Military-Grade Awesome, Uncategorized

Top Gun Day – Behind the Scenes (Visual Effects)

Famous Control Tower at NAS Miramar - aka Top Gun

Famous Control Tower at NAS Miramar – aka Top Gun


Today, May 13 marks the 7th annual “Top Gun Day”, where you too have permission to buzz the tower and quote cheesy lines from the megahit 1986 jet-fighter flick.

(or better yet, just mill about yelling “DANGER-ZONE!!” at random)

And in celebration of this “Need for Speed” filled day, may we present to you a behind the scenes look at how the movie was made. The entire series is fascinating, but the visual effects portion is the most intriguing. Be warned however, it’s kinda like peeking behind the screen in the Land of OZ… a little bit of the magic gets revealed in the process… however the technical aspect is still just as cool.

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Top Gun – Behind the scenes (Visual effects)

29 years ago this action-filled movie (nay, quasi Spectacular Music Video) burst into theaters and thrust the little-known “Navy Fighter Weapons School” aka Top Gun into the public’s eye and its pilots into super-stardom. By the Summer of 1986 there was a no more coveted job on the planet.


Top Gun FT-USA_10-1993_Miramar Photorecon

Fightertown USA, N.A.S. Miramar 1993 (now MCAS)  – courtesy


Located at the former Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar near San Diego California, this quadrant of the air base was also known as “Fightertown USA”. The very best of the Navy’s elite fleet fighter pilots walked its halls and learned its secrets since it was established in 1969 to train our Vietnam bound airmen.


F14 and A6 on beach

F14 and A6 on beach

By 1985 the F-14 Tomcat had replaced the venerable F-4 Phantom II as the Air Superiority weapon of choice, and it’s sexy twin engines, twin tails, and variable-sweep wings secured its role as the true star of the movie (Sorry T. Cruise. and V. Kilmer). The sleek fighter jet soon cemented itself into the imagination of millions of little (and big) kids around the world.

The immediate effect for the Navy was a huge surge of hopeful Goose and Mavericks at the recruitment centers, who would soon learn that life aboard an actual carrier in Regan’s 600 Ship Navy was anything but glamorous, although it was in fact epic in its own way (especially if you lucked out and got attached to the infamous 7th fleet).


USS Midway, Flagship of the famous 7th Fleet on her final cruise back home to USA


One of these doe-eyed recruits was this author, who would not only deploy on two 7th Fleet “WestPacs” (the first of which would be on the famous USS Midway), but then also transferred to NAS Miramar, the very location at the center of the movie. (My old barracks can be seen in the Volleyball scene directly next to the court)

While life on a carrier could be grueling, duty at “Top Gun” was nothing short of  a reward. Our Radar shop was directly below and to the right of the control tower, and our maintenance often found us out at the antenna site in trailers at the touchdown point between the two runways.

Top Gun Day VF-24-F-14-Zone-V

It really looked like this. Sometimes I would just stare in awe.


As a plane geek, I found it impossible to pay attention to our work as pairs of F-14 Tomcats screamed past on full afterburner, mere yards from us on either side. Words simply cannot describe the goosebumps watching the blue diamond patterns in the flames of the exhaust – lifting free of earth and disappearing into the sunset.

It never got old.

The icing on the cake however, was as part of Electronics/Operations division we had access to the south side of the base in our POVs (Privately Owned Vehicles) for work – which meant being able to drive through the gate, inside the tarmac and alongside the runways to get there. My vehicles of choice at the time in the “Sparky-Fleet” were my old ’67 Big-Block Dodge Polara (still have it) and a ’72 MGBGT (still have that too).


Some guy riding his motorcycle along the NAS Miramar tarmac without bobblehead helmet or dorky bright orange safety vest. I mean seriously.


But as cool as those were, neither compared to cruising alongside an F-14 on my old HD Sportster. At one point I remember screaming loudly “OH MAH GAWD I LOOK JUST LIKE TOM CRUISE!!” Which, might not have been exactly true… Tom never had to wear a giant bobblehead helmet and bright orange safety vest. And without the accompanying Kenny Loggins soundtrack I’m sure I just looked like a blabbering idiot.

(a blabbering idiot with a giant @#$% eating grin)

In any case, if you haven’t already seen the movie (seriously?!?) it is highly recommended you do so. Recently I spoke with some of my wife’s cousins who had “kinda heard about that movie”, which blows my mind.

Then I realized the movie is older than they are, and has now become one of them “oldies” – like Casablanca or Tora! Tora! Tora! was to my generation.

Which is weird… to me this all “just” happened. Time can be weirdly subjective.

And finally, allow us to leave you with our all time favorite version of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone…”

(click pic for extra awesomeness)

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(Archer Danger Zone)

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  • P161911

    To make you feel even older: All the Tomcats (except the Iranian ones) now look like this:
    <img src=""width=500&gt;
    and Val Kilmer looks like this:
    <img src=""width=500&gt;

    • lilwillie

      That's a "dad bod" and they are all the rage this summer.

      Or so I've been told…

    • tiberiusẅisë

      He was on the highway to the Dessert Zone.

  • tiberiusẅisë

    I watched Top Gun with my 17 year old son the other day. Unless he's humoring me, it still holds up.

  • nanoop

    They made an entire TV series about my former working place, too. It's called "The Office". I should probably refrain from posting pictures…

  • Batshitbox

    I have not, in fact, ever seen Top Gun; but the list of must-see movies I never saw even when movie theaters were cheap is long.

    I did work for The Mythbusters, though, and one of the nifty aspects of that job was working in Jamie Hyneman's shop. He was a special effects guy before there were Mythbusters, in the age of animatronics and model building, and his shop was a museum of projects from both Mythbusters and Jamie's previous career.

    One of them was a shot-up Tomcat being pursued up the wall by what I presume to be The Bad Guy's plane (MIG?) from the movie Top Gun. Other things included the proverbial Giant Peach, and some creepy Mugwumps from The Naked Lunch. (Let's see if I still have my image imbed on Intense Debate chops..)

    <img src="; width=500>

  • The Professor

    When I try to remember watching "Top Gun", I get it mixed up with "Hot Shots". It makes for a confused memory.

    • windbüchse

      Yeah, that's how I feel about the songs Weird Al parodies. Usually the spoof is better than the original…

  • Rover 1

    I wonder if the movie pushed up sales of Kawasaki GPZ900 ‘Ninjas’ ?