“Top Gun Maverick” is cleaning up at the box office ($747 million worldwide) and has established itself as the summer blockbuster it was promised to be. Meanwhile, pilot blogs and channels continue to dissect and review it. This one, from the Fighter Pilot Podcast, is one of the more interesting discussions between three pilots who are all former Top Gun instructors and on—the guy in the center, Andy “Grand” Mariner—is a former commander of the school. There were no real surprises in their answers. These are sophisticated, educated pilots and well understand that the point of a movie is to entertain and make money. “It’s not a documentary,” is the oft-repeated phrase.
What I found most interesting was the discussion between Mariner and channel host Vincent “Jell-O” Aiello about the dramatic difference in capability between Gen 4 fighters like the F-18 and F-16 and Gen 5 machines like the F-35, F-22 and the imaginary Su-57 depicted in the film. As an exchange pilot, Mariner has flown all the U.S. Gen 5s and talks about his impressions of how capable they are. He said it’s not an exaggeration to say the best defense for a Gen 4 pilot against a Gen 5 aircraft is to not be in the same airspace with it. When asked if the manned jet fighter is on way out as a mainstream weapons system, Mariner said he could imagine one more generation of manned fighters before the robots take over. Sixth Gen fighters are now in the design phase. They are considered pilot optional.
There’s also interesting discussion about what instructors look for in pilots at the Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, which is now the formal name for Top Gun. A key characteristic? Humility. The ability to recognize errors and accept the training to fix them. We could all use a little bit of that.
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