7 Secrets of Real-Life Top Guns & Trainers


Top Gun: Maverick (2022) races into the future on the cutting edge of aviation when Maverick (Tom Cruise) breaks Mach 10. He pushes the jet to 10 times the speed of sound to become the fastest man alive. 

In Top Gun ‘bro’ lingo, Maverick’s a ‘great stick’. But how realistic are the stunts and the movie? SPYSCAPE did a 4-G negative dive into Top Gun training to reveal the secrets of the real-life instructors and flying aces who inspired Maverick.

7 Secrets of Real-Life Top Guns & Trainers

1. Oversized egos? Top Gun instructors have met a few.

Hangman (actor Glen Powell, above) flies solo with only his bloated ego for company - and that suits the ace pilot just fine. He’s not at Top Gun school to make friends. He’s there to be the team leader. But can that type of smirking, know-it-all, super-confident fighter pilot ego really exist? 

“Yes,” said Lt. Col. David ‘Chip’ Berke, a 22-year Marine Corps veteran and Top Gun instructor who has more than 2,800 flight hours to his credit. “People have massive egos. But often it is revealed in a subtle way - not by being obnoxious but by people not listening.”

Berke said ego is by far the biggest challenge he’s dealt with as a Top Gun instructor - both his own and those of the people around him - but he keeps it in check because if he’s going to learn something or influence someone else, listening is crucial. 

2. Are the flying and training scenes in Top Gun: Maverick realistic?

“Ninety percent of it [the flying] was realistic,” said former Top Gun instructor Andy ‘Grand’ Mariner

Berke added that the stunts - including flying low to avoid the radar during Top Gun: Maverick’s final mission - are basic tactics practiced by all pilots, not just Top Guns. 

Even the scene (spoiler alert!) where Maverick ‘borrows’ an F-14 jet rings true because at least one country still flies them, even if the US retired the Tomcat in 2006. “At the risk of being politically incorrect, we used to say, ‘It dances pretty good for a fat girl,’” said retired US Navy Cdr. Jim "Jambo" Ray

7 Secrets of Real-Life Top Guns & Trainers

BY
SPYSCAPE
5
MINUTE READ
Share with Twitter
@SPYSCAPE
Share
Share to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Share with email


Top Gun: Maverick (2022) races into the future on the cutting edge of aviation when Maverick (Tom Cruise) breaks Mach 10. He pushes the jet to 10 times the speed of sound to become the fastest man alive. 

In Top Gun ‘bro’ lingo, Maverick’s a ‘great stick’. But how realistic are the stunts and the movie? SPYSCAPE did a 4-G negative dive into Top Gun training to reveal the secrets of the real-life instructors and flying aces who inspired Maverick.

7 Secrets of Real-Life Top Guns & Trainers

1. Oversized egos? Top Gun instructors have met a few.

Hangman (actor Glen Powell, above) flies solo with only his bloated ego for company - and that suits the ace pilot just fine. He’s not at Top Gun school to make friends. He’s there to be the team leader. But can that type of smirking, know-it-all, super-confident fighter pilot ego really exist? 

“Yes,” said Lt. Col. David ‘Chip’ Berke, a 22-year Marine Corps veteran and Top Gun instructor who has more than 2,800 flight hours to his credit. “People have massive egos. But often it is revealed in a subtle way - not by being obnoxious but by people not listening.”

Berke said ego is by far the biggest challenge he’s dealt with as a Top Gun instructor - both his own and those of the people around him - but he keeps it in check because if he’s going to learn something or influence someone else, listening is crucial. 

2. Are the flying and training scenes in Top Gun: Maverick realistic?

“Ninety percent of it [the flying] was realistic,” said former Top Gun instructor Andy ‘Grand’ Mariner

Berke added that the stunts - including flying low to avoid the radar during Top Gun: Maverick’s final mission - are basic tactics practiced by all pilots, not just Top Guns. 

Even the scene (spoiler alert!) where Maverick ‘borrows’ an F-14 jet rings true because at least one country still flies them, even if the US retired the Tomcat in 2006. “At the risk of being politically incorrect, we used to say, ‘It dances pretty good for a fat girl,’” said retired US Navy Cdr. Jim "Jambo" Ray

Article Ad

7 Secrets of Real-Life Top Guns & Trainers

3. What’s a typical day like at Top Gun school?

Don’t expect top-secret briefings in the hangar where mechanics and anyone else wandering around could overhear details of your mission. Instead, a typical day involves classroom training and - if the instructors are lucky - a couple of dogfights (scraps in the air). 

“A good day at Top Gun? I’d get two, maybe three, dogfights - three would be a really good day,” said ‘Chip’ Berke, a former senior Top Gun training officer who served in the Marine Corps and flew F-16, F-18, F-22, and F-35 Lightning IIs. “A one-against-one dogfight flight would be 45-minute total and, of that, there is probably 25-ish minutes of really maneuvering and bending the jet around.”

Even when you think you’ve mastered dogfighting techniques, there’s always more work to be done, said instructor Lt. Orian ‘Sid’ Kelly: “The most dangerous misconception for a Top Gun instructor is to think that they have arrived and that they are as good as they need to be because we are not in the business of ‘good enough’.” 

7 Secrets of Real-Life Top Guns & Trainers

4. How do you get picked for Top Gun school?

The real-life TOPGUN program - or US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program - was initially set up back in 1969 after North Vietnamese fighter pilots were seen to have an edge over the Americans.

Essentially, it’s a graduate-level school for fighter pilots. About 20 Top Gun students are selected by their commanding officers on a rotating basis to attend 13-week training courses that can run up to 14 hours a day, sometimes six or seven days a week. 

“It was grueling, 13 weeks of pain,” Top Gun instructor Lt. Kyle 'Washjob' Haith admitted in a Department of Defense documentary, although the upside is that candidates are training among the best and brightest pilots in the world.

Top Gun students are already top-tier pilots and aviators when they are selected, mainly trained by the US Navy although at least one US Marine is generally selected every year and an US Air Force pilot may join through an exchange program. Students redeploy and teach others the skills they’ve learned. Those who excel are brought back as instructors to teach a new generation of US Top Guns.

5. Is Rear Admiral 'Hammer' Cain (actor Ed Harris) correct in Top Gun: Maverick? Will the next generation of aircraft be pilotless?

In the last decade or so, the US introduced the so-called ‘fifth generation’ airplanes, the F22 Raptor and the F35 Lightning II, so there will likely still be demand for Top Guns for decades to come. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. The era of the ‘manned’ fighter plane may be over. 

“I would not be surprised if we were one generation away from the last man fighter,” said Berke. “I’m not predicting it, but if it happens it won’t shock me.” 

7 Secrets of Real-Life Top Guns & Trainers

6. Are Top Guns really issued aviator glasses?

Totally. Yes. They are also issued a standard fighter pilot leather jacket. Their first patch is often that of their first fighter squadron, which sits on their chest. 

7. Is the Hard Deck bar in Top Gun: Maverick modeled after a real watering hole?

Top Guns have been known to enjoy a beverage or two at the real-life I-Bar on Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, the model for The Hard Deck in Top Gun: Maverick.

The tail wing of an F-18 sits out front of the I-Bar and patrons need to follow the rules or they could soon hear the bell ringing - a signal that they must buy a round of drinks for the house. So if you drop by, don’t touch the model aircraft hanging from the ceiling; don’t wear a ‘hood’ or a ‘cover’ (a hat); don’t put your cell phone on the bar or take calls from your spouse, and; don’t even think about going behind the bar.

Instructor ‘Grand’ Marnier was nailed one evening and saddled with a bar tab for $700.

Read mORE

RELATED aRTICLES

Gadgets & Gifts

Put your spy skills to work with these fabulous choices from secret notepads & invisible inks to Hacker hoodies & high-tech handbags. We also have an exceptional range of rare spy books, including many signed first editions.

Shop Now

Your Spy SKILLS

We all have valuable spy skills - your mission is to discover yours. See if you have what it takes to be a secret agent, with our authentic spy skills evaluation* developed by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence. It's FREE so share & compare with friends now!

dISCOVER Your Spy SKILLS

* Find more information about the scientific methods behind the evaluation here.