Top Gun: Maverick is loaded with IMAX-worthy high-speed footage of fighter jets dogfighting, dodging missiles, chasing through canyons, and zooming over snow-capped mountaintops. The movie’s action-packed aerial cinematography was filmed by a Melbourne-manufactured Embraer executive jet.
According to Florida today, A specially outfitted Phenom 300E “camera ship” offered an airframe platform and technological advances that helped “set the standard for aerial cinematography.
According to Kevin “K2” LaRosa II, aerial coordinator and lead camera pilot:
“The general theme of the movie is a love letter to aviation. The movie is packed with aerials from start to finish — literally, the opening sequence to end sequence of the movie,”.
“Joseph Kosinski, one of my favorite directors in the world, does a beautiful job of storytelling and has this natural progression throughout the movie of the aerials. That’s kind of designed to keep people on the edge of their seats,” he said.
“So as we watch this movie, I feel like the aerials just naturally progress in energy (and) become more dynamic. Right up to the final sequence, where the Phenom 300 was used extensively — which is some of the craziest flying in the movie,” he said.
“Top Gun: Maverick” stars Tom Cruise reprising his fighter-pilot role from the original 1986 blockbuster. Released on May 27, the sequel shattered the Memorial Day weekend box-office record and has soared beyond $600 million worldwide, Forbes reported.
The unique Phenom 300E is owned by Jonathan Spano, a Long Beach aviation entrepreneur and stunt pilot.
Spano modified his aircraft to carry two gyro-stabilized camera systems to film “Top Gun: Maverick.” That way, they could use two combinations of lenses to shoot the same flight sequences.
“It took us almost two years to go through the engineering, the design, and the (Federal Aviation Administration) certification for the aircraft,” Spano said.
“We’re talking about a 300-pound mass that is about 2-foot round hanging off the front of the aircraft. And it hangs off the nose — and we’re traveling at speeds of 300 knots. So the engineering involved to do this safely, it was pretty extensive,” he said.
“And then, another 300-pound mass hanging off the tail of the aircraft gave us access to more shots. So we could look aft, instead of just forward and to the sides,” he said.
Spano flew alongside LaRosa as a camera pilot. Inside the cabin, camera operators David Nowell and Michael FitzMaurice controlled the cameras using high-tech workstations.
Since LaRosa started flying camera jets 11 years ago, he said he was forced to fly in a certain manner to make the shots look smoother. Not so with the Phenom. LaRosa said he and Spano could fly the jet “kind of like we stole it,” and the onboard operators could aim the cameras in the right spots.
Related article: Every Fighter Jet Featured in Top Gun: Maverick’s Trailer
LaRosa said he and Spano shared laughs during “Top Gun: Maverick” filming that they were running the Embraer through aggressive aerobatic rigors “where a Phenom 300 has never been before and will probably never, ever go again.”
But by contrast, he said crew members flying aboard the executive jet sat in plush leather seats near a food-beverage galley adorned with wood-grain trim — a far cry from the typical Hollywood camera platform.
During one film sequence, LaRosa recalled pushing the Phenom’s negative-G stresses to the limit by zooming into a dive behind an F-18.
“We’re literally feet away from this thing. We’re tucked right in behind it, which is a pretty cool view,” LaRosa recalled.
“But what we learned was our super-cool mini-bar setup up there in the air doesn’t like weightlessness. All of a sudden, Jon and I had this ice and cold water floating around us. We were just like, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” he said.
“And our ice chest — which I don’t think Embraer built for F-18 dogfighting and maneuvering — was slowly emptying itself as everything was weightless in the aircraft,” he said.
“So that was one of our funny lessons learned on how to prep our plush, luxurious Phenom 300 camera ship for high-octane filming,” he said.
The jet was manufactured at Embraer Executive Jet’s headquarters at Melbourne Orlando International Airport. The campus opened in 2011, houses assembly lines for the entry-level Phenom 100EV and Phenom 300E, and hosts final assembly of the midsize and super-midsize jets Praetor 500 and Praetor 600, company spokesperson Lauren Cozza said.
Billed by Embraer as “the world’s fastest and longest-range single-pilot aircraft,” the Phenom 300E can fly at speeds up to Mach 0.8 and carry up to 10 passengers.
The Phenom 300 series has ranked as the world’s best-selling light jet for the past 10 consecutive years, Cozza said. The Brazil-based aircraft manufacturer delivered 56 Phenom 300 jets last year.
Embraer hosted an April hiring fair with hopes of hiring more than 150 employees of technicians, painters, inspectors, and engineers to its Melbourne workforce of nearly 1,000 people.