How Top Gun: Maverick cruises by reality

Warning: This article may contain spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick.

Actor Tom Cruise soared to new heights when he reprized his role as Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the action-packed thriller Top Gun: Maverick, shattering his personal box office records and even blasting past reality at times.

The minds behind the ’80s nostalgia-laced sequel flick claim them painstaking efforts to keep the rip-roaring jet sequences as tethered as possible. But in an apparent bid to keep theatergoers glued to their seats in suspense, they had to sprinkle in some far-fetched tidbits as well, according to experts.


“The best way I can describe it is extremely accurate with the Hollywood embellishments for entertainment,” TR “Wombat” Matson, a former Navy pilot and author of Treason Flight, told the Washington Examiner. “I don’t think it would be as exciting or as entertaining as it was if it was 100% realistic.”

Producers of the movie, which has become the highest-grossing domestic film of 2022, collaborated with real-life Navy fighter pilots to get authentic shots of fighter jets zooming through the air and actors enduring high G-forces.

“In terms of the flying sequences themselves, particularly the effects of G … I think it’s better than almost anything we’ve seen in cinema,” Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow for the Royal United Services Institute, told the Washington Examiner.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Tom Cruise portraying Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in a scene from “Top Gun: Maverick.”

(Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures via AP)

Thirty-six years after the original movie took place, the impulsive Mitchell finds himself a captain and serving as a test pilot. Audacious and reckless, he takes a stealthy, experimental hypersonic plane called the Darkstar on an unauthorized joy run, whipping through the air at breathtaking speeds in excess of Mach 10 until it heats up and explodes.

“What wasn’t very accurate was that the aircraft broke apart at like 100,000 feet going Mach 10 and Maverick didn’t just turn into oatmeal, which is probably what would really happen,” Alex Hollings, the editor-in-chief of military news publication, told the Washington Examiner.

As punishment for his roguery (something that would likely get a normal officer fired or arrested, according to Matson), Mitchell is dispatched to train a ragtag group of graduates of the Top Gun program for a perilous mission.


This is not how the Navy would go about selecting pilots for a mission, Cmdr. Michael Patterson, who is the commanding officer of the real-life TOPGUN program, told the Washington Examiner.

“They wouldn’t be pulling together and graduates from non-deployed squadrons,” he said. “They’re on different carriers. They’re on different exercises. What they would do is pull from whatever carrier is closest to the crisis that’s happening in the world that requires us to intervene.”

Eventually, Mitchell and his pupils embark on a daring mission in which they had to fly through rugged terrain to bomb an underground nuclear facility.

The team uses F/A-18 Super Hornets, which have a two-person cockpit, making them ideal for moviemakers to film actors experiencing G-forces while being flown by experienced pilots. However, in real life, the Navy has more optimal and stealthier planes for such missions, according to Bronk.

“That’s the value of stealth as you can take a very dangerous operation and make it boring and safe. So by using Super Hornets, I think that it really heightened the drama,” Hollings said.

A cluster of Tomahawk missiles rained down on the site above the nuclear facility, taking out enemy supplies aircraft, though at least one Iranian Tomcat remained. That fighter would later be used by Mitchell and his pupil, Goose, to escape enemy lines after they had been shot down upon flying past the target facility and forced to parachute to the ground.

“The idea that one of them would just be like hanging out in a hangar, and two guys could jump in and like pop-start it — pretty much ridiculous. It takes a ton of people to get a fighter jet in the air,” Hollings said. “A lot of times, it takes a half an hour to get the engines up and running.”


One area that the movie excelled in was its portrayal of the toll that military casualties can have on people who serve in the military, according to Matson.

“I liked that they paid a little homage to that and showed that, you know, so it’s not just all glamour. There’s a lot of aspects of the job that are not as pretty, and I liked that they did that,” he said.

“Anybody who tells you, they walked out of a theater and have done that job, didn’t want to go back into a jet is lying. It’s going to stir that up,” he added.


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