104th National Convention

Top Gun: Maverick’ pilot puts convention attendees in the cockpit

By Cameran Richardson

Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Frank Weisser speaks during Day 2 of The American Legion 104th National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, August 30. Photo by Hilary Ott/The American Legion

AUG 30, 2023

Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Frank Weisser took American Legion national convention inside the cockpit of the Blue Angels and behind the scenes of the award-winning film, “Top Gun: Maverick.” Throughout his remarks on stage at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 30, video scenes played on big screens of him and other pilots flying and landing aircraft, which included scenes from “Top Gun: Maverick.”  

“This is one of the very few movies that the actual U.S. military participated,” Weisser said. “So the individuals flying these airplanes are not actors from Hollywood. They are Navy and Marine Corps pilots – that’s what makes this movie exceptional is what you see on the big screen is real, it was in fact filmed. Paramount’s perception was the actors can act … what they cannot do is act like they’re in a fighter. But they can act while in a fighter. So we did that. They filmed 800 hours in our Navy airplanes to make that movie come to life.”

Weisser shared why he was involved in making of “Top Gun: Maverick.” He conducted two separate tours in Afghanistan as a solo pilot and flew with 11 of the Blue Angels teams. When flying with the Blue Angels, “we talk about why we joined the military, what our call was to serve because flying in that airshow gives us the credibility to do so,” he said. “My story for these people at the show sites is not that we did a bunch of loops to music in a beautiful city. I’m here to share what our men and women of the armed services are doing day in and day out overseas to protect our interests at home. That’s the really cool part about why we do what we do.”

To show what service members are doing every day, convention attendees watched an intense scene of an F-18 flying 165mph and landing on a moving aircraft carrier in the daytime and then at night, in the pitch dark with only faint lights from the aircraft.  

“I will tell you, in my experience, the most difficult aspect of aviation is doing that same thing but at night,” Weisser said. “What’s most important about this, and when speaking to a group of veterans this will ring true, I’m sure, it has nothing to do with the pilot in this case. There’s 6,000 people on that aircraft carrier making this whole thing work. It’s a massive team effort. So when I go and fly in Blue Angels air shows and we talk to these young men and women about why we chose to serve, I explain it’s like a football team. We’re not six pilots. We’re 130 Blue Angels that go around the country to perform and share our love for service, but every single member of that team is absolutely critical.”

Weisser showed several scenes of him flying in “Top Gun: Maverick” – both from the cockpit thanks to Imax cameras on the wings and on ground from film taken. A well-known scene from the movie is the jet flying through a twisted, mountainous canyon. The actors were in fact in the airplane with Navy and Marine Corps pilots in the front seat. “Anytime you see a pilot from the back, that is an actual Navy, Marine Corps pilot flying with that actor’s helmet,” Weisser said. “I’m showing this to you to be justifiably proud when you watch this movie to know that it is our Navy, Marine Corps pilots on those airplanes to make this movie happen.”

Weisser flew actor Tom Cruise in that canyon scene and Glen Powell who played Hangman.  In his 25 years of flying, “never once did my hair get that long,” he said, to laughter, referencing how a hairline like Cruise was placed on the back of his head for those canyon scenes. “Paramount went to great lengths to make sure everything we did was realistic.”

Thanks to his role in “Top Gun: Maverick” and the Blue Angels, Weisser speaks to many groups about his experience and service. He said he most enjoys speaking to veterans because “we are all cut from the same cloth and we all can appreciate what went into this. We all recognize that in this particular movie, it wasn’t made possible because of great actors. It was made possible by a great military that allowed itself and put the expertise of the men and women involved, to go forth.”