Is Maverick too OLD to be a fighter pilot? Tom Cruise’s Top Gun character’s age wouldn’t stop him – but his lifestyle might, expert says

  • Top Gun: Maverick was released in UK today more than 30 years after original
  • It sees Tom Cruise’s character, ‘Maverick’, training graduates to become pilots
  • Maverick’s age is a key plot point in the film, with colleagues questioning whether, at 57-years-old, he is too old to be a test and fighter pilot
  • Experts say that his age wouldn’t not stop him, but his lifestyle might 

The moment that Top Gun fans have waited more than 30 years for is finally here, with the UK release of Top Gun: Maverick today.

The sequel to the cult classic sees Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise, training a cohort of graduates to become test pilots in the Navy. 

Maverick’s age is a key plot point in the film, with some colleagues questioning whether, at 57-years-old, he is too old to be a test and fighter pilot.

So does Maverick really have what it takes to be still be a fighter pilot after 30 years of service? 

Here we delve into the details and reveal that, while his age likely wouldn’t stop him, his lifestyle might.

The moment that Top Gun fans have waited more than 30 years for is finally here, with the UK launch of Top Gun: Maverick today 

Fighter pilot criteria 

The US Air Force has strict criteria for its pilots: 

 Source: US Air Force

Age

While Maverick is in his early 20s in the original Top Gun film, he is now 57 in the sequel.

According to Zippia, the average age of an Air Force Pilot in the US is 45 years old, while 67 per cent of pilots are aged 40+.

Writing for The Conversation, Dr Guy Gratton, an Associate Professor of Aviation and the Environment at Cranfield University, reassured that Maverick would still be young enough to be a test pilot.

’57 is not too old. I’ve met many test pilots in their 60s, and fighter pilots in their 50s,’ he said.

However, it is unlikely he would have been able to join the Air Force at such an advanced age if he wasn’t already in the Navy.

To become a pilot now with the US Air Force, you must have begun pilot training between the ages of 18 and 33. 

Height

At 5ft 7′, Tom Cruise is known for being quite short, and is believed to regularly wear inserts in his shoes to make him look taller.

Thankfully though, Cruise’s height means Maverick is well within the Air Force’s height requirements for pilots.

‘For pilot and aircrew positions, height specifications vary by aircraft and most applicants can successfully pursue a career in aviation with the U.S. Air Force,’ the US Air Force explains.

Cruise has had his pilot’s licence since 1994 and did genuinely fly planes in the film.

However, his request to pilot a $70 million F-18 Super Hornet fighter plane was turned down by the Navy.

Veteran producer Jerry Bruckheimer said that Cruise had filed a request to be allowed to fly the plane, but was denied clearance by the Navy.

This was presumably on the grounds that the $70 million plane was simply too expensive to be entrusted someone who is not actually a fighter pilot.

‘Applicants who are significantly taller or shorter than average may require special screening to ensure they can safely perform operational duties. 

‘Applicants of all heights are encouraged to apply.’ 

In fact, Dr Gratton claims that Maverick’s short stature could actually be beneficial as a test pilot.

‘Maverick is not exactly the tallest pilot in the business,’ he wrote. 

‘That would make him an ideal candidate to be declared “shortest test pilot” and lined up to test out smaller sized equipment.’

Lifestyle

As his nickname suggests, Maverick has a reckless attitude and cocky demeanour, which often puts him at odds with other pilots.

Unfortunately, this might go against him as a fighter pilot in the real world, according to Dr Gratton.

‘Good professional pilots shouldn’t be people who indulge in risky behaviours or who are poor team players,’ he wrote.

Dr Gratton points to a 2020 study by researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology, which looked at personality trends in the pilot population.

The study, published in Collegiate Aviation Review International, found that pilots tend to exhibit personality traits lower in neuroticism, higher in extroversion, equivalent in openness, lower in agreeableness, and higher in conscientiousness than the general population.

‘Pilots, specifically military pilots, may be less agreeable due to being more concerned with aspects of mission performance over relationships,’ the researchers wrote.

Cruise, 59, famously insists that he does his own stunts and has been banging the drum for the authenticity of Top Gun: Maverick

What about Tom Cruise himself?

Cruise has had his pilot’s licence since 1994 and did genuinely fly planes in the film.

However, his request to pilot the $70 million F-18 Super Hornet fighter plane was turned down by the Navy.

The film shows his character flying supersonic jets on a dangerous secret mission – at ‘Mach 2 with his hair on fire,’ as Cruise puts it.

Cruise and others have spoken in numerous interviews about how they went through months of training to be able to handle G-Forces and say their lines in the film without passing out or vomiting.

However, veteran producer Jerry Bruckheimer has come clean and admitted that although they had clearance to put Cruise and other actors in the F-18s, they were merely passengers in the cockpit.

Bruckheimer said that Cruise had filed a request to be allowed to fly the plane, but was denied clearance by the Navy – presumably on the grounds that the $70 million plane was simply too expensive to be entrusted someone who is not actually a fighter pilot.

F-18 Super Hornet: Boeing’s $70 MILLION fighter plane 

The F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet is the newest highly capable, affordable and available tactical aircraft in U.S. Navy inventory

The F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet is the newest highly capable, affordable and available tactical aircraft in U.S. Navy inventory. 

The combat-proven Super Hornet delivers cutting-edge, next-generation multi-role strike fighter capability, outdistancing current and emerging threats well into the future. 

The Super Hornet has the capability, flexibility and performance necessary to modernize the air or naval aviation forces of any country. 

Two versions of the Super Hornet – the single-seat E model and the two-seat F model – are able to perform virtually every mission in the tactical spectrum, including air superiority, day/night strike with precision-guided weapons, fighter escort, close air support, suppression of enemy air defenses, maritime strike, reconnaissance, forward air control and tanker missions.

Source: Boeing 

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