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The J-20 Stealth Fighter Could Be the ‘Star’ in China’s Version of Top Gun

J-20 Stealth Fighter
J-20 Stealth Fighter. YouTube Screenshot.

Reports are beginning to surface that China is developing a Top Gun-like movie to promote the PLA and their new J-20 fighter.

While unconfirmed, the move would be consistent with Chinese aims to increase both their hard and soft power. 

The Idea

Top Gun:Maverick is the highest grossing film of the year – and perhaps the closest thing the film industry has produced to a cultural moment since maybe Avatar. People spent the summer lining up to go see Top Gun, once, twice, three times.

In August, Top Gun surpassed the $1.4 billion gross threshold – good for the 12th highest grossing film ever. The film, which follows Naval aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (played by Tom Cruise), is a sequel released 36 years after the original Top Gun dropped in 1986. The original Top Gun was the highest-grossing film of 1986 and has transcended to become emblematic of the decade within which it was released. The original film resulted in a significant bump in US military recruitment.

Now, China may be looking to capture a bit of the Top Gun magic. 

Top Gun: J-20 Version? 

“On August 13, a trailer for the Chinese military movie Born to Fly, which examines the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force’s modernization over the years, was posted online,” the EurAsian Times reported. “The trailer, uploaded on YouTube by the “China Forces” channel, prominently features J-20, the nation’s fifth-generation fighter jet, flying high in the sky. The Global Times reports that in addition to J-20,  the film will also tell the tale of how Chinese scientists, engineers,  and military personnel collaborated to make ‘the domestic jet fighter a reality.’”  

Check out the trailer below

According to the Global Times report, Born to Fly was directed by Liu Xiaoshi, “who has rich experience in making promotional films for China’s military forces.” Additionally, “famed writer/director Han Han is the executive producer,  while popular actors Wang Yibo, Hu Jun and Zhou Dongyu have signed on to play the leads.” 

Here’s what we know about the plot: “Born to Fly follows the story of a pilot named Lei Yu, played by Wang. After experiencing a rigorous and strict selection process, Lei, together with other pilots, becomes part of the new generation of test pilots,” the Global Times wrote. “Under the lead of Captain Zhang Ting, they are able to participate in testing the most advanced and latest stealth fighters before the public even gets a chance to take a close look at them…the test pilots are constantly pushed to their limits both physically and psychologically.”

The likely star of the movie, if the movie is real, will be the Chengdu J-20 – China’s first ever fifth-generation fighter. Also known as the “Mighty Dragon,” the J-20 is a two-engine, all-weather stealth fighter. First flown in 2011 and serving in the PLA Air Force since 2017, over 150 J-20s have been built to date. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that the J-20 would “put some of our capabilities at risk, and we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs.”

That the US military would need to make strategic adjustments according to Chinese aerospace technology indicates just how far the Chinese military has come in recent decades; China is rapidly converting latent power into tangible military power and threatening to one day contest US supremacy in the Pacific.

Although, China’s ability to threaten Hollywood’s supremacy of the film industry remains unlikely.  

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.   

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.