TIE series starfighters shared a general design form of a roughly spherical or cylindrical cockpit pod attached to a set of solar panels. The cockpit and panels could be supplemented by other modules for ordnance or other functions.
This design form carried over to the non-starfighter products, with the standard cockpit module used in the center of a land or sea vessel.
The cockpit of a TIE was neither spacious nor luxurious, even when compared to other starfighters.
The TIE series derived its name from the SIE-TIE twin ion engine, which was unveiled to the public by Raith Sienar in 22 BBY. Prototypes of TIE series starfighters may have been tested as early as 29 BBY. TIE fighters were used on Imperial Victory-class Star Destroyers, such as the Strikefast as early as 19 BBY, one week after the Empire was formed. At first, the launching systems often suffered from failures, and had to undergo several redesigns.
All TIE series starfighters had two or more ion engine outlets, linked to a solar ionization reactor and solar array wings.
Except for advanced models, TIE series vessels were not generally equipped with hyperdrives, but they could be added as an option. Early TIE models tended to suffer noticeably in sublight performance if given this upgrade, due to the added mass of the hyperdrive and navicomputer systems. Apparently not all TIEs were equipped with a missile lock warning sensor to warn a pilot of an enemy missile lock, though many were.
Ships in the TIE series were usually armed with one or more laser cannons. More advanced fighters were equipped with a variety of warhead launchers, and the TIE Avenger and TIE Defender could be fitted with a small-scale tractor beam.
Very few TIE starfighters were equipped with combat shielding, though they were included on the Avenger and Defender and could be retrofitted onto most TIE types. Retrofitting of this type was fairly common in the New Republic era, as ships and manpower became more valuable to Imperial forces.
In 40 ABY, during the start of the Second Galactic Civil War, the Aleph-class starfighter was produced by Sienar for the Galactic Alliance's Navy. Like its predecessors, the Aleph had a ball-shaped cockpit pod which was larger than that of a standard TIE variant. However, it was designed as a two-seater complete with an astromech droid socket and more weapons.
Though the term "TIE Fighter" was coined because George Lucas thought they looked like bow ties, the ion engine is a real-life type of spacecraft propulsion, and publicity surrounding the launch of the SMART-1 spacecraft, particularly the shuttle Smart-1, likened its ion thruster to the propulsion systems of a TIE Fighter. Taking this comparison further, a number of canon sources describe the large vertical wings of a TIE as something like the photovoltaic solar panels typically used to power real-life ion-drives: terms like "solar arrays" or "solar gather panels" are used to describe the TIEs' wings, and it is explicitly said that they draw on the energy of starlight and play at least a partial role in powering the engines.
Many fans have disagreed with this information, on the grounds that the power output of solar panels would not be sufficient to give TIEs the acceleration attributed to them, particularly given that TIEs have never been indicated to suffer reduced performance in interstellar space or when flying at night on a planet. Some seek to discard the "solar panel" idea altogether, and the wings of the prequel-era forerunners of the TIE, Scimitar and Advanced Projects prototype, have been identified instead as radiator assemblages for waste heat from a conventional Star Wars reactor core.
Other fans are reluctant to dismiss any canon material, offering the alternative explanation that mass-lightening technology (which should be possible with the mastery of artificial gravity, repulsorlift devices, inertial compensators and gravity-well generators in the GFFA) may make such low-powered drives practicable, and suggesting that if the wings of production-model TIEs retain a radiator function, this operates alongside their primary role as solar arrays.
Yet other fans prefer different ideas—for instance, the theory that the small nozzles at the back of the cockpit are simply heat exhausts, and the wing panels are themselves some sort of particle thrusters, with thrust in different directions from different sections giving them their incredible maneuverability.
Another issue that is widely questioned is the lack of shielding on TIE fighters, as it is felt that all TIE series starfighters must at least have some form of shielding against space debris. The most common explanation (and probably most logical) is that while all fighters have particle shields, most were not equipped with energy shields.
Members of Rogue Squadron (and other units of the Alliance) refer to TIE Starfighters as "eyeballs." Similarly, TIE Interceptors, Bombers and Advanced are "squints", "dupes" and "brights" respectively
Lego fans called the ball of the Tie fighters "Tie ball cockpt design" and the design is used to make fan-made ships.