F-18 Super Hornets – Did Tom Cruise Really Fly US Navy’s Powerful Fighter Jet in “Top Gun: Maverick”?

Top Gun 2 will be released on May 27th, and it has everything an aviation fan would want to see. The movie features Hollywood heartthrob Tom Cruise, who is famed for performing all of his stunts by himself, earning him the nickname ‘daredevil’.

Cruise has impressed his fans with some of the most dangerous stunts ever seen in a movie. The scary action scenes in his Mission: Impossible film franchise catapulted him to new heights of stardom.

Similarly, Cruise, 59, has received praise for the authenticity of the actions in his upcoming movie Top Gun: Maverick. The film depicts Cruise’s character Maverick flying supersonic jets on risky missions. 

During the shooting of Top Gun 1, when the cast attempted to film a scene in actual F-14 fighter jets years ago, nearly everyone threw up, including Cruise. To avoid a similar outcome, the entirely fresh cast had to go through months of flight training. 

F-14 Tomcat - the TOP GUN - YouTube
F-14 Tomcat

Cruise and others underwent months of training in order to be able to handle G-Forces and deliver their lines in the film without passing out or vomiting. Tom Cruise told Empire that he agreed to make his return as Maverick on one condition: “I said to Jerry [Bruckheimer], ‘I’ll do it if…’ meaning I’m not going to do the CGI stuff.” 

This means Tom Cruise only agreed to work on the project if producer Jerry Bruckheimer agreed that the film’s effects would not rely on cheesy CGI. Cruise was so enthusiastic that he had intended to pilot an actual Boeing F-18 combat plane in the first place.

The Hollywood actor, who is a trained pilot, pilots a P-51 propeller-driven fighter plane and a couple of helicopters in the movie. The navy, however, denied him permission to fly an F-18 fighter jet, revealed veteran producer Jerry Bruckheimer. 

Yes, “…he flies a P-51 in the movie, and he flies helicopters. He can do just about anything in an airplane,” Bruckheimer told USA Today. “[But] the Navy wouldn’t let him fly an F-18.” According to Bruckheimer, Cruise requested permission to fly the plane but was refused by the U.S. Navy.

The reason was probably that a nearly $70 million fighter jet was simply too expensive to be handed to someone who was not trained to be a fighter pilot. 

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - Wikipedia
Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – Wikipedia

The F-18 jet appears in Top Gun: Maverick, but, the scenes were shot with the help of Navy pilots. Cruise said:

“I’ve always been a physical actor, have always been developing a physical language, but now I’m also an aerobatic pilot. I fly warbirds. The P-51 in this movie is mine, the Red Tail [the period silver plane Cruise flies on-screen with love interest Jennifer Connelly in].”

“I have done more aerial sequences than any other actor, from Top Gun to American Made to Mission Impossible Fallout [that saw him put that helicopter into a controlled spin and perform the first-ever on-screen High Altitude Low Open, or HALO, skydive out the back of that C-17].”

“I was always looking towards Top Gun. Even though I hadn’t yet committed to it, I was already developing a visual language of what we could do. I was always developing and studying the rigs.

I was interested in making those movies anyway, of course, but it was also a progression in storytelling, in understanding how to do it, from a technical standpoint and a story standpoint. I don’t make a movie just to make a movie. And I’ve been that way my whole life.”

He further emphasized the teamwork between actors and U.S. Navy pilots, saying, “What we have achieved with the aerial sequences is genuinely something that people will never have seen before.

We’ve trained actors to be able to fly and perform in real F/A-18s. And, to do that, we took the greatest fighter pilots in the world [from the U.S. Navy] and we taught them about movies – the pilot and the actor had to work as a team.”

Why Wasn’t Cruise Allowed To Fly A Fighter Jet? 

The US Navy gave no reason why it turned down Cruise’s request to pilot a Super Hornet, even though the actor has expertise in flying military jets.

The most natural argument would be safety concerns which the US Navy would have been wary of, besides the film’s producers and the crew members

The cost of the plane is also a factor; an actual F-18 Super Hornet would cost nearly half of the Top Gun: Maverick’s $152 million budget. This could certainly result in logistical headaches for the film’s financing.

Aside from insurance concerns, a novice fighter jet pilot, such as Cruise, losing control of a high-speed aircraft might put civilians or military troops on the ground in danger.

Furthermore, while Tom Cruise performs his stunts to great success, the real Navy pilots in Top Gun: Maverick’s provided the sequel with more than enough realism.