Top Gun’s Maverick turns 51 today. With a huge aviation experience: from F-14s to a WWII P-51 Mustang

Here below is an interesting Guest Post by film and television blogger Alex Smith. The article focus on Tom Cruise’s experience in Top Gun and the 51-year old today Maverick’s love for aviation. Enjoy!

On Jul. 3 we wish a Happy 51st Birthday to Tom Cruise, international movie star, heartthrob, and aviation enthusiast! Cruise loves flying the friendly skies: not only is he a certified pilot, but he also owns five private jets and a P-51 Mustang WWII-era fighter he keeps in perfect flying condition.

Tom Cruise has always looked toward the heavens, from his time as a teenage seminary student named Thomas Cruise Mapother IV to his real-life training flying an F-14 for the role that launched him to international stardom, fighter pilot Maverick in Top Gun, a movie that did more for naval aviation than any film since The Battle of Midway.

For Top Gun, one of the most famous movies directed by Tony Scott (that commit suicide last year), Cruise — along with Anthony “Goose” Edwards and Val “Iceman” Kilmer — received what are known as “back seat rides” in F-14s in order to get a feeling of what it really feels like taking G’s and going through mid-air maneuvers. To add even more verisimilitude to the movie’s flight scenes, many shots of the three actors in their fighters were taken while the Tomcats were actually in the air.

The cast and crew were always aware of the risks pilots face, and that helped them present a more realistic story in  Top Gun. Sadly, they were reminded once again of the dangers of aerial careers when veteran Hollywood stunt pilot Art Scholl was killed filming scenes for the movie from a vintage Pitts S-2 biplane. The 1986 movie was dedicated to this stunt aviation pioneer.

Cruise was only 24 when Top Gun was released in theaters — and enough time has passed that he would be better cast as one of the flight school instructors than as the hotshot young Navy pilot! — and saw his career take flight due to the heroic role. But his acting profile wasn’t the only thing that received a huge boost from the movie: some naval recruitment offices saw their call volume jump 500 percent over the summer that the movie came out.

Although the Navy was prohibited from recommending the movie, some Navy recruiters manned information tables outside theaters showing Top Gun, and many would-be recruits reportedly mentioned the movie as what sparked their interest about opportunities in naval aviation. One wag called Top Gun “the greatest recruiting video of all time.”

No doubt many people thought about becoming pilots after the experience of Top Gun, but none more than Mav himself, Tom Cruise. Even though that at 5’7″, he’s one inch too short to qualify for flying for the Navy, the actor made up for that by earning in pilot’s license in 1994 and collecting aviation history like the P-51 fighter that had “Kiss Me, Kate” painted on the side for his then-bride Katie Holmes, mother of their daughter, Suri.

Cruise has received some flak — not from aerial dogfights, but instead from environmental groups, who dubbed him “Emissions Impossible” after rumors leaked of his using his Gulfstream jet to pick up groceries for Katie. His camp hasn’t denied the rumor, but if you can’t have a little fun with your airplanes as you turn 51, what’s the point of being an internationally beloved film icon who knows how to fly? Or maybe annoying eco-warriors is pilot Tom Cruise’s way of staying in the “danger zone.”

Author Bio: Alex Smith is a film and television blogger for, where he writes about everything from new releases to the campy sci-fi classics of the 1970s and 80s. He has been a big fan of Top Gun since childhood, and still hopes to one day pilot an F-14. He lives and works in Washington, D.C.

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.