There have been few sequels to hit the scene quite like Top Gun: Maverick (2022). Despite the enormous success of the 1986 film, it took 36 years for the follow-up to hit theaters, with it going on to surpass the original in every way possible. One of the primary reasons for this is the incredible military machinery that stars alongside the cast. The following are the aircraft that appear in Top Gun: Maverick.
North American P-51 Mustang
The North American P-51 Mustang was one of the great American fighters of World War II. The aircraft, which came about at the request of the British, heavily featured throughout the conflict, evolving to serve not only as a fighter, but also as a bomber. Its nimbleness and speed afforded it a lot of success, with it taking out nearly 5,000 enemy aircraft in the air and just over 4,100 on the ground.
At the end of Top Gun: Maverick, the titular character flies this famous aircraft, which was officially retired from the US Air Force in 1957. What many might not realize is that this isn’t just any P-51 – it’s Tom Cruise‘s own aircraft! What’s more, it’s actually him flying it in the movie… Talk about impressive!
Grumman F-14 Tomcat
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat had a long and impressive history with the US Navy. The aircraft underwent its first deployment in 1974 and went on to participate in several operations throughout the ’70s and ’80s as a replacement for the famous McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. Going on to serve in the Gulf War as a reconnaissance platform and, later, launching some of the first strikes as part of the War in Afghanistan, it’s understandable that many were sad upon its retirement in 2006.
The F-14 prominently featured in the original Top Gun film, as it was among the jet aircraft operated by the TOPGUN School, so the team behind the sequel was determined to have it make a cameo. However, they encountered a problem: all the retired units on American soil had had their engines removed, meaning they were inoperable.
The team – in particular, production designer Jeremy Hindle – wound up approaching the San Diego Air & Space Museum. While this aircraft had also had its engine removed, the institution was willing to lend it to the production, and with a little movie magic (AKA, towing), it was able to feature in an action-filled sequence in Top Gun: Maverick.
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is among the newest aircraft operated by the US military, and one of the most expensive, with pilot helmets alone costing more than a Ferrari. The Navy only began operating the jet in 2019, with the plan being for the United States to keep the multirole fighter in action until 2070 – an impressive anticipated lifespan!
Despite being among the latest aircraft operated by the US Navy, the F-35 only features briefly in Top Gun: Maverick. It appears during the opening sequence and, only then, it’s preparing for takeoff. While this might seem unusual, there are actually a couple of reasons why the jet doesn’t get more screen time.
The first is that it wasn’t practical to commandeer the aircraft, as it’s only available in a single-seater model. As real-life naval aviators flew the actors around, having the F-35 more prominently featured would have posed logistical challenges. As well, it wouldn’t have been used in the low-altitude missions flown in Top Gun: Maverick, as it’s more intended for high-altitude roles.
Lockheed Martin SR-72 ‘Son of Blackbird’
One of the reasons for Top Gun‘s enduring popularity is the film’s commitment to accuracy. As such, almost all of the aircraft to feature in it are real – or, at least, based on real ones. The same is true with Top Gun: Maverick, which features a unique aircraft: the Darkstar, whose real-life counterpart is the secretive Lockheed Martin SR-72 “Son of Blackbird.”
If you’ve not heard of the SR-72, you aren’t the only one, as it’s not yet built. A demonstrator is currently in development, so the US Air Force can make the final decision to green-light the project. What you should know, however, is that the aircraft is being developed as the successor to the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which was retired from service in 1998.
The Darkstar is used to drive the narrative of Top Gun: Maverick. Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is a test pilot tasked with flying the secretive and expensive new aircraft, with his efforts showing that, while a fair bit older than he was in 1986, he still has the same rebellious streak.
Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is one of the newer aircraft to feature in Top Gun: Maverick. The jet was first introduced into service in 1999 as a replacement for the F-14 Tomcat. While not as fast as its older counterpart, the F/A-18E/F features a number of updates that make it more equipped to deal with the conditions of modern aerial warfare.
In Top Gun: Maverick, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is tasked with training the new aviators on the aircraft, meaning it features quite prominently in the film. Funnily enough, Tom Cruise actually believed the US Navy was going to allow him to pilot one. Director Jerry Bruckheimer asked the service if the actor could get in the cockpit of one, but was denied, likely due to the high price tag of the F/A-18E/F.
We guess Cruise will have to wait to achieve his dream of manning a fighter jet.
Sukhoi Su-57 Felon
In the original Top Gun film, US Navy pilots flew against the fictional Russian aircraft, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-28. In the sequel, the enemies have upgraded to the more advanced Sukhoi Su-57 Felon. The fighter debuted in 2020 with the Russian Aerospace Forces, with the service claiming it has seen combat action in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War.
Now, we have to admit, the adversary in Top Gun: Maverick is never outright named, but any aircraft enthusiast will know right away that it’s the Su-57; the jet is more than capable of taking on the best fighters the US military has to offer.