When the original Top Gun film debuted in 1986, the blockbuster resulted in a huge increase in Navy recruitment – reportedly by a whopping 500%.
“I don’t know if that number is correct, but I’ll tell you that if there was just one man, and that’s me, it definitely had an impact on recruitment,” Captain Brian Ferguson, 53, told The Post . “I saw the film and thought it looked like the most exciting job in the world. And it is.”
After college, Ferguson, whose favorite characters were Maverick and Iceman, joined the Navy and later attended Top Gun’s Adversary Training Course.
So it’s only fitting that at the end of his military career and after 28 years as a Navy pilot, he landed the job of his life: Navy Technical Advisor on Top Gun: Maverick, which opens in theaters today.
“It’s funny because they didn’t order me to do it, they asked me to do it. I’ve turned it down multiple times,” Ferguson said, citing family and work commitments. But eventually the job kept coming back to him and his wife convinced him to take it. “I didn’t care about the job, which I thought was attractive to the Navy because I wasn’t afraid that Hollywood would take me.”
After all, one of Ferguson’s many responsibilities on set was ensuring that the values, integrity and interests of the military were represented. He was also responsible for ensuring equipment was not damaged, the cast and crew were safe, and the flight scenes were made as authentic as possible.
“We used real planes. It’s dynamic and technical,” said the San Diego resident.
In the beginning, Ferguson said he would sit down with the creative team, which included Tom Cruise, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Kevin LaRosa II. They went through scenes and Ferguson used his aviation knowledge to bring their vision as close to reality as possible.
“It was crucial that nothing bad happened during filming. If we somehow got too aggressive, damaged a taxpayer’s fortune or killed someone, all the things we hoped to achieve would have been wiped out in an instant,” said Ferguson, who said the team had “workable, applicable tactics used in the real world”. [used] in battle. The ground-to-air scene, it’s extremely realistic.”
But when it comes to a dogfight, they had to tweak a few things.
“Dog fights on these planes don’t happen within 100 feet of each other. We fly so fast the planes are a mile or a mile and a half apart. If you try to film two planes that are a mile apart, nobody will see it.”
Ferguson admits there was a creative freedom. Bruckheimer, he said, “Told me, ‘I appreciate your passion for realism, but if everything is absolutely realistic, it’s going to be a documentary, and that’s not what we’re aiming for.'”
He noted that Paramount reimbursed the Navy for fuel or expenses. “It didn’t cost us anything. Paramount reimbursed the taxpayers and every penny was sent back to the Treasury Department. But we did it for recruitment and retention.”
And even when filming, the actors were not spared the realism of flying.
They went through a month-long course designed by LaRosa and Cruise, whom Ferguson calls a “very experienced pilot,” to become accustomed to the G-force and other physical demands of flying an F-18. And Ferguson coordinated a Navy survival course in which the actors were dragged through water, blindfolded, and forced to exit an enclosed space.
“If you have to get off or a plane goes into the water, we need to know it’s safe to get off, and God forbid that happens,” Ferguson said, adding that the training is “very challenging, intimidating and not fun. [The cast] worked great.”
Luckily nobody was hurt. Just his perception of Tinseltown.
“You ruined my Hollywood cliché. It was a negative stereotype. Everyone was so down to earth and personable,” said Ferguson, who even ended up having a line in the film.
And it has led to more work on film sets for the F-18 expert. He was technical advisor on the aircraft carrier for the upcoming Korean war film Devotion, based on Adam Makos’ book of the same name, starring Glen Powell. In Maverick, Powell plays Hangman, a cocky, obnoxious pilot who is the spiritual successor to Val Kilmer’s Iceman in the original.
“It’s funny because Glen is the nicest person you will meet in your life,” Ferguson said.
Does he think once audiences see a movie’s heartbreaking sonic boom, recruiting history will repeat itself?
“Absolutely. There will be a lot of people wearing white t-shirts, jeans and green jackets… There will be a 22-year-old girl who wants to be a chemical engineer and wants to see Phoenix [played by Monica Barbaro]who is a great character and wants to be a Navy pilot.”
And he hopes it will shed some light on his brave colleagues too.
“The real heroes of this film are the men and women on the ships that are deployed. They are separated from their families and doing dangerous things around the world every day.”