Former Fighter Pilot Gives a Look into the Real World of 'Top Gun'


Former Fighter Pilot Gives a Look into the Real World of 'Top Gun'
Col. Jeremiah Gentry, commander of the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard.   (Sarah Bentham)

We thought we might ask Col. Jeremiah Gentry what he thought about “Top Gun: Maverick,” the latest Tom Cruise-led blockbuster that has made roughly $1.4 billion at theaters since its release in May, $700 million in the U.S. and $700 million internationally.

Gentry, as a former F-16 pilot, certainly knows fighter jets. He is the commander of the 188th Fighter Wing at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith and has flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His call sign is “Cujo,” if you were curious.

Anyway, Gentry loved the movie. He had quibbles about the plot — no spoilers! — but the action sequences made him miss the cockpit.

“It was awesome,” Gentry said. “As far as the culture of what it is like to be a fighter pilot, it made me miss it. It made me want to get back in there and fly — the culture, what it was like and how the brothers and sisters took care of each other and made fun of each other. 

“The flying was very accurate, the culture was very accurate, the whole premise was crap. You had to have some reason to go do it, though.” 

Gentry is an Air Force man. The movies’ heroes have been Navy aviators.

Let’s not pull that thread too hard. Oops, too late.

“The only part I hate about it,” Gentry said, “they call it ‘Top Gun.’ It’s not called ‘Top Gun.’”

The naval training center is formally the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program. “The Air Force has most of the fighter pilot schools and graduates of weapons school,” Gentry said. “The Navy gets all the credit, and we’re all doing most of the flying. But it’s fine.”

Is it? 

“We both profit from the positive message it sends to our youth that there’s some really cool stuff you can do in the military.” 


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