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The real-life TOPGUN advisors made cameos in ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

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Brian Ferguson and Glen Powell pilots

1986’s Top Gun was the highest-grossing film that year and cemented Tom Cruise’s Maverick into pop culture. Combine quotes like “Talk to me, Goose” and, “I feel the need, the need, for speed,” with aviator sunglasses and leather jackets and everyone knows exactly what you’re referencing. The 2022 sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, picked up the torch from its predecessor and became the 12th-highest-grossing film of all time. Vital to the success of both movies were their respective Navy technical advisors. These real-life TOPGUN instructors even had cameos in the films they helped make.

Pete "Viper" Pettigrew as Perry in Top Gun
Pete “Viper” Pettigrew as Perry in Top Gun. (Paramount)

Remember the “older guy” in the bar scene of Top Gun where Mav first meets Charlie? She shoots down Maverick and goes to sit with him, calling him “Perry.” His real-life name is much cooler: Viper. At least, that’s his callsign. Rear Admiral Pete “Viper” Pettigrew lent his callsign to Tom Skerrit’s character, Commander Mike Metcalf, in Top Gun. Beyond serving as the technical advisor on the film, Viper arguably made TOPGUN what it is today.

F-4S Phantom II formation
A formation of F-4S Phantom IIs over NAS North Island with Viper in the lead aircraft, March 27, 1981. (US Navy)

During casting, producer Jerry Bruckheimer sent Tom Cruise a number of scripts and revisions to bring him on board. However, the young actor remained unconvinced. So, Bruckheimer called Viper and asked him to take Cruise up for an intense flight to convince him that a movie about fighter jets would be exciting. Cruise called his agent right after they landed and accepted the part. The rest is history.

Related: The SR-72 timeline: From initial design to ‘Top Gun’s’ Darkstar

Tom Cruise and Pete Viper Pettigrew
Cruise and Viper on the set of Top Gun: Maverick. (Topgunarchive/X)

A Stanford graduate, Viper earned his Wings of Gold in June 1966. Flying the F-4 Phantom II, he deployed with VF-151 aboard the USS Coral Sea (CVB-43) to Vietnam from April 1967 to February 1968. Viper served a second combat tour from July 1968 to February 1969. In early 1970, he joined the fledgling US Navy Fighter Weapons School and served as an instructor – of course, the flyers called the school TOPGUN. On May 6, 1972, while deployed aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) he shot down a MiG-21 in his F-4J with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. Viper transferred to the Navy Reserve the next year and retired in 1998.

Related: Cowboy: A legendary commando in America’s secret war in Vietnam

Brian "Ferg" Ferguson and Tom Cruise Top Gun Maverick
Cruise and Ferg on the set of Top Gun: Maverick. (US Navy)

In Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel film’s technical advisor makes his cameo at the Hard Deck Bar. After Penny rings the bell to signal that Mav is buying everyone a round, an aviator approaches and tells him, “Much appreciated, pal.” That aviator is Captain Brian “Ferg” Ferguson. After attending TOPGUN’s Adversary Instructor Course, Ferg commanded VFC-13, one of the Navy Reserve’s adversary aircraft squadrons dedicated to providing the highest quality adversary training for Navy fleet squadrons and other units.

Brian "Ferg" Ferguson and Tom Cruise Top Gun Maverick planning
Ferg and Cruise planning an aerial scene. (US Navy)

“Toward the end of my tour of duty as the Deputy Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve, the Chief of Staff for Commander, Naval Air Forces contacted me,” Ferg said in a Navy news story. “He said he thought I might be the right person for the role of advisor for Top Gun: Maverick.” Although Ferg initially declined, the Chief of Staff was persistent and Ferg’s wife convinced him to take the job. “She told me, ‘If they get it wrong and you had a chance to make it better that you didn’t take, you’ll be complaining about it for the rest of your life, and if they get it right, you’ll regret that you weren’t a part of it.'”

After graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Ferg attended Navy OCS and commissioned in 1993. Like Viper, he deployed with VFA-151 aboard the USS Constellation (CV-64). During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Ferg flew numerous night combat missions in the F/A-18 Hornet. Working on Top Gun: Maverick, Ferg provided his expertise to Cruise, Bruckheimer and director Joseph Kosinski. “I would work with them and the civilian aerial cinematographer to find a way to make [aerial scenes] work safely and still be spectacular,” he recalled. “I was also responsible for assisting with realism in the script, storyline and uniform accuracy, minus a few scenes that were filmed prior to my arrival.”

This article by Miguel Ortiz was originally published by We Are the Mighty.

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