The F/A-18E Super Hornet used by Tom Cruise’s character in the new Top Gun: Maverick movie will continue to thrill aviation fans long after the movie debuts.
It is on its way to be converted for use by the US Navy Blue Angels demonstration team, which will begin training with the aircraft this fall.
The jet (BuNo 165667) wears a distinctive black and blue paint scheme with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s name clearly displayed on the side for the camera. This aircraft is reportedly the sixth Super Hornet to begin conversion for use by the Blue Angels.
It only has one seat; shots of Cruise in the cockpit were filmed using a two-seat F model but this one was used for exterior shots. Although the paint scheme will be swapped out for the distinctive blue and gold that the team uses, there is hope that someday it will be retired to a museum and returned to the movie colors.
Over the next year, the Blue Angels will make their first aircraft transition in 30 years when they move to the larger F/A-18 Super Hornets. When completed, a fleet of 18 Super Hornets — including the one that made a cameo in the movie — will be ready to ride for the 2021 air show season.
“The history behind that aircraft is, it did some operations there for Paramount Pictures, but it’s the home station before it came to us was in Fallon, Nevada, and it was actually an aircraft for the TOPGUN actual class,” said Garrett Hopkins, the transition maintenance officer for the Blue Angels Super Hornet program. “So before it was in the movie, it was utilized by contractors in the (U.S. Department of Defense) to facilitate the actual TOPGUN class.”
The Blue Angels Super Hornet program is formed to recruit fighter aircraft that aren’t as technologically advanced as current war crafts. The team modifies them and prepares them for a Blue Angels transition to squeeze a little more life out of them before retirement.
“It’s always an honor to be a part of a transition like this, we only do this once every 30 years,” Hopkins said. “We have never done it where we continue to fly a season and then stand up another squadron at the same time.”
The batch of 18 Super Hornets officially making the transition are taken into U.S. Navy depots for safety inspections before being modified by Boeing.
“That modification takes anywhere from six to eight months,” Hopkins said. “There’s been over 75 Blue Angels aircraft in the history of the Blue Angels. So the process with Boeing has been around for quite a while. But transitioning into Super Hornets brings new challenges.”
Come 2021, fans at Pensacola Beach for the July air show shouldn’t notice a difference in the way these new Super Hornets glide through the air, despite the fact that they are 33% bigger than the legacy aircraft.
“Once we get modified aircraft, there’s a team that will put these in the air and tries to match the current demonstrations as much as possible,” Hopkins said. “You could see some deviations to maneuvers, for sure, but to the naked eye, I don’t think you’re going to see a big difference.”
All 18 aircraft are at different stages of the refurbishing process. Some have only been identified and haven’t had a lick of work done to them yet. Hopkins said the repainting process will begin in mid-April.
The “Top Gun” sequel hits theaters on June 24.