Fictional air pirates 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 they steal an entire aircraft, sometimes killing the crewmembers in the process. However, 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. On the other hand, air pirates may be modeled after stereotypical sea pirates. Some air pirates use airborne aircraft carriers as mobile bases from which to conduct raids. Air pirates made early appearances in novels, silent films, comics and pulp magazines, and have since appeared in a variety of media, including alternate history, steampunk, and dieselpunk works.
- Robur, 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.
- Captain Mors, a.k.a. the "Air Pirate", in the German pulp magazine The Air Pirate and His Steerable Airship (1908–1911).
- Captain Alfonso Payton, a.k.a. the "Sky Pirate", in the 1909 novel The Sky Pirate.
- The 1910 short story The Sky Police by John A. Heffernan features an air pirate.
- The air pirates in the 1911 silent film Pirates of 1920.
- The sky pirates in the 1915 book The Pirates of the Sky: A Tale of Modern Adventure by Stephen Gaillard.
- The title character in the 1915 Italian adventure film Filibus.
- Prince James and his "social revolutionaries" commit an act of air piracy in the 1931 short story The Raid of the Mercury by A. H. Johnson.
- The Orks and Dark Eldar are space pirate factions in Warhammer 40,000.
- The Sky Pirate is a DC Comics villain and an enemy of the Green Lantern, who first appeared in the 1947 comic Green Lantern Vol 1 #27.
- Miles Lydecker, a.k.a. "Sky Pirate", is another DC Comics air pirate who fought against Black Condor in the 1992 comic Black Condor Vol 1 #2.
- The Blackhawks of DC Comics occasionally fought against air pirates, such as in the 1951 comic Blackhawk (1944 1st Series) #36.
- Alexandre LeRoi in the DC Comics 1991 graphic novel Batman: Master of the Future.
- Captain Plunder and his Sky Pirates in the comic Sonic the Comic.
- Vikram Szpirglas and his gang of air pirates in the 2004 novel Airborn.
- The sky pirates in the Callisto series of novels.
- Air pirates were featured in the comic strip Barney Baxter in the Air.
- Dola and her gang of air pirates in the 1986 Japanese anime film Castle in the Sky.
- The air pirates, including the Mama Aiuto Gang, in the 1992 Japanese anime film Porco Rosso, as well as the 1989 manga Hikōtei Jidai on which the film was based.
- Sala and her air pirates in the 1996 film The Phantom.
- Several characters in the Edge Chronicles books are sky pirates.
- Captain Shakespeare and his aerial pirates in the 2007 fantasy film Stardust.
- Blackbeard and his pirates in the 2015 fantasy film Pan, who use flying sailing ships.
- Don Karnage and his gang of air pirates in the Disney animated series TaleSpin (1990–1991).
- The pirates in the animated series Skyland (2005–2007).
- The 2009 novel Boneshaker by Cherie Priest features air pirates like captain Cly
- The air pirates of the Crimson Skies game franchise, including the main character Nathan Zachary and his gang the Fortune Hunters.
- Air pirates are featured in the role playing game Airship Pirates.
- The sky pirates of the Final Fantasy media franchise, including Vaan and Balthier.
- Captain Gyrfalcon from the role playing game Exalted.
- Air pirates are featured in the role playing game Castle Falkenstein.
- The air pirates in the video game Skies of Arcadia.
- Captain Phoenix and his gang in the video game Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier.
- The air pirates in the video game Freedom Wings.
- The sky pirates in the video game Guns of Icarus.
- The Aetherblades from the video game Guild Wars 2.
- The air pirates in the video game Skyrates.
- The crew of the airship Silvana in the anime series Last Exile and the sky pirates in the sequel series Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing
- The fictional characters of the band Abney Park in the Airship Pirates Chronicles
- The Black Cat Gang from the video game Tail Concerto and the many other sky pirate factions that appear in its sequel Solatorobo: Red the Hunter.
- The main theme in the MMORPG game, Pirate101.
- The main theme in the popular OpenXCom mod, XPiratez
- 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 didn't follow orders and land at an airstrip where the pirates could loot their prey.
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 piracy 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.
- Mullen, Micheal (October 20, 1999). "Crimson Skies Creator Speaks Out". GameSpot. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
Lastly (and most importantly), are the air pirates in their zeppelin-based aircraft carriers that hunt the airborne prey and the rich cargoes they carry.
- Herold, Charles (March 1, 2001). "Game Theory; Fly in a Retro World Under Crimson Skies". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
Set in 1937, Crimson Skies concerns itself with a dashing air pirate, Nathan Zachary […] Traveling the globe in an airship, the Pandora, Zachary and his crew make their living plundering cargo zeppelins. As Zachary, you begin each mission by leading a squadron of fighter pilots out of the zeppelin toward your target.
- "The TaleSpin Sourcepage – The Iron Vulture". talespinsourcepage.i8.com. Archived from the original on March 2, 2009. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- Kasavin, Greg (September 19, 2000). "Crimson Skies Impressions". GameSpot. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- Tringham, Neal Roger (2014). Science Fiction Video Games. CRC Press. p. 445. ISBN 978-1-4822-0388-2 – via Google Books.
- "Valves and Cogs! 15 Most Popular Steampunk Pirate Novels". OCLC. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- "Airborn by Kenneth Oppel". Steampunk.com. December 16, 2010. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- "'Abney Park's Airship Pirates' RPG". ICv2. April 18, 2011. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- O'Connor, Alice (April 12, 2012). "Jordan Weisman hopes to resurrect Crimson Skies". Shacknews. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- Yin-Poole, Wesley (April 13, 2012). "Shadowrun creator wants to resurrect Crimson Skies". Eurogamer. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- Bleiler, Everett; Bleiler, Richard (1990). Science-fiction, the Early Years: A Full Description of More Than 3,000 Science-fiction Stories from Earliest Times to the Appearance of the Genre Magazines in 1930: with Author, Title, and Motif Indexes (Page 357). Kent State University Press. p. 357. ISBN 0-87338-416-4 – via Google Books.
- Lawson, Mark (December 5, 2014). "Beware air pirates, be nice to Martians: lessons from the dawn of British sci-fi". New Statesman. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- Paris, Michael (1992). Winged Warfare: The Literature and Theory of Aerial Warfare in Britain, 1859-1917. Manchester University Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-7190-3694-1 – via Google Books.
- Gaillard, Stephen (1915). The Pirates of the Sky: A Tale of Modern Adventure. Chicago: Rand McNally & Company – via Google Books.
- Bleiler, Everett; Bleiler, Richard (1990). Science-fiction, the Early Years: A Full Description of More Than 3,000 Science-fiction Stories from Earliest Times to the Appearance of the Genre Magazines in 1930: with Author, Title, and Motif Indexes (Pages 271-272). Kent State University Press. pp. 271–272. ISBN 0-87338-416-4 – via Google Books.
- Bleiler, Everett; Bleiler, Richard (1998). Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years: A Complete Coverage of the Genre Magazines Amazing, Astounding, Wonder, and Others from 1926 Through 1936. Kent State University Press. p. 194. ISBN 0-87338-604-3 – via Google Books.
- Robinson, Douglas Hill (1962). The Zeppelin in Combat: A History of the German Naval Airship Division, 1912-1918. London: G.T. Foulis. pp. 220–21. OCLC 1302222.