an unused design for the SHIELD Helicarrier from an abortive Nick Fury cartoon. It appeared in the first mini-series and in the opening animation of "GI JOE: The Movie" (possibly two different carriers as the one in the mini was captured). The second type appeared only in the opening animation for the second mini-series and subsequent episodes. It looked like a giant cobra insignia. It is destroyed by the end of the opening animation.
The OSI from The Venture Bros. have a mobile fortress called the Hoverquarters which is very much like the SHIELD Hellicarrier making sense since the Venture's OSI is a parody of SHIELD.
Thunderbird 2, in Thunderbirds served as a flying carrier for the smaller vehicles that International Rescue used, such as the Mole and Thunderbird 4. Another example appeared in an airshow in one episode-it was a giant aeroplane which could carry another.
Thunderbird 2 doesn't really qualify for this trope as it was simply a cargo aircraft which didn't launch anything in flight.
In Storm Hawks, the title group uses a flying capital ship/aircraft carrier as their travelling home.
The 60s Spider Man had an episode where Spidey fought a former WW1 ace who had a flying aerodrome - and Fokkers that fired laser beams.
The Kids Next Door have a craft called the Gihugecarrier that went down while fending off a Teenager attack.
The Saint Nazaire and its sistership Calisto from the CGI animated series Skyland. Each ship houses a group of 10 small fighter aircraft called Mosquitos. Their opponents, an organisation called The Sphere, also uses a weird kind of airborne aircraft carrier. It is a huge vertical mothership called The Monolith, which holds a large amount of fighter aircraft and troops. And if you think that's all, The Sphere's home base is a truly enormous cubic shaped flying fortress that even dwarfs The Monolith.
The Justice from the short lived Ring Raiders was not only an airborne aircraft carrier, but one that could travel through time.
Zeppelins are the Ur Example of this trope. During World War One, they developed this capability, carrying 1-2 aircraft at first, ranging from unarmed Hummingbirds to Gloucester Grebe fighters and Sopwith Camels. After war's end, developments continued studying ways to launch them and recover them in mid-air. Even blimp airborne aircraft carriers existed. Zeppelins are usually preferred, as they can better match the speed of the docking aircraft, have payloads in the hundreds of thousands of pounds and can store the planes inside internal aircraft hangars. However, the U.S. TC-series blimps of the interwar period carried one plane each. They were used to develop the capability for the Zeppelin USS Los Angeles, which led to the Akron and Macon as seen below, the greatest examples of this trope, carrying up to 5 Sparrowhawk fighters each.
None other than the Hindenburg was also an Airborne Aircraft carrier, briefly, and the only civilian airship to be one. The airplane damaged its mooring to the airship by accident, and the system was uninstalled just before the airship's final flight.
USS Macon and USS Akron in the 1930s. Of course, they also had the dubious distinction of being the last new rigid Naval Zeppelins. They worked splendidly in concert with their aerial squadron, until they became overconfident, and both of them ended up being lost in storms out to sea in separate incidents, one due to ballast overcorrection and an damaged section that went unrepaired, the other due to a faulty altimeter, poor visibility and human error. With the Akron losing 73 of its crew; since one of the leading proponents of airships among the Naval brass happened to be aboard (and was among the dead), it's not hard to see how the Airborne Aircraft Carriers didn't catch on more.
The concept comes up in modern circles every few years as a replacement for the aging and shrinking fleet of P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. An airship would have significantly longer range and loiter time, and a significantly larger payload. The latest version includes proposals for UAVs that can be launched, recovered, and rearmed in flight, thus bringing things full circle from the Macon and Akron.
The Ministry of Defence is preparing a demonstration with the world's largest aircraft, an optionally-manned hybrid airship/airplane called the Airlander 10. One of the proposals includes using its large cargo bay and long endurance to make it a "mothership" for medium-sized drone airplanes.
The USAF was experimenting with using parasite fighters, the XF-85, to provide fighter escort to B-36 bombers. Eventually, this plan was scrapped as the increased range of jet fighters coupled with in flight refueling allowed regular fighters to accompany the bombers throughout their missions, in addition to the fact that the XF-85 was outperformed by conventional fighters.
FICON (FIghter CONveyor) Project: Putting an F-84 fighter inside the bomb bay of a B-36 and using the former to deliver a tactical nuke. Got a few flights in before the U-2 came along and the B-36 became obsolete. Determined to be an idea that worked better in theory than in practice.
The Soviets also conducted their own experiments in the 1930s called the Zveno Project. Tupolev bombers would carry little Polikarpov fighters aloft, the most ambitious version actually carrying five fighters at the same time. The final version has a pair, rolled under the carrier's wings and mounted there instead of bombs. See photo◊. The interceptor variant was supposed to cut calling fighters time from "scramble and climb all the way up there" to "release bomb locks". The dive bomber variant had a long-range bomber carrying two fighters armed with bombs too heavy for them to take off on their own. These teams flew more than 30 missions, being among the most successful in Soviet aviation before the project ended in 1942 due to the involved aircraft becoming obsolete. You can fly the Zveno aircraft cluster in IL-2 Sturmovik.
And a relatively more mundane example, many of the early X Planes (the experimental rocket and jet planes that paved the way for supersonic flight and manned spaceflight for the Americans in the Cold War) were carried aloft by carrier planes such as the B-52 Stratofortress, and launched in mid-air. They landed on the ground, however.
The B-52 would similarly be used later on to launch recon drones which would fly out on a preprogrammed path, take pictures, and fly back to a rendezvous location where a plane trailing a net would catch the drone and reel it in.
Similarly, there was a variant of the C-130 Hercules that could carry up to four drones on the wings and launch them in flight, controlling them remotely.
SpaceShipOne, the privately built spacecraft that won the X-prize, and its successor SpaceShipTwo, are similarly launched from a jet mothership called "White Knight".
Like the X-planes, OV-101 (Enterprise) was built for atmospheric testing of NASA's Space Shuttle orbiter. It was launched from a modified Boeing 747, though it couldn't land on its carrier.
The Daimler-Benz Project C was a proposed plan from Nazi Germany for a massive bomber-like aircraft that would carry six-to-eight "parasite fighters" on the wings and fuselage that would be detached and launched in-flight. These jet or rocket propelled aircraft were at first conceptualized as fighters, but later iterations of these aircraft became human-guided bombs for targeting bridges, ships and bomber formations. While these bombs would have escape chutes underneath them, the likelihood of escaping alive was so low that they may as well be categorized as suicide aircraft. However, none of the Daimler-Benz Projects ever got off of the drawing board.