When the original “Top Gun” movie debuted in 1986, the blockbuster led to a major bump in Navy recruiting — reportedly a whopping 500%.
“I don’t know if that figure is accurate but I will tell you that it definitely had an effect on recruiting if only one guy, which is me,” Captain Brian Ferguson, 53, told The Post. “I saw the movie, thought it looked like the most exciting job in the world. And it is.”
After college, Ferguson, whose favorite characters were Maverick and Iceman, joined the Navy and later attended Top Gun’s Adversary Training Course.
So it’s only fitting that at the twilight of his military career and after 28 years of being a Navy pilot, he landed the gig of a lifetime: the Navy’s technical advisor on “Top Gun: Maverick,” which hits theaters today.
“It’s funny because they didn’t order me to do it, they asked me to do it. I turned it down several times,” said Ferguson, citing family and work commitments. But eventually the job kept coming back to him and his wife convinced him to take it. “I was indifferent to the job, which I think was attractive to the Navy because there was no worry that I would be taken with Hollywood.”
After all, among Ferguson’s many jobs on set was to ensure the military branch’s values, integrity and interests were represented. He also was in charge of making sure that the equipment wasn’t damaged, the cast and crew were safe and flying scenes were done as authentically as possible.
“We were using real airplanes. It’s dynamic and technical,” said the San Diego resident.
In the beginning, Ferguson said he would sit down with the creative team, including Tom Cruise, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Kevin LaRosa II. They’d go over scenes and Ferguson would apply his aviation expertise to make their vision as close to a reality as possible.
“It was critical that nothing bad happened during the filming. If we somehow got too aggressive, damaged a taxpayer asset or killed somebody, then all of the things we hoped to have achieved would have been erased in a moment,” said Ferguson, who said the team used “viable, employable real-world tactics [used] in combat. The surface-to-air scene, that’s extremely realistic.”
But when it comes to a dog fight, they had to tweak a few things.
“Dog fights in those airplanes aren’t within 100 feet of each other. We are going so fast, the planes are a mile or a mile and a half apart. If you try to film two airplanes, a mile apart, no one is going to watch that.”
Ferguson admits there was some creative license. Bruckheimer, he said, “Told me, ‘I appreciate your passion for realism on this, however, if everything is entirely realistic, it’s going to be a documentary and that’s not what we’re going for.’”
He noted that Paramount paid the Navy back for any fuel or expenses. “This didn’t cost us a thing. Paramount reimbursed the taxpayers and every penny was sent back to the Treasury. But we did it for recruiting and retention.”
And when it came to filming, the actors were not spared the realism of flying.
They underwent a months-long course designed by LaRosa and Cruise, whom Ferguson calls “a very experienced pilot” to acclimate to the G-force and other physical demands of flying in an F-18. And Ferguson coordinated a Navy survival course where the actors were dragged through water, dunked upside down with a blindfold on and had to exit an enclosed space.
“If you have to eject or an airplane goes in the water, we need to know that you can get out safely, and God forbid that happens,” said Ferguson, adding that the training is “very challenging, it’s intimidating and not fun. [The cast] did great.”
Luckily no one was harmed. Only his perception of Tinseltown.
“They ruined my stereotype of Hollywood. It was a negative stereotype. Everyone was so down to earth and personable,” said Ferguson, who even ended up with a line in the movie.
And it’s led to more work on movie sets for the F-18 expert. He was the technical advisor on the aircraft carrier for the upcoming Korean war movie “Devotion,” based on the Adam Makos book of the same name and starring Glen Powell. In “Maverick,” Powell plays Hangman, a cocky, obnoxious pilot who is the spiritual successor to Val Kilmer’s Iceman in the original.
“That’s funny because Glen is the nicest person you will meet in your life,” said Ferguson.
Does he think recruiting history will repeat itself once audiences see the heart-pumping sonic boom of a movie?
“I absolutely do. There will be a lot of people wearing white T-shirts, jeans and green jackets…There’s going to be some 22-year-old girl who is looking to be a chemical engineer and see Phoenix [played by Monica Barbaro], who is an amazing character and wants to be a Navy pilot.”
And he hopes it also shines a light on his brave colleagues.
“The real heroes of this movie are the men and women on the ships who are deployed. They are away from their families doing dangerous stuff around the world every day.”