This year, the USS Midway Museum is showing the international blockbuster film “Top Gun: Maverick” at its annual Top Gun Movie Night as part of a series of Legacy Week events over Memorial Day weekend. Maverick is the long-awaited follow up to the hit 1980’s action film starring Tom Cruise. For more than a decade, the public showing of the original “Top Gun” film on Midway’s flight deck has been a must-see social event for our local San Diegans.
The original motion picture was produced at a time when the Top Gun school and combat flight exercises took place at San Diego-area bases and nearby training ranges. Having local place names mentioned in dialogue or familiar scenes set in San Diego still draw cheers from our live audiences.
The History of Top Gun and San Diego
The classic film script largely followed the advanced training regimen of the Naval Fighter Weapons School (aka Top Gun), then located at Naval Air Station Miramar just north of San Diego. The U.S. Navy’s cooperation in the film’s production was extensive, and exciting flight scenes were captured in some of the best aerial action footage since the World War I aviation film “The Blue Max” was released in 1966.
While some liberties were taken with the nature of Top Gun’s flight training and curriculum, the film successfully conveyed the skill and stamina required to fly high-performance modern fighter jets aggressively and in a rock-n-roll style. The film’s public success promptly enhanced naval aviation’s recruitment, extended Tom Cruise’s reputation as an action star, and promoted co-star Anthony Edwards out of the “Revenge of the Nerds” comic franchise into television drama with his lengthy appearance on “ER.”
Changes in Naval Aviation: From Top Gun to Hypersonic Flight
Over the decades since “Top Gun’s” triumphal debut, much has changed with naval aviation, and the new film reflects many of these developments. During the immediate post-Cold War years, several commands were consolidated or relocated out of the San Diego area, including Top Gun, which moved to Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada’s high desert. Women can now fly combat missions, and military aviation has moved decidedly into the hypersonic atmospheric flight more than five times the speed of sound.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is built on Tom Cruise’s solidified reputation thanks to his decades of leading roles in other action films, as well as his personification of the young carrier aviator. However, Cruise’s character, “Maverick,” is now a senior pilot, and his talent and experience need to be applied to a newer generation of naval aviators. Apparently, for the sake of continuity, and for more interesting backdrops, the Top Gun school in this film version is still in San Diego at Naval Air Station North Island.
As for aircraft, the iconic F-14 Tomcat is no longer in the fleet (though don’t count it out from the film), and the Top Gun aviators of today must be just as accomplished at putting bombs on targets as putting missiles on bandit aircraft, so the F/A-18 Super Hornet takes center stage. The new frontier of hypersonic flight will also dazzle as a fictional Darkstar mystery plane is depicted with Maverick at the controls.
Behind the Scenes of Top Gun: Maverick: Capturing High-Performance Flight Sequences
The filming of actual aircraft flight sequences required a set of high performance aerial camera platforms as well. Jet aircraft such as the L-39 Albatros and the Embraer Phenom 300 sported custom IMAX camera mounts on the nose and wing to capture the maneuvers of the Super Hornets. These mounts, not to mention the camera operators, were rated for 350 knots and up to 3 Gs. Additionally, an Airbus AS350 helicopter caught remarkable low-level sequences. Production crews also went to sea on board the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-71) to film flight deck operations.
Though largely featuring a new cast, an additional pair of characters from the original film reappear: Tom “Iceman” Kazansky is now an vice admiral in charge of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the toddler son of “Goose,” is now a young fighter pilot. Together with veteran actors Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, and Jon Hamm, a slate of younger talent is on hand to populate the screen and bring the actions scenes to life.
The winning combination of stunning flight sequences, character chemistry, epic scenery, and San Diego’s own sights, helped make “Top Gun: Maverick” the second highest grossing motion picture in 2022 was well as garner an Academy Award nomination. It’s now time for the film to take a bow on Midway’s flight deck!
Launch em’… until next time,