The Six Iconic Planes Featured in the 2022 Summer Blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick”

Rarely do the sequels or reboots of classic movies find success these days; the reasons may vary from lack of originality, resources, to plot, political correctness, and so on… The first Top Gun movie that came out in 1986 achieved enormous success in terms of critical acclaim and box office revenue, yet despite this, it took 36 years for the sequel to be produced.

Nevertheless, the wait was not in vain as this summer’s Top Gun: Maverick was equally amazing featuring fascinating aircraft and good old blockbuster fun. Here are six of the aircraft featured in the film:

P-51 Mustang

Shown in the final scenes of the movie, the P-51 Mustang is a highly-respected U.S. relic of the Second World War. It was an aircraft developed in record time to meet the requirements of the British in WWII. It first saw service in 1942 as the P-51Bs. Many variants were made during the war and they took out at least 5,000 enemy German aircraft.

P-51s of one kind or another saw service during the Korean War as well, were they primarily served as bombers. In 1957, the Air National Guard (ANG) retired its final propeller driven F-51s.

P-51 mustang
P-51 Mustang

F-14A Tomcat

Grummans’ F-14 Tomcat had a long and impressive history in the United States Navy. The aircraft made its first deployment in 1974 and saw action in many operations throughout the 1970s and ’80s. During the Gulf War, the Tomcat was used in strike escort and reconnaissance missions.

However, it had significant engine problems and although the improved F-14D was produced, iss existence could no longer be justified as it was originally build to intercept Soviet bombers. Twenty years after the original movie was released, in 2004 to be precise, the F-14A was retired and replaced by contemporary aircraft. Still, the plane can also be seen in Top Gun: Maverick for its nostalgic effect on Maverick and audiences alike.

F-14A Tomcat of NFWS (TOPGUN) NAS Miramar c. 1993
F-14A Tomcat of NFWS (TOPGUN) NAS Miramar c. 1993

F-35A Lightning II

The F-35A is the U.S. Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter. It is planned to replace the U.S. Air Force’s ageing fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, which have been the primary fighter aircraft for over 20 years.

The Navy’s variant is designated as the F-35 C and they only began flying the aircraft in 2019. The only known time that it has even seen action was in 2021 when an Israeli F-35 Adir fighter jet allegedly took down two armed Iranian Shahad 197 UAVs.

The movie does feature the F-35 Lightning II but not extensively as it is a single pilot plane and the movie needed to feature the pilots flying as a team. It would also seem that the movie plot relied on the U.S. American pilots having a technological disadvantage against the enemy’s own fifth-generation fighters and missile defence systems.

F-35A Lightning II
A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John R. Nimmo, Sr./RELEASED) DIGITAL

Hypersonic ‘Darkstar’

One of the reasons for Top Gun‘s enduring popularity is the film’s commitment to accuracy. As such, almost all of the planes used in the film are based on real aircraft. However, Top Gun: Maverick features the Darkstar jet, based on Lockheed Martin’s conceptual SR-72. Though a highly developed jet has yet to be developed, the concept is not far off but quite feasible.

The aircraft is used to drive the narrative of the movie. Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is a test pilot tasked with flying the secret and expensive new plane and to have it exceed Mach 10 lest it (the Darkstar) and his team be replaced with another fictional Mach 10 UAV project. His successful efforts show that while Maverick may be a fair bit older, he still has the same rebellious demeanour and that manned aircraft are not a thing of the past.

Lockheed Darkstar. Photo: Lockheed Martin

Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

The Super Hornet is one of the newer models featured in the movie. The jet originally entered service between 1999 and 2001. Even though the Super Hornet replaced the F-14 Tomcat, and while the F/A-18E/F is not as fast as the Tomcat, it is an updated and more advanced aircraft in many different ways.

In the movie, Maverick is tasked with training the best pilots of the United States on the new aircraft for their specific mission. As a result, the jet is featured regularly in the film and the capabilities, or lack thereof, of the F/A-18E/F are a major part of the plot.

F/A-18E Super Hornet
A U.S. Navy (USN) F/A-18E Super Hornet aircraft. Photographer’s Mate Airman Phillip A. McDaniel, U.S. Navy

Sukhoi SU-57 Felon

In the 1986 Top Gun film, the protagonists flew against fake Soviet-made MiG-28s. In the latest film, the enemies have upgraded to the fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 Felon. Production of the Su-57 was declared as far back as 2010, but it first entered service in 2020 and is used by the Russian Aerospace Forces.

Sukhoi Su-57
Sukhoi Design Bureau, 054, Sukhoi Su-57. Photo: Anna Zvereva