Interview with Lieutenant Chaden Marest, X-Wing Pilot and Amber Flight Lead, just prior to the Battle of Endor.
“Oh yea, there’s no doubt about it. That first confirmed kill is the one that stays with you. It doesn’t matter how many other furballs you live through, how many more take downs you accrue, it’s a little like your first love.
“How so? Well let’s see… For a start, it’s something you seem to have been waiting for forever, and when it finally happens it can really take you by surprise. See what I mean?
“Yea mine was definitely like that. It was over Hoth when the Imps were trying to land ground pounders. Command had decided almost from the get-go that they would pull out if Imperial forces discovered the base. A ground battle, especially with some of the top brass we had there, would be costly both in terms of lives and morale. Live to fight another day seemed pretty prudent. We’d been tasked with CAP - Combat Aerospace Patrol – to cover the approaches but it tuned out we were on the opposite side of Hoth from the Imp’s initial arrival point. I don’t know who goofed in the Imp brass, but when their fleet dropped out of hyperspace so close in, we got the chance to get the defense shields up rather than being surprised by a system insertion from further out. Bet somebody really caught it in the neck for that one!
“By the time we’d swung round Hoth and set up for our first runs, they’d already got eyeballs out there covering the big landing barges and to be honest it seemed like business as usual. We were outnumbered and outgunned pretty much from the start, but we knew that all we had to do was delay them even if we couldn't destroy them. It was a tactical withdrawal, not a strategic free-for-all.
“I was wingman to Lieutenant Cloris, which meant my mission parameters were pretty much preset. A wingman, above all else, is there to cover his flight leader – end of story. He prosecutes the attack, you cover his back. It’s a pretty fluid environment though so you could find yourself becoming flight lead purely because you were in a better position to prosecute the attack. At that stage, you knew that your back was covered. It’s just what wingmen do.
“So, we’d blown through the first flight of eyeballs that were providing the forward defensive screen. Half of the squadron had turned to engage them, while our half continued on towards the first wave of landing barges. There were three Theta class barges, the smaller ones that could carry just one AT-AT, but beyond them and hitting atmosphere fast were two more Y-85 Titans. These were the big boys, flying warehouses that carried up to four AT-ATs and four AT-STs. Taking out just one of these flying bricks could put a crimp in the Imp’s invasion plans and I was all for spoiling their day.
“The LT put us in a stern approach to the trailing Titan knowing they had no aft facing weaponry but they were tough beasties. It was pretty much like trying to knock a bantha down with a slingshot unless you got their weak spots. And lucky for us, they had a couple.
“If you could get below and strafe from stern to bow, you had a chance of blowing out one of the four drop bay doors. Don’t forget you’ve got four AT-ATs hanging by winches in there so if you open that bay up to atmospheric resistance while they’re on a landing run they’ve got big problems. But the preferred way of taking one down was by exploiting a design flaw in their port repulsor units. The units the Titans used were huge compared to the size of the craft themselves but when you consider the weight of their cargo it’s easy to see why. Towards the rear of the barge on the port side is a maintenance hatch leading to a ventilation system that connects directly into the repulsor bay. Blow the hatch and the system cascades taking out the repulsors.
“This one really worked for us that day. Because the Imp fleet had dropped so far in-system, the barges had launched before they’d established any kind of aerospace superiority so unless the eyeballs managed to keep between us and the Titans, they were in trouble. The LT swung out to port while I took up scanning for any eyeballs that might try and spoil the show. So far they were still tangling with the other boys further back so we took tactical separation to give us both manoeuvring space and the LT started his run.
“Things went bad pretty quickly and I’ve gotta give the Imp’s points for sneakiness. We’d bypassed the Theta barges purely because the Titans were the ones that would be carrying the most offensive cargo. Finish them and we could take a pop at the Thetas afterwards. What we hadn’t bargained on was that the Thetas weren’t carrying ground pounders at all. Each Theta popped their doors before atmospheric entry releasing three TIE fighters apiece which, numerically at least, put us at a disadvantage.
“Green Lead, Green Two, bandits inbound. Range 500 and closing.”
“Green Two, hold off what you can, let me see if I can take the shot.”
“Roger Lead. Two’s on it.”
“Kudos to the LT, he didn’t waste time asking where the hell the bandits had come from. He just took the info, weighed up the timing and went for the shot. Meanwhile I’d cut the throttles, dropped back fast and watched the first three eyeballs blow past before they realised what had happened. Don’t forget, at the speeds we fight at up there, things happen fast. I took snap shots at the TIEs and saw at least one grazing hit. It didn’t matter though; the shot had worked its magic as the flight panicked and broke apart.
“That’s the beauty of snap shots. The chances of doing damage are fairly limited, but the shot itself is enough to spook most pilots. The less experienced the pilot, the greater the effect is likely to be.
“Green Lead. Time’s almost up.”
“Lead’s taking the shot.”
“There was the tell-tale flash of a proton torpedo launch then the LT pulled up and to starboard, rolling over the Titan’s back but staying in close. While he stayed tight to the barge, the TIEs were limited in their attack without risking damage to the barge as well. That didn’t stop me of course. Pitching out to port, I just had time to catch the flash of a detonation near the rear port quarter of the Titan before my sights ran across the trailing TIE. I’d already set the cannons up for single fire expecting that we’d be joining the furball that was still going on behind us. Single fire meant that each cannon fired once followed by the next cannon and so on in a clockwise pattern; ideal in a free for all but not suited to the task at hand.
“Gumball, switch to dual fire and prime me a proton torpedo.”
“Beep boodle wheeep”
“Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, those little astromech droids are as much heroes as any pilot out there, and they’re worth their weight in gold. Knowing that you can concentrate on your SA, your situational awareness, while they keep an eye on your ship is like having a co-pilot that doesn’t argue… well most of the time.
“So, Gumball – my R2 unit – switched the cannon to dual fire, meaning that opposing cannons were paired to fire together (upper port and lower starboard, followed by lower port and upper starboard) giving each shot slightly more power but extending the recharge period if I pushed it too hard. The proton was there in case I had the chance to take a second shot at the Titan which was still flying but looking decidedly ill.
“I could see the LT break out from the Titan’s shadow and haul it over in a loop catching the eyeball that had been in his six o’clock and causing it to lose its lock on him, suddenly becoming the prey. Knowing that the LT was safe for the time being, I pushed in at the TIE ahead who’d started to jink pretty inexpertly to break my lock but it wasn’t his lucky day. I managed to gain angles on him anyway and hit the button.
“My first shot clipped the lower part of his starboard solar panel. Certainly not a kill shot but it was enough to make him sweat. To be fair, those eyeballs – at least in the right hands – are effective fighters. They’re stripped to the bone which reduces their mass and they have no shields but their manoeuvrability should make up for that. In this case it didn’t. My second shot ripped that starboard panel right off sending the eyeball into an uncontrolled spin.
“Green Two, check your six!”
“Gumball, switch all deflectors aft!”
“See, it’s called target fixation. You’re concentrating so hard on your target that the rest of the galaxy gets blinkered out and that way, my friends, lies a fiery end. But the fact that the LT was playing the perfect wingman and giving me a heads up about trouble on my tail probably saved my life. I scanned the threat scope and saw the third eyeball coming in tight from my eight o’clock low position and green bolts shot past my starboard wing.
“I hauled on the stick and corkscrewed to starboard to try and turn into the threat rather than let him get settled in on my tail when space, just for one brilliant moment, turned white. The next thing I knew, my shields – which I’d inadvertently but luckily left on full aft – flared with the impact of debris; a lot of debris! I managed to ride out the majority of the storm as I watched my shield strength drop like a stone, but the eyeball I’d turned to engage wasn’t so lucky. Without shields of any kind, he caught a face full of exploding ship which literally shredded his bird before he had a chance to manoeuvre.
“Green Two, check in!”
“Green Lead, this is Green Two. Just checking… OK Green Two is full DSW!”
“Roger Green Two, new hop. We need to go blue for escort duties.”
“Green Lead, Green Two acknowledges. You have the lead.”
“It was kind of a lie when I told the LT I was full Drive, Shields and Weapons although only just. The shields were charging fast, the drive was green and weapons were almost full. I could fly with that. The three eyeballs we’d been bumping with had, (to use a typically understated fighter pilot’s phrase), ‘gone away’. This new mission meant we had to get dirtside fast. It was obvious that the tactical withdrawal was about to commence.
“Oh, my first kill? Yea, I nearly forgot. The eyeball I’d put into the uncontrollable spin? It had slammed into the already weakened port side of the Titan and finally overloaded the repulsorlifts. That’s what the massive explosion had been that took out the second TIE. In the end, the boys in the hangar painted two eyeballs, a Titan, four AT-ATs and four AT-STs under my canopy and I was the first pilot credited with destroying an AT-AT in aerospace combat!
“I only knew all the details once we’d cleared Hoth and resettled. The LT put me in for a commendation. He’d seen it all and wouldn’t accept my explanation that it was down to blind luck.
“Hoth was nasty. We lost a lot of good people that day. And so did the Imps. The thing is, once the fighting’s done and the adrenaline dilutes you get to thinking. Fighting up there is so different to fighting dirtside. When you’re up to your neck in TIEs, that’s all you see. The fighter. You don’t see the pilot. It’s all kinda clinical and maybe that’s why celebrating a kill always involves a private toast to the pilot that lost. It so easily could have been you.
“All crews stand-by, all crews stand-by… Code Red, Code Red, this is not a drill. I say again Code Red, Code…
“Sorry that’s me. I’ll try and catch up with you later. Clear skies!”
Lieutenant Marest was Killed In Action on the day that this interview was recorded when he deliberately flew his disabled fighter into the bridge of a Star Destroyer over Endor. He was later posthumously awarded both the Battle of Endor Hero’s Medal and the Alliance Medal of Honor.
3-9 Line: A line across a fighter’s wings based on an imaginary clock in which 12 is ahead of the fighter and 6 behind. The goal of dogfighting is to keep bandits in front of one’s 3-9 line.
ACM: Aerial Combat Manoeuvring, better known as dogfighting.
Bandit: An identified hostile fighter or starship.
Big L: Lightspeed.
Bingo: Having enough fuel for a safe return to base.
Blue-lined: Disabled by an ion cannon blast.
Blue milk run: An easy hop.
Bogey: An unidentified fighter or starship.
Bright: A TIE/Advanced fighter.
Bumping: Engaging in ACM.
Centurion: A pilot with one hundred landings on a flight deck or base.
Check your 6: “Be careful, check behind you!”
Clear skies: “Be well.” A traditional spacer’s farewell.
Clutch: A squadron of TIE fighters.
Cold nose: Operating with sensors down.
Cross: A B-Wing fighter, also known as a ‘Spinner’.
Dirt-flier: An atmospheric fighter pilot.
Dirtside: On a planet’s surface.
Dragship: An Interdictor cruiser.
Drift factor: A measure of a pilot’s flakiness or inability to follow orders.
Dupe: A TIE bomber.
Easy chair: The pilot’s seat in a fighter.
Edge: An A-Wing fighter.
Eyeball: A basic TIE fighter.
Fangs out: Eager for a dogfight.
Flat-hatting: Showing off or engaging in dangerous manoeuvers.
Flying the same vector: Thinking along the same lines.
Full DSW: Having enough power for Drive, Shields and Weapons.
Furball: A hectic dogfight.
Gain angles: Manoeuvre for a better shot in a dogfight.
Get lines: Disengage and jump to hyperspace.
Go black: Head from a planet’s atmosphere into space.
Go blue: Head from space into a planet’s atmosphere.
Goes away: What an enemy fighter does when you hit it.
Goo: A planet’s atmosphere.
Gripe: A mechanical gripe. An up gripe is a problem that allows continuing operations. A down gripe does not.
Hangar queen: A fighter that’s often unable to fly because it needs repairs, and thus is raided for parts.
Hawk circle: A formation of fighters waiting to land.
Hop: A mission.
HUD: Head’s Up Display.
Impstar: Imperial Star Destroyer.
Judy: Comm call indicating that you are intercepting a bandit.
KM: “Kriffing Magic”, a pilot’s all purpose explanation for how technology works.
Latch: Get into position to destroy an enemy fighter.
Loud handle: The lever that triggers a fighter’s ejection seat.
LTS: “Likely to survive,” indicating approval of a pilot’s skills.
No décor: “Speak freely” without worrying about rank.
Painted: Scanned by sensors.
Peeper: A TIE fighter used for reconnaissance.
Pointer: An X-Wing fighter.
Roof: A carrier’s flight deck.
SA: Situational Awareness.
SD Vic: A Victory-class Star Destroyer.
Senth Herf: An admiring assessment of another pilot’s abilities.
Shock: To hit a bandit with a blast from an ion cannon.
Shocker: An ion cannon.
The Show: ACM; dogfighting
Skull: A Z-95 Headhunter
Spinner: A B-Wing fighter, also known as a ‘Cross’.
Splash: Shoot down.
Squint: A TIE Interceptor.
Suicide sled: A star fighter, particularly one with weak shields.
Vapebait: A poorly skilled fighter pilot.
Wishbone: A Y-Wing fighter.
Zero angle: The position behind the stern of a fighter.