January 2, 2009

Is the Movie Top Gun Beneficial or Total Crap?

Every once in a while I meet someone who will ask if I fly into the "Danger Zone" as Kenny Loggins apparently does. Like many pilots I cringe at being associated with the movie due to its factual inaccuracies and shlocky melodrama.

Some examples that come to mind:
* Top Gun is a training school for advanced fighter weapons deployment and tactics. It is not an ego-charged contest to best the instructors or each other.
* The Navy does not actually employ leggy civilian contractors to teach pilots about enemy fighters.
* There is no MiG-28.
* Maverick's record of rule-breaking would result in a dismissal, not a simple tongue-lashing.
* Leather flying jackets are really hot in the summer.
* Rubber dog poop is not transported by air from Hong Kong. It is probably shipped cheaply via ocean container vessel.

And what about the deadly "flat spin?"
Interestingly, the early years of the F-14 program were blemished by the aircraft's inability to recover from a flat spin. Subsequent modifications to the F-14 made the flat spin less likely. Score one for the facts.

Did Top Gun have any redeeming qualities? For many it was simply a fun movie with a catchy soundtrack that felt comfortably at home in the year 1986. But there was something much more. The movie did have a real-world influence on aviation.

Consider the "Top Gun Effect" as excerpted from

But by the middle of the 1980s, public hostility to the military was thawing. “Top Gun was a watershed picture,” remembers Strub. Dr Suid goes further. “Top Gun completed the rehabilitation of the military and made the Gulf War possible,” he insists. “Without it, I don’t think most Americans would have thought that we could win in the Gulf.”

For the Navy as well as at the box office, the film enjoyed phenomenal success. Recruitment figures went up 500%. “So now there are all these poor kids stuck on aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean who hate me,” jokes Tony Scott, Top Gun’s British Director. The film marked a new entente between the Hollywood industry and the Department of Defense. Top Gun’s production costs would have doubled without naval assistance.

So what is the state of aviation 20 years later? What does all this mean to us? If a movie can inspire youths to flock to military aviation, can a movie help bolster the ranks of General Aviation pilots? Do we need another Top Gun but with a GA twist to it? Some kind of movie just as schlocky, sexy, corny and factually inaccurate as Top Gun - but popular. It would have to be popular. Top Gun was a "blockbuster" as it is defined in the modern world.

Would that help?
"I could tell you, but I'd hafta kill you."

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