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Top Gun: Maverick Stars On Flying In The Jets And Filming Themselves - Exclusive

If you were one of the millions of people who went to see "Top Gun: Maverick" over its massive opening weekend, then you know just how amazing the flying sequences are in the film. Star-producer Tom Cruise, director Joseph Kosinski, cast members playing elite new recruits to the Navy's Fighter Weapons School, and real-life TOPGUN pilots make sure you feel exactly what it's like to be in the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet screaming over the desert at hundreds of miles an hour.

A major reason why the flight scenes in "Top Gun: Maverick" seem so immersive and realistic is because the actors are actually up in the planes, seated behind experienced Navy pilots but easily creating the illusion that they're flying the machines themselves. Cruise put the young cast through a three-month training course in which they learned exactly what to expect, including the impact of gravitational forces on the body.

In addition, a series of six specially developed, IMAX-certified Sony Venice cameras were installed right in the cockpit with them (with more mounted on the jet's exterior), providing the most expansive view possible of the vistas above, below, and on either side of the plane.

The challenge for actors in the cast like Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Greg Tarzan Davis, Danny Ramirez, and others was formidable. "We actually had to run the camera up there," said Powell (who plays hotshot pilot Jake "Hangman" Seresin) in an exclusive interview with Looper. "Which is kind of crazy."

How to fly and direct a movie at the same time

Since there is limited room in the cockpit of the F/A-18 — basically space for the pilot and the actor behind him — the actors had to also learn how to operate the cameras while saying their lines and listening to instructions from the pilot. They were essentially directing themselves while on a high-altitude flight training mission. 

Added Powell, "These are IMAX cameras that have only been made possible now ... this technology of shrinking this IMAX camera so it can fit in the back of an F-18..." 

"And withstand G's [gravitational forces]," interrupted Danny Ramirez, who plays Weapons System Officer Mickey "Fanboy" Garcia. "But yeah, the composition of shots, we had to line up the jets to be within the actual frame, so we had to know exactly how wide the shot was in order for us to look back and be like, the jet's right there. It was nuts."

But Ramirez also said that the experience of going through flight training, moving from smaller planes up to the F/A-18, was well worth the intense effort and initial fear. "I started off afraid, and then by the end of it, I loved flying," he recalled. "So by the time we got to the F-18s, I was enjoying the entire time." And now audiences everywhere are enjoying it as well — almost as if they were there.

"Top Gun: Maverick" is playing in theaters now.