In this episode we spoke with Tom about his flying career, commanding Top Gun, the purpose of Top Gun, Top Gun Maverick and the movies, loads of fighter jet and pilot trivia, stories and more!
Who Is Tom Trotter?
👉🏻 As a young lieutenant in the Navy, Trotter was selected to train at the TOPGUN school at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Ten years later he was chosen to command the Navy Fighter Weapons School more affectionately know as TOPGUN. Two years after Trotter went through the school as a lieutenant, Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer were playing lieutenants making the original “Top Gun” movie. Tom Trotter played the real-life role that Tom Skerritt played in the 1986 film.
Trotter retired in 2000 after 24 years as a Navy fighter jet pilot and commander of the Navy’s Airwing 2. He says he comes by his “need for speed” naturally. Trotter was the final commander at Miramar and handled the TOPGUN school’s move from Southern California to Fallon, Nevada. He is a Pueblo native and a graduate of the University of Colorado.
THINGS WE DISCUSSED:
Talk4 EP 076 intro by Louis Skupien
Who is Tom Trotter?
5000 hours flying tactical jets and 17,000 flying hours
Top Gun’s TOP GUN and “The Grand Club”
How many members are in The Grand Club?
Becoming the commander of Top Gun
Military patches and TOP GUN patch
What made Top Gun graduates so special?
What was the REAL Top Gun like vs the movies?
The REAL objective and purpose of Top Gun!
Do China have their own TOP GUN school?
Was Top Gun Maverick better than the original?
What was most unrealistic about the movie?
Best memories from Tom’s carrier and cool stories!
Shameless plug and promotions
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🌍 Tom Trotter’s Links:
👉🏻 Tom Trotter Article:
👉🏻 Tom Trotter Linkedin:
👉🏻 Eagle Top Flight:
hey what's up guys and welcome to episode 76 of talk 4 the quickfire podcast where we ask four great questions to unique and interesting people behind the mic today is your host Louis Skupien that's me and let me introduce our very very special guest for today Tom Trotter who's going to be answering a few questions today Tom all I can say is welcome aboard the talk 4 podcast please say hi to the Fine people listening and just give us a quick rundown of who you are and what you do before I shoot some questions hello fine people worldwide top of the top of the day to you I guess they're Louie it's noon here in Vail Colorado and I'll just let me just tell you where I am because you see a ski picture behind me I am sitting directly across it is two miles away from me the steepest longest downhill in the world wow on these men's circuit 2.2 miles in length and they get up to about 85 miles an hour on the course so that's where I am today because that's where I came to get my knee surgery done but let me tell you about myself I grew up in Colorado and that's uh why I came back here to hang out in my old uh my old State well I got surgery done grew up in Pueblo Colorado now Pueblo Colorado was a steel Town out on the plains of Colorado not up in the mountains and I you know we were kind of a middle income family and uh we had family of four my dad was a World War II bomber pilot B-29 pilot uh he operated from the same air field as the Enola Gay in a different Squadron largest Airfield in the world tianan Island and he was truly my motivation behind wanting to learn to fly I was always fascinated with aircraft at the age of four all I could think about was how do I become a pilot I knew what I wanted to do from being a little guy so there were no simulators at the time but United Airlines would come out to Pueblo from the Denver training center and would do these what I would call a box pattern of ground controlled approaches to the Pueblo airport and I think the airport got 10 bucks or something for every time they landed and it was a quiet airport but a great big one and so I would go out there hang on the chain link fence watch the airplanes do what they did 707 727s uh dc-8s all the aircraft of the day and dream about flying there like I said you would you would often hear Sonic booms during the 1960s I was born in 55 so I've been around a while this is my 50th year of flying coming up and uh so I been flying a long time Louie so my motivation was how do I become an airline pilot and in the end that's the one thing I never did was get to become an airline pilot but my brother went to the Naval Academy I had no idea that Navy had airplanes I never flew in a jet aircraft till I was 17 years old to go on an airliner somewhere and I got to fly when I was like 10 years old in the back right seat of somebody's Cherokee at the local airport I was just always enthused and fascinated with flight and so he came home and he had this one photograph of a ta4 Skyhawk is what the Navy used for training and I thought wow what what is the Navy doing with airplanes and he says they land on ships I had no idea they landed on ships I thought the Air Force had all the airplanes and at that point I said that's what I got to do so I applied to go to the Naval Academy they said well you're not you're not quite that smart so I got a scholarship I was an alternate to the University of Colorado at Boulder and so it was a very normal you know course of going through college right after high school and so I skied and you know we got in a uniform once a week and you got the same commission as the people from the Naval Academy came out of there went off to flight school so I started through Flight School and it was it was only a four-year commitment at that point did well enough to finish near the top of my class got selected for the F-14 Tomcat went to the east coast Oceana Virginia went through a tomcat tour and that tour took place during the time frame that the Iranian hostage crisis went down we were sort of a backup ship to the Nimitz on the USS Eisenhower got deployed to the Indian Ocean uh it was the longest deployment of my Naval career that was I was in the Navy for 24 years that that one deployment was nearly nine months maybe it was just a little bit more but we only had count them five days off in nine months at Sea five days in singular and if you don't think we didn't have a few drinks in Singapore it was a very long deployment so I was a tomcat guy for that period Then the F-18 came out while I was an instructor in the Tomcat I opted to make the switch over to the hornet you know of course I had to apply and it took some unique qualifications and I happened to have them I was lucky enough to have them because there are guys that assist people landing on the ship called lsos so I had that qualification so they said hey that's what we need one guy from the East Coast one for the West I was in the first Navy F-18 Squadron first deployment of the aircraft so that was 1985 is when that deployment was made for the for 17 years I flew the Hornet from the West Coast my entire career was another you know seven and in the entirety of my flying I have to laugh about it I I never served in the Pentagon so I guess that maybe not very promotable way up but I did fly in just about every single tour that I had which I uh I pride myself on got about 5 000 hours of tactical jet time Tomcats Hornet variety of other aircraft that we can talk about and then uh 1278 Landings about 38 combat missions into Iraq so I achieved every goal that I ever had of dodging a desk and putting on a g suit instead so well
then I moved into the civilian side we call it GA general aviation and I managed a private jet for a gentleman out of San Francisco we flew all over the world he had he had a company on the London exchange so we would come to London all the time I was in London four or five times a year I can't tell you how many times been to London so I know I know the UK pretty well so one of my favorite my favorite cities is London I I've been at a lot of your museums that's great uh it's a small world isn't it but right let me let me shoot a couple of facts because I just want to I just want to know what you think about this so 5 000 like you said 5 000 hours in tactical Jets over a thousand carrier Landings 17 000 hours of flying that comes up to 706 days that's nearly two years Tom how does that make you feel when you kind of after this career when you put into perspective that you've nearly been two years going in in Jets and and planes how does that make you feel
you know we had a saying in Naval Aviation you know particularly like flying Fighters off boats because you take off and then you stay out there for a long time and you're not fighting all the time okay it's not all that action oriented you know so in that in all those hours of 17 000 hours of flying I you know there's hours and hours of boredom and then sometimes interrupted by a few moments of sheer Terror but uh you know like I just can't I just went over to court and Venice here recently and I mean you know those are six and seven hours of idle Chit Chat and having a nice meal and because I fly a Business Jet at this point okay so you know some of it's pretty benign and then the the wonderful part of my life right now is I fly I've flown nine different aircraft for the company that I fly for and so we've got this what I call this high low mix we got little airplanes that land back country you know dirt strips and then we've got corporate Gulf streams okay so it's really fun to do this mix across the board so uh I get and then we have a military aircraft the pc9 I think I sent you a picture of that and it's a wonderful airplane to go out for an old guy and put some G's on and uh you know go straight up and down and chase chase some of our neighbors around up there in Wyoming with our aircraft but yeah I've been blessed uh I did have one ejection uh in the Tomcat early on in my career but uh you know I was I used to I still people they said oh you ejected so you know what was that like and I always say I just sum it up with well I used to be about six foot one now I'm five eight and I was very handsome at one point now I'm a little ugly so you know it'll kind of beat you up but yeah I've been fortunate you know I've dodged a few bullets we'll just say some of these got some of the people shooting at me weren't very good shots I guess but uh it's been a great been a great ride I've and I've like I said I've flown so many different aircrafts gliders helicopters yeah you know I got a few different stories for a variety of them yeah some people call that the Stormtrooper ain't syndrome I think but anyway look so when I was doing my kind of the research and the background checks and sort of like the Articles and just having a look at who you are and what you've done I think one one press article referred to you as Top Guns Top Gun would you say that's an accurate statement and um I know that you're a member of something called The Grand Club as well which is something I think some people who get a thousand carrier Landings become a part of so yeah describe that as well
okay two different questions oh the yeah the uh I took a group of young people that were these YouTube Sensations so they put this thing together and they kind of describe me as he wasn't Tom Cruise he's Tom Cruise's Captain
they all wanted to go out and pull a lot of G's and have some fun but uh you know and that kind of takes me back to the whole Top Gun thing when I went through Top Gun it was 1985 there had been no first Top Gun movie young Tom Cruise but I was Lieutenant he went through his Lieutenant okay so that took place and I remember when they were creating it several of my friends are in the movie and then uh it was a sensation then we go to the other movie I'm far from having been in the Navy you know I'd been out of the Navy for 22 years by the time the second one gets created but he comes back as a Navy Captain so it's sort of funny I go well it's kind of come full circle you know Cruz just I was the captain but he he was not representing being the captain of Top Gun but he was a Top Gun pilot right so he comes back to do this special Mission and all so uh yeah it does kind of come full circle but I was in chart I did I did go through as a student just like the 1987 movie and I was a Navy Captain but never recalled to active duty to you know solve some difficult Mission but I was in charge of the school as a Navy Commander so one rank below Captain how did that come about those yeah let's talk about that for a second because you asked sure that's it takes 20 22 years to get to a thousand carrier Landings some some people have pulled it off in maybe 18 or 19 years but you have to have an alignment of being at Sea a lot and having opportunities to go land on the ship quite a bit so mine was in my 21st year 22nd year I did it with a family relative Believe It or Not uh my wife's cousin was in the back seat oh wow he was my real and it was a night Mission dropping some bombs we came back to the boat I made a I made a good enough play for the three wire I guess because we all looked to land on the three wire have an okay pass and then we cut a cake and celebrate but uh I really didn't want it to happen at night but my logbook fell out that way it's like oh no I gotta go out and fly the Tomcat at night late in my career because I flew it at the beginning and then I flew it again at the end of my career so uh yeah to be part of The Grand Club is pretty cool there's a gigantic brass plaque down at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola and your name goes up on the wall forever so that's one of my very proud achievements it was always a goal but you don't know that you can actually get there he puts into perspective how how many people roughly have achieved that to be part of The Grand Club like if you had to say do you know like a rough estimate of how many people have actually achieved this you know I don't know there's a count for pilots and there's a count for the naval flight officers right they're they're two different groups and I know the vast majority that are on the board you know and Naval Aviation has been around since 1911 so after 110 years of doing this there's actually a Brit that I understand has more carrier Landings than any navy guy so you might check that one out because you guys used to have yeah supposedly he Forex seeded I think he's the only person with 2 000 but I'd have to find that historically but it's I would say it's sort of a one percent kind of thing uh it's it's it's only a few pages when they put your name in a column and so how many people have been tail hook embarked on Carrier Navy Pilots the vast majority get out of the Navy so they never you know they may have 200 300 carrier Landings at the end of their eight year career so getting a thousand's hard and you know sometimes there's budget cuts and it gets even harder so I'd say it's kind of a one percent thing but I'd have to ask uh the Naval Aviation Museum about that one sounds good yeah I'd love to know about that actually because I mean it's it's an incredible achievements and um obviously like you mentioned and touched on already one of your other incredible achievements I mean to be a commander of anything in the military it's just amazing but when you have something like topgum which is regarded as such a prestigious thing I mean that's just one hell of an Accolade so I'm just fascinated so tell us about it you're a commander at Top Gun so can you tell us how that came about for you and then what were your objectives and responsibilities as the commander because obviously Top Gun is a it's a school so what were your sort of what were the tasks there uh well let's let me tell you how it kind of it leads leads up to becoming the CEO of top Gunner sure so throughout my entire Naval career there's nothing I wanted more than to be a Blue Angel I applied two different times once as a junior officer to be on the team did not get selected I applied to be the commanding officer of the Blue Angels I was selected as a finalist I went down and I interviewed and I didn't get chosen so I always say one door closes and another opened and so I came back from that a little disappointing but you know that's the way it goes but you know I did throw my hat in the ring it was something I always wanted to do I thought you know I think I'd be good at this I had a lot of time in the Hornet at that stage but that's the way it goes breaks of Naval Air we say so this opportunity came up and I got a call and I said hey would you think about being the CEO of Top Gun wow sure I would so I had to submit some articles that I had written put a little resume together I think it was a three-star Admiral that was going to choose who was going to be the uh nexio Top Gun but what was unique about my resume was the fact that I had flown the tomcat and I had over a thousand hours in the Tomcat at that stage and I had it instructed in it every commanding officer at Top Gun 19 of them that preceded me were well they were fighter pilots but they were primarily F4 and F-14 mostly F-14 Pilots so now we were in this transition to where the F-18 was more dominant on the flight deck and in the fleet and they said hey it's probably a good time to flip it over to the F-18 Community to have you know the commanding officery that so I had already commanded an F-18 Squadron the vfa 151 Vigilantes and it was off of that tour that they said okay you already commanded the Squadron this is a different unit it's larger we had about 35 airplanes when I showed up there a mix of planes we had f-16s we had f-14s f-18s so this hybrid and most of your uh most of your people that work for you are civilians believe it or not and some Navy but the staff were Navy and Marine Corps the pilots and the nfos okay the regions so it's a very unique position it was down at Miramar I was the last uh commanding officer at Miramar in San Diego and I was fortunate enough to be selected so I was the 20th commanding officer of of Top Gun in San Diego but I was also the guy that ran up to Fallon to Nevada to stick a shovel in the ground and go okay let's start the building of the academic facility and the hangar there and you know of course Fallon's a long ways from uh Miramar and that's where you see much of the second movie that's that's the Fallin ranges uh High Desert we call it up just to the east of Reno so that was my job and uh I was chosen I was fortunate it wasn't the biggest job that I had in the Navy I I was later on a few years later chosen to be an airwing commander and that's when you have nine squadrons about 2 200 people and then you're embarked on a carrier to me that was that was the real gem in the crown of my Naval career was to command a Carrier Air Wing be called the KAG that's the that's the term a Carrier Air Group commander and so I think anybody you know in tactical Aviation their aspiration is to say hey I'd love to lead a squadron getting Top Gun was fantastic but to be an airwing Commander was frosting on the cake so that was uh that was the culmination of my career and that's amazing what's uh that's just amazing and um you know what something I want to ask now just a bit of trivia then just fun little question so uh for me I've played a sport called Airsoft for for many years and I've picked up loads of like the patches and they're all kind of jokes and flags and uh kind of different bits and Bobs I got one from when I went flying in the l39 and there's a cool patch there and when I went out to see whiz uh the Top Gun pilot who went flying with he had a amazing patch wall in the place where in his hanging it was just full of like the you know the Top Gun Flight School and the red course things and the Thousand hours in the Hornets and stuff I'm just wondering so you must have got so many of these kind of things and patches and stuff from all these achievements you've accomplished it is there like an insane patch or just somewhere with your what did you do with all these things is there like a cabinet or just tell me you know it's funny because literally by the end of a 20 career 20-year career 24-year career you'd have hundreds of these things you know because some of them were funny that you know it'd be like a certain weapon and they'd have a patch for that weapon agm-88 the harm missile and so they'd have a patch you know so guys that didn't have uh you know much experience anything they have all these patches of you know some of them were just like walking advertisements for missile plans
significant so when you distill it down and you you know you wear your green flight jacket not the leather one we had two jackets but if you take it you go what are the things that you want to be seen with on that check one of your Navy wings and you know maybe your Top Gun name tag your tag name tag or your commanding officer name tag and so those were both unique and cherished that you would have at the end of your career the other would be maybe the command that you had had so if you had an air wing it had a certain shape and color to it I was keg too and it was a sword and so uh and then the other one that everybody is very proud of that's the hardest one to get is the Top Gun patch now there are there are two types of patches one's as an adversary they come through our program to learn how to be adversaries against you know the the good guys versus the bad guys yeah but the Top Gun patch is earned going through the school and you have to understand that the number of patch wearers in a given year in terms of I always I looked at it one time and I said okay wait they're about 850 Hornet Pilots that are out there then we we were phasing out the Tomcat so just short of a thousand people are flying the airplane and in a given year there would be like 48 patches given out so that's a small group of patches patch wearers and anybody that had a Top Gun patch it was in a very distinctive position it was always in the same place you would have on one shoulder you'd have the number of hours that you had in a certain model of aircraft and you got you've got to patch it one thousand two thousand three thousand in model and then you'd have a Top Gun patch your name and the unit and those would kind of be the four main ones that you'd wear and then they'd give patches out for being the top 10 Landing competition and stuff like that sorry yeah the patch patches are kind of a big deal I can imagine yeah I mean the huge accolades and stuff and it really is a big showing of the things that people have done it's kind of like the trophies almost in a sense really isn't it um so just a little side question as well before we move on to the next kind of big question just something I'm thinking about now so you throughout your career you must have known so many fighter pilots I mean so many I'm just interested so if you take like the Top Gun graduates of the the actual Top Gun school and stuff you've obviously seen a lot of them that's the commander you you would have seen them all going through did you notice something profoundly different about them in their personality traits from the other Pilots it's obviously the description of Top Gun is the top one percent of its Pilots it's something above the norm so did you see something in the way that they acted as a person like in their personality traits that made them more exceptional than just the normal fighter pilots just interested let me let me give you a little progression the year I went into flight school two thousand of us went in that year they expected to Wing 900 to a thousand okay so they always said when you get into class they go look left look right one of you is not going to be sitting here at the end okay so that's half will be gone then you say okay that half gets winged then they go to all their different areas so only so many go to Jets okay so that's a smaller group again most uh pilots in the Navy are helicopter Pilots they're like over 50 percent so a small group does a Jets then a smaller yet group would go to Tomcats And then later on the Hornet came out and now there's a lot of f-18s but it gets smaller and smaller then you say okay now you're in an F-18 Squadron there might be 17 pilots in an F-18 Squadron that have 12 airplanes and so that's a small Cadre so of 5 000 people on the ship only 36 of them you know 36 to 40 are dropping the bombs you know so the the officers are the ones that are going off the pointy end of the boat and doing the the business end of things by dropping bombs and shooting missiles so it's you know there are 5 000 people so we only have this small Cadre that are getting the war fighting done but everything else is in support to that so the numbers are small then when you say okay we'd have 800 people are flying the F-15 then we select this small group each year then from that we'd only select four to six new instructors per year maybe eight would be a lot in one year so think about eight people in the entire Navy maybe only six in a given year would be selected to be Top Gun instructors so at the time I was there my staff was about 36 and I'd say of F-18 guys there were probably 18 to 20 and so that's a very very select group of that thousand that are out there and I I to tell you the quality of that individual or let's just say the capability they're you know just ingrained sense of you know maneuvering the airplane and getting it to a certain place and in three dimensions the maneuvering ability just like the blue angels are kind of one program it's very discipline flying but it's air Showmanship and Top Gun Pilots or like these are the best of the best and guys that could just I mean they take you out they they'd kick your ass so fast you wouldn't believe it I always tell the story up I thought I was pretty good I went in there I had thousands more hours than the other guys did that came in my my staff and so I thought you know I want to I want to fight the best guy so I said oh okay now I'm a commander been in the Navy you know I'm in my 30s I think you know in my Prime and I said okay well we got we got this one guy we'll send you out with him and uh I'll tell you Louie it wasn't pretty he kicked my ass in about you know a long fight uh one versus one is two minutes long that's a long fight wow a short fight might be 45 seconds but uh this guy was so good and he knew exactly what my next move was going to be and totally anticipated where I was going knew within five knots of what my speed was I was like oh my God I go yeah he's really good he's amazingly good I have a lot to learn and so but my role as the commanding officer was not to go out and beat up on students it was to you know really sell the program and what the program is all about go to Washington DC and I was the CEO marketing the thing you know so I was the salesman of the class and the course that they had just created so the genius is it at the uh the productivity all lies within these lieutenants and uh they were really really good at what they did wow I mean yeah it sounds like it oh God that's funny I'll tell you what I'd love to the dog fight one day but I thought I always thought they were longer than that though like in my head I would have always thought it was a bit longer than that but wow interesting to think that the things can kind of change and that can be over so quickly and oh yeah the fight would go on longer than that now yeah you know you might have a setup and there was a very well done one by the the F-14 Community one that we're the uh Mark Fox calls I mert if you get a chance to listen to that he describes this Mission going into Iraq I think day two of Desert Storm going to uh they called it they had a name for the field but it was I think it was talil and in fact we attacked it later on but he describes this engagement now it takes a long time to describe it but he's describing minutes minutes but he breaks it down as to what's going on and all the stuff that's happening so you know we would a mission into Iraq you know it might take four three four hours to do but you're taking off you're tanking you're joining the group you're going in country and then you come back that you tank on and then you attack or you don't you tank on the back side it's a very long Evolution you might be going seven eight hundred miles each Direction so but if you engage someone that terminal part which is done probably around it 20 20 miles every minute everybody's going Mach 1. that that that's one minute to close 20 miles and these you know they may pop up on radar 40 miles away there you are you're uh you're a couple minutes away from engaging the guy and passing them and then trying to figure out on radar what is he who is he is he one of us is he one of them is it somebody that's turned into the strike group you know the wrong direction so it's I may tell you the time compression and how fast it happens just watching it having another airplane pass you at you know when we we have closure of say 1200 knots it's it's unbelievable and you're 500 feet away from a person is the rule we couldn't close 500 feet from metal to metal or graphite to graphite you know when you engage so it's uh yeah it's it's it's pretty it's pretty fun stuff to tell you the truth when we when we when we do it you know in in practice you know mock mock combat is uh it's uh yeah it's pretty uh intense to say the least yeah I can imagine and especially with like the advancements now in the kind of the anti-radar stuff as well must be getting harder and harder to identify what's actually on that radar too especially now considering all of how things are advancing so quickly but yeah if we talk about like the reality side of Top Gun then so obviously during your time at Top Gun the first movie was coming out um and obviously that was insanely successful like it it was huge it blew up it was everywhere um how different was the culture of the real Top Gun and the classes in the day-to-day life and what was portrayed in these movies and in the reality of Top Gun would you describe it more as like a fighter pilot Boot Camp or more of like the Harvard of military Aviation
well the the class had changed from when I was there it was short it was five weeks and we'd work six days a week so there's one of the big differences it's you know we may go over to the club on Saturday night and have a beer but it's not all the frivolity that you saw in the movie that everybody's at the bar and you're breathing in the hanger that it doesn't happen you know the the briefing uh spaces are very professional you know we go through the mission and you know anyone any one flight's gonna take you know half the day if you flew twice you'd be there for a 12-hour day so by the time you're done you go back to our your living quarters study up some more crash out but it's it's very intense then the later course when I was the commanding officer became 10 weeks in length I'm pretty certain that's what it was because we try to do four per year so it was really grueling there were some some weeks that we'd fly seven days a week and so we're doing it up on the You Know instrumental ranges and recreating it and and so boot camp to me is that's when you're just starting out these aren't people that are starting out these are people that are about seven or eight years and have probably got a thousand hours in type so in an F-18 and so they come to you with a you know a stellar reputation and they're pretty good at what they do we just take them to the next level yeah but it's a very intense course nothing like the movie nothing like the movie so that's that's Hollywood everybody's chasing the girls they're down at the club throwing each other into the sand and playing volleyball or football or something and it you know I don't know that we even have a softball game at the end of these things we did between the staff but we never had much time it wasn't built around Beach time fun Hollywood will be Hollywood [Laughter] these were a little bit similar but you know the the Need for Speed and high-fiving and all that that's kind of like ah you know they just go out and get the job done we come back and and discuss it it was it true that there was a fine for mentioning that the music and any reference to the movies in the Top Gun because that's what Wiz said he said there was like a 50 fine that went into the drinking fund if you dare to mention danger zone or something was that true you know there was there there was a little spin-off to the first movie and I think somebody did have some input to the script and they had seen the script and they go ah this is not the way they talk and so that was somebody that was kind of inside the staff and so that person took and kind of helped rewrite it and would listen to the little quips and quotes So I I do say that the first movie if you sat through it you kind of went oh they they know some of the things that we say sticking out of control you know that's a term you know uh the Need for Speed is we wouldn't say the Need for Speed we always used to say speed is life so that's a you know no there's no points for second place uh you know it's uh yeah there was no Top Gun trophy it was it was you know we were it was a team getting you know pulling to get uh you know our students through and then really the whole concept is you take the students who have a very high skill set and level and you elevate that then they go back to their school or their Squadron and they're the teachers as a result of having become discipline Disciples of the school so they would go out then they would Branch out and go everywhere else in the Navy Marine Corps and put out hear the tactics and hear that here here's how they go about executing at Top Gun so then everybody's doing the same thing yeah so you would have an East Coast carrier that you'd meet in the Indian Ocean with a West Coast carrier we knew how they operated we and we might have dual battle group operations we know exactly how we offered we'd know people that were over there so you know they come from one side of the world we'd come from the other and we'd operate the same so that was really kind of the concept just something I want to ask then because listen to what you're saying I have to say I find this so so interesting would you say that the kind of the objective of Top Gun was to create fighter pilots to go and fight the best of their ability or was it to create teachers to pass on these things what was the what was the priority there do you think or like the long goal the answer was B create teachers and then pass on the knowledge you take the best of the best that's true and then they then go out and it's it's they seed and spread the word and the knowledge base Rises you know and out of out of Top Gun in the way that we put this syllabus together every not only did every Aviation Community emulate it and it was a Strike Fighter tactics instructor program under a Strike Fighter weapons tactics gigantic plan and so what they did is they said okay when somebody starts here in Naval Aviation and then the product that we want 12 or 14 years from now is somebody that as a strike leader here's a little fledgling he knows how to fly on the wing that's about it and then later on we want them to lead a multi-national strike into some foreign country now that's you know that takes a long time to build that individual but it was a Continuum Cradle to grave I didn't like the Grave part but uh you know it's it's it's over your career and so that was the concept and then every other community embraced it whether it was a destroyer or uh submarines they went wow we hadn't thought this through how do we start somebody at the beginning of their career knowing that what is that end goal command a sub command an air Wing in our case it was to lead lead a strike that's just I I have to say like my mind is just I'm I'm loving this right now because it's so amazing but so it's like if we put it into a nutshell or something so if we what the movies kind of did almost for me like in my head they kind of made it look like it was this kind of exclusive Club of people who are like the best in the world that you send to the toughest missions a bit like almost like the Navy Seals almost of the aviation side of things but would you say then that actually the ultimate objective of Top Gun wasn't to create like a an exclusive Club it was actually to improve the entirety of of the aviation in the Navy yeah yeah it was it was it was to raise the level of Excellence wow this is what it amounted to and so it's not a club you know we you have a patch and you're a patch where no one ever described it as a club a club is one of these things you go oh I don't know why he got in the club or oh she's related to so-and-so that's how they got into the club there's no Club it's it's all achieved it's all based on you know you better be pretty good yeah you've got to be you've got to prove yourself and believe it or not it just because you got sent there did not mean that you would get through the program we didn't uh graduate everybody that came through so there was a level of achievement and progress checks all along the way with validating are they worthy of being patchwares and moving on to teaching so they've got to be able to dissect the mission and explain it and and tell us you know this is what I this is what went well this is we used to call it goods and others so over here on the good side this is how it went uh these are the things I could improve upon and there was an ever a mission that didn't have things that were in that other category you know even if it was something administrative with oh we we walked five minutes too late you know and that kind of got us a little behind our timeline or whatever they were very critical but we never put anything in the category of this was good this was bad we never talked about bad so it was it was a mindset of hey we're dealing with really good people and so we'll break it down that way wow I I'll tell you what I love that I mean it's just so interesting it's like one of these things where we go through this conversation and then it's just like click hang on a minute this is something to create a whole the whole Navy an improvement there but with the claims of wording they have in like the movies and stuff at the beginning when they sort of describe it it almost makes it feel slightly like it's along the side of it's to create almost like Warriors in a sense an exclusive sort of warrior thing a bit like the people he would send to you know the very special like a special special ops basically but actually it was a long-term scheme and strategy to create a higher level of the whole Navy which I just find so amazing for us a continuum that that had some a legacy to it yeah but then got us to the next level and that was the really cool part and then we would exchange ideas with the Air Force fighter weapon school so we always were collaborating with our counterparts up at Nellis so they'd come down or I'd go up and then we'd kind of go through our syllabus as the weapons changed then you say okay how are we moving from you know what the sparrow missile to maybe amram the F14 goes away with the aim 54 Phoenix okay what's the next weapon how do we go next aircraft F-35 what's the best way that we integrate the F-35 in with Super Hornet there's another airplane you know I never saw him fly off the ship that you've probably seen it that's that stealthy little guy the X4 it looks like a miniature B2 the x47 I think it's called I might have that wrong but it goes up to the catapult on its own you know and it takes off on its own it stays out there for a while and it it can take on the toughest missions it carries a weapon yeah so it's you know so how do you integrate all that in at the same time so the speeds match one another and they integrate everybody so it's you know I'll give you an example we did a strike into Iraq we had 24 different targets we had 120 aircraft involved it went over a very broad area I'd say it's 400 by 600 miles we hit every Target within two minutes the vulnerability window opened at zero and 120 seconds later we were gone wow so think about that 24 targets were hit 24 of them destroyed and we swept in swept out with a huge number of aircraft it was all integrated not much is heard or said you know you just do things through data link and that sort of thing in you go and out you go but that might have been a three or four hour mission so and you come in and you know at a relatively high speed in the terminal portion of it usually around 540 or so is the last part of it uh before you release your weapons and then supersonic going out you know so yeah yeah wow I mean us just so a lot of coordination yeah see how do you how do you integrate that I counted up I I think I put together I said with the battle group they're probably 15 or 18 000 people that are involved directly or indirectly although it's a handful of airplanes that go up there but everything else that supports it and you know it's being watched in the Pentagon when that mission goes down uh it was called Gunsmoke we did that that was a mission we went in I I went in way in advance to plan it out you know as the senior guy to go into uh into uh I think we went into Saudi Arabia to discuss it and then you know we did it it was into Iraq but uh yeah it takes a lot of teamwork there can be at one one small element that Goofs everything up you know wrong frequency oh you know something didn't get keyed correctly you know there's a lot of stuff that could throw a wrench into it yeah absolutely um I've become aware that this is going to be a long podcast but I really don't care because I'm loving this conversation so much um something's just popped into my head then so thinking going down this kind of line of talk with the whole Top Gun thing obviously it's a very smart scheme then to create this whole thing that then improves the quality of the entirety of the Navy so do you do you think or do you know or maybe you can't even speak about it I don't even know but do you think that there is an equivalent of what Top Gun is in the opposing countries like China and stuff do you think that they have the equivalent of that or always Top Gun really like one of a kind to this day you know I don't know they may Louis I don't know because it's funny you know when we if we look at a Chinese carrier either they have all the same colored jackets on people that have the same jobs on the flight deck so the directors are in yellow and the people that are putting ordinance on are in red and so they replicate everything they do but do they really know how it's all done you know you know it's like it's sort of like uh do they really know how to dance the dance you know so and they've never had you know that many carriers and it's been a difficult thing to say uh we can you know it's just like a just like a computer we can stamp out a million more of these but I don't know how how easy it is to replicate it but uh yeah our adversaries in the area of carriers and nuclear carriers uh I don't you know I couldn't tell you that is it do they have a Top Gun equivalent they probably try to you know they have flight demonstration teams that you know they try to you know make it as good as the Blue Angels but nobody is as good as the Blue Angels you know the Thunderbirds do a different type of program but nobody flies as close together as the Blue Angels which is kind of their you know the Hallmark of of what they do sure so yeah it's uh it's an interesting it's an interesting thing isn't it to think about it but I hope you didn't just give them an idea there Louie imagine that would be responsible for that uh-oh shoots up okay anyway um before we move on just just a quick one then so while we're on the topic of like the movies and stuff um what did you think about that and um if I'm gonna ask a question it's gonna have to be what did you think that the new movie really sort of topped the old movie on and what maybe was some of the things that you think that the old movie retained the crown in in the quality of it okay I'll I'll I'm gonna make it really simple all right do you know how many times I've seen the first movie okay I'm gonna I'm gonna I'm gonna get a pot shot I'm gonna say once
get it you got 100 on that yeah how many times you think I've seen the second movie um I know it's gonna have to be a lot more it depends how Keen you were for it though uh six six to eight I think it was three times in like ten days the next person would say hey let's go see it and I said okay I'll go because to me the quality of the flying was so good and it was and and I think that you know the the air pack Commander this this uh this gem that we flew together in the Navy he was in a squadron with me he was younger than me of course we you know then they go out and become three-star Admirals and he was really in charge of it his name was uh chip Miller call sign bullet and he and I talked on the phone he says Hey trots that's was my call saying he goes this movie is so cool he says you're not gonna believe it because we have now seen all the video come back but the movie is it's gonna blow you out of the water and I was like yeah okay let's see and he goes no you're gonna see they've got like seven cameras seven of these high resolution IMAX cameras are inside the plane outside the plane they're all over the place it goes and he says and then the fly end is really good and it's he says you'll see some places that you know yeah I thought I was the only guy that knew where to go this through this one little Gap up in the Sierras but sure enough you know that's one of the things that the crews went through upside down I go shoot that's my little spot that only and I knew about but anyhow uh but the movie you know cinematographies it's Quantum Leap over what it used to be what do we say 35 years between movies something like that and and so you know the Hollywood stuff's the same okay you know we all run around the bar Chase around I thought that the intro was good with the mach 10 airplane man I felt like I was in the cockpit I was like going my you know my chest is pounding ugly this thing's going to come apart it's like it's going to overheat when you get it up there it mocked it but I thought that was really well done and then just this afternoon I was watching the Tomcat scene of chasing him down the canyon and the Tomcat against these fifth generation airplanes the fifth generation airplanes were very cool they were very like representative of what A fifth gen airplane would look like like a like a modern F-22 it was like this is a cool looking jet that he's fighting and some of the Maneuvers are some of the Maneuvers that some of those aircraft can actually pull off you know which is we call it the Cobra maneuver or it's you know they do what they call a pedal turn in the F-22 the F-22 can do stuff like no airplane out there and I'll admit that it is an amazing airplane so I thought that cinematography I go to it again somebody calls me this afternoon hey what are you up to yeah let's go no I haven't seen it in IMAX theater yet the music I like the first one better then I did the second one the first one I knew a bunch of the people but it was a gigantic recruitment tool for the Navy we had way too many people applying to become naval officers Naval flight officers Surplus you couldn't get into the Navy it was so popular in 1987. just surge today I don't know that that movie has done you know we don't put movies out to recruit people but it's a nice offshoot of the movie is to increase Recruitment and I think recruitment is it's pretty tough right now you know so it's not a good atmosphere for binding highest quality people and the commitment is long so you know there's the contrast between the two I heard that the um some of the recruiters were actually waiting outside the cinemas to recruit people which which movie uh the Maverick I think is the of the success of the the first movie I think that they were trying to kind of jump on that opportunity and you can see why I mean I walked out of the theater and I thought okay I want to be a fighter pilot B I want to get one on the podcast and that's how obviously all of this kind of happened so very cool but right so one more little bit about the movie then so was there anything in that movie the the new one that the one that's just come out um was anything in that movie that particularly stuck out to you like yeah that's just that's just not on that's not right like one of the things for me was one of the people I had on the podcast was a guy called keg and Gail Smurf ejected at the speed of sound out of it as an F-18 and um and his body was just taunted pieces yeah incredible survival story but you've got Maverick going at Mark 10.3 in in that and it appears he ejects surely he's just dust at that point was there anything like that that you think was uh just like okay that's just not that's not reality at all that would not be reality but uh you know somebody told me something interesting they go they were talking about that injection and they go oh no here's the really deep thinking part of that ejection nice oh okay what's that and they go okay you remember how he walks into the diner and everybody's sitting there and he's all tattered up you know and it's like you just ejected from this mach 10 airplane he's actually in a dream and so that never happened I go wow I guess I don't know how to think deep enough on been the next movie and I said oh my God so no the one that does that does uh would be Beyond there there are two of them I'm gonna tell you about one's real and one I think is fake uh you know of course the the uh chasing the Tomcat you know how they did that it was pretty well done but it's not real most likely but the other one was when the F-18 the two students are together and they're kind of going you know they're gonna meet you know the old guy Maverick sort of like he's down below and he comes up in between them you wouldn't do that that would be a big No-No uh you don't split a section of Pilots even if they were in a mile combat spread and you'd surprise them coming up in between them that's just something that it would be uh really against the rules of engagement and it's a big No-No you can't penetrate you know the setups are very controlled so that wouldn't happen so that's kind of a stretch the one that was not a stretch and I got it explained to me in great detail was there's an the opening trailer when when that F-18 comes across the desert which all of us that have gone up and dropped bombs in this spot it's called Bravo 20. when he's coming into this place called Lone Rock across the desert and the dust is coming up from the plane from behind it yeah I said because I I challenged the guy that was in charge and said hello was he and I go he was really low wasn't he goes okay here's the deal here's the deal and he said and they talked about they said you know Cruz was the director and he said he wanted this they did it at you know the usual Heights that an F-18 is limited to in the fleet and they go it just didn't have the pizzazz to it that being lower would so he says we took it we went from 200 down to 100 so we cut it in half here we are here here we are there right and they said it still wasn't low enough so we found this guy he was a Blue Angel lead solo had just come off the team had been on the team a couple different times he's a commander getting ready to go into retirement and they go and this was his sole deal to go do and so he I think they told me it was 23 different takes for that one shot I might be wrong but he's lower and lower and lower and I so I said to me I said looking at it my guess is he's between about 20 and 50 feet but probably on the average of 40 feet above the ground they go you're right and it's like that's low yeah that's incredibly low to do 500 or so across the ground and then because you can tell you know for those of us that know the performance and see that in the high G pull up and then he goes into burner and all the dust goes everywhere I mean tell you I get so excited every time I watch that it's incredible and so to capture that you know with you're under the wing coming across the desert and it just that takes your heart rate sensitive that's real it was real so it was like very well done I love that very controlled and they decremented you know to say okay we're gonna make this this and and that was the demands on Tom Cruise's part from understand to say I want it to be really dramatic and it was say at least they really pulled one off he was really good really good that takes because it's just a fraction of a second bump of the stick you're hitting the ground because there's there is no room for error at 35 feet I can imagine I mean I'm six feet tall so I mean I'm just thinking about a few of me stacks on top of each other that's kind of low that's crazy but right then so I'm excited for this one so last question then um you've flown in excessive like we said 17 000 hours and around 240 different aircraft and helicopters um in all your time Airborne what have been some of your best memories and um any cooler than cool itself moments are really touching or amazing times that stick out in your memory maybe just like a little story to to send our viewers away with some thoughts for you know I have a few that I kind of It kind of reflected on it's like okay how do I capture some of the best or the most that you know that were sort of surprises and I'll give you I'll give you a few of them uh we'll start with uh uh late 80s we're kind of you know we're feeling pretty good about our f-18s we're going to go up into the into the North Pacific and test them in the Bering Sea with an exercise with the Air Force and so we go up there and you can imagine what the weather is like in the Bering Sea it's kind of like read about you know you watch this uh well these guys are going up and uh there's that that one show that they've got uh and they're they're these they're they're trying to catch crap but you know these Storms Come in out of there and so uh we had a recovery one afternoon and the wind picked up to 75 knots and it was raining and we came in but it was good enough to do what we call case one just a visual recovery and I can remember the guys calling out you know okay you know or you know wins down the angle 75 gusting to 82. I went uh I don't even know where you turn because our normal is 24 to 26 knots over the deck that's what we need for the cable and the physics of catching the airplane it was like 75 knots but then I could see the boat the boat's doing this and then you can hear him on the radio going little power power power power wave it off wave it off they're just screaming at these guys it's like
this is It's like a rodeo and so we were catching one in five airplanes and so I rolled into the groove you know my heart's pounding and I want and I'm trying to get they're not using the usual reference that we use for landing because there's too much wind the the stabilization system can't stay up with it the Glide slope that they present to you so they're doing it manually and so I'm watching but I watch a ship come up and the propellers were out of the water and they go I've never seen that they're 38 feet below the debt you know below the surface it's like holy [ __ ] this the ship is so violently pitching and it's got like 52 feet of ramp movement you know so down 26 and it's up 26 and it's like you need 14 to clear the deck for the wire cross you know you're hooked across steel so it's like I'm going oh my God this is this is unbelievable and they're you're just reacting to what the guy's telling you to do but I can remember you know I didn't get a board the first time I came around and they gave me another one and I could see they go okay you know dicks decks down don't chase it and so it's here and I brought the airplane it's just like boom just stuck it in there like holy [ __ ] that's that was one that was you know for the books that was the most I'd ever landed in and the most violent you know I've ever seen you know just taxiing around was hard because the deck was going everywhere so they put chains on you immediately and chalks underneath you to a spot and then we all got down that day away you know they just threw out all the grading and go look we're just you know we just need to catch everybody and get out of this you know so yeah that was one that was good uh let's see I did have one in a tomcat that was kind of hilarious with I went out with my commanding officer we're up in the North Atlantic you know this is during the Cold War Russians you know the Soviet Union sending these waves of bombers out you know where the GI UK Gap is you've heard of that right yeah okay so it's up there so it's Greenland Iceland the UK and then up in that area kind of up near the Arctic Circle they're sending these airplanes out of the Soviet Union Badgers Bears all these different airplanes and so we would try to join them at a really long distance away from the carrier and so my my commanding officer he joins up on this Badger and the badger you try to get so you get pictures of it you know and they would have their bomb Bays open so you could see that they weren't carrying a weapon and so this guy's doing this but he's porpoising and so my co is getting madder and mattered I can hear them you know we have two radio goes up one main one one comp that's tactical and he goes you know this [ __ ] I can't get near him because he's bobbing so much now this is where opportunity and preparation come together and for the longest time I've been carrying this leather flying hat but I had it all rigged so that my radios I could hear everything and I could take my mask off and kind of hook it up to it and it was exactly like what the Russian guys were wearing in their airplanes so we had seen seen them before they always wore these leather flying hats and so it was like almost World War II type stuff so I said to the guy in my back seat I said hey do you have do you have that gorilla mask with you and he said yeah and so he put his he he took his helmet off and he became a gorilla and he it was a pretty good gorilla thing and then
acting like this monkey I'm in the front and I had Groucho Marx glasses and a cigar and so I said uh Skipper let us give it a try and he goes ah you can't do any better than me and so he pulls over and we move up into this position but just close enough that we can kind of get in sequence with the guy and you could hear you could see the guy in the back go hey stop bobbing up and down we gotta check this out and so the airplane goes and we close right up and I mean to tell you I mean we're like five six feet away from the tail Gunner and he's looking at us he's laughing his ass off he's like this he goes like this ah I like your hat just like mine then the monkey my gorilla in the back seat he had these Playboy foldouts and he's putting them up in the pocket and the guy goes you gotta go up to the cockpit and show him the play buttons that was the kind of silly [ __ ] that we used to do but it was a good story and he's like how did you guys get joined up on him and in the end we got right underneath them and we photographed the interior of the Bombay and it was like yeah we were they we were the heroes of the airwing that day but we kind of kept our secret with our our gorilla and my flying hat you know that is a brilliant story I love it what a way to wrap it up to a good laugh like that so thanks for sharing it but some yeah this has been uh all four questions for today and before we wrap it up it is time for what I like to call the Sheamus plug it's a tradition and it has to happen now look let's put it this way like you said you don't have much of a social media thing going on you you don't have anything to promote but what you can do is if you want to promote something you can promote someone that you have a lot of admiration for that you want people to take a look at anything from history a foundation a book that's changed your life just yep have a Shameless plug and just send people to go and have a look at something that you like or believe in
okay um there was a book that somebody insisted that I read and I said okay and this guy pounded on me for you know half a year and I said oh he goes oh you're a fighter pilot you got to read it it's the greatest book I've ever read and so I said okay I'm gonna get it I'm gonna read it and I believe and I hope I'm not wrong but it was a it was a story of a Bomber Crew uh B 20 not a 24. the B-25 maybe 25 no no no B17 b-17s out of the UK okay making these unescored admissions before the P-51 was around into Northern Germany to attack the infrastructure of Northern Germany you know all the factories and so it's a story of a German fighter pilot very experienced and an American Bomber Crew on their first mission Greatest Story I've ever read higher calling I believe it's what it's called and it's about faith it's about compassion it's about you know your fellow man and having not you know not killing somebody to kill him it was it was an incredible story so you get a chance to read it I mean you're just gonna go wow and in the end you know I hate to I hate to give the ending up but or just a little hint the two of them meet each other after the war it's just a moving tale of combat and uh that's worth reading that's one uh I love the story about Shackleton and his journey down to the South Pole you read that that's a story of survival I think the ship was called endurance and they tried to cross the Antarctic with ponies you know at the turn of the century it's this this thing just goes sideways read that amazing book those are two of my favorites then I want to plug something it's not really a plug you know I would dedicate this chat about Top Gun and that is to uh the jet passed away about two weeks ago he was one of my real heroes one of the guys that I was uh I would you know you take your career and if you continue you go that's who I want to be like I want to be like him his name is uh wigs very normal upbringing he was 10 years before me fighter pilot extraordinaire great adversary pilot commanding officer of vf-31 uh the tomcatters at our Squadron he was so he had a tomcat Squadron he went on to be the commanding officer Top Gun and he went on to become an airwing Commander keg 15. but uh Rick Ludwig was his name call sign wigs and he just passed away a couple weeks ago rather unexpectedly he was uh the president of the tail hook Foundation during all that mess that we had in 1991 with kind of a Fallout with uh you know a lot of challenges and things were changing but uh this this episode's to him what an amazing individual should have been an Abner would have easily been an admiral but uh he he really took on you know a lot of just crap that went down during tail hook and he was the shield for all the rest of the guys you know to uh take on the the [ __ ] scream we call it sometimes is to Champion the cause of Naval Aviation but he was just such a fine man that this was that was the guy I dedicate this episode to wow and then I always talked about my wife and everything she does is support my craziness of continuing to fly at an advanced age I would have been retired from the airlines about three years ago but uh just the support she always gives me for uh that's my wife Jill and uh for my passion for flying because I took something that I wanted a as a profession and it was my passion so it's never been much work I've I've loved every moment of all the different airplanes I've flown that's so sweet so beautiful and um yeah Tom I mean it reflects in the person you are and this is a great way to dedicate it to wigs and uh you mentioned there was a foundation there too could you please remind me of the name of that just so I can take notes and make sure that people get over to that too you know there is a tail hook foundation and they fund uh scholarships for Naval aviators Naval flight Ops or their families the kids and so if there's a direct lineage between the two there's a tail hook Educational Foundation that's a good one to look up if somebody says hey how can I make a difference that'd be a great one to go to and that's kind of what what was kind of one of the things he represented as the former president of the tale hope uh foundation so yeah yeah it's uh he's such a great guy awesome great stuff well Tom thank you so much for joining me today for the talk for podcast honestly you know what this has been an absolute pleasure having you on and just an absolute honor for me thank you for doing this okay Louie I I I'm still trying to remember how you found me but it's it's probably cool that you're sitting in the UK and here we are doing this from Vail Colorado but uh you do a great job of your talk for and I'm going to keep enjoying them thank you so much to Amanda I'll tell you what it wouldn't be any without the listeners and the people listening right now and supporting and showing all the love so guys thank you for listening episode 76 we've just done it now and if you'd like to listen to the past episodes go and have a look at the channel and if you'd like to listen in for the future ones make sure to hit that subscribe button and spread some love by leaving a like and a comment signing off for now and fights on Cheerio mate