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"[Science fiction is] nightmares and visions, always outlined by the barely possible."
- Gregory Benford

T.I.E. Fighter (Tie Fighter)  
  A highly maneuverable fighter spacecraft using an ion drive propulsion system.  

The distinctive T.I.E. fighters (Twin Ion Engine) were the bane of the rebel resistance fighters; highly maneuverable, they swarmed like hornets in defense of Imperial space fortresses. The Star Wars Databank describes them as follows:

The hexagonal solar panels supply power to a unique propulsion system. Microparticle accelerators propel Ionized gasses at a substantial fraction of lightspeed. These gasses are then expelled from rear vents to generate thrust. The ion streams can be directed along amost any vector, allowing for the TIE's incredible velocity and maneuverability. The twin ion engines have few moving parts and require comparably less maintenance to the starfighters of the Alliance.

Let's pick up the action at the Deathstar...

"I've got one! I've got one! came a less restrained cry of triumph over the open intercom. Luke identified the voice as belonging to a young pilot known as John D. Yes, that was Blue Six chasing another Imperial fighter across the metal landscape. Bolts jumped from the X-wing in steady succession until the Tie fighter blew in half, sending leaflike glittering metal fragments flying in all directions.
From Star Wars, by George Lucas.
Published by Del Rey in 1976
Additional resources -

I'm betting those "leaflike" fragments were bits of solar panel. And yes, in my 1970's vintage copy of the novel Star Wars, they are called "Tie (not T.I.E.) fighters."


(From Star Wars T.I.E. Fighter)

Who among us can forget the thrilling climax in the first (okay, the fourth) movie in which Luke Skywalker uses the Force alone in outwitting both Darth Vader and two other pilots, all chasing his X-wing craft with their T.I.E. fighters. As I recall, Vader's fighter had some special modifications.

See the ion drive from Jack Williamson's 1947 story Equalizer for the earliest use of "ion drive."

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