Films naturally embellish reality for the purposes of entertainment, and to a varying degree from the excusable (i.e. chronology and details in Braveheart) to the egregious (i.e. any computer hacking scene in WarGames). But one such flick that stands to be pretty damn accurate is none other than the Top Gun franchise – according to US Navy fighter pilots, anyways.
For those who are unaware, TOPGUN is the nickname given to the real-life elite Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor school of which the films derive their titles. Established in 1969 with the intention to overhaul how air combat was approached, the main objective was to ensure allied casualties could be prevented after losing “great talent” during the Vietnam War.
And personal dramas aside regarding burgeoning romances and oily volleyball matches with a strong homoerotic charge, the program’s depiction in both the original film and the Top Gun: Maverick trailer has been noted to be “incredibly realistic” by real-life TOPGUN instructors.
Though this is to be expected given the original film was made in cooperation with the US military. Fun fact, it would later go on to instigate a +500% spike in Naval recruitment after its release.
“The flying was superb, probably some of the best camera photography of tactical aeroplanes that’s ever been done,” says Cpt. Dan Pendersen to TIME. Pendersen is considered the “godfather” of the entire program.
“Kelly McGillis’ character was based on a real advisor to the admiral at Miramar. She was very well thought of and went on to be the acting Deputy Defense Secretary.”
Though you will have noticed that the title of this article describes it as “pretty damn accurate” and not “completely accurate” – and for good reason. As Pendersen elaborates, there are discrepancies that don’t exactly fly – or so to speak – in the actual TOPGUN program.
“It created a false public impression of what it really took and the price we paid… [The movie] created some animosity within the Navy by making it seem like it was a golden thing to be a fighter pilot. What about the guys who weren’t flying fighters?”
“I also didn’t care for the open competition between the guys in the movie. It’s the best brotherhood you’d ever want to be a part of… My guys were far more serious and cerebral than the guys in the film because there was a war going on. We actually worked seven days a week probably, starting at 4:30 in the morning.”
As for the evolution of TOPGUN since, much of the program’s bones and ethos remains the same. All that has really changed is the technological innovations and economics behind being a pilot in general. Not all of these would-be progressions necessarily for the better, either.
“A lot of pilots are getting out and going to work for an airline, where they can make two or three times the money and go home to see their family… All it takes is a single bullet in the right place to do you in.”
Read the complete TIME article here.