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10 of the top pilots in science fiction

From cult movies like Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica to cartoons like Rick and Morty and Futurama, and even video games such as Mass Effect and Halo, the science fiction genre is full of memorable pilots. Here’s our take on the best of the best.

Han Solo, Star Wars

Let’s start with one of the most iconic pilots in all of science fiction: Han Solo. In the first film of the Star Wars franchise he appears as a surly smuggler and is a key character in three sequels. There’s even a prequel, Solo: A Star Wars Story, all about his early life. Solo captains one of the most famous science fiction spaceships of all time, the Millennium Falcon, along with his lovable co-pilot Chewbacca. This suave space cowboy proves to be an expert at evading TIE fighters, manoeuvring through asteroid fields, and escaping from Imperial Star Destroyers at light speed. He’s also famed for completing the Kessel Run with the Millenium Falcon in under 12 parsecs – although the die-hard Star Wars fans among you might know that a parsec is a measure of distance rather than speed, which calls Solo’s claims into question. Nonetheless, if his antics in the Star Wars film saga are anything to go by, we’d feel comfortable trusting Han and his furry co-pilot with our lives in a space battle.

Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace, Battlestar Galactica

As the best pilot on TV show Battlestar Galactica, Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace has some serious fighter pilot skills. Played by actress Katee Sackhoff, the feisty character is known as a rebel who would do anything to protect her crew from the Cylons, a cybernetic race that’s destroyed all but a few of the remaining human space colonies. After a troubled childhood, Starbuck becomes a key member of Battlestar Galactica and saves the ship from numerous attacks. In one of her most impressive moments, Starbuck crash-lands on a moon and manages to repair a downed Cylon Raider and fly back to the main ship without getting shot down by enemies.

A spaceship flies in low orbit over a rocky planet, with an Earth-like planet in the background
A spaceship flies in low orbit over a rocky planet, with an Earth-like planet in the background

Steven Hiller, Independence Day

When aliens attack earth in Independence Day, one of the highest grossing sci fi movies of all time, fighter pilot Steven Hiller (played by Will Smith) is called into action. After discovering the aliens have impenetrable force fields, Hiller leads an enemy craft on a dramatic chase through the Grand Canyon and crashes the alien ship. At the end of the movie, Hiller again shows his supreme pilot skills by flying a nuclear warhead into the alien mothership and escaping by mere seconds as the ship tries to lock him in. Even though Independence Day is a tongue-in-cheek take on the alien invasion trope, we’re confident that Steven Hiller would be just the man for the job in real life.

Turanga Leela, Futurama

Turanga Leela is the one-eyed captain of the Planet Express delivery ship in the popular animated sci-fi series, Futurama. Born of mutant parents from the sewers, Leela abandons her job as a career officer to join Philip J. Fry, a delivery guy who’s been accidentally transported into the 31st Century. Despite having only one eye, the no-nonsense pilot still manages to fly her crew out of peril on numerous occasions – in fact, she’s one of the only members of the Planet Express crew who doesn’t seem to be completely incompetent, and it often falls to her to turn the fate of the Express around whenever it seems they’re in the jaws of death. And, to top it off, she has killer martial arts skills.

Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne, Firefly

‘I am a leaf in the wind; watch how I soar’, is Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne’s mantra in hit sci-fi TV series Firefly. Wash lives in a dystopian future where humans live on new planets ruled by the Alliance – an authoritarian government organisation that rules the majority of human colonies with an iron fist. After flight school, Wash ends up joining the crew of the Serenity and becomes part of a rebellion against the Alliance. Wash proves himself with his first-class flying skills, which include reversing the arrangement of Serenity’s engines in an escape, landing on a rival’s moon during a battle, and holding the ship level with a moving train.

Aeryn Sun, Farscape

Aeryn Sun is a former peacekeeper pilot in Farscape, the sci-fi TV series about an astronaut named John Crichton who gets lost in a space mission and ends up in an intergalactic battle across the universe. When Sebacean soldier Aeryn meets Crichton, she becomes contaminated in the eyes of her people, forcing her to become a fugitive. Aeryn demonstrates her most remarkable flying when she takes the helm in high-speed chase and fight scenes.

Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau, Mass Effect

Flight Lieutenant Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau appears in the third-person shooter video game series Mass Effect, voiced by none other than famously nerdy actor and screenwriter Seth Green. Despite having brittle bone disease, Moreau pilots the SSV Normandy with ease and excels in space combat, fighting the entire battle at the Citadel without taking a hit. He’s also shown performing stunts such as dive bombs and using Mass Effect physics to do a bootlegger reverse. Joker might not be the most charismatic pilot on this list, but it’s safe to say that without his flight skills, humanity would have stood no chance whatsoever against the Reaper invasion.

Lady Sharrow, Against a Dark Background

Against a Dark Background is one of Iain M. Banks’ popular sci-fi novels. The story centers around Lady Sharrow, a former military pilot and thief who lives on an isolated planet in the backwaters of civilised space. Although Sharrow doesn’t do a lot of flying in the book, she does show off her skills in one of the most memorable sequences of the story while being pursued by the Huhsz cult, who are out to assassinate her in an attempt to realise their prophecy of a coming messiah.

An astronaut kneels down to inspect a plant on an alien planet
An astronaut kneels down to inspect a plant on an alien planet

Joseph Cooper, Interstellar

In the sci-fi movie Interstellar, humanity is in its death throes when former pilot Joseph Cooper stumbles upon a secret NASA facility. Cooper joins a team of astronauts who travel through a wormhole searching for a new habitable planet. Whilst piloting the Endurance ship, Cooper pulls off some tricky manoeuvres, including docking a shuttle onto the craft while it's spinning out of control following an explosion and navigating around a black hole without getting sucked in. ‘Coop’ doesn’t just make this list for his incredible piloting skills, either – he’s also a memorable character because of the lengths he goes to in order to send a message across space and time to his daughter, Murph.

Captain Hikaru Sulu, Star Trek

Cult phenomenon Star Trek is one of the most renowned and highest-grossing media franchises of all time, and had a massive influence on the evolution of the sci-fi genre. Hikaru Sulu joins the USS Enterprise as chief of the Astro Science Department and later becomes one of the ship's senior helmsmen. Sulu really shines when he takes temporary control while Spock and Kirk are away on missions – stand-out moments include piloting an unfamiliar Klingon ship to save the earth from a whale probe and piloting the USS Franklin, which was stuck in a mountainside for decades.

You might not be able to commission your favorite sci-fi character to whisk you around the world, but you can rent a private jet to travel in luxury. At ACS, we pride ourselves on partnering with the best pilots who will get you to your destination in style, wherever in (or out of) the world it may be. To find out more contact us on our website.



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