40K Lore: Thunderhawk Gunships


Thunderhawks are on everyone’s mind these days – time to delve deep into the most feared of Astartes aircraft.

The Thunderhawk gunship is a multi-use aircraft in wide use by Space Marine Chapters. Each Chapter of the Space Marines maintains its own fleet of Thunderhawks. Normally reserved for large-scale battles, time and time again its use in the various fields of war has been proven. With such might like this, only a great threat to the Imperium can demand use of these mighty craft.


The Thunderhawk was first deployed during the last years of the Great Crusade as a cheaper-to-produce replacement for the Warhawk VI “Stormbird” gunship.. Armed to the teeth with a Thunderhawk cannon and various other weapons, its use become more and more widespread.

Many Marines who rode in the newly-deployed Thunderhawks felt uncomfortable, finding them lighter and flimsier compared to the more dependable Stormbirds. During the Horus Heresy, Captain Remus Ventanus of the Ultramarines predicted that the Thunderhawk was just a “stopgap” design, and the Legions would develop a better design, or revert to the more reliable Stormbird, before long.



Thunderhawks are among the most technologically sophisticated vehicles employed by any Imperial force, and as such benefit from a number of advanced systems.


The Thunderhawk is armed with a large number of weapons, though the configuration varies. Its primary weapon is fitted on a limited traverse dorsal mount and can mount either a Turbo-laser Destructor, powerful enough to strike down even a Scout Titan with an accurate shot, or a modified Battle Cannon useful for ground bombardment.

It also has two Lascannons mounted on either attack wing and at least four Heavy Bolters in hull-mounted twin-linked sponsons, with room for four additional Heavy Bolters under the main wing tips.

In addition each wing has three bomb pylons, each of which carry one Hellstrike Missile, three Bombs or Smart Bombs, or an external fuel pod, for a total of six missiles/pods or eighteen bombs. All of the Thunderhawk’s weapon systems are controlled by the gunner through remote multi-spectrum surveyors from the flight deck with assistance provided by the Machine Spirit.

Control Systems

The pilot, co-pilot, navigator and gunner are all located in the gunship’s flight deck above the forward hold and in front of the upper hold. The navigator and co-pilot also control the primary narrow-band, long-range communications transmitter located on top of the fuselage, along with the sensor array and electronic counter-measures. The navigational equipment also transmits information to Space Marine command units, while an emergency location beacon will automatically begin broadcasting should the Thunderhawk be shot down.

Despite their complexity the Thunderhawk’s systems are rugged and reliable, and are all controlled by an M33 ‘Cygnus’ class Machine Spirit. Utilizing aetheric and phlogiston feed coils, alembic shielding and pseudo-synaptic relays, the Cygnus has a cognition speed of 40,000 co/sec with a maximum contemplation capacity of 10,000 kilobrains, making it comparable to that found in a Reaver Battle Titan.


Defensive Measures

Armour for the Thunderhawk is constructed in a similar manner to that of a Land Raider, giving it an unprecedented level of protection. An adamantium inner hull is layered on top by titanium rolled plates, followed by a thermoplas fibre mesh, and then two layers of ceramite, the second of which is ablative. The ceramite and thermplas fibre layers are increased in depth to provide the craft with additional protection in order to perform repeated atmospheric entries, making them thicker than those on a Land Raider, at the expensive of thinning the titanium and adamantium layers. These armour layers makes the Thunderhawk very well-protected and particularly resistant to Melta Weapons.

In addition to its armouring, Thunderhawks also come equipped with a Decoy Flare Launcher located in the lower rear fuselage, along with additional electronic counter-measures used to jam enemy sensors and tracking equipment.


The Thunderhawk is powered by triple RX-92-00 Mars pattern, combination rocket/afterburning turbofans mounted on each wing and under the fuselage. In an atmosphere the turbofans provide enough thrust to propel the craft to approximately 2,000 kilometers per hour. When operating in space the forward turbofan section is isolated from the exhaust and combustion chambers, where fuel from the onboard fusion reactor is pumped in to create a high-pressure, high-velocity stream of gasses which provide thrust.

Additional retro exhaust nozzles are located around the Thunderhawk’s hull to provide maneuverability in zero-gravity conditions. They also allow the craft to operate in hover mode when in an atmosphere. For improved atmospheric handling the gunship features two ‘attack’ wings located above the main wings, which provide additional directional stability when making gun attacks. Their movement is synchronized and, during normal flight, are locked into position by bracing on the upper main wings, which are released when the Thunderhawk approaches a target.

Transport Capacity

At full capacity a Thunderhawk gunship can carry thirty power armoured Space Marines, or half as many in Terminator Armour, divided between the upper and forward holds. It can also carry a single Dreadnought in the forward hold, which takes the space of five Space Marines, or Space Marine Bike and Attack Bikes, which take up space equivalent to three and four Space Marines, respectively. Embarked troops can enter and exit through a forward assault ramp or two access doors on either side of the forward hull.


Thunderhawk Specifications

Type Orbital Dropship Operational Ceiling N/A
Vehicle Name Thunderhawk Gunship Max Speed 2000 kph approx.
Forge World of Origin Mars Range 28,000 km in atmosphere
Known Patterns I-XXI Main Armament Dorsal mounted Battle Cannon, twin-linked Lascannons
Crew Pilot, Co-Pilot, Gunner, Navigator Secondary Armament 4x twin-linked Heavy Bolters
Powerplant 3 x RX-92-00 Combination Rocket/Afterburning Turbofans Main Ammunition 28 rounds
Weight 121 tonnes Secondary Ammunition 2400 rounds
Length 26.6 m Armour
Wingspan 26.65 m Superstructure 55 mm
Height 9.8 m Hull 65 mm


Learn More of Thunderhawk Weapons and Tactics


~Why oh why won’t GW make a plastic Thunderhawk?! We’re dying over here GWHQ!

  • Nesred22 .

    Has the fluff admitted yet that the Thunderhawk’s wings are just for carrying weapons and serve no aerodynamic purposes?

    • Emperor’s Champion

      space marine flyers always remind me of the physics of Gerry Anderson shows. XD

  • BenTheMan

    Why o why
    – do you always copy&paste Content from wh40k.Lexicanum.com?
    – are all new release “articles” only copy&paste from their respective Homepages (e.g. Infinity, X-Wing, etc.)

    • 3dken

      That’s because Bols owns the Lexicanum website. But, I feel your pain! 🙂