The RZ-1 A-wing interceptor was a starfighter designed by the Rebel Alliance during the Galactic Civil War. One of the fastest mass-produced interceptors in the known galaxy, the A-wing was even faster than the Imperials' TIE Interceptor, despite also having shielding and a hyperdrive, unlike the cheaper TIE model.
The RZ-1 A-wing interceptor was a small, wedge-shaped craft with a central cockpit attached to twin engines. Like its Clone Wars predecessor, the Eta-2, the A-wing required pilots of exceptional skill to take full advantage of the vessel's speed, agility, and special features.
The A-wing's Novaldex J-77 engines remained some of the most powerful sublight thrusters two decades after the A-wing's creation. However, the highly sensitive controls made the craft exceptionally difficult to handle. Pilots had to adjust the two dorsal and two ventral stabilizer wings with great care, as even a minor turn could send the A-wing into a massive spinout.
The A-wing's wing-mounted laser cannons could rotate up and down sixty degrees for greater fire control. Some of A-wings even had their guns modified to swivel in a complete 360-degree arc, providing a surprise to any chasing fighter. However, the cannon mounts had a high rate of mechanical failure, and contributed to the fighter's extremely costly maintenance-to-flight ratio. This, among other reasons, contributed to the difficulty of keeping a squadron of A-wings operational for any length of time.
The combination of sensitive controls, unmatched sublight thrust, maneuverable weapon systems, advanced sensory and stealth packages, and fragility, strained even the best pilots. In addition, the A-wing had no astromech droid to manage its weapons systems, requiring pilots to split their attention between flying the craft, & operating the weapon systems.
The craft had an access panel on the forward bow, and carried two Dymek HM-6 Concussion Missile Launchers along the sides. Each launcher was capable of launching 6 concussion missiles. Thrust control jets were at the rear of the craft, just behind the rear Sirplex Z-9 deflector shield projector. The engines, capable of propelling the starfighter to up to 1300 kilometers per hour and 120 MGLT, were placed in the aft of the craft and had thrust vector controls. The A-wing carried a sensor jamming unit, including a Fabritech ANs-7e sensor unit with PA-94 long range phased tachyon detection array and PG-7u short range primary threat analysis grid, along with targeting systems in the form of a Fabritech ANq 3.6 tracking computer and an IN-344-B "Sightline" imaging system The avionics were a Torplex Rq9.z flight control system. The craft carried one pilot and up to 40 kilograms of cargo.
Many of the starfighters were produced in underground factories, and at least one at the Battle of Endor had fijisi wood panels. The A-wings were maintenance-heavy and prone to breakdowns, although the sensor jammers and concussion weapons were effective in lightning raids.
Although a capable starfighter, the a-wing was especially notable for its intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance missions, in large part because of its hyperdrive capability, speed, and maneuverability. The ship was littered with concealed multi-spectral imagers and other sensors, which allowed it to gather information about an enemy. These abilities were further enhanced by its sensor-jamming system, which was powerful enough to disrupt detection and targeting systems of TIE fighters and other small vessels, although they were ineffective against capital ships, and acted as a double-edged sword due to the jamming system giving a precise lock on the fighter if detected by the enemy. As such, experienced pilots learned to drop out of hyperspace close to an enemy fleet or space-installation, make a blistering run around (or even through) the enemy formation, using the a-wing's on-board imagers and sensors to gather information, and then escape to hyperspace before being detected.
The A-wing's wedge-shaped prow was fitted with a reinforced heat shield. Although this was intended to protect the craft during atmospheric entry, it also acted as a makeshift battering ram. However, this ramming maneuvre was largely used by pilots as a last resort, with the pilots relying on the nose wedge to breach an enemy ship's hull and either cripple or outright destroy it. This tactic was famously demonstrated by Arvel Crynyd during the Battle of Endor, where he rammed the bridge of the Star Dreadnought Executor.
General Jan Dodonna's after action review of the Battle of Yavin affirmed the value of Alliance starfighters, but also highlighted that a simple trio of TIE starfighters had almost foiled the trench run. Dodonna planned to create a dedicated Alliance interceptor, in anticipation of a similar analysis by the Imperial Navy; indeed, Sienar Fleet Systems accelerated work on an updated TIE Interceptor which would match the A-wing's speed.
To design the starfighter, Dodonna turned to Walex Blissex, famed ex-Kuat Systems Engineering engineer. Blissex brought valuable experience from work on the Clone Wars-era Delta-7 Aetherspite-class light interceptor and Alpha-3 interceptors. The pair based initial designs on the R-22 Spearhead, already nicknamed by pilots as "A-wings" per the -wing naming convention for other Rebel craft, of which two had fought at Yavin. They formed Alliance Underground Engineering, and worked with pilot Jake Farrell in improving a Tammuz-an design. It was additionally based off the Delta-7.
Dodonna and Blissex presented a proposal to Chief of State Mon Mothma[source?] for official support. It was ill-timed. The victory at Yavin incited open rebellion on thousands of worlds, resulting in widespread Imperial suppression. The Alliance was scattered, and had insufficient funds for the proposed A-wing program. Nevertheless, Dodonna's fame from his role at Yavin made a denial difficult, and Mothma approved with reduced funding.
The reduced budget forced Dodonna and Blissex to substantially modify the original design. Blissex redrafted to use components readily available from Ordnance and Supply Command, pushing each beyond factory specifications.
The earliest A-wings were hand-assembled at Alliance facilities like Cardooine and Chardaan Shipyards. This resulted in interesting modifications; some fighters incorporated actual wood furnishings for the cockpit interior, such as the one that Rogue Squadron pilot Tycho Celchu flew during the Battle of Endor. In 0 ABY, the Soaring Dactillions were assigned the prototypes to fly at the Cardooine Rebel base. After a week, they came under attack by the Empire, and the Dactillions flew the fighter in battle. Although they proved that the starfighter had superb qualities, only two of the pilots survived.
More serious was the slow production rate, allowing the fielding of just a few full squadrons. Only one full unit, Green Squadron, was present at the Battle of Endor in 4 ABY. Elsewhere, A-wings were issued to a handful of crack units, like Nomad Squadron and Pash Cracken's wing.
The combination of hand assembly, second-hand components, density of complex systems, and a general lack of quality control, aggravated maintenance. The A-wing had the second worst maintenance to flight ratio in the Alliance fleet in 3 ABY.[source?]
- "Any pilot who volunteers to fly an A-wing better be brave or crazy. Probably helps to be a little of both."
- ―General Han Solo
The first Alliance raids using A-wings surprised Imperial forces, which had been unable to penetrate the veil of secrecy over the interceptor's development.[source?] The Rebel's Rogue Squadron employed A-wings during the search for the starship Nonnah around six months after the Battle of Yavin. The squadron also employed it during a battle above Taloraan. Wedge Antilles flew it during a raid on Bespin, and also flew the starfighter during a strike at Destrillion. Rebel pilot Ace Azzameen also flew the A-wing during a number of missions with the Alliance Fleet. A lone A-wing piloted by Arvel Crynyd played a major role when it helped to destroy the Star Dreadnought Executor during the Battle of Endor, by ramming its bridge, causing the entire ship to fall and crash into the second Death Star.
The A-wing was also used by the Alliance's successor as galactic government: the New Republic. In 8 ABY, Rogue Squadron pilot Tycho Celchu led Surprise Squadron at the capture of Kuat. Their A-wings were equipped with experimental ion torpedoes. The mission was a success and the massive shipyards orbiting Kuat fell into New Republic hands.
In 13 ABY, A-wings were stationed on Coruscant. Gold-striped craft escorted Kir Kanos' shuttle to a landing pad when it entered restricted airspace near the Royal Palace. A-wings were also assigned to General Han Solo's fleet for mop-up operations around that time. A contingent of A-wings was also carried on-board a Mon Calamari Star Cruiser captained by Lar Ndigo, who was assigned to Solo's fleet and was detached to reconnoiter the planetoid RZ7-6113-23. The A-wings fought off attacking Restored Empire V-Wing starfighters during the ensuring battle over the planetoid.
Though it had been designed to defend immobile stations or slow-moving Alliance starships from starfighter raids, the A-wing was pressed into service as a quick-strike fighter as part of the post-Yavin Alliance strategy of guerrilla warfare. Using its impressive straight-line acceleration and advanced jamming package, A-wings were able to hit targets before they could respond, and then flee before any defense could be organized.
This change found its apex in a devastating tactic known as the A-wing Slash which was developed by General Garm Bel Iblis. A group of X-wings would approach an Imperial convoy, hiding a number of A-wings in their drive exhaust. The X-wings would then pull away, diverting attention away from the speedy A-wings, which could launch HM-6 concussion missiles against the convoy and pull away.
The A-wing also found use in reconnaissance missions, and would become a favorite among Fleet Intelligence and Alliance Intelligence operatives for its speed. A team of A-wings could exit hyperspace near an Imperial objective, begin jamming enemy sensors, draw scans and holographic imagery, and retreat before being detected. If it was detected, the pilots could easily outrun any pursuers, ensuring the safety of the pilots and the intelligence.
While the A-wing became popular for "hit-and-fade" raids and reconnaissance duty, it was required to operate from a nearby base of operations or carrier ship because of its navigational computer's limitations, which could only store coordinates for two hyperspace jumps before requiring calibration.
The TIE/IN interceptor, better known as the TIE Interceptor, was perhaps the Empire's closest equivalent to the A-wing. The Interceptor had two more laser cannons and better agility which gave it an edge in a dogfight, but its lack of shields and warhead launchers limited its durability and tactical usage. The Interceptor was (like all mass-produced TIEs) generally available in larger numbers, but A-wing pilots tended to be more skilled as they had a higher survival rate than their Interceptor counterparts. In a pure chase, the A-wing could outrun the Interceptor, however this was only if the A-wing was undamaged. Later Imperial starfighters such as the TIE Avenger, TIE Defender, and Missile Boat were easily more than a match for the A-wing, however they were never mass-produced due to turmoil in the Imperial Navy.
Shortly after the Battle of Endor, the Mark II A-wing entered production. While A-wings were originally built on an individual basis by the Alliance itself, the Mark II was mass produced by the Incom Corporation. One notable alteration was that the laser cannons of the A-wing Mark II were configured for full 360-degree rotation.
The value of a high speed interceptor was clear, but the A-wing had major defensive and navigational limitations. Thus, new starfighters like the E-wing or T-65AC4 X-wing were created with comparable speed, but some models were given heavier shields and armor, astromech compatibility, and more powerful weapons. Despite the introduction of newer starfighters and efforts to standardize fleet operations, the A-wing's exceptional design allowed it to endure through the Yuuzhan Vong War.
A number of A-wings also found their way into civilian hands, often being used as scout vessels or escape vehicles. Squadrons were also captured by pirates, who used them in the same raiding capacity as the Alliance.[source?]
Behind the scenes
Production paintings for Return of the Jedi show the A-wing painted in blue markings, but these were changed to red to allow the models to be filmed for bluescreen. According to the X-wing games, red signifies Red Squadron. A-wings from other squadrons bear their respective color. One Star Wars Action Fleet A-wing model has green markings instead of red, supporting this claim.
The craft was originally known only as "A fighter" during the production of Return of the Jedi.
A-wings appear in the games Star Wars: Empire at War, Star Wars: X-wing, Star Wars: Rebel Assault and the Droids animated series; however, these are set years before the A-wing is stated to have been developed, making it an anomaly. All these pre-Yavin A-wing instances have been retconned into R-22 Spearheads.
Like other ships (Executor, for example), the size of the A-wing is in dispute. Fans argue that the 9.6 meters and the derived width and height are too big, because visual evidence from Return of the Jedi seems to suggest the A-wing is very small compared to other starfighters; close-up shots of A-wing pilots show that the cockpit is cramped, and suggest the entire ship cannot be very large.
A size analysis of the studio model used for Return of the Jedi suggests that the length of the ship is half as long as the documented 9.6 meters. Star Wars Technical Journal of the Rebel Forces states the model is 60 cm long and the pilot figure a 1/8 scale action figure, which results into a length of 4.8 meters. However, it should be noted that it is entirely possible the 1/8 figure was only used because it fit in the cockpit of the model.
Another way to determine the size by comparing the headroom of the pilot with the relative size of the cockpit to the entire fighter, would be to compare the cockpit film set with the studio model.
The size comparison chart found in the 2011 reference book Millennium Falcon Owner's Workshop Manual also depicts an RZ-1 A-wing. By using the well documented sizes of the Millennium Falcon and the X-wing as a scale, the resulting A-wing size is roughly 7.0 meters.
Although it is unknown on what the original 9.6 meter figure is based on, like the issue on Home One, the official length remains 9.6 meters until a canon source states otherwise.
The weapons payload of the A-wing varies from source to source, with some not having the concussion missile launchers, and some saying that the laser cannons are actually blaster cannons. In Star Wars: Battlefront II for example, A-wings are armed with repeating laser cannons and homing cluster missiles.
LEGO made several sets of the A-wing. The first was 7134 "A-Wing Fighter" from 2000. The second is 6207 "A-Wing Fighter" from 2006. Both A-wings have Red Squadron markings. Finally, the third set to have an A-wing was 7754 "Home One Mon Calamari Star Cruiser" from August 2009. Unlike the previous A-wings, this one sported Green Squadron markings. In January of 2013 a fourth A-Wing was released, the 75003 A-Wing with a pilot with a more realistic helmet.
Notes and references
- Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Core Rulebook
- Star Wars: Complete Vehicles
- Starships of the Galaxy, Saga Edition
- Star Wars: Behind the Magic
- Star Wars Battlefront II: Prima Official Game Guide
- The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels
- Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance
- The Official Star Wars Fact File
- The Stele Chronicles
- Star Wars: Complete Cross-Sections
- X-Wing: The Bacta War
- Encyclopedia (StarWars.com)
- Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption
- Dark Force Rising
- X-Wing: Mercy Kill
- Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed
- StarWars.com Databank
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron: The Official Nintendo Player's Guide
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike: The Official Nintendo Player's Guide
- The Essential Guide to Warfare
- Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi
- Takeover at Whisper Base (Adventure Book) Zal Ace Character Folio
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike
- Star Wars: Crimson Empire III—Empire Lost
- The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime