I Flew A Top Gun Stunt Plane And Survived

The call sign: Desert Power. The mission: fly in a stunt plane like the fighter jets they flew in "Top Gun: Maverick" and not get sick. The status: kind of succeeded.

I was invited with a group of journalists to participate in the "Top Gun: Maverick Flight School" at Sky Combat Ace in San Diego, where we were given the opportunity to fly in a 330 horsepower Extra 330LC, a two-seat aerobatic monoplane that can reach speeds of up to 253 MPH, to celebrate the digital video release of one of the biggest movies of the year — and maybe of all time.

With a professional pilot steering us one-on-one, we were taken thousands of feet above the ground, where we were not only subjected to G-forces of up to 6G, but we were (briefly) given the controls to engage in a dogfight with another journalist, as well as "bomb" a target — which in this case, was just a big square in the mountainside. Just like in "Top Gun: Maverick" (vague descriptions of the "enemy" notwithstanding)!

In the danger zone

A few miles outside of San Diego, we were driven to an airfield where dozens of stuntplanes littered the tarmac which, by late afternoon when I had arrived, had absorbed the full force of the sun. The heat hung heavy, and I felt myself start to sweat as soon as I stepped out of our shuttle, and even more so as our group was led to a small hangar nearby. After Sky Combat Ace founder Richard "Tex" Coe gave us a quick 30-minute orientation, all that was left was to wait until we were paired off and sent off in our respective planes.

My pilot was Aaron Nathans, call sign "Subzero." He strapped me into a parachute and helped buckle me into my seat in the cockpit before settling down in his seat behind me. Our helmets came equipped with mics through which we could talk to our pilot and our "rival" journalist, who would be flying in a plane alongside us — and with whom we would later get into a nasty dogfight (and by nasty, I mean, "get way overenthusiastic and try a few too many loops"). And in front of us was a flight stick with a trigger that would set off a plume of smoke from the other plane if we got them in our sights. We were ready.

The need for speed

Subzero took off, and for a short period of time we were simply soaring through the skies, just a few thin sheets of metal between us and the clouds. It was amazing. "Are you ready?" Subzero asked me? And just like that, we were hanging upside down, before diving for some loops, twists, and turns that I am proud to say I felt totally fine during. But it was during the dogfight, when Subzero gave me controls of the plane, that my grin turned into a grimace.

I am not a gamer, and was nervous to learn just how sensitive the controls were. One light touch on the flight stick could send us careening to the right or left, and pull too hard in one direction, and you could stall. But, to my surprise, I was able to fly smoothly — until the other plane was in my sights and all I could hear was Subzero saying, "Go go, get him!!" I'm proud to say that I won my dogfight (two out of three, baby!) but at a cost ... the nausea started to set in after I veered too hard to the left then the right, before making a loop; it was a fight to keep the contents of my stomach in, especially once I started to tunnel vision.

By the time we landed, during which Subzero included one last acrobatic trick right as we were about to reach the tarmac, I was shaking — maybe from the adrenaline, maybe from the fact that I had to be on camera when I wanted to run to the bathroom. But my god, was it incredible. I can't believe I got to do it. And I would do it again.

"Top Gun: Maverick" is now available on digital, with the Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD release set for November.