I can't point to any specific literature, but I remember reading of it years ago, so I'm pretty certain there's a distinction between both types of flying craft in the Star Wars universe. What's the difference with regards to how aircraft fly in the air and spacecraft fly in space?

  • I'm pretty sure they use repulsor lifts like speeders do in atmosphere then their main engine for example the TIE fighter's ion engines in space. I don't have a quote or anything though.
    – Probst
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 15:27
  • @Probst The X-wing books give a few examples of repulsor lifts being used in atmo, but ion drives when out of orbit. Hope I make it home before someone else grabs this one.
    – user45549
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 22:08
  • Good, that's a much better answer than the current one.
    – Probst
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 22:39
  • Maybe related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/7408/…
    – Xantec
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:12
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    Possible duplicate of How do ships control their aerodynamics in Star Wars?
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:49

2 Answers 2


According to Legends sources, most flying craft in the Star Wars universe incorporate anti-grav technology known as "repulsorlifts" to keep airborne when they don't otherwise have sufficient aerodynamic lift. Although the name "repulsorlift" does not appear in the films, their existence is evident in all of the films. A lot of that old information is no longer canon, but the term "repulsorlift" appears in James Luceno's Tarkin (which unfortunately is canon), so they are still the canon explanation for how landspeeders fly.

We see countless vehicles flying without the types of wings that would give them lift (in fact, off the top of my head, I can't think of a single flying vehicle that has proper wings for atmospheric flight in any of the films). Luke's landspeeder obviously uses anti-grav technology - it remains hovering in the air even when it's stationary. X-Wings and Y-Wings are shown hovering out of their hangers before launch in ANH and ESB. Jaba's sail barge and skiffs float ponderously through the Tatooine dunes and are also shown to hover in place.

There is very little actual difference between how spacecraft and landspeeders/airspeeders fly in atmosphere. They typically use repulsorlifts to generate lift, and thrusters/engines to achieve forward acceleration. Spacecraft can presumably use their main drives for acceleration in the atmosphere just like they do in space, although I believe I remember reading that ion engines are hazardous to use in atmosphere and are not supposed to be used anywhere near a spaceport. Groundcraft are likely to use turbines or thrusters instead of ion drives for their forward acceleration, but the general principle - repulsors push you up, engines move you forward - remains the same.

  • And why the downvote?
    – user45623
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:16
  • Sorry for the down vote but the premise is faulty. You're basing your answer on tech that relies on close proximity to the ground. That will work for low hovering craft like speeders but as you go higher you loose 'contact' with the ground. Nothing to 'push against'.
    – Morgan
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:21
  • 2
    @Morgan It's fictional scientific mumbo jumbo, like most things in most science fiction universes. It doesn't have to make any sense in the real world. Anyway, you can't claim that you know precisely how this made-up technology works since it's fictional. I'm telling you what is documented in official Star Wars literature. If you want to ignore it and come up with hypothetical explanations based on nothing, that's fine, but it's no reason to downvote my answer
    – user45623
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:24
  • 3
    @Morgan Oh, you work on anti-gravity generators that allow vehicles to hover above the ground without aerodynamic forces coming into play? So is that for Boeing or NASA?
    – user45623
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:26
  • 2
    @Morgan - What is required is your suspension of disbelief, nothing more.
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 8:27

The basic out of universe explanation is that there are two main forces an aircraft in atmospheric flight must overcome in order to stay airborn: Gravity and Drag.

1) They overcome gravity with lift. Lift is created by high and low pressure air traveling across the upper and lower surfaces of the wings and fuselage.

2) They overcome drag (air resistance) with engine thrust propelling the airframe forward through ever increasing air resistance as velocity increases. This resistance is also in relation to altitude (air density).

These forces do not exist in space.

In universe: Tie fighters would need either MASSIVE thrust engines in order to overcome both lift and drag issues for such a non-aerodynamic design...or... they have some type of antigravity device designed to overcome gravity's pull and a drag reducing device designed to radically reduce/eliminate atmospheric drag. Through deductive reasoning and because they aren't flying fuel tanks attached to huge engines, I suspect the latter would be the case. Due to the fuel consumption costs required for the massively powerful engines' thrust needed, the former option would be wildly impractical. I'm sure there is or will be a name for these devices but I have yet to find them.

  • They clearly aren't using wings for lift, TIE fighters can fly in atmosphere...
    – Probst
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 16:26
  • @Probst The same forces apply in atmosphere whether it's a glider or an F15 or a TIE fighter. I'm just stating some basics of the theory of flight. thrust=drag, lift=gravity. You can see the TIE fighters bank and roll as they maneuver. Such 'acrobatics' are not necessary in space, yet they do it there too.
    – Morgan
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 16:45
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    @thegreatjedi As an aerospace inspector I'm familiar with the tech. Basically the rule of cool trope comes into play. They have made the dogfights look the same whether in atmosphere or in space because it looks cool to see them yanking and banking. Most people don't understand the different requirements and forces applied. To expain it away enough to maintain suspension of disbelief, each tie obviously has an anti-drag unit designed to eliminate atmospheric drag and an antigravity unit to cancel gravity...
    – Morgan
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 17:04
  • 3
    So you think because Luke's landspeeder only hovers a few feet above the ground that it is impossible for a repulsorlift to exist that can elevate a vehicle higher than a few feet? Then how do you explain all of the non-aerodynamic airspeeders on Coruscant? Cloud City's Cloud Cars? What does ground effect have to do with fictional sci-fi anti-gravity technology?
    – user45623
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:19
  • 1
    @Morgan I guess this ground effect is Earth based. Tech in Star Wars seem to have overcome that. The "surface" of Coruscant is actually hundreds if not thousands of storeys above the planet's surface or even the true "ground floor". There are deep holes in Coruscant that allow travel from the upper city deep into the undercity. Atmospheric speeders are capable of descending without nosediving into freefall because they are too far from the ground. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 1:38

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