Contrary to this UK The Telegraph article, American Top Gun fighter pilot academy set up by British, Navy Fighter Weapons School aka TOPGUN was not at all "inspired by the Royal Navy elite flying instructors." Indeed I was at NAS Miramar when the Brits were there. While good drivers, they did not influence the school. (The visiting Israelli pilots however, did.) In fact, it was more like a vacation to them. The true inspirations for TOPGUN were the Ault Report, the F-8 Fleet Air Gunnery Unit (FAGU), Have Drill and Have Dougnut.

However Darrel Gary who was a TOPGUN instructor at the outset, explains all this better than I:

Response to British false claims about Top Gun:
‘Rowland White’s interpretation of history is disingenuous, erroneous and certainly self promotional. All of the Royal Navy exchange pilots at that time (Dick Lord, Dick Moody and Peter Jago) were excellent pilots. What we learned from them was how to play mess Rugby in our whites, how to pass out in your plate at a Dining In and how to leave your breakfast on the ramp and still make your take-off time. They did make a positive contribution to the development of skill sets and tactical training within the training squadron to which we were all assigned. Many of them remain friends today. Peter lives near San Diego and flies eastern bloc aircraft long with us doing many of the same things we did in our youth. To assert that “they taught us how to fly the F-4 or that they wrote the NFWS syllabus is a complete fabrication.

It was widely understood by our pilots (USN and USAF) that we had trained for a different threat and were flying a very versatile and capable aircraft that was designed to establish air superiority in a different environment than the one we found ourselves engaged in. To further compound the problems, our command and control limitations negated our primary advantage, the ability to kill at long range. U.S. forces were routinely required to make a V.I.D. which put us in a turning fight with weapons not ideally suited for close in high “G” high T.C.A. combat. To make it even worse, the Rules of Engagement shifted the initiative to our adversaries. They exploited those R.O.E. Shame on the planners who don’t have to do the fighting. “Fight to Win” anything else is rubbish.

It was the Ault Report that gave voice to the operational forces (Fighter Pilots recently back from combat). The Ault Report cataloged all of the problems facing our forces. The easiest to fix in a short period of time was aircrew training and tactics. Missile performance was next in the line-up and we saw the results before the end of the conflict. Unlike the U.S.A.F. which was ruled by the bomber generals of S.A.C., the U.S. Navy command structure responded appropriately. They told those who experienced the problems and who complained about the situation to “go fix it”.

We studied prior conflicts and all of the prior F-4 vs MIG engagements. Adapting the two aircraft tactical unit, the Rotte/Section/Element established by Werner Molders (Luftwaffe) to the performance capabilities of our aircraft, we developed Loose Deuce maneuvering which emphasized mutual support. Taking advantage of the weapons system capability we developed offensive combat spread techniques and V.I.D tactics to maintain the offensive advantage at the terminal phase of an intercept. We studied Maj John Boyd’s (U.S.A.F.) theory of energy maneuverability in order to understand relative aircraft performance envelopes and the comparative advantages/disadvantages of the F-4 vs our adversaries. We had the added advantage of being able to fly against captured assets. We were able to fly against the adversary aircraft in the western desert. The learning curve was very steep and resulted in dramatically revised tactics and training. We learned to use the vertical and the lag roll and other maneuvers to exploit our relative advantages. All of this was incorporated into the NFWS syllabus. This took place against the backdrop of the bombing halt ordered by President Johnson in November of 1968. For the next three years any aerial confrontation was very limited. President Nixon lifted the ban north of the 20th parallel. By this time numerous NFWS trained pilots were assigned to Fighter Squadrons in the theater of operations. When aerial combat resumed, the results were dramatic. All of the U.S. Navy kills except for two were made by NFWS “TOPGUN” graduates. This is now a part of aviation history, legend and lore…..U.S. Naval Aviation history I might add. He who says otherwise was not there and diminishes himself by trying to assume the credit for the accomplishments of others.’

So the Brits *did* have an important role in the improvement of American fighter pilots. They introduced the concept of a full breakfast, since the typical breakfast before then was “a Coke, a smoke and a puke.” For you glass cockpit flyers, TCA is track crossing angle. During my short time at The School, instructors such as Huck, Manfred and Hawk spoke in awe about the visiting Israeli pilot who watered their eyes in the F-4J they borrowed from somewhere…probably VF-121. The only Brit mentioned during the course was Roy Brown.
Darrel Gary

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