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In 1986 Top Gun was released and along with cementing Tom Cruise's status as a movie star, the movie wowed audiences with its thrilling real-life action. The movie spotlighted military aerial combat in a way that no movie ever had before. It's no wonder that even over three decades later people were still hoping for a sequel, that eventually got the green light. And while we'll all need to wait to see the actual movie, the U.S. Navy isn't waiting to thank Tom Cruise, as well as franchise producer Jerry Bruckheimer, for their contributions to Naval Aviation, as the two are now Honorary Naval Aviators.
In 1949 the U.S. Navy instituted the Honorary Naval Aviator Program as a way to recognize the contributions of those outside of Naval Aviation to the cause. The award had only been given out 34 times since then prior to the end of last week when Tom Cruise became recipient 35 and Jerry Bruckheimer became number 36. Among other things, the Honorary Naval Aviator citation awards both Cruise and Bruckheimer with the same Wings of Gold that are given to actual Naval Aviators, and they're even allowed to wear the wings publicly.
The majority of the list of other recipients of the Honorary Naval Aviator award include other members of the U.S. Navy or those who have been directly involved in the aerospace industry. However, the award has been given to another actor at least once before. Bob Hope was made an Honorary Naval Aviator for his contributions to keeping up the morale of those in Naval Aviation, through his decades of work with the USO. In an interesting coincidence, Hope was presented with the award on May 8, 1986, only a few days before the debut of the original Top Gun in movie theaters.
According to a statement by the Navy, Top Gun as a film made a "profound positive impact" on recruitment within Naval Aviation. It's not hard to see why. The film makes flying fighter jets look far more fun than terrifying.
If we were in an alternate universe, there would be two movies that would be promoting Naval Aviation to the public as Top Gun: Maverick was supposed to be released this past summer. It was originally delayed to December, but now the movie has been pushed back to the summer of 2021. One gets the impression that this award might have been originally planned in conjunction with the new movie, but with the future so uncertain, it made more sense to simply move forward.
Hopefully, we will, in fact, see Top Gun: Maverick on July 2, 2021, as it is currently scheduled.