I loved the movie "Top Gun" when it came out in 1986 and have been impatiently waiting for the sequel to be available.
The only thing better than watching Top Gun is watching Top Gun with a real Top Gun Instructor!
My enthusiasm for the new movie has been all the more intense because one of my very best friends is a retired Top Gun pilot and instructor -- Capt. Donald "DIRT" Kingery (photo above -- note the patch on Don's shirt matches the patch on Tom Cruise's shirt!).
Don and I met in my early days working At Scripps Research at the introduction of another good friend, Dan Schrokosch (thank you, Danny!). My greatest adventure with Don was flying back seat in a fighter jet piloted by Don in 2014!
Don, Shirley, Nan and I wanted to do Top Gun Maverick the right way, so here are all the things we did to maximize the experience!
March 14, 2022 - Lunch with the Quiet Birdmen
Don invited me to go as his guest to a meeting of the "Quiet Birdmen", a secretive club in the United States for male aviators. Members, called QBs, must be invited to join, and they join for life.
The club's membership is organized into regional "hangars" -- Don took me to the Palomar Hangar (PAL) meeting.
The guest speaker was Capt. Greg "CHASER" Keithley who presented his experiences as the technical advisor on "Top Gun Maverick". Chaser is the current Executive Director of the Tailhook Association. His extensive resume with the US Navy includes piloting the F-14 Tomcat and the F/A-18 Hornet.
Before the Master of Ceremonies introduced Chaser, he introduced Pete "VIPER" Pettigrew. Pete gave a shout-out to "DIRT", making me very proud to be sitting at Don's table.
For those of you who saw the original Top Gun movie, you will remember that one of the main characters was "Viper" -- a role modeled after Pete. Pete had a cameo role in the first movie in the first bar scene -- Pete was the "older" man sitting with Kelley McGillis. Here is an article about Pete, his amazing career, and his cameo role:
Chaser gave a compelling presentation describing the making of the movie and verifying the real flying footage that we have all enjoyed in the new movie. I couldn't believe that I got to meet these legends at lunch -- all courtesy of Don.
April 24, 2022 - Revisiting Top Gun
The four of us decided that we needed a repeat showing of the original Top Gun before seeing the sequel. So Don and Shirley invited Nan and I to their house for snacks, dinner, and a movie. As you would expect, the kitchen was decorated with Top Gun memorabilia:
Don wore his official Top Gun golf shirt!
We used Top Gun wine glasses:
and Top Gun cocktail napkins:
And then we watched the movie! We all enjoyed seeing Pete Pettigrew in his cameo role!
May 9, 2022 - The USS Midway Museum
Next, Don took me and Nan to visit the USS Midway aircraft carrier which is now a museum here in San Diego (Fighter Town USA).
Don had arranged for our tour to be guided by the legendary USS Midway veteran, Bud "THUNDER" Taylor.
In 1972, Bud Taylor was a pilot in VF-161, flying missions from the USS Midway over Vietnam. In 1986, he became the commanding officer of VF-151, once again flying from the Midway. We could not have had a more knowledgeable tour guide than Bud for this memorable day!
Bud had us going below deck, above deck, up and down narrow hatches and ladders, crawling all over the ship and all the aircraft on display.
No question went unanswered and each story was more interesting that the previous one. Bud's pride in the USS Midway and the Top Gun pilots easily rubbed off on all of us. Here is a great shot of Don, me and Bud with one of the F14's on display at the Midway.
We could have probably spent a week on the Midway and not seen everything that Bud wanted to show us. When we finally parted ways I was absolutely ready to see the new movie.
June 10, 2022 - The Movie
It was now finally time to go see TOP GUN - Maverick.
Nan scored us some great seats front and center at the Cinepolis theater here in Carlsbad. With drinks and popcorn delivered to our seats we were ready for 131 minutes of fighter-pilot heaven.
We marveled at the way that the new movie folded in themes from the first: how "GOOSE's" son, "ROOSTER", played a key role, providing a tension that was not resolved until the end of the movie; the bar scene in which "Great Balls of Fire" was played on the piano - echoing the past; reprising Val Kilmer's role as "ICE" while converting him from competitor to counselor; the speeding motorcycle scenes; the small cottages of San Diego; that unforgettable Tom Cruise smile; and all the poignant flash backs.
At the same time, the new movie established its own theme -- contemporary and fact-filled. Best of all, as everyone has said, was the truly amazing photography of real people, flying in real aircraft, performing real maneuvers with cameras capturing the reality of modern fighter aircraft.
As the movie ended with a P51D doing barrel rolls into the setting sun, the theater slowly emptied. The four of us remained seated, watching the credits roll. Finally, we saw what we had waited for . . . the listing of Capt. Greg "CHASER" Keithley getting recognized as the person who made the transition from the screenplay to the film. A perfect ending and so satisfying to see this odyssey go full circle from the Quiet Birdmen luncheon of months before.
So, this should be the end of the story, right?
Don's encore will be to take us to Oceanside to visit the original Top Gun house, which has been relocated and converted to a pie shop! Hey, Don -- my treat!