"That's fighter pilots for you. Twice the mouth because half the brain."
- ―Two Imperials, regarding TIE pilots
Imperial Starfighter Pilots, also known as TIE fighter pilots or TIE pilots, were an elite class within the military of the Galactic Empire. They piloted the TIE line series of starfighters, a line that included the TIE/ln space superiority starfighter, which was one of the Empire's most recognizable symbols of power, the TIE/sa bomber and TIE/IN interceptor. 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. For this reason most TIE pilots had a life expectancy of less than a year.
- "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 prestigious flight academies across the galaxy underwent rigorous testing to become TIE pilots. Many TIE pilots received their training at Imperial Academies spread across the galaxy. Some of the best came out of the Royal Imperial Academy on Coruscant or the Skystrike Academy on Montross, but other notable academies were located on Raithal, Arkanis, Carida and Corulag. In addition to the use of simulator pods, cadets would spend hundreds of flight hours piloting actual TIE fighters to hone their skills. Beyond piloting, cadets also receiving instruction in other fields including mathematics, science, hand-to-hand combat, and military stragegy. The final phase of testing often occurred 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. 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.
TIE pilots underwent intense psychological conditioning that put completion of the mission above all other considerations, including their own life. Their training emphasized close coordination with their fellow pilots, as teamwork was considered the best way to accomplish their mission. However, actually aiding their fellow pilots in an emergency was their lowest priority unless there was nothing else to do, since it was preferable to bring their full force against enemy fighters. All pilots were also expected to be able to repair and maintain all single- and dual-pilot craft. This included reassembling an ion engine, reprograming their targeting computer, and constructing a distress beacon out of wreckage.
Besides graduating from one of the academies, TIE pilots could be volunteers from one of the other organizations in the Imperial government, so long as they were certified pilots or astrogators. Commander Iden Versio and her compatriots[source?] in Inferno Squad were equipped with enhanced TIE fighters; Versio herself engaged Rebel fighters following the Battle of Endor.
TIE fighter pilots wore a self-contained, insulated black flight suit with pockets and zip-front, a reinforced helmet reminiscent of the stormtrooper design, and chest armor featuring an emergency atmospheric unit and a life support pack. The flight suit was pressurized and constructed of energy-shielded frabric. The atmospheric control box on their flight suit was attached to two flexible gas transfer tubes that plugged into their vacuum-sealed helmet. The helmet was equipped with polarized lens and ship-linked displays and communications. On TIE pilot belts, to their right of their belt-buckle was a comlink/transponder in a shockproof case. TIE pilots also wore positive-gravity pressure boots and insulated gauntlets.
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.
Behind the scenes
Ultimate Star Wars first identified TIE fighter pilots as "human" in 2015. Star Wars Helmet Collection 6, released in 2016, stated that they were "various, mostly human," implying the existence of non-human pilots. However, Ultimate Star Wars, New Edition, released in 2019, stated "human" again. As Star Wars Helmet Collection magazines do not explicitly credit the Lucasfilm Story Group, then information from Ultimate Star Wars and Ultimate Star Wars, New Edition, which both have Story Group credits, take precedence.
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