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The Navy’s Elite TOPGUN Flight School Started in a Parking Lot Trailer

The best fighter pilot training in the world, made famous by the 1986 movie Superior gun, started inside a trailer docked in a California parking lot.

No seriously.

Although officially named the US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Coursethe prestigious TOPGUN school was established to increase the survivability of fighter aircraft during the Vietnam War.

A TOPGUN exhibit inside the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California depicts the school’s early years. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

“During the Vietnam War, Navy fighter pilots and crew were dying at an alarming rate,” the Navy Commander said. Dustin Peverill, a 20-year Navy veteran and TOPGUN instructor, told the defense department. “The Navy was losing a lot of planes and, more importantly, a lot of aircrew.”

In 1968, US Navy aircrew flying missions over Vietnam had an air combat kill/loss ratio of 2:1. Captain Frank Ault conducted an investigation into why the navy was suffering so many casualties. In his report he recommended the creation of an advanced flight program to train fleet fighter pilots in advanced air combat tactics.

In response, the United States Navy developed the Navy Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Miramar in California a year later.

“The four-week course began with a team of instructors covering American and Soviet aircraft types, weapons systems, and fighter training tactics in a 50-foot-long metal trailer at NAS Miramar” , according to a display inside the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California.

TOPGUN
A TOPGUN Adversary Instructor patch adorns the flight suit of Navy Lt. Joe Anderson of the U.S. Navy’s Combat Strike Tactics Instructor Program at Naval Air Station Fallon in Fallon, Nevada, May 11, 2021. DOD photo by EJ Hersom.

Captain Dan Pedersen, often referred to as the “godfather of TOPGUN,was the program’s first instructor. He recruited eight other pilots to set the standard for future generations of naval aviators.

« MiG [Soviet planes] had a better turn rate, so he could get around you and shoot you down,” Pedersen said. Weather magazine in 2019. “The Phantoms had great power, so we could overfly the MiGs in terms of speed. So we decided to go straight up, fly over them and fly up to a perfect position behind the MiG, and go for a tail shot. Then, with tactics like that, we were getting 24 enemies for each of us.

Pedersen said the movie Superior gun was about 55% positive. He praised the film’s cinematography, saying it was one of the best tactical aircraft sequences ever captured, but was concerned about the impact the film might have on perception. that the general public has pilots. Pedersen believed Superior gun failed to acknowledge the high stakes the pilots faced in Vietnam.

TOPGUN
A formation of US Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcats from Fighter Squadron 51 (VF-51) “Screaming Eagles” and VF-111 “Sundowners”, and Northrop F-5E/F Tiger IIs from the Navy Fighter Weapons School . These units were a vital part of the US Navy’s participation in the 1986 film Superior gun, providing the dogfight sequences that were his trademark. Note the fictitious markings on the tail of at least one of the F-14s. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

“In fact, we were probably working seven days a week, starting at 4:30 a.m.,” Pedersen said. “On Fridays, I would let the youngest people who lived in La Jolla out early, so they could party – that’s what young people are supposed to do – but most of us never came home. during the week I spent many nights sleeping in my car.

At the start of TOPGUN, after action reviews and debriefings were difficult to record during training exercises.

“Before each engagement, the pilots took brief notes of their speed, altitude and heading on ‘kneeboards,'” according to an exhibit at the USS Midway Museum. “Additional notes could be taken on their return to base, but to a large extent the pilots relied on their own perspectives and memories for the review.”

Archaic performance recording methods have resulted in highly subjective interpretations of exercise results. This gave rise to a common phrase heard in school: “The first driver on the board wins the fight.”

TOPGUN
“TOPGUN Class #1 graduates Lt. Steve Barkley and Lt. (jg) Jerry Beaulier after a 1970 MiG kill.” Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

The TOPGUN school also trains advisory instructors and air-to-air intercept controllers.

“Their job is to ensure that, from top to bottom – the CO down to all new aircrew – are trained in the latest tactics developed by TOPGUN,” Peverill told the DOD. “The return on investment the fleet gets from a TOPGUN graduate is not just an individual investment, it’s a community investment – ​​a Navy investment.”

Perhaps the most outrageous anecdote about the relationship between the school and the film was revealed by former TOPGUN instructor, Cmdr. Guy “Bus” Snodgrass in his book TOPGUN Top 10: Leadership lessons from the cockpit. Apparently, if any of the students are caught quoting from the movie, they are fined $5.

To which we would say, “Negative, Ghost Rider,” because it’s a price worth paying.

Read more : Air Force hijacks ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ to recruit future fighter pilots

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