Viewers coming out of Top Gun: Maverick this weekend will want to know one thing: are the actors really flying those fighter jets? The short answer is: yes.
Tom Cruise, who returns as “Maverick,” is known for doing his own stunts and he wanted his stars Miles Teller, Monica Barbaro and Glen Powell to learn to fly. That’s where the film’s aerial coordinator, Kevin LaRosa Jr., came in.
LaRosa Jr. worked with Cruise to put together an intense flight program that began with the cast flying in a smaller aircraft. “We started with the Cessna 172 and took it through the basics of flying. It allowed them to see what it’s like to take off and land and know where to look and where to put their hands,” LaRosa said. Junior explained. This launch plane also allowed the actors to get a feel for what a small G-force feels like.
And just like in a real training program, once the actors were comfortable with it, they moved on to the next level and it was into the Extra 300 aerobatic plane. “It was similar to what the general public would see at an air show and these planes do crazy maneuvers. It can pull up to eight g forces. It’s exciting,” says LaRosa Jr.
Again, practice would build their G-tolerance. “It’s almost like muscle memory for me. If I don’t fly for a long time, I might wake up and get sick. But if I fly everyday and pull these Gs it’s almost like brain muscle and you’ll get used to it and get better. He adds, “We built them up to the point where they mostly didn’t get sick.”
Next came the L-39 Albatross. “It allowed them to experience a combat trainer. When they graduated from there, we had aviators.” LaRosa Jr. adds that some cast members are working to get their full license. Glen Powell, who plays Hangman, got his.
When the actors were filmed in F/A-18, LaRosa Jr. says, “They felt confident and they felt good. They were used to those G-forces and could then focus on working with Joseph and Tom to tell this amazing story.” He continues, “They didn’t have to worry about flying through canyons in this high-performance fighter plane flew.”
As someone who has dedicated his life to aerial coordination, flying and teaching, LaRosa Jr. commends the cast’s talent. Barbaro, he says, was the most impressive. “She absolutely nailed it and was adjusting well to the physiological effects of it all.”
Equally impressive was Powell, who fell ill while filming the F/A-18 scenes. Says LaRosa Jr., “He would go and mind his business and then get right back in the game. One of the most impressive things was seeing how some of the cast were able to process that and recover.”
The training program prepared the actors, and when they were ready to fly and film, Cruise’s determination to achieve the best possible performance was fulfilled.
For the mission training program that the pilots participate in, LaRosa Jr. says jet-to-jet photography allows audiences to go live with the fighter jets, while IMAX cameras are on the inside and outside of the F/A-18 were attached. “As an audience, it feels like we’re driving in with them.” LaRosa Jr. adds, “When you mix all these things together, you end up with the perfect blend of aerial storytelling. It’s a perfect blend of living with our actors absolutely sitting in these planes maneuvering and pulling Gs and also letting the audience see where we need to orientate spatially and seeing these planes fly low and in and around the Maneuver around training area. ”