Military Aviation

Naval Aviator explains what would have happened in real life to Maverick after having broken the hard deck and buzzed the tower in full AB on the first day of his Top Gun training

‘You will likely never fly a Navy aircraft again (as we’ve stopped flying rubber dog s**t out of Hong Kong for environmental reasons),’ Tim Hibbetts, A-6E, F/A-18C pilot.

Maverick: “We weren’t below the hard deck for more than a few seconds. I had the shot. There was no danger. So, I took it.” 


Maverick: Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby.
Air Boss Johnson: That’s a negative Ghost rider, the pattern is full.

To Aviation Geeks, these are memorable quotes from Top Gun, their all-time favourite movie.

However, in reality, Maverick would have lost his wings on the first day of his Top Gun training. In fact, he not only breaks the hard deck, but he also does a barrel roll after the famed tower fly-by in full afterburner.

‘The former is a training rule and the latter is a NAVAIR rule (set by the Chief of Naval Air Forces, CNAF),’ explains Tim Hibbetts, A-6E, F/A-18C pilot, on Quora.

Breaking the hard deck. This is not a violation. You can break the hard deck all you want. Seriously; get in there; just motor boat that hard deck; tell it who’s boss. The only downside is that you’re considered to have hit the ground and are dead in relation to the current fight.

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‘Hard deck, good God… what is it good for? Flying in general is all about managing your energy state and dogfights are the apex form. Most dogfights are energy depleting exercises, with fighters trading gas and altitude for position and nose authority. Dogfighting is also an art and not all the pictures are pretty. Sometimes a fighter thinks he has enough energy and altitude to perform a maneuver and is wrong. If we fought without the imaginary safety net, twisting steel all the way to the ground, there would be a lot more 200-meter-long black scars under the training area and fewer pilots to make them. Hence, we say that if you go below this altitude, you are considered dead, and we call it the hard deck. There’s a soft deck, too, but that one is for limiting certain maneuvers so that you can practice not hitting the hard deck.

‘So, flying below the hard deck means you killed yourself. Nothing illegal about accidently offing yourself (especially when it’s imaginary).’

He continues:

Buzzing the tower (ashore). This is a violation of rules set up by the three-star admiral in charge of all Naval aircraft. It’s also in many naval air station SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). You will likely never fly a Navy aircraft again (as we’ve stopped flying rubber dog s**t out of Hong Kong for environmental reasons). You could also be charged under the UCMJ and find any number of fun other bonus options, as well.

Buzzing the tower (at sea). This one is a blast and as long as you have the approval of whoever is on the radio when you call the ship, you’re good to go. Otherwise, see the above scenario.’

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Artwork depicting F-14A NG213 (BuNo 160888) flown by Steve Petro Petrosky and Dave Bio Baranek

Tibbets concludes:

‘Not adhering to these simple rules marks you as untrustworthy, undisciplined, and unwise. Why in the wide world of sports should you be trusted with a $50 million airplane and the potential for world-wide embarrassment? Stick to tending bar, racing cars, and accepting missions from exploding cassettes.’

The following, popular video features Maverick defeating the hard deck after having broken the hard deck (for video and description of the famed Miramar tower fly-by scene CLICK HERE).

Photo credit: Paramount

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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