In Transformers: Armada, the full-sized Transformers were paired with small partners: Mini-Cons. It was a lot like the G1 Headmasters or Targetmasters. Or maybe the Powermasters, since the Mini-Cons unlocked new powers for their larger partners. In any case, the series revolved around the hunt for these Mini-Cons, though some were more sought-after than others.
They combine into a powerful sword that empowers the one who wields it with awesome strength and destructive energy. Therefore, the Autobots and Decepticons are in constant battle to claim these three Mini-Cons for their own. When they are apart, they are formidable air defense machines used for high-altitude and high-speed missions.
The Air Defense Mini-Con Team comprised three plane-based Mini-Cons: Jetstorm, Runway and Sonar. The three were eventually repainted into the Air Assault Minicon-Team, which was the same set, but in Decepticon colors - they tended to switch sides a lot during the war.
Jetstorm is a Concorde SST. The plane
is 3" long and detailed surprisingly well. There are 46 windows on the cabin, plus the windows for the pilots and a pair of doors. The leading edge of the wings seem to have a serrated edge - which is wrong for the plane, but will serve a purpose later. The body of the plane is off-white, with purple edges. There's a lot of robot kibble, but that's par for the course with Mini-Cons: you can only hide so much on a tiny, tiny toy.
The transformation is surprisingly complex for something of this size. The nose of the plane folds up over the body, and the arms and legs rotate out from under the wings. Finally, the plane's tail fin is dropped down over the robot's head, so it sticks out from his chest. Jetstorm is kind of the Wolverine of the group - sitting on a lot of hidden anger that he's afraid will slip out. Now that the team's gone evil, it's probably his fault. In Japan, he's Skull Buster, a maniacal brute who loves to tear his enemies apart.
Runway is a Boeing Sonic Cruiser, a concept plane that never made it into production. The toy is 2⅝" long, and detailed just as well as Jetstorm, what with the tiny windows and everything. The body of the plane is again white, but this time the detail work is gold. The underbody is mostly black, but that's because it's all robot kibble.
The transformation is as simple as you might expect: more straightforward folding, less surprising twisting. The robot design is really nice, with a lot of bulk around the chest and shoulders. The plane's nose completes a bit of a tripod, keeping Runway standing. He's the team leader and a brilliant strategist, though his plans often seem suicidally insane. He always looks to his teammates for advice, though. His Japanese counterpart is Jackknife, who's exceedingly covetous and thinks nothing of killing someone to get their stuff.
Finally, we have a Lockheed Martin VentureStar shuttle named Sonar.
Intended to replace the current US space shuttle, the project was scrapped in late 2001, but still shows up in a lot of pop culture as a general futuristic space plane. GI Joe fans might recognize it as the space shuttle Defiant. The body of the 2" shuttle is black, and it has purple trim. There's a major piece of kibble on the underside, but it isn't actually from the robot form.
This robot is definitely not the best-looking of the three. He's got a wee little head, huge lower legs and wings hanging awkwardly off his upper arms. He's also got that same piece of kibble on his back. His color scheme doesn't really match his compatriots', either. Really, he's the odd man out in this entire group. In terms of personality, he follows Runway unquestioningly; not because he's dumb, but because he's just that loyal. Takara released him as Maverick, a stealthy assassin who hates his more bombastic teammates.
The reason the Air Defense Mini-Con team was so in-demand
was that they can combine to form the almighty Star Saber, a brutally powerful sword. When the Star Saber falls under Decepticon control, it can be corrupted into the equally powerful Dark Saber, which is what the Air Assault Mini-Con Team forms: Runway and Jetstorm are the blade, while Sonar becomes the hilt. That mysterious piece of kibble? It's the sword's handle.
Honestly, as a sword, the Dark Saber looks a lot like two planes stuck back to back. It goes have a vague "sword" shape, but the Armada cartoon exaggerated the effect by simplifying the design. Sure, once a TF is holding it in his hand and you're told it's supposed to be a sword, you can see it, but it's a stretch.
Since the Air Assault team is just a repaint of the Air Defense team, is there really any difference between them? Well, the heroic Defense team was molded from translucent blue plastic, to accommodate Optimus Prime's light-up fists. The villainous Assault team, on the other hand, is completely solid, so they look a little more threatening.
In Japan, the Air Assault Mini-Con Team is actually
three unique characters, rather than just corrupted versions of the existing ones. In that case, Jetstorm, Runway and Sonar are Mad, Jack and Shade, respectively (the names [and personalities] above are US versions of the Japanese characters, as if this all weren't confusing enough already) and they turn into Nemesis Prime's Vorpal Saber. Whatever you want to call them, or what you want their allegience to be, the Air [ blank ] Mini-Con Team has seen a lot of re-release through Energon and Cybertron, so finding a set at a reasonable price should be easy. Hasbro hasn't given up on Mini-Con ports, even on the newest Classics figures, and the sword's handle is a fairly standard size, so the Star Saber (or the Dark Saber) is worth it, even if you don't have any Armada toys.