Every time we revisit "Top Gun: Maverick," the numbers are even more impossible to compute. It has now earned an eye-popping $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office, making it one of the biggest movies of all time and by far the biggest military movie ever. When the planet's next generation of leaders thinks about the USA, it's going to be thinking about "Top Gun."
Even though the movie is still going strong in theaters, you can now buy a copy on Digital. "Top Gun: Maverick" is the rare title that's absolutely worth a trip to the cinema, but now fans can rewatch the film whenever they want and enjoy almost two hours of bonus material.
To commemorate the home video release, Paramount Studios covered the cost for a trip to Sky Combat Ace in El Cajon, California, (just over the hill from the original Top Gun school in Miramar) and gave us a chance to find out just how intense things got for the young actors who played the next generation of Top Gun aviators in the movie.
Sky Combat Ace is a company founded by Air Force veteran and pilot Richard "Tex" Coe that offers flying experiences at three locations: Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and El Cajon. Coe and his team of pilots take visitors up in stunt planes for scenic ride-alongs or flights where the customer takes the stick and actually flies the plane. There is also a deluxe package that simulates aerial combat.
The company offers a preflight briefing with extensive safety instructions and detailed descriptions of what to expect during the flight. The planes may not be as big or as fast as the jets flown by military pilots, but they're far more maneuverable and can generate some intense g-forces.
The "Top Gun: Maverick" backstory says that Tom Cruise (wearing his movie producer hat) designed a training program for the cast to help get the actors ready to shoot their scenes in actual airplanes racing through the sky, instead of on a set with a green screen. Step one was a series of Cessna flights to get them comfortable with flying in small planes.
We skipped that step and copied their step two, which involved learning to handle g-forces and trick flying in an Extra 330 stunt and training plane. After learning to handle that experience, the actors graduated to the F-18s that were used in the movie.
If you think it would be less intimidating flying in one of Sky Combat Ace’s Extra 330s than a ride-along in an F-18, you'd be wrong. This is more like a go-cart with a propeller that's wrapped in a soda can. You're just about as close to the sky as you can possibly be. Think hang gliding at 10 times the speed and way higher in the air.
We were going to enjoy Sky Combat Ace's Top Gun Experience, which involves pulling some Gs and getting to take over the stick for a simulated dogfight with another plane. As a movie bonus, the Sky Combat Ace pilots did a recreation of the movie's final mission with some low flying leading to a simulated bombing run.
I've never shied away from doing risky physical activities. I've leapt onto every rickety carnival ride I've ever seen, done some climbing and been hang gliding a few times. This was going to be easy, right?
Have a look at the video evidence:
Let's take a moment to compliment the video editors who put this clip together and made it look like I was having the time of my life. I was not having the time of my life.
The awkward high-five at the end of the clip should have been a clue. The nausea hit shortly after takeoff, and I had to white-knuckle my way through the 20-minute flight. I consider it a major accomplishment that I never actually used the sick bag in the cockpit and I didn't barf once we made it back to the ground. If you're wondering where the footage of the promised bombing run is, I have to guess that I was so green during that portion of the flight that they had to leave that out.
Somehow, my brain never shut off, and I realized how amazing this experience would be if I could repeat it minus the nausea. As someone who loves roller coasters and carnival rides with terrifying drops and enjoys hang gliding, it never occurred to me that I might struggle with this experience.
Sky Combat Ace recommends that anyone who thinks they might experience motion sickness should take a Dramamine the night before and another dose a couple of hours before the flight. I'd amend that advice and say take the Dramamine no matter how tough you think you are.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Master the air sickness, and flying a stunt plane would be more fun than cliff diving, dirt bike racing and extreme skateboarding combined. Fly in a combat jet, and you're encased in 16 tons of aircraft. The Extra 330 is closer to a go-kart with wings, so the line between you and the sky is almost nonexistent.
If you're visiting Las Vegas, San Diego or Lake Tahoe, Sky Combat Ace is an incredible experience and the folks who run the company do a great job of making sure that everyone has a great time.
I've had a chance to speak with the actors Glen Powell ("Hangman"), Danny Ramirez ("Fanboy"), Greg "Tarzan" Davis ("Coyote"), Monica Barbaro ("Phoenix") and Jay Ellis ("Payback") several times over the past 2½ years, and they've all lit up when they talked about flying. Everyone seems to have caught the bug making the movie. Thanks to the "Top Gun: Maverick" producers, Paramount Pictures and Sky Combat Ace for offering us a taste of that experience.
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