April 09, 2021

The Top Gun Rant

Apologies for the lack of Aurora this week. I've been busy, and to make up for it, I offer something else.

Top Gun was on Amazon Prime, and while I've seen it before, I figured it was worth watching again for your benefit. First, the title is wrong. As Neptunus Lex says, the name is TOPGUN. One word, all caps, don't ask. We start with some fairly nice carrier ops footage. Besides a rather silly soundtrack, I'd also accuse them of erasing everything that isn't an F-14.

And then we get to the black-painted F-5s. They're very clearly F-5s. This is almost Pearl Harbor levels of bad. And why does that display show a 360° sweep? That is not how most aircraft radars work. And then they're called MiG-28s. That's a very odd-looking transport, to say nothing of what it's doing trying to dogfight with an F-14. (Until quite recently, all Soviet/Russian fighters had odd numbers, while some attack aircraft and transports had even numbers.) And then we get into dogfighting, which is done at ludicrously close range. Also, there's no way to tell that someone has locked on with an IR missile, and I don't think most radar-homing missiles work at that range.

And then we have "Cougar", the pilot with a tragic skin condition who panics. The USN is pretty good at screening for that. There's no way the LSOs don't wave off a plane that's gyrating that much, and I'm pretty sure that disobeying an order like Tom Cruise did gets you grounded, not sent to TOPGUN.

And who the heck lets people drive motorcycles along the taxiway? Or even onto the runway, if the last shot is to be believed. Some stupid headbutting (not that I think that doesn't exist among fighter pilots, but I don't think it's this bad) and the terrible romance subplot. Much like Pearl Harbor, I'm not going to belabor the flaws there. I'm a naval enthusiast, not a film critic. Also, I'm noting that there don't seem to be any Marine pilots in the background. I suppose the Corps never flew F-14s, but I'd be surprised if they didn't send F-4 pilots to TOPGUN, at least before the F/A-18 showed up.

Our civilian rep, callsign "Charlie". Why does a civilian have a callsign? Also, what's with the PhD in astrophysics? I'm not saying it's impossible (Norman Friedman has a physics PhD and was an expert on the Soviets in this era) but it's not exactly connected. (Christine Fox, the inspiration for Charlie, was given the honorary callsign "Legs", but I don't think she had a PhD.) "The F-5 doesn't have the thrust-to-weight ratio that the MiG-28 has." What the heck are the Soviets doing with their transports? Or is it supposed to do Credible Sport? Also, this is not the sort of thing you do in a hangar, because SCIFs are a thing if you're talking about classified stuff. Also, this is not the sort of conversation you have in the middle of a mission brief.

"The jets you're facing are smaller, faster and more maneuverable." That is not how A-4s work when you're flying an F-14. The A-4 is a nasty opponent in a turning fight, but it's not supersonic. At least the aerial footage is nice, even if they are using a long lens to make it look way closer than it is. Also, they're way below the hard deck (quite early) given how they're running around the landscape. And then there's the buzzing of the tower, in violation of every possible safety regulation. But they were apparently below the hard deck. I'm very much sympathizing with Iceman here. Maverick is dangerous and should not be anywhere near a naval aircraft. I'm surprised that Viper tells him "obey them or you're history", instead of just "you're history".

And now we have the famous volleyball scene. Which isn't technically part of the romance plot, so I'm allowed to talk about it. Specifically, I'm pretty sure that naval aviation has yet to live it down.

So his father disappeared in an F-4 20 years ago, and nobody knows anything? This is not exactly normal. Even less normal is holding it against him, as the accident rate was extremely high back then. Also, someone is extremely confused about geography. I can see the Coronado Bridge in the back of some of the shots, and Miramar is way too far north. Also also, hackneyed romantic plot.

And then we have Maverick dropping off the chase to go after Viper. Seriously, this is a thing they teach you early. What is wrong with you, and how have you not been failed out yet? Why is Tom Cruise the hero, when everyone else in the movie is, you know, sane?

And then he has a flame-out after getting too close, which is why you don't get too close. I'm amazed at how close they've been getting. And poor Goose. Martin-Baker makes good seats. At least Pete will get a tie out of it. Although now that I think about it, Goose hit pretty far back along the canopy. I'm surprised that Maverick didn't hit it, too. Also, annoyed. And that must have been the fastest inquiry in all of human history to get him back to flight status and not force him to delay to a later class.

And then he goes to visit Viper and find out the truth about what happened to his father. Getting shot down in aerial combat is the sort of thing which tends to leak as rumors, even if the State Department tells them not to. Not everyone is as scrupulous about security as they should be. Also, "bogey" is an unidentified contact. Once you know it's hostile, it's a "bandit". And then we have Pete doing his runway incursion bit on the motorcycle again.

The scene at the party makes no sense. If there's an urgent crisis, the ship on station will handle it. You're looking at a couple days to get people out there, and for what? Did they suddenly have 2.5 crews go down? What about the bit where you spend a bunch of time working with the rest of your squadron? Did Maverick and Goose get sent to TOPGUN in the middle of a cruise? Because no. Just no. That's the sort of thing people do when they're back home after a cruise. And Viper says for Maverick to call him if he doesn't have a RIO? No self-respecting Tomcat jock would offer to do that, for several reasons, including lack of training, and ego.

"The communications ship SS Layton". Explain that again. So it's not actually USN? "Become disabled and wandered into foreign territory?" That's not right. You might say "drifted", but not "wandered". Also, MiGs carrying Exocet? That is not right. Oh, and Tom Cruise has developed a skin condition like the one Cougar had. Good. Maybe he won't be able to make a sequel.

Look, the F-5s are back. And it's pretty easy to tell Sidewinder from Exocet. I guess it's good that the Soviets copied Sidewinder, or I'd really have something to complain about. Also, what is the point of having at least two squadrons of F-14s if you're only going to put up two aircraft, even though "tensions are high"? And someone really needs to explain why the F-5 gets radar lock, then uses a Sidewinder/Atoll at a range that's close for guns. And the order when a plane gets hit isn't "launch Maverick and the rescue helicopter", it's "launch everyone". That's an act of war. Also, why does the MiG have a gatling gun? The Soviets didn't use those. And why does whoever that guy is not know that Cats 3 and 4 are broken? For that matter, why not shoot them off the bow cats? You just fired Tom Cruise off Cat 1. (Too bad you sent a Tomcat with him.) And there's no way to get a Tomcat from the carrier to a dogfight in the amount of time shown. Airplanes are fast, but you've said he was 160 miles out. And what about the other alert fighter? Where was it? Fighters always travel in pairs.

OK. Maverick just made the first kill. At least they used an appropriate weapon, but the Sidewinder's warhead is pretty small, and why did it home in on the wing root, anyway? Also, the Sidewinders and Atolls both seem to have pretty smoky motors, but I can't say for sure that it's wrong. Now it's Iceman's turn. "I've got radar lock, good tone, taking the shot." First, what happened to Fox? Second, why do you need radar if you're using a Sidewinder? Also, that missile you just fired was a Sparrow, not a Sidewinder, and there's no way it will work at the range you're at. Assuming it works at all. And if you were using a Sparrow, why did you need a tone? Also, way too much damage from a hit. Planes are not made of nitroglycerine. Also, please note that at one point, we see flashes from each wing root as one of the F-5s fires. I don't know of any plane with dual gatling guns, except maybe the AC-130. And then we have another Sparrow at close range. At least this one missed. And then Maverick uses another Sparrow right after we get a tone (THESE ARE NOT THE SAME THING!) and this one hits. There's the last hit and the remaining MIGs leave. And they just let them go. This might have been acceptable under Carter, but Reagan is in charge now, and the ROE are different. Also, did you people forget about the Phoenix missiles? Or how many slots a Tomcat has? 2 Sparrow/2 Sidewinder loadouts are the sort of thing you fit to a normal CAP, not to the backup you'll send out if there's trouble. Particularly because they're on the Enterprise and "Crazy Bob" is in command.

On the whole, this is a stupid movie, but with some nice aerial scenes. At some point after the sequel comes out, I'll have to tear it to bits.


  1. April 09, 2021beleester said...

    Speaking from a writing standpoint, rather than a realism standpoint, I didn't like most of the aerial scenes. A good fight scene should make it easy to understand the stakes - where the combatants are, who has the upper hand, what tools they have to attack and defend with - but Top Gun's fighter scenes might as well be happening in a blue void. Half the time the two planes aren't even in the same shot, and the other half the time you can't see the horizon so the planes could be upside-down for all you know. When Tom Cruise was boasting about how he gave a MiG pilot the finger while in a 4G inverted dive, all I could think was "That was a dive? I couldn't tell."

    (This is one place where filming with real planes might actually be a handicap, since it's a lot harder to put your camera in a good spot to capture the action.)

    The dialogue doesn't really help either. Charlie says some vague stuff about how Maverick doesn't fly by the book but it seems to work out, but I have no idea what she means by that. Aside from the iconic "hit the brakes and they'll fly right by" scene, it's really unclear what the pilots are doing when they're maneuvering.

    As a sports movie, it's not bad, but the action wasn't that enjoyable. Ace Combat had better dogfights than this.

    (Not that the Ace Combat series even pretends to be realistic, but it's damn fun and you definitely understand what's happening in any given action scene.)

  2. April 09, 2021Matt B said...

    Ya I've never been a fan of Top Gun. It always just felt wrong. The aerial scenes were not good.

  3. April 09, 2021Unbalanced Tree said...

    The sequel, Hot Shots, is much better.

  4. April 10, 2021Anonymous said...

    I suppose the Corps never flew F-14s, but I'd be surprised if they didn't send F-4 pilots to TOPGUN, at least before the F/A-18 showed up.

    The primary mission of the US Navy Army Air Force is CAS so I wouldn't expect there to be as many at an air combat school.

    And then he has a flame-out after getting too close, which is why you don't get too close. I'm amazed at how close they've been getting.

    Also why you shouldn't power a fighter with a TF30.

    I don't know of any plane with dual gatling guns, except maybe the AC-130.

    Did they really have to be Gatling guns? Not that the Soviets didn't have some but they preferred really fast firing conventional guns (though twin GSh-6-23s would be pretty formidable).


    (This is one place where filming with real planes might actually be a handicap, since it's a lot harder to put your camera in a good spot to capture the action.)

    The biggest problem was that they had to use an existing aircraft they could get their hands on while if they used models or CG they'd be able to make it look like anything.

  5. April 10, 2021Mike Kozlowski said...

    ....The Satellite of Love tells us: "If you're wondering how he eats and breathes, and other science facts (FA LA LA) just repeat to yourself it's just a show; I should really just relax."

    And if it's any consolation, I had many a USN recruiter tell me that 'Top Gun' was a horrifying disaster for them in that a disturbing number of potential recruits firmly believed it was about the Air Force. ;)

  6. April 11, 2021Johan Larson said...

    Are there any military movies that have won your approval, Bean?

  7. April 11, 2021Neal said...

    Top Gun was truly an embarrassing movie. I can't believe the Navy signed on to it as they had done better before.

    The Bridges at Toko-Ri had great flying scenes with the Panther in it (although I doubt the would have been in fingertip during the photo run) including a 12 ship and carrier ops.

    Here is a quick review: https://youtu.be/K46-MRxjteU Amazing the HD like quality for 1954 including the airborne shots. Was it Panavision? High quality 35mm?

    Have to appreciate an aircraft that was flown by the likes of Ted Williams to Neil Armstrong.

    Final Countdown also had a few good flying scenes including one in which they VERY nearly spashed a Tomcat.

  8. April 11, 2021cassander said...

    I'll leave you all with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyAn3fSs8_A

  9. April 11, 2021bean said...

    Yes, there are. Greyhound was very well done, and I felt was worse as a movie/storytelling than in its portrayal of the battle. There are some older ones that work, I liked The Final Countdown, and I genuinely like Battleship, although more in a so bad it's good way, and because there's an aspect of wish fulfillment.

  10. April 12, 2021Blackshoe said...

    [I thought it was and is fine]

  11. April 12, 2021Blackshoe said...

    On the Subject of Callsigns: the USN Aviation community is deeply in love with giving people callsigns. Even people who will never be in a cockpit. So in that sense, I can see Charlie having a callsign.

    I'm actually not even sure there's a tactical reason for personal callsigns anymore, but we still have them. Given the controversies they've caused, I'm somewhat surprised they haven't been killed yet.

  12. April 12, 2021Anonymous said...


    and I genuinely like Battleship, although more in a so bad it's good way, and because there's an aspect of wish fulfillment.

    The lesser known American Warship took the same premise and made a better movie (Battleship was a porno for warship fans with a plot to match), bean might even .


    Given the controversies they've caused, I'm somewhat surprised they haven't been killed yet.

    Topgun managed to create a really bad callsign that I'm surprised they didn't get in trouble.

  13. April 12, 2021Jack said...

    Something I want to know is what makes the air traffic controller on the carrier think he can order a pilot to land his aircraft. Maverick was the pilot-in-command and both the USAF, USN, and FAA give that discretion to their pilots in emergency. He would have been punished if he had crashed, but there is a reason he was sent to Topgun after that stunt.

    Another question. Why does Maverick not have Top Secret clearance?

  14. April 12, 2021bean said...

    Why does Maverick not have Top Secret clearance?

    Because, unlike everyone else in the movie, the people doing security investigations are competent.

  15. April 12, 2021Blackshoe said...

    Another question. Why does Maverick not have Top Secret clearance?

    Not sure about the 1980s, but I'm not convinced a random pilot in a squadron today would have a TS clearance, either. Not all jobs are coded to have them.

  16. April 13, 2021Anonymous said...

    As I understand the US military requires a minimum of secret clearance for pilots though some aircraft and missions require higher so not having top secret doesn't seem all that unrealistic.

  17. April 14, 2021John Schilling said...

    As a general rule, for a publicly-known system the performance and operational details (i.e. the stuff a pilot needs to know) is only going to be Secret. The same goes for the general performance of enemy systems. How we know the performance of enemy systems, is Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information.

    So "Maverick" just needs a Secret, "Charlie" needs TS/SCI and I can guess at some of her compartments, and as noted, nobody with any sense is giving Maverick an SCI.

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