TIE pilots served in the Starfighter Corps of the Imperial Navy by piloting the various TIE Series starfighters. Distinguished by all-black flight suits and bulky, full-enclosed, vacuum-sealed helmets, the Galactic Empire at its height produced millions of TIE pilots and generally considered them expendable assets. The TIE pilots formed the elite of the Imperial Navy's Flight Branch.
They were referred to as "bucketheads" by Rebel pilots, due to their bulky 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, a hold over from the Galactic Republic's use of clones during the Clone Wars prior to the Empire's formation. Among the pilots, they were known as "vac-heads" and "ground-hogs", in reference to their roles in the Navy and Army, respectively, due to there being significant rivalry between the two factions.
The first generation of TIE pilots were composed of clones, survivors of the clone trooper pilots of the Republic Starfighter Corps from the Clone Wars. The first clone pilots were first-generation Jango Fett clones, but the best clone pilots were honored as the prime clones for newer pilot lineages, and were distinguished by their all-black dress uniforms. This early use of clones was one of the main reasons why TIE pilots were often viewed as expendable and given little protection during combat.
Even early into the Empire, however, there were several Imperial officers, among them the distinguished TIE ace Shea Hublin, who campaigned to have the various TIE fighters redesigned to protect the pilots better, largely because non-clone Human pilots from the Imperial Academy began to replace and outnumber the ageing clone trooper veterans. However, these were ignored by the Imperial Navy's hierarchy, and notably were dismissed by the pilots themselves. The TIE pilots believed that their lack of protection was a testament to their skills rather than the Empire's view of them as disposable. This notoriously callous treatment of pilots was such that the TIE fighter, in addition to representing the technological might of the Empire, was also symbolic to the Empire's callous disregard for its own soldiers.
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. Eventually, Imperial commanders like Grand Admiral Thrawn were forced to recognize that their pilots and starfighters could no longer be treated as expendable assets, and began fitting TIE/IN interceptors with deflector shields.
- "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 and the lives of their fellow wingmen to complete their assigned missions, explicitly considering themselves expendable. In addition, they also were trained through intense psychological conditioning to focus on target destruction, and took particular pride in being totally dependent on higher authority. 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, the latter of which was because the use of such was viewed as an act of cowardice.
Potential non-clone pilots were required to undergo a rigorous screening and selection process for flight training, with those that pass proceeding to spend a year on one of the Empire's flight schools. The flight schools varied between asteroid bases, planets, and capital ships. Once they arrived at the flight school, the pilot would then be assigned to a partner and learn to operate as a team in combat, necessitating hundreds of hours of flight drills. However, the flight schools themselves were not safe, as attrition was high especially to trainee pilots assigned to actual combat missions. Those who survived and passed came closer to getting a recommendation into the Starfighter Corps. Several of the flight challenges they had endured were both strategic and high-speed related, and were described as filtering out the weak.
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. They were a closely knit group and tended to stick to their own kind, avoiding others in social interaction. The Imperial Navy considered this an acceptable tradeoff for their flight performance. The TIE pilots also have internal rivalries between the mainstay pilots of the Imperial Navy and the TIE pilots assigned to the Imperial Army branch via the ground support wings, resulting in the derisive nicknames of "Vac-Heads" and "Ground-Hogs", respectively. The rivalry between the two factions was significant enough to be considered "legendary" and have catina owners separate them should they ever come to their catinas due to learning the nature of their rivalries the hard way via violent encounters. Although they did have a close-knit relationship among their own kind, they also placed the mission above even aiding any threatened wingmen.
When piloting TIEs, their feet operated the control yokes and their hands gripped the control rods, while strapped into a shock couch and crash webbing. This also resulted in a claustrophobic element in TIE pilots, although the best ones viewed it as the best in the galaxy.
- "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.
In addition, TIE pilots are stationed either among the Imperial Navy or the Imperial Army, with their duties varying depending on the branch. The latter reported to an Army garrison commander, although they were primarily stationed aboard a naval vessel. This also led to an intense rivalry between the two factions of TIE pilots.
Uniform and equipmentEdit
TIE pilots were equipped with black uniforms composed of an energy-shielded fabric, a black flight helmet, positive gravity pressure boots, and a life support chest piece with breather tubes connected to the helmet to provide necessary gases. Functioning as vacuum G-suits, these uniforms were necessary because the various TIE craft, with few exceptions, lacked life-support. The helmets also featured ship-linked communications systems on the sides, and were highly reinforced. Han Solo, himself a former Imperial pilot, implied that the experience of wearing one of these uniforms was maddening due to having to endure the stink of sweat as well as constantly hearing the hissing of breathing tubes for a few hours in a cockpit.
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 of the similarities of the helmets to Stormtrooper armor, the official field manual for the Imperial Military, Imperial Handbook: A Commander's Guide had to specifically state that despite the similarities, the TIE pilots were part of the Navy, not the Stormtrooper Corps.
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.
When not on-duty, their dress uniforms were the same as various Imperial Navy officers.
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.
Lieutenant Kasan Moor is also another example of female TIE pilots, being the leader of the 128th TIE Interceptor Squadron but joined the Rebel Alliance after the destruction of her homeworld, Alderaan.
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.
- LEGO Star Wars: Microfighters video game
- Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope
- Tag & Bink Are Dead
- LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
- LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
- LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (PSP & Nintendo DS versions only)
- LEGO Star Wars: Microfighters Episode 3: Rebel Rally Time
- Xbox Live Avatar Costume
Notes and referencesEdit
- ↑ Galaxy at War
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Star Wars: Imperial Handbook: A Commander's Guide
- ↑ Death Troopers
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8
- ↑ Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith Incredible Cross-Sections
- ↑ The Essential Guide to Warfare
- ↑ The Essential Guide to Warfare
- ↑ Star Wars Trilogy Sourcebook, Special Edition
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary
- ↑ X-Wing: Iron Fist
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 Death Star
- ↑ Star Wars: TIE Fighter
- ↑ TIE Fighter Collector's CD-ROM: The Official Strategy Guide