‘Top Gun: Maverick’ F/A-18 Fighter Jet Flights Cost Tom Cruise Movie $11,374 An Hour

The long-awaited “Top Gun” sequel set a new Memorial Day Weekend box office record.

top gun: maverick promo
Paramount Pictures

The U.S. Navy lent the filmmakers of Top Gun: Maverick F/A-18 Super Hornets with two big catches: They charged $11,374 an hour to rent the high-tech fighter jets—and star Tom Cruise couldn’t touch the cockpit controls.

Cruise, who is famous for performing his own stunts, insisted that all the actors portraying pilots in the blockbuster Top Gun sequel fly in one of the fighter jets so they could understand what it feels like to be a pilot operating under the nausea-inducing strain of intense gravitational forces.

Cruise, 59, ended up flying more than a dozen sorties for the new movie, but a Pentagon regulation bars non-military personnel from controlling a Defense Department asset other than small arms in training scenarios, according to Glen Roberts, the chief of the Pentagon’s entertainment media office. The actors actually rode behind F/A-18 pilots after completing training on how to eject from the plane in an emergency and how to survive at sea, reports Bloomberg.

Roberts said the Navy allowed the production to use planes, aircraft carriers and military bases even though he said the real Top Gun pilots aren’t the cocky rule-benders portrayed in the film, people who “would never exist in naval aviation.” Instead, they’re studious air nerds who toil away for hours in the classroom and participate in intense training flights at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, the site of the actual Top Gun school.

A movie “does not have to be a love letter to the military” to win Pentagon cooperation, Roberts said. But it does “need to uphold the integrity of the military.” Filmmakers need to have funding and distribution for their project and be willing to submit their script for military review. Although the Pentagon can request changes, Roberts said he wasn’t aware of any on Top Gun: Maverick.

Cruise reportedly created his own demanding flight training program for the movie’s young actors so they could withstand the rigors of aerial maneuvers and perform their roles with “real Navy pilots taking them on the ride of their lives.”

The F/A-18 Super Hornet gets top billing in the movie over the more advanced F-35C Corp. because that’s what the movie’s script called for, Roberts told Bloomberg. He added that the F-35 is a single-seat plane, so the actors couldn’t ride in them.

Meanwhile, Top Gun: Maverick wasn’t just the biggest opening of Cruise’s career, grossing $156 million over the long Memorial Day Weekend. It also bested the prior Memorial Day Weekend record holder, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which amassed $153 million at the North American box office in 2007.