Airship crew in Jules Verne's Robur the Conqueror

Air pirates (or sky pirates) are a class of stock character from science fiction and fantasy.


Such characters typically operate as pirates in the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet, dwarf planet or moon, and travel by aircraft, as opposed to the more traditional pirates on the high seas, who travel by ship. However, just as traditional seafaring pirates target sailing ships, air pirates serve a similar role in science fiction and fantasy media: they capture and plunder aircraft and other targets for cargo, loot and occasionally steal an entire aircraft, sometimes killing the crew members in the process.

Their dress and speech may vary; it may correspond to the particular author's vision of the story's setting, rather than their seafaring counterparts, or they may be modeled after stereotypical sea pirates. Some air pirates are depicted using airborne aircraft carriers as mobile bases from which to conduct raids.[1][2][3]

Air pirates made early appearances in novels of the late 19th century, as well as silent films, comics and pulp magazines, and have since appeared in a variety of media, including alternate history,[4][5] steampunk,[6][7][8] and dieselpunk[9][10] works.

In popular culture

See also: list of fictional pirates

Names Work Years Type of Media Description
Abney Park Airship Pirates Chronicles 2011 Role-playing game This game, based on the backstory of the band Abney Park, is set in the post-apocalyptic world after their album, The End Of Days, a future world with a severely disrupted timeline, featuring steampunk themes and Victorian-era style. Players are air pirates in command of their own steam-powered airships, who seek to pillage the skies and plunder history, possibly causing even greater disruption to the past. Meanwhile, the world below struggles in Victorian-style squalor under an oppressive government that maintains control through clockwork policemen.[11] In December 2011, the RPG game won Diehard GameFAN's "Best Core Rulebook of 2011" award.[12]
Barney Baxter Barney Baxter in the Air 1935–1950 Comic strip Barney Baxter was an "adventure strip" involving heroic exploits centering on aviation.[13][14] Baxter was often accompanied by his sidekick Gopher Gus, who (unlike the rest of the characters) was drawn with the exaggerated facial features of a "humour strip" character.[14] Other characters were Barney's mother, his rival love interests, Patricia and Maura, and his buddy Hap Walters. [13]
Blackbeard Pan 2015 Film Blackbeard leads a group of pirates in this 2015 fantasy film who use flying sailing ships.[15]
Black Cat Gang Tail Concerto 1998–1999 Video game The Black Cat Gang in this video game are sky pirates,[16] while many other sky pirate factions appear in its sequel Solatorobo: Red the Hunter in 2011.[citation needed]
Kasey Boon Mysticons 2017–2018 Animated TV series Younger brother of Kitty, who Emerald Goldenbraid, one of the story's protagonists, developed a crush on. He gave her a bracelet which was revealed to be a tracking device to follow the Mysticons. He later appears to have second thoughts about taking advantage of Em's feelings for him, and catches her, after which the two have a serious romance.[17] In the comics, he debuts in Volume 2.
Kitty Boon Mysticons 2017–2018 Animated TV series Captain of the Pink Skulls, female pirate, and Zarya's childhood friend.[17] She takes advantage of this relationship to incapacitate the Mysticons and obtain the Dragon Disk, which she sells to Dreadbane. She later fights alongside the Mysticons, and on a third occasion gives Zarya inspiration to thwart Necrafa's plans. She is later revealed to be Zarya's romantic love interest as confirmed by the show's creator, Sean Jara, and supported by show director Matt Ferguson.[18][19][20] In the comic books, she debuts in Volume 2.
Captain Andian Cly Boneshaker 2009 Novel This 2009 novel by Cherie Priest features air pirates like captain Cly, who commands a ship called the Naamah Darling and later appears in novels like Ganymede, where he loves a woman in the Seattle Underground.[21]
Dola Castle in the Sky 1986 Studio Ghibli anime film A “bold, plump old lady named Dola leads a gang of air pirates in this 1986 Japanese anime film as they try to steal the crystal necklace of Sheeta.”[22]
Captain Gyrfalcon Exalted 2001 Role playing game Gyrfalcon appeared in this high fantasy role playing game.[23]
Prince James
Other "social revolutionaries"
The Raid of the Mercury 1931 Short story James committed an act of air piracy, with fellow "social revolutionaries," in this short story by A. H. Johnson.[24]
Don Karnage TaleSpin 1990–1991 Disney Channel animated TV series Karnage leads a gang of air pirates in this Disney animated series (and later in Ducktales).[25] According to series creator Jymn Magon, he is a wolf,[26] but has orangish-brown fur reminiscent of a fox.
Alexandre LeRoi Batman: Master of the Future 1991 Graphic novel LeRoi is a sky pirate who is flamboyant and demands that he be proclaimed master of the city, or else he will burn it to the ground.[27] He leaps out the window before he can be arrested, and Tolliver insists that the fair proceed.
Miles Lydecker Black Condor Vol 1 #2 1992 Comics Lyndecker is another DC Comics air pirate who fought against Black Condor in the 1992 comic Black Condor Vol 1 #2.[28]
Mamma Aiuto Gang Porco Rosso 1992 Anime film Mamma Aiuto Gang, among the air pirates in this anime film,[29] who also appeared in the 1989 manga Hikōtei Jidai on which the film was based.[citation needed]
Captain Mors The Air Pirate and His Steerable Airship 1908–1911 Pulp Magazine The German pulp magazine The Air Pirate and His Steerable Airship from 1908 to 1911, followed the adventures of Captain Mors, the "Air pirate".[30][31][32]
Nadakhan Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu 2016 Animated TV series Nadakhan and his band of sky pirates are the main antagonists of the sixth season of this series, titled Skybound.[33]
Captain Plunder
his Sky Pirates
Sonic the Comic 1993–2002 Comic Plunder and fellow sky pirates appear in this comic.[34]
Captain Phoenix Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier 2009 Video game Phoenix leads a gang of space pirates,[35] like Danger Sexy Pirate,[36] in massive ships who battle the protagonists[37][38][39][40] while having a flying airbase known as Phoenix.[41]
Robur Robur the Conqueror 1886
Novel He is an inventor who kidnaps people and takes them aboard his advanced aircraft in the 1886 novel Robur the Conqueror and its 1904 sequel Master of the World (both written by Jules Verne), as well as in the 1961 film adaptation based on elements of both novels.[42][43]
Captain Shakespeare Stardust 2007 Film Shakespeare leads aerial pirates in this fantasy film, commanding a ship called the Caspartine.[44]
Silvana crew Last Exile 2003 Anime series The crew of the airship Silvana in the anime series Last Exile are sky pirates,[45] while sky pirates appear in the sequel series Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing.
Baroness Troixmonde / Filibus Filibus 1915 Silent film The film's protagonist has a secret identity and is known to the world as Filibus and has an airship. Some called the film "an odd and funny forerunner of science-fiction movies,"[46] with Filibus described as a lesbian character,[47][48] and an "elegant and elusive woman pirate" who can pass between male and female identities, making her "a champion of transgenderism before that term had been coined."[49][50]
Unnamed The Sky Police 1910 Short story This short story by John A. Heffernan features an air pirate.[51]
Unnamed Pirates of 1920 1911 Silent film Air pirates appeared in the 1911 silent film Pirates of 1920.[52][53]
Unnamed The Pirates of the Sky: A Tale of Modern Adventure 1915 Novel Sky pirates appear in Stephen Gaillard's 1915 novel, The Pirates of the Sky: A Tale of Modern Adventure.[54][55]
Unnamed Sky Pirates of Callisto 1973 Novels There are sky pirates in the Callisto series of novels.[56]
Unnamed The Last of the Sky Pirates 2002 Books Several characters in Edge Chronicles books are sky pirates.[citation needed] The book has been commended for the way it portrays librarians.[57]
Unnamed Crimson Skies 2000–2003 Game franchise The series is set within an alternate history of the 1930s invented by Weisman and McCoy. Within this divergent timeline, the United States has collapsed, and air travel has become the most popular mode of transportation in North America; as a result, air pirates thrive in the world of Crimson Skies. In describing the concept of Crimson Skies, Jordan Weisman stated he wanted to "take the idea of 16th century Caribbean piracy and translate into a 1930s American setting".[58]
Unnamed Pirate101 2012 Video game Players can complete quests, sail ships, befriend companions, and battle enemies in a turn-based combat system similar to that used in board games.[59]
Unnamed Mandrake the Magician 1934–2013 Comic strip Mandrake, along with the Phantom Magician in Mel Graff's The Adventures of Patsy, is regarded by comics historians as the first superhero of comics, such as comics historian Don Markstein, who writes, "Some people say Mandrake the Magician, who started in 1934, was comics' first superhero."[14][60][61][62] A story arc in the Mandrake the Magician comic strip involved a pirate airplane that would latch on to the outside of a passenger jet and then threaten to punch holes through the fuselage (with remote-controlled hammers) if the victims did not follow orders and land at an airstrip where the pirates could loot their prey.[citation needed]
Unnamed The Magnificent Kotobuki 2019 Anime series The anime's protagonists run escorts to fend off attacks from air pirates.[63]
Final Fantasy 1987-Present Media franchise The sky pirates of the Final Fantasy media franchise include Vaan and Balthier. For Balthier, he eventually decided to cut his ties with his father and his role as a judge, becoming a sky pirate under a new name, abandoning his old name.[64] For Vaan, he ends the game, Final Fantasy XII, as a sky pirate, traveling the world along with Penelo. He also reprises his role from Final Fantasy XII in the manga adaptation by Gin Amou.[65]
Skies of Arcadia 2000–2003 Video game In this video game, Vyse is a young and dashing sky pirate who is part of the Blue Rogues clan and soon become entangled in a race to find the Moon Stones that control these powerful Gigas.[66][67][68][69] Other sky pirates include Gilder and Enrique.[70]

In reality

In real-life use, the phrase "air piracy" more often refers to the hijacking and illegal seizure of an aircraft. However, there has been at least one occasion of an act of nautical-type ship capture being conducted from the air. This occurred in 1917, when the civilian Norwegian schooner Royal was boarded and captured by a boarding party from the German Zeppelin L23.[71] However, the Royal was carrying contraband material in violation of neutrality, thus her capture and confiscation was legal.

There have also been a handful of instances where interceptor aircraft have threatened an airliner or cargo plane, forcing it to land, including cases like Ryanair Flight 4978 where the flight of the airliner was legal and approved; Irish prime minister Micheál Martin referred to the Ryanair incident as "piracy in the skies."[72] In the notorious Airstan incident, an Ilyushin Il-76 shipping weapons to the besieged government of Afghanistan was attacked and forced to land by a Taliban-flown jet fighter. The cargo plane's crew spent a year in captivity before escaping.[73]

See also


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