“Maverick,” “Iceman,” “Viper,” “Rooster” and “Goose” are returning to the silver screen in three weeks. The greatly-anticipated but long-delayed release of “Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to the 1986 motion picture blockbuster “Top Gun,” will barrel roll into theaters across the United States beginning May 27, the first day of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Like the original “Top Gun,” the sequel also stars Tom Cruise and was partially filmed in the skies above Fallon and Churchill County and at the Fallon Naval Air Station. Although details are still scarce about the plot, the film’s producer has hinted that drone technology and the evolving culture of fifth generation Navy combat pilots will figure prominently in the 2-hour, 10-minute film, I have learned. Zip Upham, spokesman for NAS Fallon, told the Lahontan Valley News that several Hollywood film executives including Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the first “Top Gun” and Tony Scott, its director, traveled to Fallon twice in 2012 to scout filming locations for the sequel and meet with Rear Admiral Mark Vance, then commander of the Navy Strike and Air Warfare Center and his staff, about using the base’s aircraft, runways and hangars for “Top Gun: Maverick.” Work on the project was delayed for several months, though, following the suicide of Scott just three days after the group’s visit 10 years ago to the air station here to make plans for filming the sequel. Meanwhile, I’ve learned that a week before the film’s release in the U.S., it will be premiered internationally at the Cannes Film Festival, where Cruise will accept a lifetime achievement award. A special screening of “Top Gun: Maverick” will be held aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway, a floating museum ship anchored in downtown San Diego’s waterfront district, and plans are being discussed in Fallon to show the film here on the Memorial Day weekend and to stage other events locally that would highlight the presence in Western Nevada of military and civilian aviation activities. Although “Top Gun: Maverick” was initially scheduled to be released in the U.S. on July 12, 2019, the date was postponed because of the spread of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, thus delaying the release for nearly three years. In the original “Top Gun,” Tom Cruise played the part of young Navy hotshot pilot, Lt. Pete Mitchell, whose nickname was “Maverick.” In the sequel, Cruise, now a crusty Navy captain, is assigned to train a detachment of Top Gun graduates for a special, secret mission that has major international implications. “Top Gun: Maverick,” like “Tom Gun,” is chock full of dramatic scenes of air-to-air combat and aerial stunts. Both films were produced by Paramount Pictures. Paramount’s cost to make the 1986 “Top Gun” was $152 million, its worldwide box office gross was $356 million and the film’s signature song “Take My Breath Away” won an Oscar the following year in the “Best Song” category. No figures have been given as to the cost of producing “Top Gun: Maverick,” which was filmed on locations including NAS Fallon, NAS North Island in San Diego, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, NAS Whidbey Island and at Lake Tahoe. Aircraft carriers USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Theodore Roosevelt were utilized for the sequel’s filming. All costs related to the use of the carriers, other Navy warships and aircraft were borne by Paramount Pictures, and the Navy and Department of Defense approved the film’s script before permission was granted to use Navy assets. On May 30, 1996, 10 years after the release of the original “Top Gun,” the Navy’s Top Gun school, which was then named the Navy Fighter Weapons School and renamed the Navy Strike and Air Warfare Center, was moved from its long-time base at Miramar NAS in San Diego to NAS Fallon. The school has since been renamed the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center.
David C. Henley
As for the filming in Fallon of “Top Gun: Maverick,” I’ve been told that Tom Cruise spent at least a month in residence at NAS Fallon beginning in early 2019, where he supervised and appeared in much of the sequel’s production. Approximately 160-180 other professional moviemakers also were present at the base during various periods of 2019, and Cruise and his personal staff were billeted in base housing. Two giant trucks that were fitted together to form a private gym for the actor were brought to NAS Fallon for Cruise’s use to help him relax and remain in top physical shape. A luxurious motor home also was brought to the base to serve as Cruise’s mobile “home away from home” when he was on the go.Cruise was personally involved in most of the filming at NAS Fallon, dominating casting, camera angles and utilizing his own flying skills and aerial stunts, according to Upham. For those who have seen the original “Top Gun” film, they will undoubtedly recall the scene in which two FA-18 “Super Hornet” fighter jets tore past an air traffic control tower, buzzing it and shaking it so violently that the officer in charge of the tower spilled coffee on his uniform as the jets (one piloted by Cruise) roared by. Cruise replicated the tower scene in “Top Gun: Maverick,” and it has been duplicated in all its glory by the use of a phalanx of in-jet and external cameras. Although I have not yet seen the sequel, I’ve seen the film’s trailer which shows “Maverick” Cruise flying completely upside down in one of the motion picture’s final scenes. As for the special events that may be held in Fallon and Churchill County on Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the release of “Top Gun: Maverick,” they are still in the planning stages but are expected to include the showings of “Top Gun: Maverick” for local military personnel at the Fox Peak Theaters and flight demonstrations of STOL aircraft (STOL means short takeoff and landings) on local airstrips. STOL planes, many of which are modified Piper Cubs and Cessnas, can land and take off on short dirt roads, grass, snow and ice, according to Bob Simmons, a STOL enthusiast who maintains a small fleet of aircraft at his ranch north of Reno and rural property he owns between Pleasanton and Hayward in the San Francisco Bay area. Bob told me that he often joins other STOL pilots in local air race competitions. He said, “STOL pilots have landed and taken off on pieces of land less than 12 feet in length.” He plans to scout out dirt roads off Highway 50 near the Fox Peak theaters where he and fellow STOL flyers can exhibit their flying skills on the Memorial Day weekend. Perhaps Tom Cruise could cruise past the festivities and join in the fun. David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.