Former US Navy F-4 Pilot recalls flying lower than Maverick in his F/A-18 in Top Gun 2 (and explains why military pilots need to train in low flying)

Former US Navy F-4 Pilot recalls flying lower than Maverick in his F/A-18 in Top Gun 2 (and explains why military pilots need to train in low flying)

By Dario Leone
Jun 21 2021
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‘If you watch the movie trailer for the New Top Gun, you will see an F/A-18 flying low like we used to do…except we flew even lower, about half that altitude, if not lower,’ John Chesire, former US Naval Aviator and former F-4 Phantom II pilot.

Low flying military training involves military aircraft flying at low altitude to prepare their aircrew, and other military personnel (e.g. air defence troops), for nap-of-the-earth flying in wartime. The aircraft types can include advanced trainers, ground-attack aircraft, transports and helicopters.

Some countries have sufficiently large military reservations for such training to take place without affecting the civilian population.

Good aviation practice requires that a pilot should never fly lower than they must, but…

‘When I was flying in the Navy, in combat [during the Vietnam War] we sometimes flew as low as we dared to keep out of the SAM radar detection. The more scared I was, the lower I flew,’ says John Chesire, former US Naval Aviator and former F-4 Phantom II pilot, on Quora. ‘We left ‘rooster tails’ in the rice paddy water. In training back home we flew “low-levels” at 500 feet (or lower and sometimes much lower).

‘I remember practicing flying extremely low and very fast over the water off of the Philippines. We were in ground effect and left a wake in the water just like a boat. One has to be totally focused but being in ground effect provides a natural buffer from hitting the deck.

‘If you watch the movie trailer for the New Top Gun, you will see an F/A-18 flying low [main image of the article] like we used to do…except we flew even lower, about half that altitude, if not lower. One guy lost his centerline fuel tank because he went too low and it hit the water.

‘As to why? It was good training to fly that low and become comfortable if we ever needed to fly very low in combat. Also it was great fun and a rush to experience that amazing speed low to the ground.’

But, as Chesire explains, not only fighter jets practice low flying;

‘I also remember growing up on an Iowa farm where Cold War B-47s and B-52s would fly extremely low over our farm. They were flying a published low-level training route in preparation for a nuclear strike if ever needed. My parents did not like these very low flyovers, but I loved them.’

Finally, flying low is much fun, as Chesire says;

‘And sometimes low just for the thrill of it:’


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Dario Leone

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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