TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The story behind the real life “Taiwan Top Gun” flying squadron is eerily similar in some key aspects to that of the hit movie "Top Gun: Maverick" starring Tom Cruise.
Also known as the “Imaginary Enemy Squadron,” the Taiwan Top Gun or 46th Squadron was formed in 1976 as part of operations for the Tactical Training and Development Center at Taitung County’s Zhihang Base. It was originally affiliated with the 737th wing of the Taiwan Air Force.
After 1980, the Taiwan Top Gun pilots flew the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter and F-5 Tiger II light fighter planes. According to its Wikipedia entry, the Taiwan Top Gun squadron was involved in the research and development of new weapons.
It also studied the tactics of Chinese fighter aircraft and conducted simulated attacks. This was how it got its name of "Imaginary Enemy Squadron," by mocking up as Chinese aircraft and engaging in non-lethal dog fights for training purposes.
In 1984 the training flight team was renamed 46th Tactical Fighter Squadron and became a semi-independent unit that carried out special training missions.
Taiwan Top Gun personnel at the Taitung Zhihang Base in August 1989. (Yahoo News screenshot)
It was around this time, according to a China Times article on Monday (July 4), that the Taiwan Top Gun squadron would practise ”thrilling” and dangerous low-level bombing missions that were intended to avoid radar detection. This involved climbing at high angles from take-off and plunging to sea level.
Quoting Li Ting-sheng (李廷盛), a former captain of the Taiwan Top Gun flying squad, there were also “graduation tests” that involved low level flying along the nation’s central ridge of mountains, which culminated in live ammunition attacks. However, on Jan. 27, 1989, tragedy struck when a plane went missing, with the loss of two pilots.
Northrop F5 fighter in Kaohsiung. (Wikipedia Commons, Xuan Shi-sheng photo)
Two Taiwan Top Gun F5 fighter jets and a Phantom fighter in a training dog fight. (China Times screenshot)
This is similar to the plot line in the "Top Gun" movie when the Tom Cruise character's flying companions tragically die in a training accident. In the new movie, he trains one of their offspring.
Speaking of the tragedy, Li paraphrased a U.S. military line: “We fight at a level that pilots have never seen before. Not everyone who climbs into the cockpit can go home."
Yet another similarity, according to Li, was that because the pilots of the Taiwan Top Gun squadron were mostly mavericks, they did not tend to get promoted to top positions because they were not good at taking orders. In "Top Gun" the movie, Cruise's character, Maverick, is a navy captain, but many of his contemporaries are now more senior.
Taiwan Top Gun pilots were mostly trained in the U.S. and the squadron was disbanded in 2012. The plot for the original "Top Gun" movie came from a California Magazine article on navy pilot training at the Fightertown USA base in San Diego.
Taiwan Top Gun fighter squad emblem. (Wikipedia Commons)