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TOPGUN, Top School

The Movie TOP GUN Marks 30th Year Anniversary

When you hear the term "Top Gun," you probably picture a young Tom Cruise in a flight suit, giving a thumbs-up on a movie poster. Or perhaps you remember that epic flyby or fighter jets blasting through the sky on the big screen.


However, this movie was about more than shirtless guys playing volleyball, it was about a truly outstanding school, which has continued to grow and evolve since long before its film tribute.

TOPGUN, or as its official title goes, the "Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor" program, or SFTI (pronounced 'siff-tee'), is not actually a school, per se, but rather it is an instructional course loaded with schooling, training and tactics development, and it's held at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center aboard Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

NAWDC consists of 12 departments, one of which is the Training and Standardization Department (N7). The N7 department instructs graduate-level strike-fighter employment through the SFTI course. Only the top one percent of naval aviation pilots can attend this course, which lasts about 12 weeks.

During their time at TOPGUN, pilots learn many different things, such as alternative fighter jet maneuverability and countermeasure tactics, time management and preparation, but above all else, they learn how to take what they have learned and share it with their fellow pilots back at their command.

"One of the points here at TOPGUN isn't just to make the guys good in the jet," said 'Storc,' a TOPGUN instructor. "It's to make them effective teachers. It's not an evaluation course; it's a course of teaching."
Photo collage for Top Gun story.


TOPGUN has seen significant change and expansion through the years.

"A lot has changed since the 1980s, a lot of improvements in the technology," said 'Bond,' a TOPGUN instructor. "And it's because of that, that the tactics have [also] evolved. The aircraft today have much more capable and advanced combat systems and sensors than the aircraft 30 years ago."

Originally, in 1969, the school was located at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego and had the very narrow but crucial objective of training Navy F-4 Phantom aircrews in aerial tactics to defeat Soviet fighter aircraft in Vietnam. Every other month, four F-4 crews were selected to attend for a few weeks. Upon graduation, they would return to their respective squadrons to pass on what they had learned. This concept was so fundamental and effective that it remains in place today.

"The TOPGUN course, while challenging, is rewarding," said 'Bond'. "You learn how to become a better instructor and you learn how to fly the aircraft in ways you've never done before."

Maverick and Goose would be proud.