Imperial Insignia: Starfighter Forces

General Remarks

The status of the starfighter forces of the Galactic Empire is not entirely clear. It may be an independent arm of service, as is the case for the airfighter forces of most modern nations of Earth, but most roleplaying products and novels assume that it is integral with the naval forces. The starfighter service is more closely affiliated with the Imperial Navy than the Army.

Operationally, there is good reason for this. Most starfighters lack hyperdrive capabilities, so they tend to operate from motherships. Dedicated carrier craft seem to be rare in many regional or sector fleets. Instead, most of the medium or heavier Imperial warships in provincial fleets are capable of carrying a number of fighters ranging from a handful up to a couple of starfighter wings. Elite commands like Admiral Giel's, and the great battle fleets of the Core included specialised carriers of awesome size and capacity. Their huge docking bays and numerous hangars might accommodate many wings.

The relationship between the Imperial Navy and the starfighter service is very close in other ways. Training of starfighter pilots is conducted within naval academies, including an elite facility on Carida, the planet that is better known for the production of stormtroopers and stormtrooper officers. Han Solo, who became a fleet officer, and Soontir Fel, who became a distinguished fighter pilot, were classmates. The rank titles of starfighter pilots also show the naval affiliation, with terms like “Wing Commander” obviously based on naval antecedents.

Cooperation between the starfighter service and the Imperial Army is not as comfortable. In general there are fewer TIEs assigned to garrisons than the generals would want. The starfighter wing available to a common Imperial garrison is reduced from the usual seventy-two to only forty fighters.

One of the ships in Admiral Giel's armada during the months following the Battle of Hoth. The basic form is dagger-like, as is appropriate for a warship of several miles' length, but the bow of the vessel has a distinctive fork-nosed variation. The enormous cavity indicates massively extended docking and hangar facilities.

A destroyer moves into the shadow of the an Executor-class ship's enormous main bay. Although the regulation fighter compliment is only two wings (144 fighters), the physical capacity is incalculable.

The only known illustration of this class of warship is fortunately a highly detailed broadside view. The main docking bay cavity is even more extensive than that of the Executor-class command ships, though the engines seem to be smaller and presumably weaker.


The flight suit of a starfighter pilot is a vacuum-rated spacesuit with a full life-support system. In fact TIE fighters are usually not equipped with cockpit life-support or air scrubbers. However Imperial pilots ejected from damaged craft must have a significantly greater survival rate than their rebel counterparts, whose flight suits are poorly insulated and have only an emergency containment field to entrap surrounding air.

The headgear of an Imperial starfighter pilot mainly consists of a sturdy helmet section with heavily armoured block structures which should provide some protection against debris in the case of a messy ejection or moderate cockpit damage. The face plate resembles that of a stormtrooper, and the eyepieces presumably provide visual enhancement capabilities similar to those of a trooper's combat helmet. Twin air hoses are attached to the breather section on the brim of the mask, leading to an air supply pack capable with a longer time-rating than the air reserves of the basic stormtrooper helmet.

The heavy ridge creating the helmet is the only place where individual or unit insignia are known to have been displayed. On some helmets there is bold white lettering near the front edge of the crest. Sometimes this text is surrounded by a white triangle pointing backwards from the edge. Other times the text and the triangle are both absent. All pilot helmets seem to have the Imperial Emblem in white on either side of the ridge. Usually the emblems are complete, but at least one example is known where a one-sixth wedge is missing.

Pilots must have at least one other standard uniform, for use aboard motherships or bases. They do not spend their entire lives in the cockpit. In comics and computer games, the normal dress of a starfighter officer is the same as the grey-green uniform of regular naval and army officers. The one possible exception is Lieutenant Tanbris, an aide to Lord Vader during the Battle of Yavin. He wore a black officer uniform which otherwise seems to be associated with stormtrooper officers or perhaps some kind analyst officers. It is possible that Tanbris was some kind of special exception, or his black uniform may denote specially elite training.

Pilots who serve with ground-base facilities in support of the Imperial Army or stormtrooper forces may sometimes wear an alternative fight uniform. This costume takes advantage of the reduced need for in-built life-support when flying in the atmospheres of habitable worlds. The dark overalls are not airtight, and the usual vacuum helmet has been replaced by a narrow cockroach helmet. Torso armour has been added, which suggests that pilots working with ground forces are either more likely to crash (into the ground?) or to become involved in in personal combat.

At this time there is no evidence regarding the uniform or insignia of starfighter technicians and NCOs. They might be indistinguishable from naval subofficers and crewmen, or they may include some of the more mysterious NCO uniforms seen fleetingly in the corridors of the first Death Star.

[For further details of uniforms, refer to the Starfighter Forces subsection of Summary of Uniforms.]

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TIE pilot helmets with text on the crest; with and without white triangle.

An Imperial pilot helmet lacking text on the crest. [This version was exhibited in Sydney in 2002–2003.]

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TIE pilots (who were obviously held in reserve for some purpose) hastily evacuate from their section of the second Death Star, following the impact of the command ship Executor. These pilots don't seem to have writing on their helmet crests.

TIE pilot flight suit used by planet-based pilots operating on worlds with breathable atmosphere. [Reference: X-Wing Rogue Squadron: The Rebel Opposition.]

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Lieutenant Tanbris, who reported to Lord Vader about the rebel starfighter attack at Yavin. It is possible that he was an officer within the starfighter service. However not all black-uniformed officers are in this arm of service: most of them seem to be associated with stormtrooper activities and certain battle station security duties (which is probably a stormtrooper role).


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