Drones Will One Day Replace Fighter Pilots, But Until Then…Top Gun: Maverick


A film 3 decades in the making, delayed by the global pandemic, that cost $170 million to make, finally hit theaters this past Memorial Day Weekend. Directed by Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick brought in over $160 million over the 4 day weekend, earning Tom Cruise his biggest premier ever and becoming the biggest Memorial Day film opening ever. One of the most anticipated films in recent history, audiences were (excuse the 1980’s terminology) stoked to see if the sequel would live up to the 1986 classic. After all, a lot has changed in 36 years, especially when it comes to military technology.

When news of a Top Gun sequel first came out, there were rumors that part of the story line would relate to drone technology. Drones have become the future of warfare and the United States Navy, of which the Top Gun School is a branch, spends hundreds of millions on drone technology annually. Not to worry, there will be no spoilers ahead, but the film strangely only touched on drones briefly. The movie starts with Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick, being told by his team that their program of testing a plane to reach Mach 10 was being scrapped. Admiral Cain, played by Ed Harris, was on the way to the base to put an end to the program, sequestering the budget for his Drone Ranger unmanned program.

True to his character, Maverick decides to disobey the order and test the plane one last time. Admiral Cain calls in Maverick and lectures him, saying, “These planes you’ve been testing, Captain, one day, sooner than later, they won’t need pilots at all…The future is coming.” He then tells Maverick that he has been given one last chance and is to return as an instructor at Top Gun. Upon arriving at Top Gun, Maverick learns that he is to train a crew of pilots for a near impossible mission.

And while the idea of using Navy Jet Fighter pilots makes for a compelling story, complete with awe striking aerial stunts and cinematography, the mission in today’s world was wholly unrealistic. In fact, for such a high stakes, risky mission, it makes no sense not to use drones. Undoubtedly, Top Gun graduates some of the most elite pilots in the world, but they are humans, and the Navy is keen on protecting human life at all times. Again, with no spoilers revealed, the mission required pilots to stay below enemy radar and approach a well defended site that is highly inaccessible. The Admiral in charge of the mission even makes it clear to Maverick that it is possible that the mission could be a one way trip.

Suffice to say, the mission for the movie was one that could have easily been completed by drone technology without ever putting human lives at risk. It may not have made for as entertaining of a movie. But, it would have been more realistic to see the pilots working in conjunction with drones, something the Navy does do. One of the last things Admiral Cain says to Maverick is that pilots like him are becoming obsolete. Maverick opens the door, looks over his shoulder, and says, “Maybe so, Sir, but not today.” Pilots are not becoming useless, the Navy is simply using drones to keep them safe while maintaining operational success.


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