Top Gun pilots owe everything to Scotland


By Cara Sulieman

THE FAMOUS Top Gun flying academy was inspired by Scottish flight instructors, a new book has revealed.

The US Army gained its world-famous experience from instructors from Fleet Air Arm.

In the early sixties instructors went across to Miramar airbase in California to help the Americans who were losing huge numbers of men in the Vietnam War.

Routinely shot down

Despite flying multi-million-dollar Phantom fighters, the US Air Force were routinely being shot down by much cheaper MiG 21s flown by the Vietnamese.

But instructors, all of whom had graduated from the Air Warfare Instructors (AWI) school at Lossiemouth, taught the Americans how to handle to expensive machinery.

In his book Phoenix Squadron, historian Rowland White claims that the knowledge that the AWI instructors gave the Americans led to their reputation for dominating the skies.

He wrote: “Through the instructors on exchange at Miramar, the AWI’s methods made their way into perhaps the most well-known programme in the history of naval aviation: Top Gun.”

Revolutionary training

The Royal Navy pilot credited with most of the revolutionary training techniques was Lt-Cdr Dick Lord.

He gave lectures all along the West Coast and it was his knowledge that White claims was the basis for the training programme created by the original Top Gun instructors.

Lt-Cdr Lord, now 72, thinks that it is about time that the British involvement in the Top Gun academy was revealed.

He said: “It is remarkable that any history book on Top Gun studiously avoids any British involvement.

“One finds this quite a bit on American history and certainly here they have not given us due justice.”

Struggling pilots

Lt-Cdr Paul Whitehouse, 72, was another Fleet Arm officer at Miramar and remembers all the help they gave the struggling pilots.

He said: “We were helping these guys in the Vietnam War because they were going straight from Miramar to fight the enemy, who were flying pretty useful MiG 21s.

“The Americans did not have the experience to use the Phantom properly. I felt a well of pride when I first saw the Top Gun film because I knew that we were behind it.”


  1. I have some doubts about the accuracy of the report which may well do the book an injustice.
    Some basic corrections
    The US Army gained its experience from the FAA
    I am afraid I don’t think so. Top Gun is a US Navy School.

    The US Airforce were routinely shot down.
    Again I don’t think so. It makes it sound as if the USAF were normally on the loosing side in any air battle. The worst they did was lose 1 USAF aircraft for every 2 Migs that were shot down.
    Less well than they should do but not routinely shot down

    Phantoms were the aircraft mentioned in the report
    The losses were all types of aircraft not just Phantoms. There were a host of other less capable aircraft in the USAF such as the F100, F105 and F5 amongst others.

    Being Shot Down by cheaper Mig 21’s.
    Again I don’t think so. Mig 17’s were the normal mount of the NVAF, Mig 21’s were only used much later and were never in the majority.

    I must emphasise that I am not questioning anything in the book which I have not read. But the standard of the reporting was dreadfull and may well have done the book an injustice.
    All I ask is that someone checks some basic facts before going to print.

  2. Cara.
    This is probably the most inaccurate aritcle I’ve ever read.
    Having just read Phoenix Squadron, it makes me think that you never actually read the books.

    Just a few points.

    ToopGun is not USArmy – but US Navy.

    Again it was the US Navy that was being shot down in Vietnam.

    Just to aid your understanding:

    TopGun – US Navy
    US Navy being shot down in Vietnam.
    FAA – Royal Navy.

    Please read the book.

Comments are closed.