Captain A.G. Robinson was a 22nd century Starfleet officer who was a pilot in the NX Project. In this capacity, he – along with Commanders Gardner, Duvall, and Jonathan Archer – all competed for the chance to become the first Human to break the warp 2 barrier during a historic spaceflight in 2143.
Involvement in the NX Project
Robinson was a close friend of fellow pilot Jonathan Archer, their fierce competition to become the first to break the warp 2 barrier notwithstanding. They contended with each other to test the NX-Alpha, one of two prototype vessels which had been designed for attempting the challenge. Although Archer had worked exceptionally hard to attain the privilege of piloting the historic test flight, Commodore Maxwell Forrest gave the assignment to Robinson, with Archer as his backup.
Robinson later celebrated with a group of other Starfleet officers in the 602 Club, where he met Archer and bought him a drink as a consolation prize, to which Archer made a toast to Robinson. Taking Archer aside for a private chat, Robinson expressed his belief that the reason Archer had not been chosen for the assignment was that his friend had "tried too hard" to be the first one to make the flight. Robinson believed the reason he had been chosen was that "Starfleet doesn't just want a great pilot; they want a great captain."
Test flight, take one
Early in NX-Alpha's test flight, Robinson became restless with maintaining orbit of Earth, while a last-minute problem with the ship's stabilization protocols was ironed out. After breaking orbit, he noticed that, despite the thrusters working, there was a slight variance on the RCS, though he much preferred to continue with the mission rather than return to base.
As Robinson piloted the ship past warp 2, a malfunction was detected aboard the ship; subsequently, he was ordered, by Forrest, to abort. Robinson refused the order, believing he could get the craft to go faster. The ship's warp field ultimately collapsed, destroying the craft just as it reached warp 2.2. However, Robinson was able to eject his escape pod in time, becoming the first person to deploy an escape pod while at warp, a feat which landed him in the record books along with being the first Human to have achieved warp 2.
Upon returning to Earth, Robinson was berated by Archer and Forrest for having disobeyed orders and for having destroyed the NX-Alpha. Despite being uncertain what had caused the technical problem, Robinson argued that the order to abort had been premature, believing the instability would have subsided, as it had in previous tests, and that some risk-taking was necessary in order to further the NX Project. Robinson spent the majority of the next day in debriefing with Starfleet's senior staff and members of the Vulcan Advisory Council. He made clear to them that he believed the test's failure was the result of a faulty engine. Following this, Starfleet, at the urging of the Vulcans, suspended the program indefinitely.
That night, the test pilot met with Archer and one of the program's engineers, Lieutenant Charles Tucker III, at the 602 Club. There, Robinson, drinking heavily, commented that the discontinuation of the project would disrupt his career plans and reiterated his opinion that the failure of the test was because the engine had been faulty. Archer – whose father, Henry, had designed the engine – held Robinson responsible for the program's suspension, especially since Robinson had not even suggested the possibility of pilot error, having rather given the Vulcans reasons to declare that Starfleet's engine did not work.
Proceeding to debate with Archer, Robinson rebutted by proclaiming that Archer's father had "designed a lousy engine." This led to a fist fight in which Robinson bruised two of Archer's ribs and cracked one of his molars before Tucker and other bystanders intervened.
After this incident, Robinson was packing his belongings at the project's flight center, having accepted that the test flights were over, when Archer arrived. Robinson admitted to Archer that he had been out of line, though Archer had discovered evidence indicating that Robinson had been correct; the telemetry of his flight suggested the malfunction was due to an inherent flaw in the engine design, which Archer believed Tucker could compensate for. Whereas Archer eagerly tried to persuade Robinson to support a new plan in which they would demonstrate these findings to their superiors, Robinson was initially skeptical that any further progress of the project was realistic.
Test flight, take two
As his discussion with Archer continued, Robinson eventually proposed that they conduct an unauthorized flight of the NX-Beta to prove to Starfleet and the Vulcans that the engine was sound and that the project was worth continuing. He convinced Archer to participate in the upcoming test flight.
With Tucker's assistance, Robinson and Archer prepared to launch the NX-Beta, both of them onboard the craft. Robinson made sure Archer definitely didn't want to cancel the flight before they took off. Mid-flight, Robinson abruptly gave up the pilot seat to Archer to get some practice at piloting the vessel, so he could make the record-breaking flight. Even though Forrest sternly contacted the ship, Robinson rebelliously shut off the communications.
Once they reached warp 2, fluctuations in the intermix began to destabilize their warp field. The two pilots managed to safely overcome this issue, reaching a stable velocity of warp 2.5. Though the two were then ordered back to base by a now-angered Forest and grounded for three months as a result of their actions, they were ultimately successful in convincing Starfleet to resume the program.
After being promoted to captain, Robinson was a candidate to command the first warp 5 ship, Enterprise NX-01, though he was passed up in favor of Archer six months prior to the ship's launch. In late 2150, he met with Archer – who had just been given command of Enterprise – for a drink at the 602 Club, where he toasted to Archer's success. When Robinson left the bar, he was scheduled to fly, the next morning, to Alice Springs, Australia, for survival training. He expected to be given command of the next NX-class starship (later named Columbia); this ultimately did not happen, the honor ultimately being given to Erika Hernandez instead.
Death and legacy
In March of 2153, Robinson was killed in an accident while climbing Mount McKinley. Forrest subsequently informed Archer of the tragic news. Archer found Robinson's demise especially sad considering that he had had many close calls as a test pilot, having taught Archer the importance of taking such risks, only to die while participating in a far less dangerous leisure activity on Earth.
The news so unnerved Archer, in fact, that Vulcan Sub-Commander T'Pol noticed his distress and pressed Archer for details, having already inquired of Tucker and gotten little information from him. When Archer mentioned Robinson by name, T'Pol stated that she'd never heard of the pilot. Archer tried to hedge by suggesting that there might be a paragraph about Robinson in the Vulcan database, but she wouldn't let him off the hook. He eventually acquiesced, telling her of their history together.
The Robinson Nebula, a dark-matter nebula discovered by Archer and T'Pol just after Robinson's death, was tentatively named in his honor, per the Vulcan's suggestion. Her presence there was essentially an indirect result of a statement Robinson had once made, as he had suggested to Archer that the captain of the first warp 5 starship might take a Vulcan with him. (ENT: "First Flight")
Robinson once suggested that his escape pod from the NX-Alpha would "make a nice addition to the Starfleet Museum."
Robinson often spoke about how risk-taking was important. He was also a believer in luck, convinced that only luck could account for Archer's commission as captain of the Enterprise. Robinson had a strong belief in himself, considering himself as a great pilot. He also expected that commanding the second NX-class starship would be easier than commanding Enterprise.
"You're a great pilot, maybe as good as me, but you're never going to get out into deep space by playing it safe. When the first warp 5 starship is built, its captain won't be able to call home any time he needs to make a decision. He won't be able to turn to the Vulcans unless he decides to take one with him."
- - Robinson's advice to Jonathan Archer
"You mean that?"
"Of course not. I'm waiting for Forrest to realize what a horrible mistake he made."
- - Robinson and Archer
"Hey. I'll see you out there."
- - Robinson's final words to Archer
A.G. Robinson was played by actor Keith Carradine.
In the final draft script of "First Flight", A.G. Robinson was described as "roughly Archer's age, charismatic, confident – maybe a bit arrogant." A later scene description, while Robinson was undertaking the mission to break the warp 2 barrier, remarked, "This guy's a cool one – though we can sense the tension beneath his banter. He knows how important this mission is better than anyone." Robinson was also characterized in the script as "typically unflappable."
Casting the role was initially very challenging. "We really needed a strong actor to play A.G. Robinson," explained Director LeVar Burton. "Everybody agreed from the very beginning that we wanted to really go for somebody really terrific and go for someone with a name. The list came down from Casting and there were some really interesting names on it... and when I looked at the list, there was one name that just really jumped out at me and that was Keith Carradine." The fact that Burton believed Carradine would make a good match for Archer actor Scott Bakula influenced the director's selection of Carradine. "After some discussion, it was decided to make an offer to him, to see if he would come and play," Burton stated. ("LeVar Burton: Star Trek Director", ENT Season 2 DVD/Blu-ray special features)
Keith Carradine himself remembered, "They called my agent. The script came in and [the producers] looked at the character and they all said the same thing to me: 'This is a great part. We need to get somebody really good for this.' I guess my name was in the hat [...] I said, 'Yeah, sure. This will be fun' [...] I just thought it would be fun to do. Everyone I spoke to said that I would have the best time [...] When I took all of that and combined it with the nature of the role, which I thought was a really fun part to play, it was really a no-brainer [...] I just figured it was a hole in my resume that needed to be filled. I didn't want to be the only actor in Hollywood who had never done one! [...] I am really glad that I finally got to be in one." (Star Trek: Communicator issue 145, pp. 51, 52 & 53)
Reception and aftermath
Scott Bakula approved of the way the role of A.G. Robinson was written. "Keith Carradine [...] has some wonderful moments and comments," Bakula enthused. (Star Trek: Communicator issue 145, p. 42)
LeVar Burton was extremely thankful that Keith Carradine agreed to portray Robinson. "He's been absolutely phenomenal in the part," remarked Burton, during production on "First Flight". ("LeVar Burton: Star Trek Director", ENT Season 2 DVD/Blu-ray special features)