Best Of The Web: What Top Gun Pilots Really Think Of Maverick


“Top Gun Maverick” is cleaning up at the box office ($747 million worldwide) and has established itself as the summer blockbuster it was promised to be. Meanwhile, pilot blogs and channels continue to dissect and review it. This one, from the Fighter Pilot Podcast, is one of the more interesting discussions between three pilots who are all former Top Gun instructors. These are sophisticated, educated pilots and well understand that the point of a movie is to entertain and make money. “It’s not a documentary,” is the oft-repeated phrase.

What I found most interesting was the discussion between Dave “Chip” Berke and channel host Vincent “Jell-O” Aiello about the dramatic difference in capability between Gen 4 fighters like the F-18 and F-16 and Gen 5 machines like the F-35, F-22 and the imaginary Su-57 depicted in the film. As an exchange pilot, Berke has flown all the U.S. Gen 5s and talks about his impressions of how capable they are. He described these 5th gen fighters as “comedically, wildly better than anything flying” and that it’s not an exaggeration to say the best defense for a Gen 4 pilot against a Gen 5 aircraft is to not be in the same airspace with it. When asked if the manned jet fighter is on way out as a mainstream weapons system, Berke said he could imagine one more generation of manned fighters before the robots take over. Sixth Gen fighters are now in the design phase. They are considered pilot optional.

There’s also interesting discussion about what instructors look for in pilots at the Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, which is now the formal name for Top Gun. A key characteristic? Humility. The ability to recognize errors and accept the training to fix them. We could all use a little bit of that.

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  1. Paul, a quick correction note for you: Dave “Chip” Berke is the panel participant that flew the 5th gen platforms.

  2. Saying the SU-57 is a Gen 5 fighter is a joke. It barely qualifies as Gen 4+ with an RCS slightly smaller than the SU-35 and the ability to carry some internal munitions. They’ve crashed 2 of the 12 built, can’t keep the engines from exploding and it’s range is hampered by it’s lack of volume. Ivan might have fixed the problems with the “Felon” if India hadn’t pulled out of the project and Adolf Putin hadn’t elected to destroy his entire military in a pointless war against the rest of the world.
    The jury’s still out on the ChiCom’s J-10 also but building assets to counter future threats, perceived or otherwise, keeps the Military Industrial Complex occupied and I’m okay with that.

  3. Fighter pilot training… you would think they would all be required to fly at fighter pilot standards if you are flying a fighter.
    Always seemed odd they were being trained to be fighter pilots coming from the fleet, in combat…

  4. 1962 Aden Protectorate, aka Yemen, keeping the Queens Peace, not always an easy task. Target a rebel fort in a deep wadi in high mountains. Elevation, temperature, altimeter setting uncertain. This writer then a 24 year old Flight Lieutenant (Captain USAF) leading 4 ship Hunter formation, 2x FR10 armed with 4 30mm Aden guns, & two FGA9 carrying 8 x 60lb rockets. The lead pair dive attack with guns from 2000’agl at 540kts leaving at 250′ and 600kts avoiding rocks and indignant tribesmen with .5 machine guns. The high pair dive from 4000′ releasing at approx 3000′, I recall seeing the shadow on the desert floor of the high pair as we left, the rockets strike at Mach 1 with a loud bang so it seemed wise to be elsewhere at that time. Then climb to 40000′ and return to base with 5mins fuel remaining on landing. If the awaiting ground crew start pointing then you have battle damage, no paper work to report in those days. Off to the Officers Mess for a cold beer with lunch, unless scheduled for another mission. I have been shown over the RAF Typhoon, a world away from my Hunter. Likewise civil flying in the old Viscount was a world away from my beautiful Boeing 747-400, both now like the Hunter flown into history.

    • Words . . . Yours are thought provoking and paint a picture of a harrowing moment in time . . . a moment that few could ever appreciate except those who experienced them. Flying off into history sounds pretty nice! Thank You!

  5. Still haven’t seen the movie and I’m in no rush. Not sure why. I really just don’t care. I really like airplane movies. Just not all that excited over this one.

    • If you like airplane movies, then go see it. When there is little interest shown in a film’s topic, i.e. aviation-related, those types of movies are far and few between. One, storyline/screenplays don’t get picked up, and two, producers have a hard time getting backing to make an aviation picture…and if a similar prior project did not make money, especially with the extra high costs to make a good or great flying story, after getting burned, they and others are reluctant to take another shot at aviation.