The TIE (Twin Ion Engine) Fighter, which appears throughout episodes four, five and six of the fictional Star Wars movies, was the main fighter ship of the Imperial Navy. These small ships were used constantly to attack the rebel forces.
The TIE Fighter, also known as the TIE/ln, is a fairly simple ship in comparison to the X-Wing or later TIE models. Its basic design is a spherical cockpit that branches off on each side to a flat, vertical hexagonal wing. These wings act as solar arrays that help power the ship's lasers. Unlike the X-Wing, TIE Fighter cockpits are not equipped with a life support system, so the pilots must wear suits with their own oxygen supplies.
Indeed, the TIE Fighter does without quite a few features available in more advanced craft. Designed as short range fighters, the designers have removed many things to save on mass and increase performance. No hyperdrive, no shield system, a low amount of fuel storage and no missiles of any type. In fact, after a few hours of battle, a TIE Fighter would have to return to its capital ship to refuel and restock.
Despite its lack of extra equipment, the TIE Fighter is a very good design. The reduced mass means that the TIE Fighter is fast and very maneuverable. Any other design flaws are often offset by the sheer number of TIEs being used together. A swarm of TIE Fighters can overwhelm even a capital ship.
Aside from space dogfights, the TIE Fighter is often used as an escort to a less manoeuvrable ship, such as TIE Bombers.
Based upon the TIE Fighter design, many other TIE designs were eventually created. In A New Hope, Darth Vader flies a modified TIE Fighter with bent wings, a prototype of the TIE/Advanced. There are also TIE Bombers (slower and equipped with missiles or bombs), TIE Interceptors (a faster model of the TIE/ln with pointed wings), and less used models like the TIE Vanguard (a TIE with shields for protecting the information it gathers).
Further TIE Fighter Info
TIE Scout - featured in the roleplaying game and collectable card game, used for recon missions.
TIE Boarding Craft - unused concept for A New Hope.
TIE Shuttle - vessel used by Captain Needa in The Empire Strikes Back to travel between his Star Destroyer and Vader's ship.
TIE Avenger - the strict name for the TIE Advanced mentioned above.
TIE Scimitar - classification of enhanced fighter ordered into production by Grand Admiral Thrawn in the Expanded Universe novels.
TIE Phantom - a prototype fighter with cloak/stealth technology, featured in the Rebel Assault II game.