Counting Down to Top Gun: Maverick

By Scott Spangler on May 16th, 2022

As one crawling into the final third of life, I’m in no hurry to write my final chapters. That said, May 27—when Top Gun: Maverick is due in our local movie house—cannot get here soon enough. To accelerate the passage of time, I’ve been searching out the teases issued by those who attended the premier and other early screenings and wondering where TG:M will land on my list of favorite aviation movies, and whether it will add to the list or displace a film already held dear.

First on the list is Top Gun. In its VHS form, it comforted me the summer of 1987 as I (and several dozen of my fellow faculty members) recovered from a case of Hepatitis A acquired at the boarding school’s end of year staff picnic. Yes, I’m the son of a World War II naval aviator too big and too blind (and now way too old) to follow in his footsteps, and the movie feeds my daydreams of what might have been had I not grown too tall and nearsighted.

But that’s not why it leads my list. Nothing will displace the memory of recovering to the point I could stay awake for more than a few hours, and then to actually want to eat something, and to enjoy some human contact. Hepatitis A can be quite contagious, so serious hand washing is a must. To protect my wife, who was carrying our oldest in his final trimester, we rarely spend much time in the same room that summer. That was not so for my friend Brian, who flew Cobras for the Army before joining the school’s staff, and his wife. She made the best brownies, and we feasted on them almost daily while we wore out that VHS and compiled a list of previously unseen bloopers, like the randomly spinning attitude indicator. Movie or not, there is more to life than airplanes.

Feelings of nostalgia, for an era of aviation that ended before I was born, unite the next to films on my mental tabulations of favorites, The Spirit of St. Louis, with James Stewart, and The Great Waldo Pepper, with Robert Redford. They depict a younger time, a barnstorming environment of adventure and possibilities when flying was finding its way forward. The two films embody the stick-and-rudder romance of open cockpits without the oil-scented reality of hypothermia and the face-to-face encounter with precipitation and insects.

Teamwork is the foundation of my next two favorites, the World War II epic, Twelve O’Clock High and Flight of the Intruder. To my aesthetic sense, no other movie better sets the scene when Harry Stovall pedals to the fence around what was his B-17 station and time rewinds with the sounds of an unseen Flying Fortress starting each of his four engines, their props forcing flat the grass he stands in. Set in the two-seat cockpit of the A-6, Intruder focuses on small scale teamwork during a period of unpopular conflict.

Finally, there’s Fly Away Home, the 1996 film that presents a gorgeously photographed dramatization of Bill Lishman’s effort to reintroduce birds to their migratory ways. The movie, with Jeff Daniels as Lishman, and Anna Paquin as his daughter, works with Canada geese. Operation Migration worked with whooping cranes. As entertainment, the geese work better, and I feed the film into the Blu-ray player whenever I need an emotional pick-me-up.

The pandemic-delayed Top Gun: Maverick is not the only aviation film I’ve been patiently anticipating. Devotion, the story of Jesse Brown and Thomas Hudner, based on Adam Makos’s book of the same title, is scheduled for release in October. Like TG:M, it was filmed using real Corsairs, Skyraiders, and Bearcats. If the film is half as good as the book, it will be a winner in my estimation.

So, what aviation films are on your list? Take a minute to share them in the comments because there will surely be some that the JetWhine community has either not seen or heard of. If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor


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3 Responses to “Counting Down to Top Gun: Maverick”

  1. John Scherer Says:

    Strategic Air Command starring Jimmy Stewart

    Flight of the Phoenix starring Jimmy Stewart

    Command Decision starring Clark Gable

    The High and The Mighty starring John Wayne

  2. Ryan H. Says:

    The Rocketeer…hands down one of the best aviation / adventure movies ever made!!

    Air America

    The Tuskegee Airmen (made for TV movie I think)

    Apollo 13…I’m a huge space nerd, and this movie does a fantastic job of telling a true story and adding JUST enough fiction to make it appealing to the non-space nerds out there, of which I am sure there must be a few at least

  3. Counting Down to Top Gun: Maverick - Says:

    Lyman Parillo

    Waiting for the release of Top Gun: Maverick has not only tested my pandemic patience, it may well reorder of compilation favorite films.

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