U.S. Navy Commander Frank “Walleye” Weisser does not seem front-and-center in the new “Top Gun: Maverick” movie but, in reality, he is. Weisser flew in the front seat as pilot for some of the film’s most memorable scenes, including where actor Tom Cruise blisters through a twisting canyon uncomfortably close to rocky cliffs and the ground at lightning speeds. By completing that canyon course in 2:15 in the movie, Cruise was able to show his Navy bosses that, in fact, the combat mission his pilots were tasked with could be completed. Cruise looks like he is flying the jet, but it’s really Weisser.
Weisser, 44, has been a Blue Angels pilot more than once, the second time in 2016 as a replacement for U.S. Marines Cap Jeff Kuss, who was killed in a Blue Angels air show rehearsal over Tennessee. Weisser is married with three children, 14, 12 and nine. He was deployed in combat three separate times, including to Afghanistan. In Part 2 of this series about the making of “Top Gun: Maverick,” we spoke with him at length. Following are edited excerpts from a longer phone conversation.
Jim Clash: My obvious first question: What did you think of the final edit of “Top Gun: Maverick”?
Frank Weisser: I loved it. I deliberately didn’t ask beforehand about the storyline and how my scenes would tie in. I felt it wasn’t my business. I was just there to fly the scenes they asked of me, then go back home to my life. I was pleasantly surprised by how the storyline tied in with the first movie. It’s a feel-good film about our country at a time when we desperately need it.
080510-N-8390S-376 BOSSIER CITY, La. (May 10, 2008) Lt. Frank Weisser, the Blue Angels No. 7 pilot, ...
Clash: How do you think it compared to the first “Top Gun”?
Weisser: I think this one is better for a variety of reasons. The first, for lack of a better term, had some corny aspects to it, wasn’t really an accurate portrayal of Naval aviation. But it was fun for the big screen. This one did a far better job of being accurate. But it is still a movie, and people who criticize it forget that. If we did it the way Naval pilots see it, it would be a documentary, and no one would watch [laughs]. The flight scenes are real as we literally flew them as you see them on-screen. There were little things that had to be fudged to make it work with the storyline. I mean, nobody flew under a bridge, but most of the canyon footage was Navy pilots flying with actors in the backseats.
Clash: How far off the ground were you in those canyon scenes?
Weisser: I flew with Tom for the scene in the middle of the movie where he steals the jet and runs the canyon to prove the mission can be done at the right speed and time. It’s just me and Tom there, and we were as low as I felt comfortable going. The lowest we generally go as Navy fighter pilots is 200 feet, and that’s only when you’re proficient at flying low. We were told that the head of all of Naval aviation had authorized slightly lower than that for us. When we flew over the salt flats - the Lawrence of Arabia scene, where you see a cloud of dust in the distance, then a jet roaring over your head - that was me out of Fallon [Nevada] and quite a bit less than 200 feet off of the ground. As for our wingtips, I can’t tell you how far they were from the canyon walls, because we don’t have anything that measures that. But I can say I felt it was safe from sight pictures I had seen flying in close formation with the Blue Angels. The distance the wingtips were from the cliffs was probably less than 20 feet.
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