Military Aviation

Beyond Top Gun: Maverick Trailer: the CGI’ed Gate Guardian F-14A (along with her three ‘MiG-28’ Kills from the First Film) and Everything No One Told You About the Sequel of the 1986 Film Classic

Don’t believe all that you see on screen, especially the black jet seen departing NAWS China Lake in the closing seconds of the new trailer!

The internet was set ablaze on Dec. 16, 2019 when the new trailer of Top Gun: Maverick debuted (the first one was released on Jul. 18).

Former US Navy Topgun Instructor and F/A-18 Hornet pilot Vincent “Jell-O” Aiello provided an in-depth look at the various scenes of the latest trailer of the sequel of the 1986 film classic few hours later it was released in the following video.

Nevertheless, as Mike Crutch, author of the book CVW: US Navy Carrier Air Wing Aircraft 1975-2015, told to The Aviation Geek Club “Jell-O’s YouTube review is fine but he gets a few things wrong, as follows:

“The ‘Area 51’-type jet scene is at China Lake, not Fallon.

“Two Super Hornets (an E and a F, the latter shown in your photo below) were painted in the TOPGUN special scheme, presumably to ease CGI’ing shots of Maverick appearing in his own E model.

“The flag he can’t identify in the P-51 hangar is the fake VF-1 badge (based on the real insignia of VAW-110, an E-2C Hawkeye squadron that was based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar ) that was worn on Maverick’s jet in ‘Top Gun’.”

Crutch added some interesting details about the gate guardian F-14 Tomcat shown in the latest trailer of Top Gun: Maverick.

“Aside from the CGI’ed flying Tomcat (based on BuNo 159631 that we’ve featured before, being the F-14A borrowed from the San Diego Aerospace Museum’s Gillespie Field annex), the new trailer featured a CGI’ed gate guardian F-14A showing MODEX 114 (which adorned a number of VF-51 jets plus a VF-114 example for ‘Top Gun’ filming in 1985) along with three ‘MiG-28’ kills from the first film.

“It’s possible they used BuNo 158623 as the basis for this, preserved on a pedestal at Point Mugu though there are subtle differences between that jet and the one shown in the trailer (the chin-mounted pod for one). In any case, you can clearly see in the background the main gate of NAS North Island, part of Naval Base Coronado and the only jet in this same spot is a pole-mounted A-4 Skyhawk!

“The flying F-14 can only be CGI despite the quote of the production company that ‘all flying scenes are real’; I’m hearing they mapped the CGI’ed F-14 onto Super Hornet footage to try and keep things convincing.”

Noteworthy as we have previously reported F-14A Tomcat (S/N 160694), one of a valiant few that was used in the 1986 Blockbuster Movie, Top Gun and that which displayed Lt. Mitchell’s name and callsign plus that of his new RIO, Ltjg. Sam “Merlin” Wells, is currently on display aboard USS Lexington Corpus Christi, TX, and is on loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS

According to David F. Brown’s book Tomcat Alley: A Photographic Roll Call of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, 160694 was assigned to VF-51 during the making of the movie and received full Top Gun movie markings. The aircraft featured the fictious VF-1 badge. During the movie it was also equipped as a camera ship and shot many of the dramatic air-to-air ACM footage. This Tomcat was stricken on Sep. 26, 1994.

The USS Lexington museum has been working to restore this F-14 to a VF-84 Jolly Rogers paint scheme and protect it before the elements deteriorate this aircraft movie star.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F/A-18F Super Hornet VFA-103 Jolly Rogers, AG201 / 166621 / 2007

Crutch added some interesting notes about the CGI used in the movie: “the Super Hornet flying scenes will be something to behold although be aware plenty of CGI will be used to embellish scenes.

“Look at the following screengrab taken from the first trailer. This uses North Island as the base for the shot (Point Loma off to the right, and centre you can see the E-2 Hawkeye radome testing facility and their ground-based test antenna).

“Look down the righthand row of Super Hornets….you can see two Learjet tails appear out of nowhere, and small in view despite being in front of a Rhino fin!

“Also, look down the left side…two VMFA-232 F/A-18Cs (with red markings on their tails) and non-matching MODEX on their noses, showing how a basic shot on maybe 2/3/4 aircraft is turned into a flightline full. Also note MODEX 409…no 8s or 9s in operational MODEXes as octal system-based radars can’t use such, so carrier-issued radar squawk codes match a MODEX to prevent confusion for air traffic control (e.g. GYPSY 107 may be issued the squawk 1107 by a carrier, and so on).”

Crutch concludes: “It’s a film, and we’ll hopefully enjoy it nonetheless!”

For now we can enjoy the following cool footage featuring some behind the scenes shots from Top Gun: Maverick.

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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