Robert “Scratch” Mitchell was one of the pilots who helped recreate the famous Top Gun canopy-to-canopy photo scene to see if it was possible, and explains in this 10-minute video what his team got right, and what Top Gun got wrong.
Four years ago, photographer Blair Bunting partnered with Planet Unicorn Productions and the Patriots Jet Team to recreate the famous Top Gun scene to see if it was possible. You can view the original coverage of that story here.
After an intense pre-production meeting and full shooting day, the team did indeed prove that it was possible – just not quite how the directors of Top Gun portrayed it.
Looking back on the shoot, Scratch explains the rigorous planning required to make sure the production went off without a hitch. The shoot required three jets: one to act as the inverted jet where the photo would be taken from, one to act as the subject of the photo (Scratch’s jet), and a third jet to film the whole endeavor.
What Top Gun gets right is that the shot is actually possible, but there are a couple of things wrong with their depiction of how it would happen. First, the distance between the two cockpits as shown in the movie is not possible due to the height of each jet’s tail fins. In order to not accidentally bump into each other, the jets would have to be significantly farther apart.
Second, fighter jets are not designed to fly upside down for any length of time. As Scratch explains, flying upside down for more than 15 to 20 seconds will starve the engine of fuel and cause it to stall. To make the shot happen, the crew had to make multiple attempts at capturing the image and aligning the jets during flight, everyone knowing each attempt would only be possible for a short time.
Speaking from my experience as the camera operator in the air, the aerial portion of the shoot was physically taxing. Not only were we dealing with significantly higher g-forces than we were used to, but the weather that day was incredibly hot. While Blair’s and Scratch’s jets were air-conditioned, my jet was not so lucky. Because there was a hole cut into the canopy to allow me to point my camera lens out (this was done to avoid reflections), any cooled air was immediately jettisoned outside.
You can read a full breakdown of the production here, which includes a ton of details about what we used to shoot it, the number of cameras we employed, and how we rigged them.
For more from Scratch, make sure to subscribe to his YouTube Channel.
Image credits: Blair Bunting and used with permission.