Engage in contracts with skilled Pilots for an indefinite amount of time. Pilots are well trained in the art of combat and can either be deployed in fighters or tasked to steer your ship when you are in a fighter yourself.
— In-Game Description.
NPC pilots can be hired as crew to operate remotely-piloted Ship-Launched Fighters, or the player's ship while the player is operating the Ship-Launched Fighter. Pilots can be hired in the Crew Lounge available at many stations.
Each pilot has an initial hiring cost and is paid a profit share of all player earnings during their employment, both of which are based upon the pilot's combat rank. The profit share includes all profits from commodity trades, selling exploration data, completing missions, and redeeming bounty and combat vouchers.
In addition, NPC pilots take a share of the combat rank experience earned from each kill they score any damaging hit on. The percent of XP each NPC takes is dependent on their rank, where NPCs with lower combat rank than the player will take a greater percentage of the XP, an NPC with equal rank as the player will take exactly 50% of the combat experience, and an NPC with a higher rank than the player will take a smaller percent of the combat experience. Elite NPCs still earn XP, so there is no way to completely stop an NPC participating in the combat taking a share of the player's experience. NPCs that do not actively participate in a kill do not take any combat XP away from the player.
The Crew Lounge has 5 pilots available to hire, one at each rank level. Up to 3 pilots may be hired at once. (After each hiring, the Crew Lounge pool is refreshed so that there are always 5 pilots from which to choose.)
|Rank||Hiring Cost (CR)||Profit Share (%)|
If the ship is equipped with a Fighter Hangar, one pilot can assigned to the ship as a crew member (made "Active"). Any inactive hired pilots remain in the station (and can be accessed later at any station's Crew Lounge).
Pilots are paid whether they are active or inactive, and any pilot's contract can be terminated at any time. If a pilot is fired before the player collects the payment, the pilot will not be paid a share of the profits. A pilot's rank and profit share increase with combat experience, but it is cheaper to hire a pilot with a lower rank and let them rank up through combat experience than it is to hire a pilot with a higher rank. The profit share paid to the first pilot will be less than the second pilot of the same rank.
If an NPC-piloted Ship-Launched Fighter is destroyed, the NPC survives because SLFs are remotely-piloted. As of the January Update, if the player's ship is destroyed, any hired NPC crew can be retrieved for a cost in the rebuy screen.
- Prior to the January Update, NPC pilots would be irretrievably lost upon the destruction of the player's ship.
- NPC Pilots were added in the Elite Dangerous: Horizons v2.2 "The Guardians" update.
- Galactic News: The Origin of the Pilots Federation
- r/EliteDangerous: Confirmed: Using NPCs Hinder Combat Rank Progression
- Frontier Forums: Do Elite NPC Crew members still take half your combat experience?, post #66