The Film ‘Top Gun’ Caught The Attention of The Dept. of the Navy

Fact: The producers for the 1986 film Top Gun wanted the Department of the Navy’s blessing before release. The production company was so good at what they did, they even fooled the Navy.

Top Gun (1986) is an American action drama film about a reckless fighter pilot named LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who believes that his father being shot down during the Vietnam War was not a result of pilot error. The film was inspired by a 1983 issue of “California” magazine about the U.S. Navy’s Top Gun School. Written by Ehud Yonay in May of 1983, the article detailed the TOPGUN fighter pilots at the Miramar Naval Air Station, located in San Diego, self-nicknamed as “Fightertown USA.” Since then, due to the movie, the real Top Gun school gives a $5 fine to anyone in the staff that quotes the movie.

While many people probably surmised that not all of Top Gun dogfights were real, probably no one knew that only two live aerial missiles were fired during the making of the movie.



The Department of the Navy only authorized the use of these two missiles, but after the company produced insanely accurate and realistic model missile miniatures of both the planes and rockets, the Dept. of the Navy conducted a preliminary investigation into whether any additional live firings of missiles were done for the filmmakers.

Also, they helped coordinate and conduct an aerial intercept that went over their protective guidelines for director Tony Scott. During the shooting for the movie, Tony Scott, the movie’s director, filmed the first intercept of the MiG-28 (known for the F-5) over the Pacific from a Learjet 25 that belonged to legend Clay Lacy. After two head-on passes between an F-14 and MiG-28, Tony Scott asked if they could shoot one more shot… but closer. The maximum fighter pilots are allowed to get to one another is 500 ft. But because the intercept didn’t fit in frame, he asked for one more. In order to fly as close as the fighters did, the Tomcat RIO (The Radar Intercept Officer; the guy who sits behind the fighter pilot) called out the distance every 2 miles, every twelve seconds (700 mph), eventually Tony Scott came over the line saying,

“That’s great gents! Super!”



In order to shoot the movie, the producers wanted the Navy’s blessing. While the Navy in general was pretty ecstatic about the proposition, they needed the film to stick to specific guidelines. Additionally, the Navy helped finance the film by allowing the Paramount Pictures company to use their fighter planes for a reported $1.8 Million, which would have been a drop in the bucket if the company had to shop around for them. The film will likely have acted as inspiration for many who watched it to consider joining the ranks. History students of Norwich University could pursue a career as a Navy officer following their education.

Also, the Navy allowed many of the writers to sit in on classes and various elements of the school to gain better understanding of what occurred in the Top Gun school. After the initial draft failed, the Navy helped correct the errors they didn’t see fit for the film. The Navy “asked” the producers to tone down the language, they wanted the aerial dogfights moved into international waters (rather than near Cuba), and had the producers scrap one of the scenes that involved a crash on an aircraft carrier. Even the very emotional peak of the movie where Goose dies was rewritten. Initially, Goose was supposed to die from a midair collision, but after the Navy read the script, they had them change it to an ejection scene citing,

“the Navy complained that too many pilots were crashing.”

As the Navy’s Hollywood point person Robert Anderson clearly stated it in 2006 to PBS,

“If you want full cooperation from the Navy, we have a considerable amount of power, because it’s our ships, it’s our cooperation, and until the script is in a form that we can approve, then the production doesn’t go forward.”

With that being stated, the Dept. of the Navy were so highly enthused over the making of a movie about one of the specialized areas of the Navy, that they placed US Navy recruiting booths up outside the major cinemas to try and catch many of the ‘adrenaline’ charged guys leaving the screenings. Top Gun collectively was responsible for the highest application rating for years as a result.

During the time of the movie release, the U.S. was in the midst of a Cold War with the Soviet Union. So the movie created little of a tension even though the Russians were never actually mentioned in the movie. But a group of TOPGUN instructors sent a group photo to the Soviet Air Force with the greeting:

“Thinking of you and yours at this joyful Yuletide Season. Trust all is well and cozy at your fireside. If our nations ever pair off in war, check your six o’clock. We’ll be there, hosing you.”

Since than, the enthusiasm for the recruitment of Navy personnel has been high and the view of the U.S. military might became much more favorable. Recently, information has been released that another Top Gun movie is in the making. Val Kilmer (who originally didn’t want to be in the first movie) and Tom Cruise will be in the Top Gun 2 film.


Pirnia, Garin. (20 Jan, 2016). Mental_Floss. 10 Speedy Facts About ‘Top Gun’. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Top Gun. (n.d.). In Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Retrieved from

Top Gun. (2016, April 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:03, April 7, 2016, from

Leone, Dario. (3 Oct. 2013). Book Shows How The Best Dogfighting Scenes Were Filmed In ‘Top Gun.’ Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Perry, Tony. (30 May, 1996). Los Angeles Times. An Era Ends in San Diego as Navy’s Top Guns Take Off. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Sirota, David. (26 Aug, 2011). The Washington Post. 25 years later, how ‘Top Gun’ made America love war. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

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