Maverick’ with real TOPGUN fighter pilots

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Maverick' with real TOPGUN fighter pilots

TAMPA — Three fighter pilots walked into a bar on a Wednesday night. It was a particularly neon-colored bar in the lobby of the AMC Veterans 24 multiplex. Dozer bought a round of cold ones for Rock and Ratso. They had met minutes earlier but had already fallen into a casual conversation about where they had been and who they knew.

The occasion: an early screening of Top Gun: Maverick, the upcoming summer blockbuster that will resurrect Tom Cruise as the cheekiest Navy pilot to ever walk the screen, 36 years after the original Top Gun starred in him. made into the biggest movie star on earth. These guys had been waiting for this day.

“By watching clips on the Internet, I found things about the flight maneuvers that are more technically correct than the first film. It’s like, ‘This guy really does a split-S,'” said Brandon “Dozer” Sellers, a slim, 46-year-old sales rep for a technology company. He wore a Bremont watch specially made for his squadron and had a beaming face that looked clean cut even with a beard.

Quarterback-jawed, Chris “Rock” Petrock appeared to be at least a decade younger than his 51 years. “I will shamelessly say that I was part of the ‘Top Gun’ generation,” he said. He had six days left on active duty but had just started a civilian job at a defense contractor. He was in high school when the film premiered. “It was a driver for me to go to the Naval Academy.”

Mike “Ratso” Cariello, a 61-year-old American Airlines pilot, had a regulatory haircut and inquiring eyes. He had brought his TOPGUN business card. “I was in flight school in Beeville, Texas when it came out. Yes, it was a big deal.”

All three men had flown F/A-18 fighter jets like those in the new film Dozer and Rock with the US Navy, Ratso with the US Marines. Rock had graduated from the military’s elite Strike Fighter Tactics program known as TOPGUN in 2000. Ratso graduated from TOPGUN in the early 1990s and later returned to teach. He was there for seniors in San Diego, where both films are set. Dozer wasn’t a TOPGUN guy, he was an F/A-18 training pilot. Everyone lives here now.

From left, fighter pilots Mike “Ratso” Cariello, Brandon “Dozer” Sellers and Chris “Rock” Petrock. [ Mike “Ratso” Cariello, Brandon “Dozer” Sellers and Chris “Rock” Petrock ]

In the dark of the auditorium, Cruise’s “Maverick” and Miles Teller’s “Rooster” navigated their troubled relationship and their perilous mission to destroy a nuclear facility in an unnamed desert state. Dozer sat back and took notes on what came out.

The communication language is great. dagger attack. No, you do not ride your jet in the elevator.

When an extra in a bar scene thanked Maverick for paying everyone a round (a penance for the sin of leaving his phone on the bar counter), Dozer said loudly, “I know this guy.”

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Watching Rooster’s “Star Wars”-esque flight through the canyons play out on screen, Rock recognized an actual Navy training course. As the credits rolled, Cariello counted names he knew.

All three men smiled as they stepped back into the lobby light.

“I almost felt my hands moving as if trying to grab the controls.”

“How many damn training violations fit in one movie?”

“None of these guys would fly again.”

Laugh. They walked across the parking lot to another bar and another round on the patio. Drinking establishments were the focus of both films. Realistic?

Definitive. You are far away from your family, in a secluded place, said Ratso. A lot of bonding happens in the bar.

What about the speed? Is there really a… need?

“My wife absolutely hates the way I drive,” Dozer said.

Ratso estimated that the film depicted the “pulling of Gs” and featured a character who lost consciousness during an ascent from the strong gravitational force. This type of pressure physically pushes blood out of the brain. “Unfortunately, we lost all of the friends that G-locked,” he said. The men nodded.

The flying was a lot more realistic this time, they agreed, possibly because the actors were filmed in actual fighter jets (although they didn’t fly them). The jargon was almost spot on.

There were little things, of course: turns on climbs that would have torn an F/A-18 apart, pilots flying without masks, and a seemingly endless supply of fuel. Maverick himself would not only be disliked, but arrested.

And they had no memories of volleyball or beach soccer, à la Tom Cruise in jeans. Instead, they remembered a pilot game called Crud, which involved pool tables and lots of elbows, or adrenaline-pumping activities like rafting and skiing. Even golf, which they agreed fighter pilots love, always turned into intense competition.

Throughout an aviator’s career, every aspect of every flight is evaluated from takeoff to landing, and every name is listed daily on a board in the ready room for all to see. “From the moment you get into flight school, it’s all competition,” Dozer said. Another point for Top Gun realism.

Less authentic, Rock said, were the call signs. Everyone in Top Gun: Maverick has a cool one, like Phoenix, Coyote, and Hangman. “In reality, that’s not even close. …It usually has to do with a buffoon you’ve made. In fact, that’s what a callsign sets if the guy doesn’t like it.”

“Right,” said Dozer. “There aren’t many Mavericks flying around.”

“I actually knew a real Iceman,” Rock said, nodding to Val Kilmer’s character.

“For real?” said Dozer. “Did he give that to himself?”

“Dozer” was earned on a night out in the Pacific with a bottle of whiskey and a bulldozer. There is a story, “but I don’t want to embarrass the Japanese nation in any way.”

In Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise calls his crack squadron the best in the world at dropping bombs from high altitudes, but laments their inexperience at dogfighting. That, Dozer said, tells the true story of modern day air combat.

He had trained for air-to-air combat, of course, but never participated in it during his forward deployment from 2001 to 2004. The first American air-to-air kill in decades, but the last time American fighters actually did what was described in “Top Gun.” ‘ was Desert Storm.

Dozer thought about it, and for the first time that night seemed a little embarrassed about what he was about to say. “Is it great to be cruising at 35,000 feet, drinking from the water bottle and dropping things without risk? Secure. But maybe you wanted a little resistance? I do not know. It is very easy to say that you are sitting here at 1G.”

The night ebbed away. It was planned to have a drink at some point. As it turned out, they all lived in the same neighborhood. Dozer had a ticket to see Maverick again in a week. Ratso had one for two days later.

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