Behind the scenes: An inside look at the real Top Gun


The Catalyst / Photo courtesy of Barbara Tauskey.

Michael Tauskey poses in front of his naval jet.

After decades, the sequel to “Top Gun” is visible on the horizon. “Top Gun: Maverick” hits theaters on May 27, and promises a new naval aviation adventure.

The original movie follows the cockpit duo Maverick and Goose as they navigate their way through Top Gun, a program where the best naval flight crews learn to be even better.

The release of “Top Gun: Maverick” brings the opportunity to learn more about the places, planes and people presented in these action films. Micheal Tauskey, a naval flight officer and student at Top Gun, is more than qualified to judge the accuracy of the movies and bring to light facts about the school and Strike Fighter Squadrons.

Tauskey attended Serra High School and then went on to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland where he began his journey towards becoming a Weapons System Officer, a journey that continues as he heads to Top Gun.

Originally named the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School and now called the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, Top Gun was created in 1969 to increase United States successes in the air during the Vietnam conflict.

The school trains students in the classroom and in the sky, teaching them dogfighting skills as well as strategy and equipment operations. Both Tauskey and Maverick are part of the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructors program, which teaches naval pilots like Maverick and naval flight officers like Tauskey to be the best and most up-to-date specialists.

“You are sent to Top Gun to be sharpened tactically, and then you go back to a squadron and you help provide the newest information and tactics and ensure that everyone’s using the same playbook. You become the teacher essentially,” explained Tauskey.

In this way, the whole squadron improves, enhancing performance throughout the Navy.

Tauskey flies in an F/A-18F Super Hornet, a two seat aircraft that was introduced to the Navy in 1999, over a decade after “Top Gun” was released. In the original, Maverick and Goose fly in an F/A-14 Tomcat. In the new “Top Gun: Maverick,” Maverick will take to the skies in an F/A-18E, the single seat version of the F.

Currently stationed in Lemoore, California, Tauskey is a Weapon System Officer. This means he sits in the second seat of the plane, like Goose in “Top Gun.” He is part of VFA Strike Fighter Squadron 41, the Black Aces.

A few scenes in “Top Gun” revolve around landing or launching from an aircraft carrier at sea.

“We take off from a moving ship at sea, and we land on a moving ship at sea. During the daytime, it’s actually kind of fun. But then there’s times too, especially nighttime, when you are catapulted off the front end. And so when you go to catapult, you are just looking into the darkness, sometimes there’s no moon, there’s no horizon,” Tauskey said. “The next thing you know, you’re hurtling and you’re airborne. You can’t see the water. You can’t see the sky. It’s kind of just all black. You become very comfortable being uncomfortable.”

In “Top Gun,” the characters have odd-sounding names called callsigns. Usually, one does not get a callsign until six months after they join their first squadron.

“In the Navy, if your callsign isn’t at least a little bit funny or a little bit of a dig at you, you’re not doing it right,” Tauskey explained. “Everyone thinks it’s like these cool super suave names. More so, it’s like you’ve done something really dumb, and so we’re now going to remind you of it every time we use your callsign.”

Maverick, Cougar, Iceman and Viper are a few of the callsigns in “Top Gun.”

“My callsign is Flap Lid,” clarified Tauskey. “Much like my massive forehead on my tiny body. I kind of just got to own it at some point.”

“Top Gun” is full of action packed flight scenes. In fact, each time Maverick and Goose take to the air, something spectacular seems to happen, for better or for worse.

“I think Hollywood will jazz some things up, because if you were to really look at it, sometimes the stuff we do is really boring. Basically, you’re waiting for something to happen, but if nothing happens, it’s uneventful. It’s not like every time you launch off, you’re going to intercept somebody or do something crazy,” Tauskey explained.

Other than that, Tauskey reported that naval movies like “Top Gun” are generally accurate. Tauskey enjoyed the original before he became a part of the Navy, and still does.

“I have to say that it gave me goosebumps then, and it still gives me goosebumps now,” he recounted. “I think it’s a little bit of the Hollywood glamour, but also a little bit of just, ‘Man, that’s freaking cool.’”

The new “Top Gun” is set to surpass the original, critics conclude. In it, Maverick will return to Top Gun as an instructor. The film scored a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, while the first one got a rotten 58%.