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The most important 'Top Gun: Maverick' moment nearly every moviegoer missed

By Alvin Townley

As featured on Fox News Opinion (July 9, 2022)


Top Gun: Maverick
worldwide ticket sales have already overflown $1 billion. If I'm an indicator, theatres sold many of those tickets to repeat customers.

If I hadn't seen the film a second time, however, I would have missed its most important and revealing five seconds.

During my first watching, the scene entirely escaped notice. Producers had sandwiched it between mission-centered drama and supremely distracting high-G maneuvers. But in my second screening, I caught it.

The scene occurs just before Tom Cruise's character Maverick leads three other F/A-18 Super Hornets on the film's climactic mission. It breaks into two segments, one lasting about 1.5 seconds and the second roughly 4 seconds.

To me, these are the most meaningful seconds of the film.

The initial second-and-a-half shows the hangar deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. From behind, we see Maverick and Rooster who'll fly the single-seat F/A-18s on the impending mission. We also see Payback and Phoenix who'll be flying with rear-seat flight officers Bob and Fanboy.

The six stars are standing in front of row after row of aviation personnel. These rows of men and women, dressed in shirts of varied color, look like a rainbow. Without them, nobody's getting a jet into the air.

They are the indispensable and unsung team members that have maintained and prepared the aircraft that will fly the mission.

Those wearing purple shirts have fueled up the jets; red shirts have armed them.

Green shirts have maintained the engines and readied the catapults and arresting cables.

Blue shirts will run the ship's massive elevators, unchain the aircraft, and clear the chocks.

Yellow shirts will lock the aircraft into the catapults and send the aviators and their backseat flight officers rocketing off the deck.

Each brown shirt serves as a plane captain; most are under the age of 22 yet shoulder responsibility for ensuring their $70M jet is ready. Often, their names are painted on the aircraft just like the pilot's. Aviators will generally concede that the plane captain owns the aircraft; the pilot just borrows it.

Everyone loves the sunglasses-wearing figures in flight suits; they're just the tip of a long spear, however. Each man and woman aboard Theodore Roosevelt makes it possible for these aviators to drop ordnance on a target and accomplish the ship's collective mission of advancing national security.

I learned this lesson aboard four deployed aircraft carriers and at bases like North Island, Pensacola, and Bahrain while researching my book Fly Navy. Yet, the passing of time and the sizzle of the new film's leading actors nearly made me forget that naval aviation includes far more than the men and women in the cockpits.

The second part of the overlooked scene comes several moments later. We see Cyclone, the three-star admiral in charge of the mission, address the assemblage in the hangar deck.

'This is what you've all been training for,' he says dramatically. Charged and inspired, everyone then leaves to execute his or her precise role.

Initially, I thought Cyclone was just speaking to the six officers about to climb into the cockpits.

He wasn't.

Cyclone was addressing everybody on the carrier, especially those working the flight deck. They'd trained relentlessly for their specific duties, and success that day required them to shine as brightly as the aviators and flight officers. It was their mission, too.

As a civilian in the world of naval aviation, I found something extraordinary and surprising, and the film gives you a glimpse thereof if you're quick enough to catch it.

I discovered a shipboard team of unsurpassed ability and sense of mission. I witnessed an operation that strengthens our country by protecting it from enemies. And I saw how that operation also manufactures the citizens America needs to thrive.

On the flight deck, individuals from every conceivable background work together in a hot and dangerous crucible that forges ability, character, and duty. The entire enterprise of naval aviation makes America stronger. It serves as an example and reminder of how leadership and shared purpose can transform organizations and individuals, in uniform and not. It makes me proud.

So, when you watch Top Gun Maverick again - and let's be honest, you will - remember the stars aren't just the people with callsigns. Take a moment to realize you're watching heroes work together, a navy and a country at its best.

Alvin Townley is a best-selling New York Times-reviewed author of five books. Follow him @AlvinTownley.

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© 2022 Alvin Townley