TIE fighter pilots, also known as Imperial Starfighter Pilots, were an elite class within the military of the Galactic Empire. They piloted the TIE/ln space superiority starfighters, one of the Empire's most recognizable symbols of power. There were two nicknames for TIE pilots: the vac-heads, who operated in space for the Empire's Imperial Navy, and the ground-hogs, who operated in planetary atmosphere for the Imperial Army. Because the vac-heads had better public recognition through propaganda posters and the HoloNet News reports, the ground-hogs were often resentful of them. The rivalry between ground-hogs and vac-heads was so intense that most Imperial flight bases had separate bars for the two groups, with the notable exception of the Bright Jewel Oversector Flight Base.
The precision and streamlined design of the TIE fighter was a source of pride for those pilots, who prided themselves for usually not needing deflector shields or hyperdrives, which they viewed as tools for the cowardly. Since TIE fighters were identical and interchangeable, TIE pilots might never fly the same ship twice and, as a result, rarely developed emotional ties to their craft. Nonetheless, they tended to be very protective of their vessel of the day, and loved to push around lower-ranked stormtroopers. Very dedicated, TIE pilots were willing to surrender their lives for the greater glory of the Empire's New Order.
- "The rebels are a desperate group of extremists. They'll fight with any ship, using any means necessary to undermine our authority. That is why orders must be followed without question. Insubordination like yours will get you and your wingman killed."
- ―Vult Skerris, lecturing TIE pilot cadet "Ria Talla"
Graduates from prestegious flight academies across the galaxy underwent rigorous testing to become TIE pilots. There was an Imperial flight training academy called Skystrike Academy on the planet Montross. Of all the cadets who underwent the Imperial pilot training program, ninety percent never graduated. As a consequence, those who did tended to be both proud and arrogant. The final phase of testing often occured onboard a larger battleship, such as a Star Destroyer. This was to expose cadets to realistic and relevant surroundings. During the Galactic Civil War, TIE cadets often underwent literal trials by fire, plunged into combat situations where to excel was to survive.
Pilots were trained that aiding their fellow pilots was their lowest priority unless there was nothing else to do, with emphasis placed on completing the mission at hand and bringing their full force against enemy fighters. All pilots were also expected to be able to repair and maintain all single- and dual-pilot craft.
TIE fighter pilots wore a black jumpsuit with pockets and zip-front, a reinforced helmet reminiscent of the stormtrooper design, and chest armor featuring an emergency atmospheric unit control box attached to two flexible gas transfer tubes plugged into their helmet. On TIE pilot belts to their right of their buckle was a comlink/transponder in a shockproof case. TIE pilots also wore positive-gravity pressure boots.
Some helmets had white stripes below the eyes, and some elite pilots such as Baron Valen Rudor and Captain Vult Skerris had red or yellow stripes going down the middle of their helmets and sides.
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