Author’s Note: Before you read this, note that I will be going into some of the plot details of the new Top Gun: Maverick movie. So, if you have not seen the movie – and you really should just go see it right now as it is mindless fun and a great way to get back to the theaters after the pandemic – then you may want to hold off from reading this.
It might be 2022, but the star of new the movie Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel to the 1986 original Top Gun, seems to be once again the now very old F-14 Tomcat.
Sure, all of the film’s trailers show off the much newer and cooler F/A-18 Super Hornet, the SR-72 Blackbird, and even the Su-57 Felon from Russia (more on that in a second), but the old F-14 is back in a very big way.
Top Gun: Maverick Features One Crazy Dogfight
How this occurs, and again, spoiler alert, is that Maverick and a fellow pilot – in this instance, Goose’s son, Navy pilot Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, are shot down in what almost certainly is Iran.
Somehow, as only the magic in the movies can make happen, Maverick and Rooster sneak onto an Iranian Airbase that was just hit by a massive Tomahawk cruise missile attack and steal an old F-14 from a hanger.
From here, Maverick and Rooster take to the skies in the old Tomcat and try to escape to their Navy aircraft carrier. All of a sudden, multiple Russian-built Sukhoi Su-57 Felon 5th generation fighters (Note: in the movie, they are referred to only as 5th generation fighters, and the audience is never told they are Russian-made) that survived the airbase attack spot and engage Maverick and his elderly F-14.
Who Would Win in Real Life?
So the natural question comes to mind: Could a 1970s F-14 Tomcat – even updated, as the Iranians have done over the years – somehow take on and defeat the mighty Russian Su-57 as the movie portrays?
Two Air Force pilots who agreed to speak to 1945 all said the same thing: are you crazy? “I have flown F-35s for some time now,” explained one Air Force pilot who asked his name not be used as he was not authorized to speak on the matter. “I can tell you this, I have killed quite a few 4th generation fighters in combat simulations – killed them from distance and they never knew they were dead until they were informed. In a combat scenario, I would easily kill an even older F-14 from Iran or anywhere else – they would never see me, know I was there, or pick me up on the radar most likely. They would die and not even know it was coming until they met their maker in heaven or hell.”
Another Air Force pilot who recently retired – and also asked to keep his name out of this article as he was not cleared to speak on this issue – also shared the same opinion. “The movie is fantastic, I just saw it myself, but the general public needs to understand an F-14 Tomcat was built for a different era. It was not built to fight a 5th generation fighter like the F-35, F-22, or even the less capable Russian Su-57 like in Top Gun: Maverick,” explained the retired pilot. “What would likely happen is the pilot flying the 5th generation fighter would work in behind the F-14, leverage their stealth capabilities, and kill the Tomcat with a missile from far away. There is no cool dog fight or any sort of other engagement. Maverick dies. End of story.”
Of course, knowing human nature, there are ways for the F-14 to win, even if incredibly remote. For example, when I was Executive Editor of the National Interest, for fun I assigned to one of our defense writers a fun story looking at if the 5th generation F-22 stealth fighter could somehow get beaten by an F-14 in a dogifght. The writer was pretty upset about even having to write the story – he demanded his name be left off it as he thought it was so crazy.
While he agreed with the pilot’s ideas above, he did leave open at least some hope for Maverick:
“However, if by some bizarre circumstance the F-22 is embroiled in a dogfight with the F-14, the chances are the Raptor will kill the Tomcat unless the American pilot suffers from extremely bad luck or makes a serious error. The Raptor holds all of the cards in terms of instantaneous and sustained turn rates—which in the F-22’s case is greater than 30 degrees per second—and energy addition. The Raptor’s incredible specific excess power and sheer maneuverability combined with its new AIM-9X missiles makes it so that the odds are grotesquely stacked in the F-22 pilot’s favor.”
So maybe my idea was not so crazy after all? I guess a little military fantasy mixed with nostalgia now and then is a good thing.
Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree focusing on International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of the book The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization.
May 29, 2022 at 10:15 am
No aircraft without either being intentionally aerodynamically unstable like the Typhoon or Thrust Vectoring stands no chance against F-22s, or any other plane that has TVC. At best the F-14 can see a Raptor with its old as dirt version of IRST and only from the front.
Brian Jones VMFA-312 Airframes '97-'02
May 31, 2022 at 8:37 am
There was no SR-71 Blackbird in the movie. The “SR-72” Darkstar was a concept aircraft done up by Skynk Works specifically for the movie. Please check your facts before you write an expert like you have some expert inside military knowledge when clearly you do not.
May 29, 2022 at 8:49 pm
Victory doesn’t always go to the swift and the strong…but that’s the way to bet.
May 30, 2022 at 11:07 am
The first kill was possible as he was close enough to pull off and they were unvertain that he was a hostile allowing him to pull a surprise maneuver and take out his opponent with a cannon shot. The second kill would be highly unlikely as the Su-57 had all the advantages to take out the obviously inferior F-14. You can argue that Maverick exploited the Su-57’s weakenesses and his experience aided him in the dogfight, but I still think it is unlikely. That being said, I still enjoyed the film.
May 30, 2022 at 2:48 am
To Maverick’s credit, he ambushed one of the Su-57s at point blank. ?
May 30, 2022 at 9:29 pm
Hey man, you’re of Greek heritage and obviously an expert in international and military affairs. What do your think tanks make of Erdogan, his crazy arms race to become the 5th strongest country in the world and revive the Ottoman Empire by attacking and conquering all of Turkey’s neighbours, including Greece. I mean, the man is a mad Islamic dictator as far as I’m concerned. He has invaded Syria, Libya and Iraq and is threatening to invade the Greek Aegean islands because “they are supposed to be demilitarised and they are not”. He is building Turkish tanks, armed drones, frigates, subs, attack helicopters, a 5th generation fighter, unmanned combat speedboats, ballistic missiles, etc. He and his whole country are aggressive imperialist genocidal murderers and are constantly acquiring new weapons. Someone has to stop this madman before he commits another bloodshed like the invasion of Greek Cyprus in 1974 and another genocide like the ones against the Armenians and the Greeks of Anatolia in 1915-1922.
May 31, 2022 at 2:53 am
This article is talking about F-35 and F-22… we are talking about some the BS plane the slavs built here. Look at Ukraine… Russian “technology” is smoke and mirrors. The Felon would get WORKED by a well flown F-14A… Hell, I would give the nod to a Competently flown F-4E in a stand up fight lol.
LOL, “Russian 5th gen” may as well be a Yak-1.
May 31, 2022 at 10:04 pm
Yes in real life Yes the F14 could shoot down any russain Aircraft as long you have an Ukrainian pilot flying the 14.
While Ukrain is showing the world how weak th russain military really is.
June 2, 2022 at 8:54 pm
These idiots claiming to be experts. LOL! Not many may know this but about 3 weeks ago the Su-57 was shown to fly at low altitudes in Mariupol, Ukraine (approximately 1,000 feet). People who commented on the video on TikTok said why the Felon flew so low when there were Ukrainian S-300s and stinger missiles operated by Ukrainian forces around. Clearly that Su-57 was not afraid of any missile because it was carrying or may already have an internally-built a very powerful electronic warfare suite that rendered any missile useless. It wasn’t clear what the mission of the Felon was because the video did not show whether it fired a shot or not, but what is clear is that it was taunting the Ukrainian air defense systems, which clearly was not able to engage the Felon despite its low altitude flight path.
And you seriously think the F-14 stands a chance against it? You overestimate the US Navy. LOL!
June 3, 2022 at 11:16 am
Considering the F-14 belong to the same country as the 5th gen fighters, they might want to verify the pilots first instead of destroying from a distance. The problem I had with the movie was all those Tomahawks launched at the airfield, none at the defending SAM missiles or associated radars. And no defending SAMs were ever launched at the Tomahawks. If this was supposed to be pseudo Iran, then the Tomahawks should have been challenged.
June 21, 2022 at 3:38 pm
That an Su-57 would shoot the F-14 down from really far away sets aside the scenario of the movie: the two Su-57s are flying alongside the F-14, because they’re not sure that it’s been taken by an adversary. They’re not expecting an attack. When Maverick pulls back and shoots the first one, it’s just a simple matter of the guns being up to the task to tear apart the fuselage, which in turn causes the plane to fall.
The second plane is more of an engagement, of course, but the scenario still sets up that dogfight. Over and over again, the movie makes clear that a proper engagement by the Su-57s on *their* terms with Fourth-Gen fighters is going to be a one-sided slaughter, and nothing implies otherwise. It’s that Maverick engages them on different terms. It’s the same reason why the Super Hornets are used in the first place instead of F-35s.
June 23, 2022 at 8:20 pm
The comments section raises better points then the original story. I thought the same thing about the sams vs tomahawks but tomahawks are designed to stay close to the ground.
September 11, 2022 at 12:02 am
You must be watching too much propaganda to even think a tiny military like Ukraine would ever stand a chance against the worlds 2nd most powerful military in the world. You clearly do not understand strategic warfare. Russia clearly is not trying to level the entire country otherwise they could have over night. The idea that Russia has garbage technology is pretty arrogant. Russia is only 2nd to the U.S. in terms of technology and military strength.
September 29, 2022 at 4:40 pm
There is one tactical advantage that everyone has overlooked. Surprise. Keep in mind, that in the movie, the F14 was assumed to be a friendly by the Iranian pilots in their Su57’s. It would seem like an SOP to parallel and make a visual ID with the pilot of the F14 to ‘see what’s going on’. Making some type of visual and hand gesture communication with the F14, would give Maverick and Rooster at least one advantage. In that case, the initial attack by Maverick on the leading Su57 would seem realistic. Forward guns being short range, but effective would definitely down that stealth aircraft in the lead. However, the ensuing dogfight with the second 5th Gen would be very dubious for the F14, with Mav and Rooster.