At the height of the Galactic Empire, the Imperial Navy had countless Academy graduates and clones at its disposal. During the time of the Imperial Remnant and the reign of a reborn Emperor Palpatine, the Empire was forced to be conservative with the lives of the TIE pilots due to their decreasing numbers, and unmanned TIE/D automated starfighters were used as support craft for living pilots.
They were referred to as "bucketheads" by Rebel pilots, due to their bulky, fully enclosed helmets. Within the Imperial forces they were often referred to as "coffin jockeys", due to the high mortality rate of those manning the vulnerable TIE fighters.
- "I attended the Academy, and I have nothing negative to say about the Imperial training program, but nothing can prepare you for true space combat. You need to know your life is on the line, that your next move could destroy your enemy or put you directly in his firing vector."
- ―Flight Leader Trel Skutu.
They represented the elite of the Imperial Navy, having undergone grueling physical and psychological conditioning to achieve their ranks. An elite corps, only 10 percent of TIE pilots successfully navigated the intense training and testing of the Imperial Navy. The rest were reassigned throughout the Navy as combat gunners, crewmen, and other personnel.
Drawing from the graduates of Imperial academies, the fleet conditioned their best prospects to be fanatically loyal to the Emperor and willing to sacrifice their lives to complete their assigned missions. To ingrain the concept of placing mission and Empire above self, TIE pilots' names were replaced with identification numbers (such as DS-61-2) and were subjected to continual reminders of their craft's lack of integrated life-support system and combat deflector shields.
TIE pilots on duty were deliberately kept emotionally unstable, in a constant state of insecurity and hunter's anxiety. This was believed to let them fight more efficiently, although it frequently caused trouble in their interpersonal relationships.
- "Don't let the fleet commanders fool you: battles are fought - and won - among starfighters, not capital ships. Flying a fighter requires a sharp eye, firm knowledge of spatial mechanics, and a keen tactical sense."
- ―Flight Leader Trel Skutu.
To a TIE pilot, the success of a mission eclipsed personal safety and even the safety of fellow wingmen. Imperial tactics and command-control procedures for TIE squadrons were based on the assumption that most of the pilots were new and inexperienced. They were generally not allowed to use the same vehicle more than once, though this practice declined as the number of available ships began to decrease. As a result of these early measures they developed little or no attachment to a particular craft as their Rebel counterparts did. This mindset helped to enforce the pilots' view of themselves as a part of the Imperial war machine.
They regarded themselves as expendable and were trained to regard their vehicles as the most expressive instrument of the Galactic Empire. As a result, TIE pilots were loyal and willing to die for Emperor Palpatine. Their primary missions were to attack Rebel and pirate ships, defend space stations, convoys, and planetary garrisons. They were also used to escort TIE/sa bombers on planetary assaults. Much of a TIE pilot's time was spent in a TIE cockpit on patrol duty.
Uniform and equipmentEdit
TIE pilots were equipped with black uniforms, a black helmet, and a life support chest piece with breather tubes to provide necessary gases.
The helmet design was reminiscent of stormtrooper armor, with a few notable distinctions. The shell was bulkier, possibly due to reinforced padding or internal pilot-to-ship communications equipment. Additional modifications enabled the pilot to survive in the cockpit's vacuum. Breather tubes extended from the helmet to the front of the chest plate, where controls for the suit's portable life support system were located. The actual supply of oxygen was built into the rectangular back plate of the armor.
Because the odds of surviving a crash were slim, TIE pilots were rarely equipped with emergency rations or supplies. Some carried a personal sidearm for reasons which may have been ceremonial. These did show some use however, when opposing forces would attack TIE pilots before they could take off.
Notable TIE pilotsEdit
- "Barge drivers. What kind of plastiheads is the Empire recruiting for pilots these days?"
- ―Han Solo
Notable TIE pilots included Han Solo, who later turned galactic smuggler; Biggs Darklighter, who defected to the Rebel Alliance and 181st Imperial Fighter Wing member Baron Soontir Fel, who defected to the New Republic. These men were Academy graduates and officers in the Navy. Another famous TIE pilot was Tycho Celchu, who defected to the Rebel Alliance, and became a well respected member and eventually commander of Rogue Squadron. Another notable pilot was Maarek Stele, who was also a Prophet of the Dark Side. Civé Rashon was one of the rare examples of a woman who had become a TIE pilot and, even rarer, a squadron leader. Juno Eclipse commanded the elite Black Eight Squadron, but following the Bombing of Callos, was reassigned by Darth Vader to be Starkiller's personal pilot. Lieutenant Commander Villian Dance was a TIE pilot stationed aboard the Death Star I around 0 BBY, he was in command of a squadron designated Alpha Squadron.
Behind the scenesEdit
In Star Wars: Empire: Darklighter, Biggs is shown wearing TIE pilot gear with a feature the editors point out is not canon: a clear face plate sealing the helmet in addition to the black face plate. Because the black face plate seals off the helmet, an additional clear face plate does not serve any logical purpose for the Empire's pilots.
This was added only so that the artist could identify the characters and allow them to express facial emotions. It is possible that the black face plate could flip up. However, this is unlikely due to the fact that flipping it up while in flight would prove fatal to the pilot.
In Star Wars Droids 8: Star Wars According to the Droids, Book III, which recounts the story of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope as witnessed by R2-D2 and C-3PO, TIE pilots are seen wearing white armor that bears a closer resemblance to the armor worn by Snowtroopers.
A mini-helmet depicting a TIE pilot helmet was planned for the Riddell mini-helmets line of merchandise. However, it was cancelled before it could get past the prototype stages after Master Replicas took over development for the helmet line. As such, the only thing showing its existence were an incomplete set of blueprints that were most likely to have come bundled with the helmet had it been released.
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