SAN DIEGO — Attending the Navy's special school for fighter pilots is about all that separates its graduates from any other jet jockey in the fleet, says an instructor at the San Diego-based squadron known as "Top Gun."
Admission to Top Gun depends on timing as much as it does proficiency in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat fighter, said Lt. Cmdr. Tom Sobieck, the executive officer of the Fighter Weapons School.
"The difference between a Top Gun graduate and someone who has not gone through the course is simply that," Sobieck said. "This other individual or air crew was never afforded the opportunity to go through this intensive training."
Top Gun is less an attempt to create super pilots than it is a crash course to bring the Navy's large pool of green aviators up to the level of the smaller number of experienced pilots, he said.
The disciples of the five-week course are expected to take what they have learned back to their respective squadrons and pass it on to their mates.
The latest tactics and technical information about the good guys and bad guys is dispensed in the classroom at Top Gun just as it is in any squadron ready room and the pilots fly missions twice a day, he said.
"There's no substitute for practice," Sobieck said.
The missions, known as Air Combat Maneuvers, pit Top Gun students against instructors who fly using the same tactics and styles as those that would be used by hostile pilots, he said.
Other Pilots Compared
"A Libyan pilot is probably not going to fly his MIG-23 as well as a Soviet pilot," Sobieck said. "An East German is probably going to be a little more aggressive than a Libyan or a Syrian.
"We expose them to the best way of doing business. They can go out and do whatever they like. Sometimes, by doing something with the airplane that is a little unexpected, it may be the best thing to do. You may trick the other guy," Sobieck said.
The dueling is done over the Pacific or the deserts of Nevada and Arizona.
Squadrons tangle at supersonic speeds that make modern dogfights pale imitations of the ballets witnessed during the world wars and in the current "Top Gun" movie.
Not Like the Movie
The movie bears no resemblance to the real life Top Gun in regard to the antics of the lead character, Sobieck said.
"Some of the stuff Tom Cruise did (in the movie)--a student like that would have gotten an apple and a road map. We can't put up with hot dogging. You guys (taxpayers) give us $36-million airplanes that are not toys," said Sobieck. "There is a certain amount of maturity and discipline that goes along with driving airplanes."
However, he said the movie contains the kind of publicity that strikes a chord with the type of bright young men the Navy hopes to attract into flight school.
"Some of the things Hollywood did with the fighter-pilot macho stuff, I think were a little bit off base, but not enough so we should cry about it," he said.