Yes. "The real Top Gun is just a nickname for what's called the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School," says Dave Berke, former Top Gun fighter pilot and senior instructor. The school has been in existence since 1969. "It's just a school that teaches kind of a graduate-level capability for fighter pilots to be ready for war." Berke says that the school got the nickname "Top Gun" because it was more about gunnery in its early days. It was not only about being able to use the airplane correctly but being able to use the gun on the plane well. The name Top Gun stuck and it became cemented in the public consciousness with the release of the first movie in 1986. -Jocko Podcast
The movie tries to justify the use of the older F-18 Super Hornets over the newer F-35s by stating that the F-35's GPS weapons can't be used in a GPS jamming environment. Former Top Gun pilot Dave Berke says that while this reasoning was clearly included so that the filmmakers could use F-18s, the justification given in the film is "certainly plausible enough to explain why they're doing it the way they did it," especially when looking at it through the lens of it being a movie. All of Top Gun: Maverick's jets are displayed below, including the movie's Darkstar reconnaissance jet. The P-51 Mustang is also displayed. -Jocko Podcast
"It's almost exclusively now, mostly Navy, a couple of Marines," says former Top Gun instructor Dave Berke, who was himself a Marine. He said that "once in a blue moon" they used to have an exchange program with the Air Force.
"Amongst other things, yes," said former instructor Dave Berke, "but [dogfighting] is the foundational thing you start to teach and learn up there." Berke said that on a good day at Top Gun, he would participate in approximately two dogfights with each flight lasting about 45 minutes total. Of that 45 minutes, "you're probably 25-ish minutes per flight like under G, like really maneuvering and bending the jet around." -Jocko Podcast
Unlike Navy pilots, Marine pilots go back to their squadrons and usually deploy after completing the 13-week Top Gun course. Navy pilots who are going to be selected as instructors typically stay behind at the school to teach. At some point, the Top Gun staff will vote on which Marine pilots to bring back. "There are only three pilots on the staff of 25 who are Marines," says Dave Berke, former Marine fighter pilot and senior instructor at the school. -Jocko Podcast
To some degree, yes. In researching the question, "Is Top Gun: Maverick realistic?" we confirmed that the personalities of the pilots in the movie are intentionally magnified and somewhat over the top due to the fact that they have to stand out in a two-hour movie. "In some sense, I didn't have a lot of experience with people whose personalities were that over the top in some ways," says former Top Gun pilot and instructor Dave Berke, "but I can identify and resonate with every single one, so I think in that sense they still did a good job depicting ego, complacency, and a bunch of other subtle attributes you really gotta think about in order for someone to be successful in difficult situations." -Jocko Podcast
In researching how accurate is Top Gun: Maverick, we learned that there are no F-14s still flying in the West. The F-14 Tomcat was retired by the United States Navy in 2006. The only country that still flies them is Iran, which currently has six Tomcats. The filmmakers found an F-14 on display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. They had it shipped to an airfield near Lake Tahoe where several scenes with the plane were shot. Though it didn't have an engine, "it needed to be operational enough that the [cockpit] canopy opens," said Jeremy Hindle, the production designer on the film. Unlike with almost all of the other Top Gun: Maverick fighter jets, the in-flight scenes were created with CGI. -Variety
Contrary to what's seen in the movie, there has never been an issue with an ejection seat not working in an F-14. -Jocko Podcast
No. "It's not common for a birdstrike to snuff out a motor like that," says Dave Berke of the scene in the movie, "but it has absolutely happened. It is very uncommon. Birdstrikes are not that uncommon. For a birdstrike to get you to crash the airplane, very rare, but not unheard of." Generically speaking, the pilot in the movie follows the correct procedures for handling a birdstrike, despite losing the plane.
In early June 2022, a Canadian CF-18 struck a bird at an air show in Michigan. Although the plane lost one of its engines, the pilot was able to land safely. Birdstrike was recently depicted in the 2016 true story movie Sully directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks as the captain of an Airbus A320 that strikes a flock of birds, damaging both engines. -Jocko Podcast
No, at least not yet. In the movie, Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) serves as a test pilot for a next-generation hypersonic fighter jet called Darkstar. While it is not a real plane, it was clearly inspired by the SR-72, Lockheed Martin's concept jet that the company proposed in 2013. The SR-72, nicknamed the "Son of Blackbird," is the successor to the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the high-altitude, long-range Mach3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft. The company planned to have a working SR-72 test plane ready to fly by 2025, so it's not far-fetched for such a plane to exist in the movie. In fact, Lockheed Martin engineers helped design the plane seen in the film. Of the Top Gun: Maverick jets, it is the only one that is not a real-world plane.
Yes. The iconic leather aviator jackets seen in the films are standard issue fighter pilot jackets. To have patches on the jackets is also common.
Yes. "The reality is it's not like this all the time, but flying fighters is exhausting sometimes, like very physically demanding," says former fighter pilot Dave Berke. "There are components of flying that physiologically are really, really hard, and I think they wanted to depict those segments." Berke says that the difficulty isn't usually as sustained as it is in the Tom Cruise movie, pointing out that some elements of flying are "downright boring," including navigating to and from, in which case you're just sitting in a cockpit. The mind-blowingly difficult moments that are very physiologically demanding usually last a few minutes. -Jocko Podcast
In the Top Gun: Maverick movie, we see orange flames shooting out of the back of the F-18s at times, including during takeoff from a carrier. This is called afterburner. "The technique behind afterburner in general is [when] you're flying around in a regular engine it just spins and puts out thrust," says Dave Berke. "Afterburner is where they take literally liquid fuel and they spray it in the back so it kind of creates a mini-explosion and just shoots an orange flame out the back, but it gives the jet a whole bunch of additional thrust." It can give you a significant amount of extra speed, which can be especially crucial during takeoff and maneuvering in flight.
How much more power does afterburner give an F-18 Hornet? In full power without afterburner (referred to as military power), an F-18 Hornet's engine can achieve just under 11,000 pounds of thrust. In afterburner (maximum power), the engine can achieve about 18,000 pounds of thrust, a significant boost.
In researching the question, "Is Top Gun: Maverick believable?" graduates of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School have pointed out that base security would most likely prevent anyone from actually stealing an F-18 or any other fighter jet. However, they do believe that the scene in the movie is plausible given that there are no keys needed to start up an F-18 and fly off with it.
In the movie, we see a large group of pilots gather in a hanger for a briefing. "No," says former Top Gun pilot Jim "Jambo" Ray. For one, it's going to be noisy in a hanger, especially on an aircraft carrier, which is always noisy. In addition, a hanger is not a secure place to discuss a secret mission. Ray says it's pure Hollywood. -The Fighter Pilot Podcast
Yes. "That whole mission at the end, every segment of that mission is things that I do routinely and what pilots do routinely in F-18s on a regular basis," says former senior instructor Dave Berke. "And not like Top Gun pilots, just any pilot as a routine series of pieces of a mission that you would do." This includes the low-level ingress (to avoid radar), the high-G pop, the really high climb acceleration, the rolling on your back, the high-G turn, etc.
Berke says that rolling the plane on its back to transfer from nose up to nose down is a necessary maneuver to avoid a high dose of negative g-force, which, unlike positive g-force, the body cannot be trained to tolerate. By rolling on your back, the g-force is applied in the right direction (positive g-force), which pilots are trained to handle. In the Top Gun: Maverick movie, they do the maneuver as they come up over the ridgeline and go down toward the target. An additional reason for inverting the plane in that case is so they can see the target better after coming over the ridge.
The actors underwent four-and-a-half to five months of training, including flight lessons. Tom Cruise personally oversaw the training regiment. The actors had to become accustomed to the fundamentals of flight and the effects of g-forces. The Navy also conducted worst-case-scenario drills, which included training for being ejected over water. The actors were subjected to "the dunker," a device that lowered them into the water while blindfolded and strapped to a chair. They were then slowly flipped upside down and had to escape and swim to the surface.
Several highly-trained Navy fighter pilots did the flying for Top Gun: Maverick, including retired Navy Commander and former Blue Angel Frank "Walleye" Weisser, Tom Cruise's stunt double.