- "Droids don't talk back, they don't question your orders, and they never complain when you send them on suicide missions."
- ―Rune Haako
The Variable Geometry Self-Propelled Battle Droid, Mark I (also known as the Vulture-class droid starfighter or simply as the vulture droid) was a droid starfighter used by the Trade Federation. Later, in much greater numbers, it was utilized by the Confederacy of Independent Systems. It participated heavily in the Clone Wars, at engagements such as the Battles of Kamino and Coruscant.
Like most of the Trade Federation's armed forces, it carried no living pilot, but rather a droid brain that was linked to a central control computer, often aboard a Lucrehulk-class Droid Control Ship. Each Trade Federation battleship carried 1,500 such droid starfighters.
The Vulture-class was designed by Haor Chall Engineering, which was founded by the fanatical Xi Char, a religious order dedicated to high-precision manufacturing. As a result, it represented classic Xi Charrian design— an insectoid appearance, multiple weapons emplacements, and a compact body that offered only a small target for enemy fighters.
The vulture droid carried four blaster cannons and two energy torpedo launchers, and could reach 1200 kilo-meters per hour in a planet's atmosphere. When not in flight, the ship could transform into a walking weapons platform, used for ground patrol and troop support. While in this mode, the droid starfighter could also latch onto surfaces in zero gravity, allowing it to launch directly from the external hull of a capital ship. The class featured thrust dampers, which if disabled forced starfighters to switch to the walker mode to operate. When docked in a hangar, they would often flex their components as part of self-maintenance. Vultures were also programmed to self-destruct if their link with their host control ship was severed. The ships were controlled via a Central Control Computer on a Lucrehulk-class Droid Control Ships.
A droid starfighter was capable of maneuvers that would kill an organic pilot, but they lacked the resourcefulness and cunning of living pilots, although they were capable of responding much faster. Vulture droids had an unusual fuel system, relying on solid-fuel concentrate slugs that provided propulsion upon ignition. However, they could only function for 35 minutes before having to be refueled. The Trade Federation solved this issue by sending vulture droids into battle in timed, rotating swarms. Although they could react quicker to new situations than organic pilots, they had trouble responding to friendly units firing on them, a weakness Mace Windu exploited on Haruun Kal and the Battle of Coruscant.
Vulture droids were also capable of communication with one another, normally with chattering. In addition to this, it is safe to assume[source?] Vulture-class droids were capable of communicating with other battle droids, as shown during the Jedi's visit to the Saak'ak, Nute Gunray's flagship.
Vulture droid starfighters were usually named by a six-digit designation number, consisting of DFS- and a three-digit alpha-numeric combination, as illustrated by the fighters DFS-1VR and DFS-4CT.
Vulture-class fighters were launched in overwhelming numbers and excelled in both atmospheric and space combat. The vulture droid's weapon systems consisted of four blaster cannons with two per wing. In standard flight format, the drone's wings were collapsed to conceal its blaster cannons. In combat, these wings split up to reveal these blaster cannons. In addition, the droid possessed two energy torpedo launchers that would weaken enemy targets before the starfighter delivered a blaster cannon barrage. In walker-mode, the Vulture-class could only use its two torpedo launchers as its cannons were situated on the legs and pointed downwards. During the Clone Wars, vulture droids were modified to carry six blaster cannons and four buzz droid discord missiles instead of energy torpedoes, however it's more than likely that they could carry other types of missiles. The Vulture droid design was used to produce the Hyena-class bomber, another type of automated droid starfighter used by the Separatist Alliance. The Vulture-class fighters, at least by the time of the Battle of Coruscant, also developed at least some capability of speech, as several were heard making statements in Neimoidian before making various maneuvers.
Only months before Darth Sidious gave the order for Naboo's blockade, through machinations with the Trade Federation he commissioned Trinkatta Starships of Esseles in the Darpa sector to outfit 50 Vulture-class droid starfighters with hyperdrives—which the Republic had outlawed for that type of small fighter. The Sith Lord wished for the starfighters to be used to take over the planet Brentaal, which would then have allowed the Trade Federation to control with impunity two major galactic trade routes: the Perlemian and the Hydian Way. The pre–Clone Wars plot was foiled when the Jedi High Council, unbeknownst to the Republic Senate (members of which might have been implicated), sent a team headed by Qui-Gon Jinn to investigate what party or parties had placed the illegal order.
Droid starfighters were employed during skirmishes with Degan pirates in the Elrood sector and were responsible for defeating the pirate Nym's forces on Lok. The Naboo first encountered these drones when Echo Flight pilots led by Essara Till battled them during an assault on Station TFP-9, not long before the assault on Naboo.
The droid starfighter then saw action in the Invasion of Naboo, during which they at first provided general air superiority, and later during the Battle of Naboo swarms of them fought Naboo N-1 starfighters in the battle above the planet. The vultures were ultimately neutralized when Anakin Skywalker disabled the Lucrehulk-class Droid Control Ship. Reports later suggested that the droid starfighters performed sluggishly during the battle due to an overwhelmed Central Control Computer, which also had to direct large numbers of ground troops.
After the battle, droid starfighters commanded by Raith Sienar participated as part of the Trade Federation Defense Fleet alongside Republic forces during the attack on the living world Zonama Sekot. They would also be part of the Trade Federation force sent to destroy Outbound Flight, but were neutralized thanks to the Chiss Commander Thrawn, who exploited their reliance on the droid-control signal by jamming its entire spectrum, nullifying the whole force. The captured trader Jorj Car'das later reflected on the incident and mentioned the reports he had read about the starfighters' performance during the Battle of Naboo. They also saw action during the Trade Federation's occupation of the Karthakk system.
- "Master, General Grievous's ship is directly ahead, the one crawling with vulture droids."
- ―Anakin Skywalker, referring to the Invisible Hand during the Battle of Coruscant
During the Clone Wars, many Vulture-class droids were painted with the blue and white hexagonal insignia of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, although many were seen in the early and middle stages of the war with Trade Federation brown coloring, and were upgraded with buzz droid missile launchers, which they opened their wings to launch. Other manufacturers, chiefly Baktoid Armor Workshop, began production of the Vulture which had originally been built solely by its Xi Char developers.
Vulture droids were fielded by the Confederacy against the Republic in numerous battles and conflicts including the First Battle of Geonosis and the Battle of Coruscant, although the Confederacy also made substantial use of other fighters, such as the Nantex-class territorial defense starfighter. However, they did not pose a serious challenge for Jedi aces such as Anakin Skywalker, as demonstrated in the Battle of Terra Sool.
At some point during the conflict, the Separatists entered into a trade agreement with the House of Vane from the planet Valahari. The inhabitants of this world were famous for being excellent starship engineers. After the formation of this pact, which was formed between Count Dooku and his old friend Harko Vane, who believed in neutrality but that the exchange of Valahari technology would benefit his world's economy. Thus, despite aiding the Separatists, the Valahari claimed to be neutral in the Clone Wars. This alliance led to Valahari fighter components being added to advanced Vulture droid models, increasing their speed and destructive power. These improved droid fighters were dispatched against the Republic, where they destroyed a battle group led by Jedi Master Toluz Cheq in the Rial Kroon system. Before he was killed, he managed to upload a transmission and a scan of the droid fighters to Coruscant, thus informing them of this new threat. This led the Jedi Council to dispatch Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to Valahari to negotiate an end to the Confederacy-Valahari alliance.
When Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi arrived on Iego looking for the antidote to the deadly Blue Shadow Virus, a young Human boy named Jaybo Hood had a reprogrammed army of droids left over from the Separatists, which included several vulture droids.
During the Battle of Coruscant, Mace Windu rode a vulture by tugging on its cranial wires. General Grievous often used them for suicide attacks designed to sow chaos, by making them perform kamikaze attacks on civilian targets. An advanced model was deployed prior to and during the Clone Wars. Late in the war, Vultures were augmented by droid tri-fighters, which were sturdier but less common.
Galactic Civil War
Despite the deactivation of the droid armies, Vulture-class units were apparently being used by some parties by 18 BBY. In addition, several Vulture-class starfighters were modified by Separatist holdouts during the Reconquest of the Rim to accompany organic pilots, of which the 77th Air Wing encountered on Kelrodo-Ai in 17 BBY in the Western Reaches Operation.
Between 1 BBY and 0 BBY, several vulture droids were deployed to Naboo from Lucrehulk-class battleships belonging to an unknown party, resulting in a battle over Naboo's atmosphere by a Rebel Alliance cell on Naboo.
A few years after the Clone Wars, Gizor Dellso utilized Vulture-class starfighters to defend his facility on Mustafar. However, the Galactic Empire uncovered his plan, and the stormtroopers of the 501st Legion stormed the planet, destroying the orbiting defense ships and decimating the facility. Even after this, Vultures would continue to be used by various parties, such as smugglers. Additionally, some groups of independent sentient Vulture droids were spotted in remote parts of some star systems, including the Detritus Satellites or the Scintilla Defenders.
Behind the scenes
The Vulture droid's first appearance was in the novelization of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In the early plans for The Phantom Menace, the Trade Federation was intended to use more conventional starfighters that were merely piloted by B1-Series battle droids, like those in the Battlefront games. An early concept sketch depicted a fighter whose cockpit strongly resembled those of the TIE Series. It was later decided that the fighters should themselves be droids.
In the Clone Wars cartoon, Vultures are depicted with brown coloring during the attack on Coruscant, despite being depicted as blue in the film. This can be considered an artistic inconsistency in the cartoon, though the cartoon itself was released before the movie. In the games Star Wars: Battlefront and Star Wars: Battlefront II, Vulture droids (as well as other droid starships, such as the Droid Tri-fighter) are depicted as requiring a pilot. This can be attributed to game mechanics. During the movie The Clone Wars, Vulture droids fire their blaster cannons from their energy-torpedo ports rather than from between their wings. This is possibly due to artistic license; however, it's established that Vulture droids can fire blaster bolts from their torpedo emitters but primarily only when they are in walker mode. This may have also been done to make animating and tracking the shots easier for the animators.
There is a size variation of the Vulture droid (despite being much larger than the average droid). The difference is visible on the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series and Revenge of the Sith. Until now, the figures of the vulture droid that have been made by Hasbro and listed in Star Wars: Episode I Incredible Cross-Sections match exactly with the established size of 3.5 meters, as can be seen in Cartoon Network's animated mini-series. In 2009, Hasbro stipulated that the new larger model of the droid starfighter will be released as an action figure.
Five variations of the Vulture Droid Starfighter were released by the LEGO Company, in 1999, 2005, 2007, and, for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, 2009 and 2014.
- LEGO Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Picture only)
- LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game
- LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
- LEGO Star Wars: Darth Maul's Mission
- Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron
- LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace
Notes and references
- Star Wars: Complete Cross-Sections
- Labyrinth of Evil
- Starships of the Galaxy, Saga Edition
- The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars Character Encyclopedia
- Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron
- Star Wars: Episode I Incredible Cross-Sections
- The Official Star Wars Fact File 48 (Trade Federation Droid Starfighter)
- Hasbro Titanium-series Vulture Droid 
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars (film)
- Star Wars: Battlefront II
- Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
- Star Wars: Episode I Jedi Power Battles
- Star Wars: Episode I The Visual Dictionary
- The Essential Guide to Warfare
- Star Wars: Clone Wars – "Chapter 23"
- Star Wars Trading Card Game
- Episode I Adventures 1: Search for the Lost Jedi
- Star Wars: Starfighter
- The Starfighter Trap"—Star Wars Gamer 1 "
- Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace
- Outbound Flight
- Rogue Planet
- Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars video game
- Star Wars: Clone Wars
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars – "Bounty Hunters"
- The Clone Wars 10
- Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
- The Last of the Jedi: Secret Weapon
- The Guns of Kelrodo-Ai (short story)
- Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
- Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed
- Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace novelization