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More than three decades ago, the movie Top Gun not only had everyone feeling "the need for speed," it also introduced the Navy's elite fighter weapons school to the world.

Taking off from a parking lot to soaring high above the clouds, TOPGUN has been synonymous with aviation excellence for more than 50 years. And the Navy's real "top guns" will tell you, they truly are "not in the business of good enough."

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The intrigue of TOPGUN isn't only about the students like it is in the movie, it's about the instructors who also train relentlessly, study hard and exude professionalism so the Navy can keep its edge.

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It Started in a Parking Lot: TOPGUN's History Revealed

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What They Fly


Serves in an aggressor-training role with simulation capability of current threat aircraft in fighter combat mode.


All-weather fighter and attack aircraft designed for traditional strike applications such as interdiction and close-air support without compromising fighter capabilities.


Designed with the entire battlespace in mind, a highly agile, supersonic aircraft that provides unprecedented situational awareness and unmatched lethality and survivability.

Three Mission Sets

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Fighting other airplanes mid-air with air-to-air missiles. It has been the founding principle for TOPGUN for more than half a century.

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Dropping ordnance on land-based targets. The air-to-surface mission grew in importance during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Maritime Strike

Destroying enemy ships with ordnance. Currently, maritime strike has grown in focus and involves integration with other Navy and joint service assets.

Flight School

It's like two teams playing against each other. You don't know what that offense is going to do. You don't know what defense you're going to be presented with, either.

- Navy Cmdr. Dustin Peverill

The students are broken into three groups: Strike Fighter Tactics Instructors (SFTIs), Adversaries and Air Intercept Controllers. When students graduate from TOPGUN and go on to their follow-on tours or back to their fleet unit, they become teachers, passing what they learned at TOPGUN to others to raise the whole squadron or ship’s tactical performance.

Perspective SFTIs are FA-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35C Lightning II aircrew from the fleet who learn the latest tactics over the span of 13 weeks. During training, these students practice what they've learned against the Adversary students and TOPGUN instructors.

Adversary students are primarily F-5 Tiger II pilots. Their course is condensed over nine weeks, and they learn to replicate the capability and tactics used by other countries in order to provide realistic training to the fleet.

AIC students come from the Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye community and the surface fleet. During training, these students practice what they've learned against the Adversary students and TOPGUN instructors. The AIC course teaches students via simulators how to operate their sensors and seamlessly integrate with the SFTIs to provide them with situational awareness to help guide their airborne tactical decision making. The AIC course is also about nine weeks.

Did You Know?

Fewer than 5% of Navy fighter pilots get to teach at TOPGUN.

90-95% of students who attend TOPGUN pass. "The staff's job is to graduate students, not to attrite them." - Navy Cmdr. Dustin Peverill

TOPGUN averages about 35 instructors on staff at any one time. That includes strike fighter aircrew, airborne intercept controllers and an intelligence officer. Most spend about three years on staff.

What's in the name?

As you might have noticed, the acronym TOPGUN doesn't match the school's name. In fact, TOPGUN doesn't stand for anything. It was a nickname created by the tactical department of Fighter Squadron 21 when the school was stood up. That department called itself TOPGUN – it even fashioned a TOPGUN sign for the parking lot trailer that served as the original schoolhouse – because it was simply easier to say than U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School. And the name stuck.

Its location: not in cali anymore

Yes, TOPGUN was once in California, but not anymore. The school was founded at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego and remained there for several years after the movie "Top Gun" came out. However, it was moved in 1996 during the Base Realignment and Closure Program to Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, to be integrated into the newly created Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (now known as the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center). As the F/A-18 Hornet's role grew, the aircraft required more airspace and air-to-surface range space for training, and the Fallon Range Training Complex provided that.

Most don't go on to fight the enemy.

In the movie "Top Gun," the school's graduates quickly were sent on a real-world mission. But that rarely happens in real life. As their mission is to "train the trainers," most TOPGUN graduates go on to weapons schools to provide training and support to the deployable fleet - but they won't deploy again themselves until follow-on tours. "Their job is to make sure that COs all the way down to the brand new aircrew are trained in the latest tactics developed by TOPGUN," Peverill said.

There's confidence, but not cockiness.

In the original "Top Gun" movie, arrogance was not lacking in any of the characters. But today's instructors say that's far from reality - in fact, it's frowned upon. The school looks for three personality traits in every student and instructor: Credibility, approachability and humility. "As I teach you, I'm trying to get better, too. So I have to have that humble demeanor in order to make everybody better," Peverill said. "A cocky demeanor just shuts everybody down, and it would be a huge disservice to the school." While the cockiness might be a myth, the competitiveness is not!