Top Gun 2: It's happening - and the choice of star is stirring controversy

Not Tom Cruise - people are arguing about the plane

The occasionally rumoured Top Gun 2 movie - sequel to the seminal* '80s aerial action flick - is to go ahead. Reports have it that the project, known to have Tom Cruise aboard already, now has a scriptwriter: and more importantly, the real star, the jet fighter to be flown by Cruise, has been selected.

F-35B in flight test. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Last of the manned fighters?

It is this latter choice which has tongues wagging and keyboards fusing together: according to the excellent DEW Line blog, Lockheed chiefs have confirmed that the aircraft in the movie is to be the F-35 Lightning II, now in real-world flight testing, with Cruise starring as a test pilot.

The F-35, as regular Reg readers will know, is the subject of much controversy. In particular, it is loathed passionately by veteran Aviation Week journo Bill Sweetman and eccentric Australian IT engineer Carlo "Electropulse Bomb" Kopp – we've previously covered their long-running campaign against the jet, and the troubles suffered by the F-35 programme.

This enmity has led Flightglobal scribe and DEW Line author Stephen Trimble to speculate on the plot of Top Gun 2:

Meanwhile, the programme's enemies, led by the sneering Bill "Iceman" Sweetman and Carlo "Slider" Kopp, take advantage of Maverick's absence to nearly bury the programme in a wave of seemingly overwhelming blog attacks ... Maverick straps on the knee board, takes the Block 3 software build out for a spin, hits every test point and – for the finale – lands vertically right on top of Aviation Week's building ...

The vertical-lift B version of the F-35 is intended to replace the Harrier jumpjet in service with the US Marines. It has actually had a movie outing in CGI already, in abysmal haxploitation flick Die Hard 4.0, where a jarhead F-35B pilot misled by hacker miscreants attempts to take out Bruce Willis - with about as much success as Bill Sweetman and Carlo Kopp would predict.

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System at its rollout ceremony

Definitely excellent movie villain stuff.

For a proper reprise of the original Top Gun - quite apart from greased-up volleyball matches, bar-room renditions of "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" etc - it seems to us here on the Reg jetsploitation desk that you can't do without some carrier scenes at sea, perhaps featuring the C model F-35 as well as the splendidly cinematic B jumpjet version. This would permit the producers to bring in another crazy new technology, the electromagnetic mass-driver catapults which are to feature aboard the new US and Royal Naval carriers. Catapult takeoffs and arrested landings make great cinema, and this would in turn allow the introduction of a splendid enemy for the F-35: the X-47B robot stealth war-jet.

The plot, we suggest, would see Iceman and Slider now employed as unmanned aircraft operators in charge of a fully armed X-47B undergoing trials at sea alongside the F-35. They plot to despatch the robot stealth bomber to destroy the White House (perhaps as a revenge attack motivated by the fictional future president's decision to cancel the US Air Force's "optionally manned" long-range bomber plans once and for all).

Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis' character in the first film, though probably played by someone younger this time despite the fact that Tom Cruise is still Maverick, knowing the movie biz) has become National Security Advisor or something and is therefore in the White House. She and Maverick got married and had kids - whom she brings to the White House as part of a presidential bring-your-kids-to-work day - but then Maverick became estranged from his family due to his obsessive and erratic behaviour. Early scenes show his unsuccessful attempts to win Charlie back. He consoles himself with a half-naked game of Pong against Iceman, still played by Val Kilmer (his modern-day physique fitting well with the Hollywood evil-nerd stereotype) in which he is vanquished. As a pilot, Maverick develops a marked antipathy towards the unmanned X-47B and its operators, causing everyone to eye him askance as a possible paranoid maniac.

The X-47B is invisible to radar, meaning that nobody initially notices when Iceman and Slider initiate their plot to blow up the president, but Maverick is able to track the robot bomber from above using the the F-35's nifty look-through-the-floor infrared tracking system. Unfortunately nobody is willing to believe him as the computers show the X-47B carrying out its programmed manoeuvres, and Maverick's recent erratic behaviour is well known. He is refused permission to pursue the robot.

Maverick disobeys orders and heads for Washington. Everyone assumes he has gone off the rails and decided to annihilate his estranged wife and kids. Orders are given to evacuate the White House but the presidential V-22 tiltrotor suffers a mishap on landing as its vicious downblast rips a nearby US flag off its pole. The Osprey then ingests the whirling Stars and Stripes into an engine, poignantly ejecting Old Glory from its exhaust in the form of blazing rags, and is crippled (Boeing really aren't having a good day here) blocking the White House lawn to other aircraft with the attacking X-47B just minutes away.

Meanwhile having shot down some fighters launched to intercept him ("Can't get missile lock! The F-35 is just too good in air to air!") - the pilots eject safely - Maverick swoops into an epic aerial battle against the X-47B under the control of Iceman and Slider (the X-47B has air-to-air weapons, just go with it). Drawing on lessons learned about his enemy during the Pong contest, Maverick manages to destroy the robot warplane. (It crashes on the Aviation Week building.)

Cue reconciliation with Charlie and a safe future for the US Naval aviator corps, not to mention the F-35 programme. The film should also rake in a tidy sum in product-placement payments from Lockheed, if not from Northrop (maker of the X-47B and aspirant to make the new superbomber) or Boeing (who supply the V-22). Job done. ®

*Hem-hem. We didn't say there were any homoerotic overtones.

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