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The original Top Gun was a massive hit, in large part because of the way it brought the audience into the cockpit of real life fighter jets. In an era where doing such scenes practically was the only way to really do it at all, the thrills translated perfectly to the audience, making the movie a true blockbuster in its day.
Now, a sequel is on the way, and while there's no need for scenes of fighter jets to be shot practically, CGI could have worked just as well, Tom Cruise had always said the only way he'd even do a sequel was if he got to fly once again. And so, once again, Top Gun: Maverick puts the actors into real jets, F-18 Super Hornets to be precise. While this will almost certainly translate into some amazing action sequences, director Joseph Kosinski admits that the entire experience was "grueling," because it required a lot of intense training simply to get all the actors to the point where their scenes could be shot. According to the director...
The experience is thrilling but very physically grueling. The maneuvers that we were putting them through to tell this story were not something that you can just jump in and do. They all had to go through months of aerial training. We put them through a training course that Tom actually designed himself. He’s a licensed aerobatic pilot, and he was thrown into deep end when he did the first Top Gun without any training. So he knew that they would need to kind of work up to that level.
As Joseph Kosinski goes on to tell EW, the nature of the scenes, of the actors in the cockpits, of course meant that nobody else could be up there with them. They couldn't take direction of any kind, so the actors had to completely understand what was needed of them, and be completely comfortable doing it while flying at high speeds, though the actual flying was handled in the other seat by an actual Navy pilot, of course.
It's bad enough when you need another take of a normal dialogue scene because you flub a line or hit your mark the wrong way, one can only imagine the problems that occur when these things happen in a fighter jet.
Luckily Tom Cruise was there. Having been through it all once before in the original Top Gun, and being a licensed aerobatic pilot, because of course he is, the actor knew exactly what his co-stars needed. This was because he knew what he didn't get the first time around. And he apparently designed the training course himself to get everybody ready.
Of course, they didn't all just jump straight into F-18s. The actors had to go through several steps of training, with different types of planes, in order to be ready to handle the big fighters. This was likely the part that was truly grueling, simply because it was time consuming for everybody to go through all the steps, while the rest of the crew is waiting to get started making a movie.
So they started in Cessnas and then worked their way up aerobatic airplanes then into small single-engine jets before they were in the Super Hornet. Occasionally it made some of the actors sick and that even happens to experienced fighter pilots.
And I'm guessing everybody also needed to be trained on the proper way to vomit in a jet. If you do it wrong, it seems like things could go very, very, bad.