A closeup view of the F-35 stealth fighter jet

It shouldn't be all work, no play for IDN fans; something light

The Top Gun sequel is finally happening

Rumours had circulated that greatest flying movie ever made would be getting a sequel. Tom Cruise ratcheted up the excitement yesterday by posting the following image to his Instagram account, with the hashtag #Day1 to indicate the first day of filming the new movie, called Top Gun: Maverick.

So how might a Top Gun movie look this time around?

Well, 32 years have passed since Maverick and Iceman played volleyball and flew fighter jets. The original Top Gun featured Tom Cruise as Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, flying an F-14A Tomcat fighter with Ltjg. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw as his Radar Intercept Officer. The two took off from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and flew against a mysterious enemy, most likely Soviet pilots, flying the new MiG-28 fighter.

Three decades later, none of those things exist. The F-14 Tomcat was retired from U.S. Navy service in 2006. The USS Enterprise held out of a sequel as long as it could, but the carrier was decommissioned in January 2017 after more than 40 years of service. The Soviet Union is no more, and the MiG-28 never was—it was a made-up airplane for the purposes of advancing the film’s plot.

What we know so far is that Maverick is a flight instructor in the sequel, and that his new ride is the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighter, probably the two-seater “F” version to give him someone to talk to in the movie. Unlike the Tomcat, which at the time was a strictly air-to-air fighter, the Super Hornet has an air-to-ground role, opening up the possibility that the pilots of Top Gun 2 could take on enemies on the ground.

What about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the latest fighter jet to join the U.S. military? The Navy is purchasing 273 F-35C models, which feature larger wings, slightly longer range, and strengthened landing gear designed to take punishing takeoffs and landings. Eventually the Navy will field 20 squadrons of F-35C, with two out of four fighter squadrons on every carrier equipped with the stealthy F-35.

The F-35C is a fundamentally different plane than the the original F-14A, or even today’s Super Hornet. It relies on remaining hidden to kill and survive, and ideally shoots down enemy planes from beyond visual range, without the enemy knowing it is there. That's a smart way to fight a war, but it makes for a lousy Top Gun movie. The Super Hornet, on the other hand, could still get into aerial knife-fights with the enemy. (Also, the F-35C is a single seat plane, meaning no clever, cocky cockpit banter.)

The original Top Gun featured aerial encounters and dogfights against Soviet pilots over the Indian Ocean. If the Top Gun sequel is modelled after real-life events, we could see its flyboys mixing it up against Russian pilots over the Baltic Sea, with the new Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter as the bad guy jet. The Su-57’s stealth could introduce a lot of dramatic tension as American pilots struggle to stay one step ahead.

Another possibility is the sunny South China Sea, where Maverick could fly against Chinese carrier-borne J-15 fighters of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Alternately, they could fly in the East China Sea against Chinese Su-35 fighters or even the new Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter. This is somewhat unlikely from a marketing perspective, however, as China is a major movie market and making Beijing the antagonist is a surefire way to prevent Top Gun 2 from hitting Chinese theatres.