March 3, 1969 was a memorable day for the US Navy (and for Tom Cruise) with the establishment of the famed Fighter Weapons School better known as ‘Top Gun’ at the former Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, California.
Watch: What is Top Gun?
During the early years of the Vietnam War the US suffered a high number of aircraft being lost in combat. From March 1965 to November 1968, during Operation Rolling Thunder the US Military lost almost 1000 aircraft. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) appointed Captain Frank Ault to conduct a total review of all aspects of Naval Aviation to try and determine why Naval aircraft seemed to be suffering higher losses than expected.
Aircraft, aircrew training, squadron and air wing organizational aspects as well as air to air missile performance all were to be examined and then recommendations made for improvements.
The results of the review became known as the Ault Report and after being published in May 1968 quickly lead to some major changes in Naval Aviation training methods and organization. The main culprit for those large losses of aircraft turned out to be inadequate aircrew training in air combat maneuvering (ACM) and not so much faulty missile technology as earlier thought by many.
Quick and immediate action was taken by the Navy to resolve this issue with the establishment of the Fighter Weapons School.
Its objective was to develop, refine and teach aerial dogfight tactics and techniques to selected fleet air crews, using the concept of Dissimilar Air Combat Training, DACT. DACT uses stand-in aircraft to realistically replicate expected enemy aircraft and is widely used in air arms the world over. At that time, the predominant enemy aircraft were the Russian-built transonic MiG-17 ‘Fresco’ and the supersonic MiG-21 ‘Fishbed’.
Topgun initially operated the A-4 Skyhawk and borrowed USAF T-38 Talons to simulate the flying characteristics of the MiG-17 and MiG-21, respectively.
Air crews selected to attend the Topgun course were chosen from front-line units. Upon graduating, these crews would return to their parent fleet units to relay what they had learned to their fellow squadron mates—in essence becoming instructors themselves. – Wikipedia
According to reports the Navy said the results from ‘Top Gun’ training were dramatic. In the years before Top Gun, 1965-1967 their kill ratio was 3.7 to 1 meaning the Navy would lose one aircraft per every 3.7 enemy aircraft they destroyed. After 1970, when Top Gun graduates were infiltrating back into the Fleet and teaching other aircrew what they had learned the kill ratio soared to 13:1.
The fame created by the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School lead to the production of a hit movie in 1986 called Top Gun starring the F-14 Tomcat and some guy named Tom Cruise which created even more folklore about the exploits of Navy fighter pilots at NAS Miramar near San Diego, California.
Watch Scenes From the Movie Top Gun
In 1996 the Navy transferred ownership of NAS Miramar to the United States Marine Corps and merged the Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) into the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center at NAS Fallon, Nevada. Many Naval Aviators were saddened to see Top Gun leave Miramar but the storied history it had there will never be forgotten and always remain a part of Navy tradition.
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Featured image of Fightertown USA (aka NAS Miramar) via Pinterest/Michael Sherriff