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'I Wanted To Be That Top Gun Guy': Colorado Pilots Tell How '80s Movie Inspired Their Careers

DENVER (CBS4) – As Paramount Pictures prepares for the release of their new movie, Top Gun Maverick, some local Top Gun graduates are reflecting on how the original movie influenced their career paths. The original Top Gun movie was released 36 years ago in the late 1980s. The movie topped box offices and inspired countless young women and men to pursue a career in aviation.

"When Top Gun popped out, that is what fixed me on going into gold wing profession," said Eric "Kemo" Percival, a graduate of the Top Gun program in the Navy.

Percival was just a student when the original movie was first released.

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(credit: CBS)

"I had never flown before in my life. And I saw that movie all I knew is I wanted to be that Top Gun guy," Percival told CBS4's Dillon Thomas.

Michael Bonner was in flight school when the movie came out. He said the film inspired him to further chase his dreams of becoming a fighter pilot.

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(credit: CBS)

"It definitely amped me up for wanting to fly F-14s," Bonner said.

Both Bonner and Percival successfully chased their dreams, eventually being accepted and graduating from the Navy's Top Gun program. After experiencing the program in real life they are often asked if the movie accurately reflected the real deal.

"Yes, it is similar. It is not the full extent of flying the airplane, dogfighting and doing the fighter mission. But, the original Top Gun movie was pretty close," Bonner said.

Both Bonner and Percival, respectfully known as "Thumper" and "Kemo Sabe" during their times as fighter pilots, are now captains with United Airlines. Both said the airline has hired multiple Top Gun graduates, underscoring the company's commitment to employing the best of the best when it comes to the flight deck.

"Those decision-making tools we learned translate directly into what we do here," Percival said.

"You're always trying to have the perfect flight. So, you are trying to do that in a Cessna 172, an F-14, or an Airbus A320," Bonner said.

Both pilots noted that their natural instincts to chase and achieve impressive maneuvers come to mind when they are flying commercial aircraft. While they cannot act on them as they may have been able to while in Top Gun, they said it is easy to let the memories come back while in the skies.

"It always sticks with you. That is why I am looking forward to the new movie. Hopefully, it will be fun," Percival said.

Now that the new Maverick movie is set to hit the big screen, both Bonner and Percival said they were greatly anticipating seeing how the producers at SKYDANCE and Paramount Pictures put a modern twist on the new film. Paramount Pictures is owned and operated under the same parent company as CBS Denver.

"The level of quality of the filming is second to none. I think the flying scenes, for me, are what I am looking forward to seeing," Percival said.

There is currently a national shortage of pilots. Much like what happened after the first Top Gun movie was released, those CBS4 spoke with said they hoped this new movie will encourage the next generation of pilots to 'Fly the Friendly Skies.'

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