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Pilot dies flying the same plane as Tom Cruise in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

By Alma Fabiani

Jun 7, 2022

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On Friday 3 June, at approximately 2.30pm, Lieutenant Richard Bullock crashed near Trona, a remote area of the Mojave desert in California. The US Navy pilot had been flying a F/A-18E Super Hornet, the same plane Tom Cruise’s character flies in Top Gun: Maverick, the 2022 sequel to the iconic 1986 movie.

It was first reported that no other civilians were harmed, although a new statement confirmed officials are still investigating the secured crash site. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake Federal Firefighters and Naval Security Forces were confirmed to have responded to the crash.

Navy officials wrote: “U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Richard Bullock was killed when his F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed in the vicinity of Trona, Calif., at approximately 2:30 pm (PDT), June 3. Bullock was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 113 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., and was flying a routine training mission at the time before his aircraft [went] down in a remote, unpopulated area. No civilians were harmed as a result of this incident.”

The statement continued, “The incident is currently under investigation and the scene of the crash is secured by Navy and local authorities while recovery efforts are ongoing. The Navy mourns this tragic loss alongside the family, friends and shipmates of Lt. Bullock.”

The aircraft model Bullock had been flying is one manufactured by company Boeing, which states on its website, “The F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet is the newest highly capable, affordable and available tactical aircraft in US Navy inventory. The Super Hornet is the backbone of the US Navy carrier air wing now and for decades to come.”

Although Cruise himself wasn’t allowed to fly the aircraft—the scenes were filmed with the assistance of Navy pilots—the F/A-18E Super Hornet features is the primary multirole fighter jet depicted in Top Gun: Maverick, replacing the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was the primary fighter jet depicted in Top Gun and retired in 2006.

As reported by Mail Online, the crash is the third to have occurred in the past three years of Navy training exercises. In October 2021, a F/A-18F Navy Super Hornet crashed in Death Valley and in 2020, a pilot crashed a F/A-18E in China Lake, with both incidents leading to injuries. While neither of these accidents were fatal, a pilot was killed in 2019 when their Super Hornet also crashed in Death Valley National Park, injuring seven park visitors who were hit by plane debris.

According to Paramount Pictures, Top Gun: Maverick grossed $90 million in its second weekend in the US. That number, which is also higher than any debut weekend for Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise, is down a mere 29 per cent from its first weekend of $126.7 million.