Audiences leaving “Top Gun: Maverick” this weekend want to know one thing: Are the actors really flying those fighter jets? The short answer is yes.
Tom Cruise, who returns as “Maverick,” is known for doing his own stunt work and wanted his stars Miles Teller, Monica Barbaro and Glen Powell to learn to fly. That’s where the film’s aerial coordinator, Kevin LaRosa Jr., stepped in.
LaRosa Jr. worked with Cruise to put together an intense flight schedule that began with the cast flying in a smaller plane. “We started with the Cessna 172 and took them through basic flight. This allowed them to see what it was like to take off, land and know where to look and put their hands”, LaRosa. Jr explains. That opening shot also gave the actors a sense of what a little g-force felt like.
And just like in a real training show, once the actors got comfortable with that, they went to the next level and it was in the stunt plane, the Extra 300. “This was similar to what the general public would see in an air show where those planes do crazy maneuvers. You can pull up to eight g-forces. It’s exciting,” says LaRosa Jr.
Again, exercise would increase your G tolerance. “That to me is almost like muscle memory. If I don’t fly for a long time, I could go up and get sick. But if I fly every day and get those G’s out, it’s almost like a brain muscle and you’ll get used to it and get better.” And he adds: “We built them up to the point where they mainly didn’t get sick.”
The next was the Albatros L-39. “This allowed them to experience a combat training aircraft. When they graduated from that, we had airmen.” LaRosa Jr. adds that some cast members are working on getting their full license. Glen Powell, who plays the Hangman, got his.
When the actors got into the F/A-18, LaRosa Jr. says, “They were confident and they felt good. They were used to those G-forces, and then they were able to focus on working with Joseph and Tom to tell this incredible story.” He continues, “They didn’t have to worry about being in this high-performance fighter jet flying through canyons.”
As someone who has dedicated his life to being an aerial coordinator, flying and teaching, LaRosa Jr. praises the talent of the cast. Barbaro, he says, was the most impressive. “He absolutely killed it and did a good job of adjusting to the physiological effects of it all.”
Just as impressive was Powell, who fell ill while filming the F/A-18 scenes. Says LaRosa Jr., “He would go and take care of his business and then get back in the game. One of the most impressive things was seeing how some of the cast members were able to process that and bounce back.”
The training program prepared the actors so that when they were ready to fly and film, Cruise’s determination to want the best possible performances would be fulfilled.
For the mission training program involving the pilots, LaRosa Jr. says jet-to-jet photography allows the public to go live with the fighter jets as IMAX cameras were mounted inside and outside the aircraft. F/A-18. “As an audience, it feels like we’re riding in there with them.” LaRosa Jr. adds, “When you mix all of those things together, you end up with the perfect blend of aerial storytelling. It’s a perfect combination of living with our actors who are absolutely in those planes, maneuvering and pulling G’s and also letting the audience see where we are to get spatial orientation and seeing these planes maneuvering low and in and around the training ground. . ”