It doesn't have Hollywood heartthrobs like pretty flyboy Tom Cruise or pretty flygirl Kelly McGillis.
But along with a great deal of information, tonight's "Top Gun and Beyond" on "Nova" delivers nearly as much excitement and horizon-swirling aerial footage as "Top Gun," the recent box-office smash about the Navy's elite combat pilot training school (8 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15, 9 p.m. on Channel 50).
"Top Gun and Beyond" offers a fine mini-history of the unchanging basic tactics and the ever-changing technologies of aerial dogfights, from World War I's Fokker Triplanes to Vietnam's F-4 Phantoms. Its main concern, however, is with the dangerous physical and psychic conditions confronting pilots who fly today's expensive, ultra-complex, high-performance fighters.
Basically, experts and pilots tell "Nova," we're building fighters so powerful and sophisticated that humans can now barely fly them in combat situations. Pilots, no matter how well-trained, can pass out in seconds from excessive G-forces in turns or can suffer information overload in cockpits over-crammed with electronic controls (an F-15 has 300 switches and 75 displays).