PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Two weeks after its premiere, Top Gun: Maverick is still dominating the box office. It’s leaving audiences feeling the need for speed and life in the danger zone. But what do actual fighter pilots think about the movie?
The Oregon Air National Guard patrols our skies from the Canadian border to California.
20 years ago, KOIN 6’s Dan Tilkin got to fly with their F-15 pilots and experience just how hard it is to endure the g-forces.
This week, he went back to the Portland air base and talked with two of their local pilots about what they thought about the new movie and chased down a rumor one of them was actually in it.
Major Brandon Wigton, call sign Wiggles, and Captain Alan “Gang” Greene fly F-15s for a living — over the mountains and through the valleys of the northwest training for a foreign or terrorist threat.
But when it comes to entertainment, and watching the new Top Gun both agreed it was a great film.
It was “about as realistic as you could get probably, without actually giving away all of our tactics,” Wigton said. “There are moments, obviously, in any film, especially with aviation, that you’re like, we wouldn’t do that.”
“The only inaccuracy that you could probably see, that I could really point out, are the ones where they’re buzzing by each other — a couple of feet away from each other,” Greene said.
A pivotal part of the movie was a scene shot in the mountains of the northwest. That scene raised some questions about the physics of pulling off such a stunt.
“We fly that same route, and that scene one of my buddies is actually the one that flew it,” Wigton said. “So yes, it is possible. And that’s what he actually flew.”
One of the pilots reluctantly admitted he was in the film.
“I was stationed in Lemoore for the Navy,” Wigton said. “I was flying Super Hornets at the time, so I flew a couple of the scenes. I don’t know if my scenes made it, but I was chased by the jet that had all the cameras on it. And it was a pretty awesome experience.”
Wigton flew F-18s in the Navy, which is the same type of jet as in the new movie.
The pandemic delayed the release of the film so long, that in that span Wigton started a new life in the Pacific Northwest. He switched to the Air National Guard and the bigger F-15s before Top Gun: Maverick made it to the big screen.
“They told us what scenes to fly, went out there and flew them and then got to come back and actually watch all the footage that was taken. And it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Wigton said.
“He’s been walking around here like he’s the big man on campus — reminding us about how he’s been in Top Gun this whole time,” Greene joked.
“He’s actually pretty humble about it. They don’t really want anybody to know, or I’m not saying they don’t want anybody to know, but it’s part of the job. We kind of squeeze it out of them that he was actually a part of the film.”
Wigton said he didn’t actually meet Tom Cruise, but he did sit across the table from him and was “pretty impressed” with how the star carried himself.
When asked if F-15 planes are better than the F-18s, Wigton laughed, “You know, I’m not supposed to answer this question. The answer is I can’t answer that question.”
“I’ll answer that question the way we answer everything in the fighter pilot world,” Greene butted in. “It depends. It depends on the mission.”
When the original film came out in 1986, Major Wigton was three-years-old and Captain Greene wasn’t even born. Now, both men are part of the latest generation of pilots pushing the limits.
Greene said it’s cool to have a movie show what he does every day.
Major Wigton said he would have to get a copy of the movie and pause it to make sure the scene he flew made it in the movie.