5 min read

10:34 pm: “It was good, but the ending just wasn’t believable.”

This was the text I got from my roommate after he got out of the best summer blockbuster in a long time. Like many of us, the summer of 2022 was spent seeing Top Gun: Maverick. The movie has become immensely popular both inside and outside of aviation circles. In fact, it has become the seventh highest grossing movie of all time. The reviews have been glowing, but one critique I have seen is that the ending was a little too cheesy, unbelievable, or “Hollywood.”

Hollywood and aviation have always been a little at odds. The screaming match between Fred Haise and Jack Swigert in Apollo 13? A -4G inverted dive in Top Gun? Denzel Washington saving a crippled airliner by flying it upside down in Flight?

All of these are completely fabricated, and most people expected Top Gun: Maverick to have an element of that Hollywood absurdity to it. But what if the most unbelievable part of the movie was actually based on a true story?

*SPOILERS*

Rooster and Maverick

Is this scene all Hollywood?

At the end of Top Gun: Maverick, both Maverick and his wingman, Rooster, are shot down by the enemy. Miraculously, both Maverick and Rooster survive and march through the winter forest in hostile country, sneak onto an enemy airbase, steal an old F-14 Tomcat and fly it back to “the boat.” Pretty wild, but as I sat there watching I couldn’t help but feel like I had heard this story before…

On a cold February morning in 1944, the greatest stick and rudder pilot, Bob Hoover, was piloting his Mark V Spitfire over southern France when she began to cough. Despite staying in the fray as best he could, Hoover was shot down by a German Fw 190. Hoover would spend the next 16 months in a German prison camp. One night during a riot at the camp, Hoover and two other POWs escaped. They managed to collect a gun and some bikes from a friendly civilian and biked to an auxiliary German airbase. At the airfield, Hoover and his two POWs held a German mechanic at gunpoint, instructing him to start the same type of plane that shot Hoover down 16 months earlier. Being a one seat fighter, Hoover took the plane (leaving his two escapees) and literally flew it like he stole it back to Allied lines, despite not understanding a word of German.

It didn’t hit Hoover until he was airborne that flying an enemy plane with no way to communicate would make him easy pickings for his former wingmen in the Spitfires and Mustangs guarding the front. Because of this, Hoover crash landed the plane in a field as soon as he reached the windmills of the Netherlands, and was met by some very angry and confused Dutch farmers.

It’s an incredible story, told much better by the man himself in his book, Forever Flying, and leaving Top Gun: Maverick I thought there were a lot of similarities. After being shot down, both end up at bombed/run down military base and stealing planes to try to get back home. Rooster experiences the same amount of confusion Hoover did when flying in an enemy high performance aircraft. Maverick humorously parodies the same difficulty of communicating in a stolen aircraft that eventually caused Hoover so much trouble he crash landed.

Bob

Bob… Hoover?

At first, I thought this Bob Hoover connection was just mere coincidence, until I saw the guy at right.

This is a back-seater for one of Maverick’s wingmen. His name? Bob Floyd, but unlike all the others with “cool” callsigns he simply goes by “BOB.” Take a look at those specs too. Look familiar? If that wasn’t enough, check the final scene of the movie… a P-51 mustang doing a barrel roll into a yellow sunset. Old Yeller?

So far, nobody has come out and directly said the Bob Hoover story inspired Maverick’s return to the silver screen. Surprisingly, the executive producer of the movie is a little busy filming another Mission Impossible to be interviewed by a grad student to confirm this rumor (when he returns my calls, I’ll let you know). But if Hoover’s story is the basis for the end of the Top Gun sequel, it wouldn’t surprise a lot of us. Tom Cruise took a much more active role in the storyline of this film than its predecessor. Cruise is an avid champion of aviation with more ratings than his plastic can hold. Flying his personal P-51, it’s not too far-fetched to believe he’s heard of Bob Hoover’s story.

There are obviously some glaring holes between Hoover’s adventures in France and Maverick’s and Rooster’s in Hollywood. Tom Cruise and Miles Teller didn’t spend any time in an enemy prison and Hoover certainly didn’t face any enemy “5th generation” fighters on his way home. But who knows? If anything, it goes to show that sometimes stories in real life are just as important, awesome, and significant as those created on the backlots in Burbank; we just have to go find them.

What do you think? Is Top Gun: Maverick’s story too similar to Bob Hoover’s to not be based on it? Or am I “writing checks my body can’t cash?”

Bob Hoover

Michael Brown
34 replies
  1. Mark W Sletten
    Mark W Sletten says:

    Nice review Michael. One note: The pilots flying Alaska Airlines flight 261 were able to regain control of the aircraft after the jackscrew controlling its horizontal stabilizer failed by rolling inverted. There were not ultimately able to save the aircraft, but they were able to keep it airborne longer than if they had tried to remain upright. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Airlines_Flight_261

    Reply
    • John H
      John H says:

      I finally saw the movie yesterday afternoon, and your article this morning. Having read “Forever Flying” years ago, I made the same comment to my wife on the way out of the theater.

      RIP Bob Hoover, the real-life greatest pilot.

      Reply
  2. Paul
    Paul says:

    Great article. The name Bob Hoover seemed familiar to me and I was trying to figure out why. When I saw the photo of him in the Evergreen Airlines flight suit it hit me. He was working at Evergreen the same time I was. Totally remember him now. I had just finished college and got a job working at Evergreen. He had started just before I did. Small world. I like your theory too, let’s go with that.

    Reply
  3. Christopher Banks
    Christopher Banks says:

    I had the good fortune as a student pilot in 1977 to fly with the Bob Hoover, in his Old Yeller during an airshow at Homestead General Airport. I video taped his entire routine from the tiny back seat. If anyone could have stolen and flown a German fighter back to Allied lines, Bob Hoover could.

    Reply
  4. Lee Dalton
    Lee Dalton says:

    Yeah, but I went to see the movie reluctantly and got what I expected. A bunch of over the top nonsense.
    I really wasted my money. Especially when I bought some popcorn and paid something like the equivalent of $100 per ounce for the stuff.

    Maybe I’m just too old fashioned or stuffy or something, but if I want fairy tales, I’ll read some to my granddaughters.
    A really GREAT movie is based on reality. There’s enough legitimate drama in life without pouring gallons of pure hokum into a script and dosing it full of nonsensical balderdash.

    Why can’t movie makers make GOOD movies like the very best aviation ever . . . . “Island in the Sky” based on the great book by Ernest K. Gann and starring John Wayne and a host of other great stars from a bygone day. If you haven’t seen that one, you need to. It’s available online. And there’s also a reprint of the book.

    Reply
  5. Jean Franklin
    Jean Franklin says:

    Wow! What a probable backstory to explain the ending of Top Gun: Maverick. I haven’t seen it yet, but I am even more excited to see it in light of
    Michael Brown’s astute comparison. It sounds plausible to me!

    Reply
  6. Oldgreyguy
    Oldgreyguy says:

    The movie uses a similar general general story line as the 1927 silent movie “WINGS” that won the first academy award. American pilot steals German airplane and flys home. In this movie, lead actor shoots him down, not knowing it was his love interest competitor.

    Reply
  7. Jack Morris
    Jack Morris says:

    In Hoover’s autobiography “Forever Flying.” he provides a detailed description of his escape from Stalag I and the flight in a stolen FW-190. He is one of the few to detail with eyewitness accounts of the extreme brutality of Soviet solders as they swept through Germany near the war’s end. For anyone interested in aviation heroes, this is a book you should read. It cover’s his life story up to 1996. Compared to the achievements of Hoover, Maverick is a minor player.

    Reply
  8. Steve Mosier
    Steve Mosier says:

    There is another incident where a AAF pilot shot down in Germany stole a FW-190 and flew it back to friendly territory. Yep the shiny switches forward and don’t screw with the red guarded ones!

    Reply
  9. Steve Krikorian
    Steve Krikorian says:

    Before he passed, I had the honor of meeting Walt Williams, former commander of the 140th FW, Colorado ANG, where I spent the last 10 years of my military career. Walt also had an interesting story of his time in WW2. Flying in Europe, he was forced to put his P-47 (I think) into the French countryside. Like the Hoover episode, angry locals, thinking it may have been a Germain aircraft, responded with household “arms” and sufficiently dangerous farm implements. Walt was fearing the mob when an Army ambulance emerged from the tree line, zooming to the rescue. A red-haired corpsman reassured the crowd the pilot was American and all was well. That ambulance driver was Ernest Hemingway.

    Reply
      • Steve Krikorian
        Steve Krikorian says:

        Good point. I took the story at face value, or my recollection got the facts screwy. Maybe someone else who knew Walt can clear it up.

        Reply
        • Steve krikorian
          Steve krikorian says:

          Wondering how I got the story so wrong, I remembered I have a yearbook style volume on the history of the Colorado ANG (COANG). Walt Williams is featured prominently including an interview. His words…”I was critically short on fuel and an FW-190 snuck up behind me. I got away, but had to land on a civilian airstrip near Mont Saint Michelle, an airstrip we weren’t really sure was in our hands.. Once I was on the ground, Frenchmen came running over a hill, throwing rocks and pushing pitchforks at me. They forced me right up to the nose of my bird. So, I pulled out an American Flag and began waving it. About that time, a red-haired bearded guy – a war correspondent – came bouncing along in a jeep. He began speaking French with my civilian tormentors and then I was a big hero. The correspondent was Ernest Hemingway. He gave me a Nazi infantry badge and arm band as mementos, which I still have.”

          Perhaps this could have been a plausible ending for “Maverick.” Tom Cruise could have been saved by Tom Clancy and “Bear” Grylls riding dog sleds. Sorry I got the story so mixed up.

          Reply
  10. Victor Dominato
    Victor Dominato says:

    The main story line in the movie is not a new idea either. The film made in 1956 staring Cliff Robertson; 633 Squadron had a similar theme.

    Reply
  11. Peter N. Steinmetz
    Peter N. Steinmetz says:

    Frankly the main mission plot, fly a high speed aircraft down a narrow corridor dropping bombs at just the right point to go down a tunnel and blow something up reminded me a lot of the first Star Wars and the death star. “Use the force Maverick” – I mean “Luke”.

    Reply

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