Why Doesn’t Tom Cruise Wear A Helmet When Riding His Motorcycle Around The Airbase? Real-Life US Military Pilots React To Top Gun: Maverick
“That’s just Tom — like Iceman said, he’s dangerous!”
As you’ve probably heard, Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise’s long-awaited sequel to 1986’s Top Gun, is now in cinemas.
And for real-life military aviators, that means that whenever they meet civilians — like us — anything that’s remotely linked to the movie will inevitably pop up in the conversation.
“Not as much as it used to, but I bet it will a lot more now that the new movie is out,” said Colonel Michael Rider, call sign “Hook”, a 28-year US Air Force veteran and Chief of Office of Defense Cooperation for Singapore with the US Embassy here,
And it never gets tired.
“Everyone loves Top Gun and it is rightly center stage on the world’s view of Naval Aviation, but I am always excited to tell people about the other amazing ways we are able to support operational and diplomatic objectives with all our other aircrafts as well,” Lieutenant Mikaela Dosen, call sign “Dodo” (as in the extinct flightless bird), a US Navy aviator and the Air Operations Officer for the Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific, supporting the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet in the Pacific.
Col. Rider caught the original Top Gun when he was in the 9th grade (about 14-15 years old) when it first came out the theatres and what a life-changing experience it was. “My family is from the Air Force, so I already knew I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy, [but] seeing a movie with realistic flying scenes definitely enhanced my desire to become a fighter pilot,” he shared.
Lt. Dosen hails from a military background as well. While she never saw Top Gun (she wasn’t even born when it came out!), she knew all too well of its legacy and the culture it depicted. “My dad was in the Navy, so that and Top Gun, they went hand in hand,” she said. “I grew up in Miramar where Top Gun [the school] was. I was raised thinking planes are cool; thinking about the movie, the competitiveness and camaraderie is a little bit of an overstatement — we all know it’s just sexy planes, montages, and beach volleyball.”
Top Gun Maverick picks up three decades after the original, with Cruise reprising his role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. This time he's assigned to train a new group of cocky aviators — including Miles Teller’s Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of Maverick’s late friend and radar intercept officer Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, played by Anthony Edwards in the original — for a higher-than-high-stakes mission. The cast also includes Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly and Val Kilmer, who portrayed Maverick's rival Iceman in the first Top Gun.
The movie, directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron Legacy), took off globally last week to spectacularly glowing reviews (96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and a whopping US$248 million (S$340 mil) at the box-office — of which US$134 million came from the US, the highest-grossing domestic debut in Cruise’s 40-year career, and his first to surpass US$100 million on opening weekend.
8days.sg spoke to Col. Rider and Lt. Dosen briefly just before the Top Gun: Maverick’s Singapore premiere at Lido on May 20 and again via email after they had seen the movie.
8 DAYS: First things first, what’s the most Maverick thing you’d done? Have you buzzed the tower?
COLONEL MICHAEL "HOOK" RIDER: I have. Back in Texas a while ago. I ejected out of a F-16 in 1999 due to an engine fire.
LIEUTENANT MIKAELA "DODO" DOSEN: While I have done a flyover in the P-8 Poseidon, it probably looked more like we were a lost commercial flight gone off track… however, there were no shortage of amazing flights in the P-3/P-8; we would regularly do low-level flights down to 150ft (about 45m) above-ground-level along the coast of the Hawaiian Islands, spotting whales, dolphins and looking at the active lava flow. It’s just a different kind of cool; think about how wild and unexpected it would be to see a Boeing 737 so close to the water.
You’ve seen Top Gun: Maverick. What are your favourite moments?
COL. RIDER: The low-altitude canyon scenes.
LT. DOSEN: As a Maritime Patrol Plane Pilot, my flying is much tamer than that in Top Gun, I have always been fascinated with the way jets fly within valleys and canyons and how they stay upside down to help provide better visuals and stay close to the walls. In Death Valley, CA, there is a place called Star Wars Canyon — that is an awesome spot to watch them practice in real life.
What are the scenes that resonated with you?
COL. RIDER: The G-induced Loss of Consciousness (GLOC) because I’ve had a few friends who lost their lives due to GLOC.
LT. DOSEN: Watching them pre-brief and test out the different ways to complete the mission is something that all pilots will relate to. What most people don’t see is the effort that takes place before the flight even launches and while it’s not always a life-or-death mission like in the movie, I can relate to how things can seem impossible until they are done.
What are the scenes that are unbelievable but look pretty cool on screen?
COL. RIDER: The dogfighting scenes where Maverick splits between two jets in close formation. We typically train with a 500-foot (about 152m) ‘bubble’ to prevent collisions.
LT. DOSEN: Let’s talk about how incredible it is that this is real flying in a world of CGI! That scene where the jet is so close to the ground that you can see its shadow on the desert floor is incredible — I have chills! I think I am even more enamored because I heard about the filming ahead of time, how they kept re-shooting and going lower, lower, lower until they got that final shot. Our jet pilots are the most elite and capable in the world and I am proud to fly alongside them.
What do you think of the movie’s depiction of female aviators?
LT. DOSEN: Female aviators are so badass! Most of my best female friends are also pilots so it is easy to forget just how rare we are but I always celebrate women taking the top spots. The Top Gun class was pretty accurate to real life; it is common to be the only female in a group of men; the last I heard females comprise of less than 10 percent of Navy Pilots and even lower percentages in fighter communities. We conduct an annual Women in Aviation conference and throughout my short 10 years in — wow, time flies! — I have noticed more and more females. I am excited for the day that we will be 50 percent! Fun fact, women naturally have some innate talents which can lead to them being better pilots, like the ability to multi-task.
COL. RIDER: Appreciation for the difficulty to fly fast at low altitude and pulling Gs. Additionally, there are no barriers to females flying fighters in the US Military.
Lieutenant Dosen, watching Monica Barbaro as Phoenix, what memories did it bring back about your own training?
LT. DOSEN: Aviation training is Type-2 fun. Let me explain. It is the kind of thing that is so challenging in the moment and all you want is for it to be over but looking back in retrospect I miss the comradery and competitiveness. The relationships you form in moments of intense pressure are the strongest in the world and somehow we had fun in the process. On a funnier note, the weekend before Primary training began in Corpus Christi, Texas. I ran into some of my classmates at a concert… well, one of them apparently didn’t recognise me and in an attempt to flirt, he started telling me about how he and his friends were all pilots and I should thank them for their service. We all went along with it and even played along for a while before we told him I was in their class. I thanked him for his service on Monday morning and he never lived it down — my own real Charlie from Top Gun moment!
Do you know of any aviator who is like Maverick?
COL. RIDER: Not really, people who get in that much trouble in the Air Force don’t last.
LT. DOSEN: Absolutely, our Naval Aviators are the cream of the crop, the best of the best. It is important for pilots to be confident, concise, and frankly, a little bit arrogant in order to safely perform the mission. I think most aviators, whether US or international, have a thrill for adventure too. For instance, I am a part of a local indoor skydiving club here in Singapore and not surprisingly, some of my closest friends in the group are, coincidentally, aviators in the Republic of Singapore Armed Forces. It isn’t surprising that aviators in both respective militaries — US and Singapore — are drawn to skydiving because, in the end, aviators just want to be in the air in any capacity. We’re thrill-seekers. Aviation naturally attracts a lot of Type-A personalities and there are definitely a number of them living out the full Maverick lifestyle.
Do you have a rival like Iceman or Hangman when you were going through training?
COL. RIDER: We’re always competitive, especially during initial training because the aircraft you get assigned to is based on your class rank.
LT. DOSEN: I’ve had my fair share of playful rivals. I guess it makes sense that rivals are often the people we are most similar to… fast forward many years and one of my best friends is someone I was in constant competition with all the way from when we were trying to select as pilots in college until the end of flight school.
The Hard Deck bar in Top Gun: Maverick is a pretty cool place. Of all the Naval and Air Force bases you’ve been to, do you have a favourite bar?
COL. RIDER: The Air Force’s version of Top Gun is the Weapons Instructor Course at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. That’s also where Red Flag [the annual air combat exercise] is based, so the bar there is always fun.
LT. DOSEN: Pensacola, Florida is the cradle of Naval Aviation, it is where every pilot begins training and also happens to be home to the famous Blue Angels — every Friday night the Officers' Club is bustling with “Flight Suit Friday” when new students who earned the right to wear a flight suit pick up the bar tab! The walls are adorned with memorabilia from students past and squadrons all over the world, regulars keep their own personalised beer steins hanging on the wall and everyone plays beer pong on an aircraft carrier-shaped table.
And the karaoking? Is that a common thing?
COL. RIDER: We do sing songs in our bars, but generally traditional fighter pilot songs, not the Righteous Brothers.
LT. DOSEN: When I was stationed in Hawaii and Japan, we loved karaoke! Every location seems to have a unique personality; in Texas, we did a lot of two-step line dancing… I’ve definitely acquired an eclectic set of skills.
Seriously, does anyone not wear a motorcycle helmet in Fighter Town? Or is this a Tom Cruise thing?
COL. RIDER: Top Gun is now at Fallon Air Station, no longer Miramar, and no, helmets are mandatory on all military bases for anyone who rides motorcycles.
LT. DOSEN: “That’s just Tom — like Iceman said, he’s dangerous!” The Navy requires the use of protective equipment so you would never really see that in real life!