Fighter Pilot: The Real Top Gun is a 2019 three-part documentary about trainee pilots in the RAF.
In the series finale, three students at Britain’s very own Top Gun academy find out which of them, if any, can pass their concluding aerial combat and mission tests and ultimately be selected to fly the new F35 Lightning fighter jet.
The school’s only female student, Danners, has an injury which could threaten her participation in the course, after injuring her back playing squash. She says: “The consequences for me can be quite significant. if it’s a more long term injury it could put me back on the course, so it could delay my graduation. And worst case it could be potentially career limiting, which is obviously something that I’m quite keen to avoid.”
Young dad Andy and former windsurf instructor Sedge face the most complex flight of their lives – a full mission, which is their final hurdle to becoming fighter pilots by graduating from RAF Valley. Andy says: “Finishing Valley is a massive milestone for everybody, it will be a massive achievement something that we’ve been working to for years and years. So I’m pretty excited but you don’t want to count your chickens yet.”
After his flight, Andy is debriefed by instructor Paul, who tells him he needs to be careful to be aware of the airspace around him – otherwise the consequences could be extreme. Paul says: “You’ve got to get your head out of the jet more otherwise you’re going to hit somebody… You fly into somebody, you’re dead.”
In Sedge’s final test, he is paired up as lead pilot alongside fellow student Kieran. Instructor Steve explains how the two pilots have to operate to achieve their goal. He says: “They’ve got to work together as a pair, so anything that one aircraft does will have an influence on the other aircraft. They’ve got their roles and responsibilities within the formation both as flight lead and as wingman.”
But when Kieran wrongly identifies a friendly aircraft as hostile, he potentially puts the mission – and both their careers – at risk.
If Danners, Sedge and Andy pass, they could be selected to fly the new F35 jets. Academy boss Puppy says: “I think they come to us as good pilots and they leave us fighter pilots and that’s a big difference. One – they’re more mature. Two – they think more like a warrior would think. And three – they’ve got the ability to no longer just do flying. Now they’re thinking how [they] win in combat. And that is a very different person than when they came.”
In South Carolina, the British F35 Lightning crew establish whether they are frontline ready with the new aircraft. Squadron boss Butch and other pilots are due to take the UK’s first four jets 4,000 miles to the waiting crowds and media at their new home at RAF Marham in Norfolk. He says the pilots face a gruelling eight and a half hours at the helm: “To fly for that long in a fighter jet is tiring on its own, you’re sitting in a single position on a hard seat, that is not designed for comfort, like it would be on an airliner. It’s periods of quiet, and periods of intensity, when you’re doing the air to air refuelling.”
Meanwhile pilot Liam, who has already been selected to fly the F35, must learn to perfectly refuel the craft in midair using a floating probe from another plane. If he breaks anything and creates debris, it could be sucked into the engine leading to a fatal crash. His instructor is Butch, who says: “You know, it is a unique skill. You’re flying along at 300 miles an hour and trying to make contact with the basket that’s out in the open flow. So it’s something you get better with experience.”
Fighter Pilot: The Real Top Gun Series
You can find a full index and overview of Fighter Pilot: The Real Top Gun here.
Production & Filming Details
- Production: Blakeway Production.
- Distributor(s): ITV4.
- Release Date: 03 September 2019.
- Running time: 47 minutes.
- Rating: PG.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.