Jerry Bruckheimer has done what any other producer has failed to do.
He has sent cash registers on afterburners with a 30-year-old franchise that features senior Hollywood actors.
But did Jerry’s fiction go too far?
Can the “it’s the pilot” theory of Rooster (Miles Teller) work in real dogfights?
Specifically, can an F14 Tomcat “museum piece” defeat Generation 5 fighters in air to air combat?
To start with, let’s take a look at the so-called generations of fighter jets – airplanes built for fighting and used specifically for military purposes.
Maverick (Tom Cruise) himself repeatedly said in the movie that the F18 Super Hornets they flew will not stand a chance against the Fifth Generation fighters of the rogue state (which some speculate to be Iran) that is developing a nuclear enrichment program.
The reputable website Air Force Magazine, a monthly publication of the Air Force Association in the United States defines generations of fighter jets as thus:
Generation or Gen 1
These include fighters with jet engines that replaced the old piston engines of previous fighters and entered service towards the end of World War II.
Examples: The Messerschmitt or Me262 of Germany, Meteor of Britain, and later, the F80 of the United States.
Main feature: Revolutionary advance in speed.
These aircraft became popular during the United States’ and Russia’s involvement in the Korean War (1950 to 1953).
Examples: US F-86 and Soviet Mikoyan and Gurevich or MiG-15.
Main feature: Improved airframes like the use of highly swept wings as pointed out by Lockheed Martin’s Walter J Boyne.
These fighters were considered state of the art in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Examples: The US “Century Series” fighters F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104, F-105, F-106 – and the Soviet MiG-17 and MiG-21. The F-4 Phantom was considered a late Gen 3 fighter that is perhaps iconic of the group.
Main features: Advanced missiles, supersonic speed, and more sophisticated engines.
“These fighters debuted in the mid-1970s and are still tops in most of the world.”
Examples: The US F-15 and F-16 and Russia’s Su-27 and MiG-29 (and offshoots). The F-14 Tomcat falls under this category.
Main features: “Weapons, engines, and avionics put earlier aircraft to shame. Thirty years of improvements have pushed some fighters into a group known as “Generation 4.5.”
“These include the latest F-15s and F-16s for overseas customers, and the MiG-35, Su-30, and Eurofighter Typhoon.”
The current elite category. There is only one member when the article was written in 2008 and that was the US F-22 Raptor and, the article added, the F-35 Lightning II when it becomes operational.
The F-35 is now in service.
Main features: The article said this “class is defined by all-aspect stealth, internal carriage of precision weapons, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, and ‘plug and play’ electronics.”
Now, can an F14 really defeat a Gen 5 fighter as shown in the movie?
A look at the F14/Maverick’s antagonist might be instructive at this point.
Military Watch Magazine pointed out the rogue state’s jet was the Su-57 (NATO reporting name: Felon) that was revealed in a trailer in the last week of March 2022.
It is worth pointing out that the advances in avionics and weapons systems on fighter jets is now the center of research and development efforts as NATO and non NATO states are increasingly fielding stealth aircraft.
Avionics, which includes on board mounted radars, largely determine the outcome of air combat that is still based on the first look, first shot, first kill principle.
It can be argued that the F14 was stolen by Maverick and Rooster from the rogue state’s bombed out airbase and was, therefore, not identified immediately by the patrolling Felons as a bogey or enemy aircraft.
This could partly explain why a visual range combat took place and why Maverick was able to shoot down the his first Felon kill using the F14’s 20mm Vulcan cannon and the other one after a brief chase later, also with his gun.
In real combat, however, it is most likely that Maverick and Rooster would be blown to smithereens without even seeing the two Felons.
Airforce Technology reported last year that the Su-57 uses a 101KS “Atoll” infrared search and track sensor mounted on the nose that allows it to “detect and engage stealth targets from distance.”
In short, it can kill its target even before its target sees it (or realize later on in the afterlife).
The Su-57 is armed with four K-77M (Izdeliye 180) beyond visual range missiles for air to air combat and can be fitted with Kh-38 tactical missiles and a range of KAB precision-guided bombs.
So can Maverick and Rooster really survive a Gen 5 fighter?
Theoretically, it cannot and the scene when Maverick was doing a steep climb while saying “I’m sorry, Goose” could have been the last frame of the movie.
Then again, Top Gun: Maverick was all about the power of the human spirit, of elite aviators defeating modern machines.
Perhaps Hollywood knows that amid the dreary times it is what we all need now.