One of the most entertaining conceits in science fiction is the starfighter: a battleplane designed for outer space dogfights. They make for great visuals (and great merchandise spinoffs). But which is the best of the best? We break down the best starfighter from 10 combat-oriented sci-fi franchises.
10. Federation Attack Fighter
Not all Star Trek shuttlecraft are shaped like toads. Some have wings. And guns. And a useful role in large battle sequences, particularly around Deep Space Nine.
8. Veritech VF-1 Valkyrie
It’s an F-14 Tomcat that can transform into a mecha battlebot (for better and for worse) as seen in the various incarnations of the Macross/Robotech anime franchise. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
7. Earth Defense Directorate Star Fighter Mark II
It was cool when Buck Rogers snubbed Draconians with one of these fang-nosed starfighters in his 25th Century TV series. It was awesome when Col. Wilma Deering did it.
6. USMC SA-43 Hammerhead Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Attack Jet
The spacefaring descendant of the modern day Harrier VTOL, the Hammerhead was the death-dealing battleplane preferred by the Marine Corps pilots of Space: Above and Beyond. I dare you to speak ill of it, Chig.
5. USAF F-302
The starfighter reverse-engineered from alien Goa’uld technology by Stargate Command, it was designed to be a weapon of war to defeat space tyrants who often employed weapons of terror. In other words, the F-302 was the gun that humanity brought to an alien knife fight. You gotta love that.
4. Earthforce Mk2 SA-23E Mitchell-Hyundyne Starfury
The quasi-realistic starfighter from Babylon 5, the Starfury has the distinction of looking like it was actually designed for space combat, rather than appearing to be a conventional fighter aircraft just thrown into a microgravity vacuum because it looks cool. Which is to say, Starfuries spin rather than bank, and they use that tactic to their brutal advantage. It’s the starfighter for I-told-you-so science nerds, which is a mark both for and against it.
2. Colonial Viper Mark VII
The most advanced version of the lead starfighter in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica franchise, the Viper Mk. VII is a favorite of hard sci-fi geeks because it plays by microgravity vector-thrust rules (most of the time). It has actual projectile cannons and semi-realistic sensors, and its painfully human pilots wear real flight suits and suffer real g-turn consequences. Plus, it just looks cool — especially when blasted out of a believable launch tube. In short, the Viper is the starfighter for grownups. So say we all.
1. Incom T-65 X-Wing
The one starfighter every kid grows up wanting to fly. With its distinctive shape and forceful knight’s-lance blaster cannons, it’s an iconic component of the Star Wars saga. There are more graceful craft, and more powerful, and more realistic — but none of those competitors can claim the destruction of two Death Stars and ownership by Luke Skywalker on their resumes. There’s a reason the X-Wing has its own video game and novel series. Your reigning starfighter champ 35 years running. May the Force be with you.
Think we missed an indispensable starfighter, or just disagree with our ranking order? Fire away in the comments section.