Top Gun not only had an incredibly prolific influence on modern pop culture but is arguably one of the most awe-inspiring aviation movies ever made. Its story of one daredevil Tomcat pilot willing to buck the Navy system for guts and glory was responsible for a title wave of recruits in flight school after 1986, as well as the propulsion of Tom Cruise into the pantheon of action movie badasses. With heart-pounding aerial footage, attractive stars, and pounding ’80s music courtesy of Kenny Loggins, it left an impression on moviegoing audiences.
As awesome as many fans think Top Gun is, it has flaws like any other blockbuster. There are numerous ways in which the substance of true Naval aviation was sacrificed for the stylistic choices of Maverick’s piloting. There was the fact that Maverick was even allowed to go to the Top Gun school at all with his kind of report. And fuel gauges in the rear cockpit? Read all that and more, as we discuss 10 things that make no sense about Top Gun.
Updated on June 1st, 2022 by Kayleena Pierce-Bohen: With the recent release of Top Gun: Maverick, the much-anticipated sequel to Top Gun, fans of the original movie and those new to its legacy have been able to experience the thrill of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in a Tomcat cockpit once again, only this time giving the orders rather than disobeying them. In many ways, its attention to detail decades after the release of its predecessor only makes Top Gun make less sense than before.
15 The Plot (Or Lack Thereof)
The film opens with a flurry of insane aerial footage and then proceeds to focus on hotshot pilot Maverick’s antics, which subsequently get him chewed out, but also sent to the Top Gun school (because the Navy’s only other top pilot could hold it together slightly less).
Maverick’s sort of going for the Top Gun trophy (not a real thing), sort of trying to work through his daddy issues, and totally hooking up with his teacher. There’s a vague threat of “the Russians” with the MiG-28 subplot, but at its core, Top Gun has no real tension and no real plot, succeeding mostly as a fantastic recruitment ad and endorsement of male bonding.
14 Maverick Abandoning His Wingmate
Maverick is told under no uncertain terms by his flight instructor to “never leave your wingman,” and yet that’s exactly the sort of thing he gets a pass for, and not only that, allowed to remain at an academy of Top Gun’s caliber.
As the movie continues, Maverick proves his incompetence in a variety of ways, like flying through Iceman’s jetwash resulting in a flat spin, and yet he’s somehow still one of two pilots from Top Gun sent out to take on the Soviets. The carrier already should have had several fighter squadrons on board, if it was prepared at all to meet the MiG threat, but narrative imperative means it has to be Maverick.
13 High Speed Passes Over Active Runways & Flying Too Close
Flying F-14s is clearly dangerous, and only the most skilled and highly trained pilots are allowed to operate them. Training is drilled into them until it becomes second nature to them by flight instructors like Jester, yet even during routine exercises, there are times when Maverick and other pilots exhibit harmful flying that would get them grounded.
High-speed passes over active airways put not only themselves but aircrew in danger, and the F-14’s are flying so close to one another (especially during Maverick and Iceman’s competition) that they would be told to break off. If either Maverick or Iceman could have taken the shot against Jester, they should have taken it, because in a real battle, they wouldn’t be attempting to score individual points.
12 No One Listening To Iceman About Maverick’s Recklessness
As aggressive and pompous as Iceman comes across, his swagger is well-earned; he’s a technically more proficient pilot than Maverick. He’s calm under pressure, sticks to appropriate maneuvers, proves himself capable of coming up with a sound tactical strategy, and adheres to all regulations.
Yet for some reason, no one takes him seriously enough to heed his warnings about Maverick’s reckless flying. Because he’s arrogant he gets easily dismissed, considered bitter and jealous about a hotshot like Maverick gunning for the title that should be rightfully his.
11 Maverick Never Losing His Wings
Somehow, despite continuously doing things to royally upset his superiors and consistently putting his fellow pilots and RIOs in danger, Maverick never gets his wings clipped. Top Gun has some of the best stunts of Cruise’s career, but consider when he does a barrel-roll in full afterburner after the tower flyby.
That’s a major violation of the FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations), and we’re almost certain Maverick didn’t have an FAA waiver. He would have been chewed out, then he would have been thrown out. His report reads “wild card” and “unpredictable.” No pilot with that fitness report would be keeping his wings.
10 Goose’s Death
When Goose indicates on the radio that the Tomcat holding him and Maverick has lost an engine, it’s concerning for two reasons; one, because that means they’re going to plummet to the ground in a hurry, and also because there are no engine instruments in the F-14 rear cockpit (so how did he discern that?).
Goose explains that their altitude is dropping, from 8,000 to 6,000 feet (his altimeter actually shows 2,200). He should have already ejected. In a flat spin that can be verified by altitude, increasing yaw rate, and G rate, with a lack of pitch, canopy jettison has to occur as per NATOPS specifications, then the RIO ejects. Had he followed procedures, one of the best action movie sidekicks wouldn’t have died.
9 Maverick Receiving Goose’s Dogtags
Goose’s death isn’t technically Maverick’s fault, but Maverick takes it the hardest and blames himself. He doesn’t know if he wants to continue to be a pilot, and he’s full of so much self-doubt that he questions his ability to effectively handle himself under pressure.
Maverick was Goose’s best friend when he was alive, but who would normally receive Goose’s dog tags? His wife and children. Yet Maverick’s friendship with Goose trumps them, something it would seem Maverick should be grateful for and consider an incredible privilege.
8 The Chain Of Command
From the minute we see James Tolkan on the screen, his bald head glistening as he reads Maverick the riot act, we’re immediately aware of two things: this guy has a superiority complex, and he’s not adhering to proper Navy conduct.
The crew on Navy ships don’t just walk in wearing cover unless they have watch duty on the bridge of the ship. Also, for someone who acts like he has so much authority, what is he exactly? A CO? A CAG? As an 0-5 in the film, he has a junior rank in the chain of command, but a really swanky stateroom.
7 Maverick’s Handling Of The Tomcat
In the film, in an effort to make it look like he knows what he’s doing, Cruise flips a bunch of switches and hits a bunch of toggles and nobs. He goes for a “missile lock” during a flight by turning a nob related to the mid-compression bypass, which has nothing to do with the Tomcat’s weapons array.
While there’s no doubt the aerial maneuvers in Top Gun make it one of Cruise’s best action movies, if the two planes were really as close as they appear with Maverick’s fancy 4-G inverted roll, the MiG-28 would be getting jammed by the Tomcat’s vertical stabs. Maverick also “hits the breaks” by moving the throttles forward, which would increase power.
6 Top Gun
Besides the fact that it seems nebulous at best how two outliers like Goose and Maverick would even get a shot at Top Gun, there are a number of other entrants who don’t seem like they belong there either. Like Slider, who’s a lieutenant, and too junior for a spot at Top Gun.
Also, there isn’t any Top Gun trophy that exists, so making that a focus for the pilots and RIOs seems pointless, especially since no one really cares when Iceman wins it. It’s Maverick’s story after all, and even though he isn’t the best pilot, he’s more entertaining.
5 The MiG Information
When Maverick gets called into the ship’s captain/0-5’s fancy stateroom to get chewed out along with Goose, he tries to tell him about the MiGs they engaged. The 0-5 then states, “You can tell me about the MiG some other time,” and then waves off the pair to go attend Top Gun.
Beyond the fact that these two probably wouldn’t be going to Top Gun even if Cougar washed out, why would their superior officer commit career suicide like that? He failed to get the only information from their little pow-wow that his superiors would be interested in. Top Gun: Maverick is better than Top Gun if for no one reason than the accuracy of handling sensitive military intelligence.
4 The Briefing
Why exactly is there a briefing in a hangar bay, exactly? Is this really the best option for flight briefs or detailed instruction from Charlie? Also, there are all sorts of slack regulations when it comes to what the students are wearing, especially those in covers and those without.
Maverick was really particular about who he revealed his MiG information to (evidently no one higher up than himself), but he blurts out all sorts of details of his interaction with it to a very open hangar filled with people of all different levels of clearance.
3 Charlie Falling For Maverick
When Maverick and Charlie meet at the local bar, neither of them is really aware of each other’s position at Top Gun. Charlie knows Maverick is a pilot and a hopeful graduate, but he has no idea that she’s going to be giving the morning tactical briefing.
He doesn’t start off as a catch; he doggedly pursues her all over the club, into the women’s bathroom, and generally acts like an arrogant jerk. He then continues this arrogant display at her briefing, interrupting her left and right. When they finally go on a date, he’s late and asks to “take a shower.” What exactly does Charlie see in this cocky, disrespectful hot-shot?
2 Charlie Coming Back To Maverick
At the end of the film, we learn that Charlie is going to take a pretty prestigious gig in Washington D.C., leaving Maverick to decide what his next moves are. He seems to be leaning towards Top Gun instructor, though Lord knows why any brass would let him be responsible for shaping young minds.
And then just like that, Charlie is back, as it seems she couldn’t stay away from Maverick and his wild, unpredictable ways. Perhaps, like what happens in every Cruise movie, his character has had an epiphany, and is committed to self-improvement; why would she throw away such a big promotion on Maverick?
1 Maverick Only Learning The Value Of Teamwork At The End
Top Gun makes Maverick out to be a hero, despite the fact that his decisions directly put lives in danger. While his individualistic attitude is derided by his superiors, he’s given chance after chance to get things done “his way.”
He doesn’t learn the value of teamwork until the very end, perhaps because up until that point, his antics have been given a pass. The Navy might publicly distance themselves from him, but make no mistake, Maverick is the hero of the movie fans are supposed to want to emulate.
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