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WWII Airplanes Influenced Star Wars Ship Designs

It is no secret that the aircraft of World War II and beyond have influenced the design of many ships in the Star Wars universe. The book Star Wars: The Magic of Myth has an entire chapter devoted to how the cultures and technology of the past influenced the design of the ships, weapons, and uniforms of many factions. In the original trilogy, the effects team even used stock footage of World War II dogfights as placeholders while they finalized the visuals. So, we’re looking at World War II aircraft and how they influenced Star Wars ship designs.

Millennium Falcon

Star Wars ship The Millennium Falcon at the Battle of Endor
The Falcon as she appeared at the Battle of Endor

At first glance, the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy might not resemble anything from our universe, but a closer look shows otherwise. Throughout the original trilogy and beyond, the Falcon has served as the home and transport for Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Rey, and many other heroes.

The YT-1300f light freighter bears a resemblance to the B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber in several important areas. In fact, the B-29 was developed into a cargo variant, the C-97. The cockpit of the Falcon is very similar to that of the B-29’s large, framed “greenhouse” canopy. Also, the Falcon mounts two AG-2G quad laser cannons, similar to the turrets on the B-29 that carried four .50 caliber machine guns each.

The Millennium Falcon as she appears in The Force Awakens
A B-29 Superfortress during World War II
 in Star Wars The Force Awakens
Cockpit of the Millennium Falcon
The cockpit of a restored B-29

The Ghost

The heroes from the original trilogy have the Millennium Falcon, and the heroes from Star Wars: Rebels have the Ghost. The ship serves as their home, base of operations, and getaway vehicle on many ops against the Empire.

Similar to the Falcon, the modified VCX-100 light freighter from Star Wars: Rebels resembles the B-17 Flying Fortress in several key areas. With its “chin” turret, the nose of the Ghost resembles the cockpit and bombardier’s compartment of the B-17G, which was developed to give bombers better protection against head-on attacks by enemy fighters.

The Ghost as she appears in Star Wars: Rebels
The nose and cockpit section of a B-17G Flying Fortress

The dorsal turret of the Ghost resembles that of the Martin A-3 low-profile dorsal turret used on the B-17, B-24, and early B-25. While the B-17 was not designed from the start as a transport craft, some high-ranking officers had older airframes stripped of weapons and armor for use away from combat areas.

The X-Wing

xwingyavin
T-65Bs in formation near Yavin

The X-Wing is one of the most common starfighters in use by the Rebel Alliance and the Resistance. Since the early days of the Rebellion, the ship has filled many roles, from space superiority fighter to ground attack. It has gone through many upgrades over the years, progressing from the powerful but angular T-65B to the sleek, shark-like T-70 and T-85.

While it bears a passing resemblance to the real-world F-16, the X-Wing has more in common with the Vought F4U Corsair family of fighter aircraft. The F4U-1 was originally designed as a carrier-borne fighter, but due to problems with cockpit visibility and inadequate landing procedures, it was removed from carrier duty and soon gained fame as a land-based fighter. Similarly, T-65B X-Wings in A New Hope take off from Yavin 4 to attack the Death Star.

T-70s about to engage First Order forces on Takodana
F4U Corsairs on board an aircraft carrier during the 1950s

By the time of The Force Awakens, the T-65B has been replaced by the T-70 in Resistance service and the T-85 in New Republic service—very similar to the Corsair’s development from a high-performance fighter into a versatile fighter-bomber. The Rebellion use the T-65Bs to attack the Death Star with proton torpedoes, and the T-70s of the Resistance hit Starkiller Base with more conventional bombs. Also, both the X-Wing and the Corsair have long service histories with various factions—X-Wings were still being used 30 years after the Battle of Endor, and Honduras finally retired their last Corsairs in the late 1960s.

T-70s dive-bombing Starkiller Base

The TIE Fighter

A TIE/LN dogfighting a T-65B X-wing

The Twin Ion Engine Fighter is another iconic ship from the Star Wars universe, and unsurprisingly, it too has its roots in the real world. The TIE in all it’s variants primarily served as a pure starfighter against the ships of the Rebel Alliance, but it also made a passable ground attack platform in a pinch. The closest equivalent to the TIE/LN would be the Japanese A6M Zero fighter.

An airworthy A6M3 Zero at an airshow

Both aircraft were known for their extreme agility and speed as well as their fragility in combat. They both lacked protection for their pilots—in the case of the Zero, it did not have self-sealing fuel tanks or sufficient armor, and in the case of the TIE, it lacks shields and life support systems. In addition, the Mining Guild uses a sub-variant that resembles the A6M model 32 with its clipped wingtips. While both enjoyed increased maneuverability, it came at the cost of decreased stability and combat capabilities. In the case of the Zero, the restructuring of the wing also resulted in a loss of fuel storage and range, restricting the model 32 to interceptor duties.

A modified TIE/LN used by the Mining Guild
A6M3 model 32s warming up for takeoff

The Y-Wing

Early Y-wings as they appeared during the Clone Wars

The BTL Y-Wing entered service during the Clone Wars and the Rebel Alliance later used the craft extensively. While not the fastest or most maneuverable Star Wars ship, it was sturdy and extremely dangerous to the capital ships of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. The TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo bomber filled a similar role with the U.S. Navy during World War II, where it became an extremely versatile weapons platform.

The Clone Wars models of the Y-Wing bear the greatest similarity to the Avenger. Both have a dorsal turret located aft of the cockpit, and both are used to great effect against capital ships—the Y-Wing with its crippling ion cannons, and the Avenger with air-dropped torpedoes. Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie of the Y-Wing in A New Hope takes this even further, giving it a ventral bombardier’s position similar to the ventral gun position on TBF Avengers.

Concept art of the Y-wing by Ralph McQuarrie
TBM Avengers on a bombing run in WWII

In another parallel, both had their share of disastrous moments in combat. The Empire thoroughly mauled the Rebel Alliance’s Y-Wings during the destruction of the first Death Star, and the enemy shot down five out of six Avengers that saw combat at the Battle of Midway in 1942.

Gold 5 going down over the Death Star
The sole TBF Avenger to survive the Battle of Midway.

From George Lucas watching hours of World War II gun camera footage to get the proper “look” for the dogfight over the Death Star in A New Hope to the early concept art of Ralph McQuarrie and the other members of the design team, it is undeniable that the aircraft of the 40s greatly influenced the design of the ships in the Star Wars universe. Many of the airplanes and starships share similar roles and service histories. What will inspire the design of the ships in Rogue One and Episode VIII? Only time (and maybe watching the movies with a history buff) will tell.

How Real Wars Influenced Star Wars


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