The classic 1986 film Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise, helped inspire an entire generation of fighter pilots who feel "the need for speed." As kids grew up with dreams of flying through the air, facing off against Russians MiGs doing 4g negative dives, a select few ended up following in the footsteps of Cruise's character "Maverick" and training at the elite fighter pilot school known as TOPGUN.
Former fighter pilot and TOPGUN instructor Cmdr. Guy "Bus" Snodgrass details what life was like for the best fighter pilots in the world in a new book, TOPGUN's Top 10: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit.
Before the training school was known as TOPGUN, it was referred to as the Navy's advanced Fighter Weapons School. It was established on March 3, 1969 at Naval Air Station Miramar in California, with the goal of teaching "aircrew how to not just survive in dogfighting — but to win," Snodgrass wrote according to Business Insider. The school moved to Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada in 1996, where it is based today.
Snodgrass said he was inspired by the movie to become a fighter pilot, and when he was a junior officer, pilots used to quote the film all the time. When he started training at TOPGUN, he learned that it was against the rules to quote the movie, and if you did decide to quote the film, you had to pull out your wallet and pay a $5 fine.
"So, it is a part of our bylaws that if someone overtly references the movie — it could be a direct quote, it could be something that is really close to a direct quote — that's an automatic $5 fine. And it's enforced. And you are expected to pay right then. You pull out your wallet and pay the $5," Snodgrass said.
He said that most pilots end up paying the fine at some point during their time at the elite fighter pilot school.
"It's ingrained in our culture to a certain extent," he said.
He explained that the rule against quoting the movie was put in place to remind pilots to take their training seriously and not treat it like a joke.
"But," Snodgrass explained, "when you get to TOPGUN, because it is such a professional organization and you want to emphasize that you are at the top of your game, that it's about professionalism, about good leadership, you don't turn TOPGUN into a joke by referencing the movie."
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