Capt. Bruce Hay, former commander of the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, is a maverick on his own merits.
He was the commander at PMRF from 2013 to 2016. He was a naval aviator for 26 years. He had more than 2,600 flight hours and 802 carrier-arrested landings. He made the first EA-6B Prowler night-vision device landing in Bagram, Afghanistan.
So when it comes to flying, he’s the real deal.
And while he saw the Tom Cruise box office smash, “Top Gun: Maverick” (earnings of nearly $400 million in less than 20 days) and enjoyed it, it’s not exactly accurate aerial artwork.
“All my buddies, we talk about it, laugh about it, poke fun at it, but it’s pretty entertaining,” Hay said during a phone call with The Garden Island.
“Maverick” the movie is packed with dramatic scenes of F-18s spinning, going vertical into the sun, turning sideways to go under bridges and soaring up, down and over mountain ranges and eluding missiles.
“Some of the flying they do is completely accurate,” Hay said. “Some of it makes for entertaining flying.”
Hay, retired from the military, is on assignment with a consulting firm in the Middle East. He and his wife and daughter moved to Alabama after leaving Kaua‘i when he was relieved as commander of PMRF after serving his three-year stint.
Hay was influenced in his career choice by the original “Top Gun,” also starring Cruise, that came out in 1986.
“I wanted to go to college but didn’t want to bankrupt my parents, so I looked into scholarship programs. At the time, believe it or not, ‘Top Gun’ had just come out,” he told TGI in a previous interview. “A very powerful recruiting tool. I saw a way to make a couple things happen: Do something interesting and go to college without bankrupting my parents.”
Hay went on enjoy a distinguished military career. He was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals both with combat-distinguishing device as well as other unit and campaign awards.
He loved being a naval aviator.
Taking off from a carrier, flying, landing, is exhilarating. But the majority, studying, reviewing, preparing, teaching, “is very mundane,” hardly the stuff that people will pay to watch on the big screen.
But mix in a movie star, a sentimental journey, some shirtless beach football, supersonic stuff, flying, fighting and dropping bombs, while bonding with fellow aviators, and that’s something millions will pay to watch.
And they have.
Asked for his views on “Maverick,” if it is an accurate portrayal, Hay said in many ways, yes.
“They did their homework,” he said.
In others, no.
Which is no surprise.
“First and foremost, there are very few accurate portrayals of naval aviation,” he said.
“Maverick” is sensational, but not without flaws.
First, that Capt. Mitchell, call sign Maverick, is still a captain after 30 years and still flying for the Navy wouldn’t happen, Hay said. You’re either moving up or moving out. The likelihood he would be called to train pilots and ultimately lead a top-secret mission is remote. Very remote.
“A captain at 30 years, you’re done,” Hay said.
“He definitely wouldn’t be flying tactically, but why ruin a good story,” Hay said, laughing.
The scene where Maverick flies his F-18 directly up between two other F-18s during some training wouldn’t happen either, Hay said, because that would break basic-training rules that fighter jets don’t get too close to one another.
In another scene, Maverick and young pilot Rooster, son of Goose, Maverick’s best friend who died in the original flick, manage to steal an F-14 after a successful bombing mission — but both are shot down, fortunately within a short walk of the enemy base.
While there is “basis in fact” for such an F-14 to be there, that they could actually get it to work and take off is highly improbable.
The premise of the film, an attack on an enemy target by four planes backed by missile strike from a Navy ship “is a little unrealistic,” Hay said.
“Attacking another nation is an act of war,” he said. “You’re not going to just send four airplanes, poke them in the eye and hope nothing comes of it.”
In one of the final aerial scenes, an enemy fifth-generation fighter deftly maneuvers away from a missile fired by Maverick. It seems impossible, but it’s not, Hay said. That’s accurate, he added, noting the newest and latest fighters can do “amazing things.”
“It’s breathtaking to watch,” he said.
Another scene where Maverick flies into the sun pursued by another pilot in a training exercise is “a valid tactic.”
“The person being chased has a responsibility for separation of flight,” Hay said.
Once you lose sight of the enemy plane, when you don’t know where they are, “you’re a sitting duck,” Hay said.
In a climatic scene, the pilots drop bombs, then make a steep climb up a mountain while maintaining speed of 10 Gs.
“That part is complete and totally unrealistic,” Hay said. “You could never pull that many Gs while climbing uphill. But it looks cool.”
Overall, he said the film is a fine mix of reality and fiction, “extremely entertaining,” and he gives it seven out of 10.
It has a nice, happy ending, too, “assuming they didn’t go to war,” Hay said, chuckling.
Flying is every bit as thrilling as it’s made out to be in “Maverick,” Hay said, and he treasures his time in the air. A common saying among aviators is: “By and large, we can’t believe we’re getting paid to do this.”
For Bruce Hay, that still stands.
Source: The Garden Island