Thrilling, Masterful and Meticulously Detailed; Top Gun Founder’s Book is Outstanding.
Of the thousands of books on military aviation, there are only a few truly authoritative masterworks. Author Dan Pedersen’s new release, Top Gun: An American Story joins this rarified air as one of the very best books written in the entire history of aerial combat.
Pedersen was the senior officer of seven founding members of the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School, “TOPGUN”, in March of 1969, and its first commanding officer. Topgun was founded in response to unacceptable losses in air-to-air combat over North Vietnam. Prior to the Vietnam conflict and Topgun’s beginning, U.S. aerial warfare doctrine had shifted to a dependence on long range, supersonic interceptors designed to engage enemy aircraft from “Beyond Visual Range” (BVR) using missiles. The problem with this doctrine was, the North Vietnamese did not adhere to it. U.S. fighter pilots over North Vietnam were hamstrung by complex rules of engagement that required them to make visual confirmation (not just radar) of enemy aircraft before firing. That meant getting close. Both the U.S. Navy and Air Force found themselves in close-range, tight-turning aerial combat that more closely resembled WWI than the hypothetical long-range, supersonic missile duels of the future that think-tank strategists had envisioned. U.S. losses in aerial combat were high. Topgun was formed by the U.S. Navy to change that.
Dan Pedersen does a riveting job of building the tragic, short-sighted tension and chronicling the losses that led to the formation of Topgun. The school started on a shoestring budget in a borrowed trailer on a hidden corner of Miramar Naval Air Station. From there, Pedersen outlines the dramatic, and sometimes deadly, mock aerial duels over the secret ranges of the vast American west where new tactics were forged well outside of the book and at the edge of the envelope.
Pedersen’s insights are not only intimate, told as only a founding member could, but they are visual and thrilling. Dan Pedersen may be a great fighter pilot, but he is also an ace with the written word. Once Pedersen’s heat-seeking narrative gets missile-lock on you, you won’t be able to leave until the last page brings you in for a landing.
Most readers of Top Gun: An American Story will find their way to this title through association with the Hollywood film “Top Gun” and in anticipation of the upcoming 2020 release of its sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick”. What “Top Gun” movie fans will find inside the pages of Pedersen’s book confirms the adages, “truth is always stranger than fiction” and “the book was better than the movie”.
Quick note on word style: as Pedersen points out, the U.S. Navy refers to the Fighter Weapons School as “Topgun”, one word. Hollywood titled both the original 1986 movie “Top Gun” and the upcoming 2020 sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” using two separate words for Topgun. As Pedersen mentions, maybe it looked better on movie billboards and theater marquees (and book titles).
Top Gun: An American Story is not only a great read, it is a great American story of innovation and daring. It tells a tale of thinking well outside the box, defying authority and conventional thought on the way to true innovation. Masterfully woven into the exciting narrative is a strong academic thread relevant to anyone in military service. This book plays equally well to aviation and history buffs as it does to real-world admirals and graduate level fighter pilots. Author Dan Pedersen evens takes a chapter to set the template of everything learned in his Topgun experience over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
The best aviation writing ignites passion and inspires awe. Its animated narrative is like being locked in a dogfight- you can’t look away. It is also relevant, authoritative, and accurate. Lavishly written with opulent, illustrative reverence, Top Gun: An American Story transports the reader through the history and geography of the wildly sensationalized U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School, Topgun. It is one of the best written, and most historically significant aviation books of the last three decades, and one of the most important releases in the entire category.