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Dec 4th 2019

“Star Wars” vs. The Real World: TIE Fighter, Laser Weapons and More

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What would the TIE fighter, X-wing, laser weapons and four-legged transport vehicles look like in the real world? As we anticipate the release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” we’re looking at the feasibility of our favorite fictional military technology. The designs may look cool on the big screen, but how would these designs fare in the real world?

Laser Weapons

Lightsaber battles are strictly science fiction, but the ship-mounted laser cannons in the “Star Wars” universe are more realistic. The United States Navy is fielding direct energy systems such as laser weapons and installing them on ships, according to USNI News.

While the sci-version of a laser weapon involves a bright, loud blast, the Navy’s real version is silent and invisible.

One of the cool features of lasers in “Star Wars” and real life is there’s no need to reload the weapon. Carly Wright, an optical engineer at Northrop Grumman, currently works on the laser source.

“As long as you have electricity or fuel, you can use your lasers,” Wright says. “There isn’t a finite number of shots that you can do. That’s particularly handy for the Navy when their ships are deployed.”

Y-Wing

When the Rebel Alliance needs a durable, safe fighter aircraft, the Y-wing is a reliable choice. It might not be as agile as an X-wing, but it can carry heavy weapon payloads and remain flying while under fire. These qualities make it similar to the A-10 Thunderbolt II, according to Popular Science. Just like its sci-fi counterpart, this modern jet is known for its ability to get pilots home safe, even if it’s damaged in battle. The Air Force has flown the A-10 Thunderbolt II, a.k.a. “The Warthog,” during the Desert Storm conflict of the 1990s and in recent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

TIE Fighter

Thanks to an owner’s manual that published earlier this year, fans can learn how to fly a TIE fighter. The book examines every detail of the formidable aircraft.

Illustrator Chris Reiff told CNET, “As a pilot, I really liked seeing just how different the TIE fighters would be to fly. It’s as different from an X-wing as a helicopter is from an airplane — a totally different design and control philosophy and perfect for its role.”

In the fictional universe, the TIE Fighter intimidated enemies of the Empire. But Popular Mechanics points out that in real life, it would be the least aerodynamic aircraft of all, with a drag coefficient of .98, which is slightly better than a flying brick. Drag would depend on air, which would vary depending on the planet’s atmosphere, but it still serves as a tool for comparison.

X-Wing

This rebel alliance aircraft is a bit more realistic with a theoretical drag coefficient of .45, according to Popular Mechanics. According to Starwars.com, the X-wing is a versatile starfighter that balances speed with firepower. Popular Science compares it to the real-world fighter aircraft the Supermarine Spitfire, flown by the British in WWII. Much like the X-wing, the Spitfire was an agile, acrobatic fighter aircraft equipped with enough weapons for combat without weighing it down.

All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT)

The lumbering AT-AT walkers make excellent cinematic props, but how would they fare in real life? It doesn’t make much sense to transport troops on a four-legged armored vehicle. In robotics, legs are notoriously unstable and are typically only used as a gimmick. When efficiency and stability matter, wheels are best.

Engineering and robotics firm Boston Dynamics developed an industrial-grade quadruped robot named Spot that appears to have a similar shape to the AT-AT vehicles. Spot can walk, trot, avoid obstacles, climb stairs and step over rubble, according to IEEE Spectrum. This could make it a good vehicle for transporting troops on a rocky planet, but it’s unclear how much payload it can handle and how durable it would be when facing an enemy.

The Imperial walkers appear intimidating on the battlefield, but they’re quite impractical. In the real world, it makes more sense to transport ground troops in wheeled vehicles or tracked vehicles like tanks. At least they can’t be defeated by tripping them or blowing up their heads.

To enjoy “Star Wars” technology, you simply have to suspend your disbelief. Some of the military technology is inspired by real-world innovations, while others are pure fantasy, and that’s the whole point.

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