Sun, Mar 18, 2012
Fighter Jet Will Highlight Center's Topgun Program
It's hard to believe it's been 25 years since Tom Cruise portrayed Topgun pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell on the big screen. In the movie, he decided to engage his instructor CDR Mike "Viper" Metcalf (played by Tom Skerritt) in a one on one dogfight. One thing the young Maverick didn’t appreciate was that “Viper” was flying a nimble Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, and in the skilled hands of the Commander Maverick got “shot down."
The Navy now prefers the advanced F-16 Falcon over the A-4 as the “aggressor” in the Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (Topgun), but at one time the A-4 reigned as the surrogate for the Russian built MiG 17 at the esteemed training course for the best of the best Navy and Marine pilots. The Spirit of Flight Center air museum in Colorado is honoring the Topgun program with the recent acquisition of a Douglas A-4C Skyhawk (pictured).
“We have a goal at the Spirit of Flight Center to display both sides of a war” said Gordon Page, President of the Spirit of Flight Center. “The addition of the A-4 is perfect as it would have gone up against MiG 17s like the one we have in the museum collection, but ironically the A-4 also played the part of a MiG 17 at the Navy Fighter Weapons School.”
Skyhawks were used by both the Navy and the Marines as a primary light bomber over North Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War and carried out some of the first air strikes by the US during the conflict. A Marine Skyhawk is believed to have dropped the last American bomb on the country and some notable naval aviators flew the Skyhawk, including Senator John McCain and Commander James Stockdale. “The Navy did a study in 1968 and found that the air crews were inadequately trained in air combat maneuvering, so in 1969 the Topgun program was formed,” said Gordon Page. “The results of the Topgun program were dramatic, and it continues to this day.”
The Spirit of Flight Center A-4 is an early variant that sat for years in the Arizona desert after its retirement and it now needs a lot of restoration to get it looking like it did in its prime (see image). Museum volunteers will transform the A-4 into a Topgun aggressor aircraft, with a wild multi colored camouflage paint scheme that includes a small red star on the top of the tail. “It’s going to take a lot of work and money to get it back in shape,” said museum supporter Steven McCarthy. “I believe that the Spirit of Flight team can do it though as I have seen them restore planes a lot worse than this, which is why I’m in.” (Images courtesy Spirit of Flight)
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