TIE series starfighters shared a general design form of a roughly spherical or cylindrical cockpit pod attached to a set of solar panels, with their overall shape resembling a bow tie (thus acting as a partial namesake). The cockpit and panels could be supplemented by other modules for ordnance or other functions. Their overall design resembled the Human eye, which led to several members of the Rebel Alliance, including those of Rogue Squadron, to give them nicknames relating to eyes (such as "eyeball" for TIE/LN starfighters, "squints" for TIE/IN interceptors, and "brights" for the TIE Advanced series of starfighters).[source?]
This design form carried over to the non-starfighter products, with the standard cockpit module used in the center of a land or sea vessel.
The cockpit of a TIE was neither spacious nor luxurious, even compared to those of other starfighters. A TIE fighter was designed with the bare minimum a ship needed to function, being essentially nothing more than a cockpit with weapons on the front and an engine in the rear. This simplicity in design made them both quick and inexpensive to build and replace.
The TIE series derived its name from the SIE-TIE twin ion engine, which was unveiled to the public by Raith Sienar in 22 BBY. Prototypes of TIE series starfighters may have been tested as early as 29 BBY. TIE fighters were used on Imperial Victory-class Star Destroyers, such as the Strikefast, as early as 19 BBY, one week after the Galactic Empire was formed. At first, the launching systems often failed and had to undergo several redesigns. Because of the nature of their engines, the TIE series also emitted a distinct sound whenever they flew.
All TIE series starfighters had two or more ion engine outlets, linked to a solar ionization reactor and solar array wings.
Except for advanced models, TIE series vessels were not generally equipped with hyperdrives, but they could be added as an option. Early TIE models tended to suffer noticeably in sublight performance if given this upgrade, due to the added mass of the hyperdrive and navicomputer systems. Apparently not all TIEs were equipped with a missile-lock warning sensor to warn a pilot of an enemy missile lock, though many were.
Ships in the TIE series were usually armed with one or more laser cannons, two being standard. More advanced fighters were equipped with a variety of warhead launchers, and the TIE Avenger and TIE Defender could be fitted with a small-scale tractor beam.
Very few TIE starfighters were equipped with combat shielding, though they were included on the Avenger and Defender and could be retrofitted onto most TIE types. This lack of shielding contributed to the TIE's extreme speed. Retrofitting of this type was fairly common in the New Republic era, as ships and manpower became more valuable to Imperial forces.
All TIE models had a common weakness during atmospheric combat: their un-aerodynamic design severely restricted their speed and maneuverability (particularly under windy conditions), which was normally their greatest strength against most Rebel Alliance/New Republic fightercraft. Pilots trained to fly TIEs in atmosphere conversely often had difficulties making best use of the craft in space combat.
In 40 ABY, during the start of the Second Galactic Civil War, the Aleph-class starfighter was produced by Sienar for the Galactic Alliance's Navy. Like its predecessors, the Aleph had a ball-shaped cockpit pod which was larger than that of a standard TIE variant. However, it was designed as a two-seater complete with an astromech droid socket and more weapons.
The reborn Galactic Empire continued to utilize TIE designs such as the Predator-class fighter, also known as the TIE Predator, used around 130 ABY. The TIE Predator itself was a successor to the TIE interceptors used over a century prior.
Behind the scenes
Though the term "TIE Fighter" was coined because George Lucas thought they looked like bow ties, the ion engine is a real-life type of spacecraft propulsion, and publicity surrounding the launch of the SMART-1 spacecraft, particularly the shuttle Smart-1, likened its ion thruster to the propulsion systems of a TIE Fighter. Taking this comparison further, a number of canon sources describe the large vertical wings of a TIE as something like the photovoltaic solar panels typically used to power real-life ion-drives: terms like "solar arrays" or "solar gather panels" are used to describe the TIEs' wings, and it is explicitly said that they draw on the energy of starlight and play at least a partial role in powering the engines.
Many fans have disagreed with this information, on the grounds that the power output of solar panels would not be sufficient to give TIEs the acceleration attributed to them, particularly given that TIEs have never been indicated to suffer reduced performance in interstellar space or when flying at night on a planet. Some seek to discard the "solar panel" idea altogether, and the wings of the prequel-era forerunners of the TIE, Scimitar, and Advanced Projects prototype, have been identified instead as radiator assemblages for waste heat from a conventional Star Wars reactor core.
Other fans are reluctant to dismiss any canon material, offering the alternative explanation that mass-lightening technology (which should be possible with the mastery of artificial gravity, repulsorlift devices, inertial compensators and gravity-well generators in the galaxy far, far away) may make such low-powered drives practicable, and suggesting that if the wings of production-model TIEs retain a radiator function, this operates alongside their primary role as solar arrays.
Yet other fans prefer different ideas—for instance, some speculate that the small nozzles at the back of the cockpit are simply heat exhausts, and the wing panels are themselves some sort of particle thrusters, with thrust in different directions from different sections giving them their incredible maneuverability.
Another widely questioned issue is the lack of shielding on TIE fighters, as it is felt that all TIE series starfighters must at least have some form of shielding against space debris. The most common explanation (and probably most logical) is that while all TIE fighters have particle shields, most were not equipped with energy shields.
The TIE series' trademark roaring sounds when in flight were derived from mixing an elephant's screams with a car driving on a wet road. The sound was also created by accident: Ben Burtt was initially tasked with creating a sound similar to those of Nazi rockets in a BBC documentary of the Battle of Stalingrad that George Lucas had watched, and resorted to drawing out an elephant's cry from the 1958 film The Roots of Heaven and then doing the aforementioned mixture. Joe Johnston also noted that it sounded similar to the Nazis' Junker JU-87 dive planes.
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