Inside the ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Fighter Jet

Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet is an innovative military asset, a global pop culture icon, and has ties to both the United States and India.

By Michael Gallant

May 2022

Inside the ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Fighter Jet

An F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet passes Lambert International Airport control tower in St. Louis, Missouri, home of Boeing’s F/A-18 factory. Photograph courtesy Boeing.

In 1986, Tom Cruise flew an F-14 Tomcat fighter plane into imaginations around the world with “Top Gun,” the global blockbuster that became the highest-grossing film of the year.

Now in 2022, Cruise is back in “Top Gun: Maverick” with a different military jet: the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet. The new plane is more than a dynamic set piece for on-screen adventure. It’s a versatile weapon used by the U.S. Navy and American allies around the world.

Versatile flying machine

One of the F/A-18 Super Hornet’s most interesting innovations is a concept borrowed from smartphones and tablets: a simple-to-use touch screen that allows pilots to quickly access all the information they need in-flight. The F/A-18 Super Hornet is also designed to better network and automatically share greater amounts of information with other jets in the air and command centers on the ground. This allows for smoother coordination on missions and makes the pilot’s ability to access all necessary data through a single touchscreen all the more important.

The newest F/A-18 Super Hornets, called “Block III” by Boeing, are built to enable use in combat missions for almost twice as long as their Block II predecessors. The jet can also travel farther, enabling it to conduct faraway operations while keeping its home-base aircraft carrier safely out of enemy range. And Boeing’s technicians have engineered the F/A-18 Super Hornet to more easily evade enemy attacks. Incoming missiles will have a harder time locking on to and tracking F/A-18 Super Hornets in-flight, increasing safety for the pilot and the plane.

Before in-air missions even begin, one of the F/A-18 Super Hornet’s key capabilities is taking off from a “ski jump,” an elevated ramp that helps launch planes into the air when they only have short runways on which to accelerate. While the U.S. Navy uses special catapults to launch planes from its aircraft carriers, ski jumps are commonly used by the Indian military to get jets airborne, making the plane’s capabilities a valuable asset.

Boeing may be an American company and the F/A-18 Super Hornet a key U.S. military asset, but the plane has also been introduced to Indian military leaders for possible use in Indian defense operations. Two F/A-18 Super Hornets were sent to the country for testing, demonstrations and drills. The jets’ software and other elements were adapted to function with India’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier, among other uses.

Washington and Hollywood work together

In a May 2022 article, The Washington Post reported that “Top Gun: Maverick” filmmakers worked with the Department of Defense Entertainment Media Office to verify the script. The office supports film production stakeholders like directors, location managers and actors in the production of both scripted and unscripted films. The military reviewers’ goal was to ensure that the movies represented military operations and equipment accurately while also respecting the privacy of military members and their families. “When I get a script, I don’t change the story,” said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Glen Roberts, the office’s leader, in his Washington Post interview. “I may say this isn’t authentic or this is wrong.”

Critics agree that the results of the collaboration between the U.S. military and the creative team of “Top Gun: Maverick” are stunning. “Director Joseph Kosinski’s film sticks to the flashy, unabashed bravado of the original while raising the emotional stakes and spectacular aerial stunts,” writes Renuka Vyavahare in The Times of India. “The effort to get every little detail about the aerial stunts right is outstanding and the sound and visuals accentuate that intent.”

Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.


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