Japan Unveils Top Gun 2 Themed F-15 Eagle
The iconic colors of Pete Mitchell’s Top Gun jet have now been applied to a Japanese Air Self Defense Force F-15 Eagle.
The custom-painted F/A-18E/F Super Hornets that carried Pete Mitchell’s name and TOPGUN titles were undoubtedly among the stars of Top Gun: Maverick, which is now Paramount Pictures’ biggest-ever movie. But in addition to those distinctive Super Hornets (at least three of which were prepared for the movie), another lookalike jet — this time an F-15 Eagle — has now appeared in Japan. A resolutely “Air Force” aircraft painted in a scheme associated with a decidedly Navy-focused franchise is in itself unusual.
The newly painted single-seat F-15J, serial number 52-8951, from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, or JASDF, was officially revealed today on the service’s Twitter account. This was soon after the first unofficial images of the jet had begun to appear, showing it outside a hangar at its home base of Komatsu, on Honshu Island.
Referencing the F/A-18E Super Hornet that’s Tom Cruise’s mount in his role as TOPGUN instructor Mitchell, the F-15J has the same distinctive black and pale blue trim along the top of the fuselage and the tail fins.
The paint scheme is faithful down to Mitchell’s name, Maverick callsign, and the three “MiG-28” kill markings below the cockpit. It also includes black-painted external fuel tanks, although it’s not clear if these will get TOPGUN titles. The golden eagle marking of 306 Hikotai, the squadron that operates the jet, still appears on the tail.
The aircraft has been prepared for the upcoming Air Festival at Komatsu, which takes place on September 19. This airshow features demonstration flights by various JASDF aircraft and an appearance by its Blue Impulse aerobatic display team. This will be the first time the airshow has taken place since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a tweet from Komatsu Air Base, the Maverick F-15 was prepared as part of an official collaboration with Paramount Pictures. The base has also said another F-15 special scheme will be rolled out in time for the airshow, this one marking the anniversary of another of Komatsu’s F-15 squadrons, 303 Hikotai.
The JASDF had actually issued a teaser for the Maverick F-15 on August 30, with a brief video posted to Twitter that posed the question: “Maverick’s beloved machine to Japan!? Find out the truth at the Komatsu Air Festival!”
Even without these jets, Komatsu is already home to a good number of uniquely painted F-15s, thanks to it hosting the JASDF’s primary aggressor group. This unit is assigned to the Tactical Air Training Command and flies a mix of two-seat F-15DJs and T-4 jet trainers.
The JASDF aggressors are well-known for their highly flamboyant paint schemes, designed to provide a certain level of dissimilarity for pilots training against them who may well also be flying F-15s or other standard aircraft. Around half a dozen of these jets are reportedly active at any time, supporting the training requirements of the rest of the JASDF’s combat units.
The addition of the JASDF’s Maverick F-15 means that at least four fighter jets have now appeared in the movie scheme. The first of these to break cover was a two-seat F/A-18F that was specially rigged with camera gear and used for filming flying sequences in which Tom Cruise needed to be shown in the cockpit. This aircraft still wears the Maverick colors and is operated as the TOPGUN flagship at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.
The primary jet seen in the movie’s flying sequences was a single-seat F/A-18E that was also painted up, but which has since been transferred to the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron as part of its transition to the Super Hornet. At least one other single-seat Super Hornet was also painted in the Maverick scheme, too.
That an F-15 has now also appeared as Pete Mitchell’s TOPGUN jet is undoubtedly a surprise, but is in keeping with the Japanese military’s tradition of specially — sometimes spectacularly — painted jets and pop-culture references.
There’s also the fact that a specially painted jet like this, and especially one with a Top Gun connection is likely hoped to play a recruiting role, too. After all, both Top Gun movies have been enormously successful in generating interest in military careers. Indeed, even the U.S. Air Force has leveraged that, by running a recruiting commercial before the start of the latest movie in U.S. theaters. Like many air forces, the JASDF has also experienced recent difficulties in filling its ranks with sufficient personnel.
As for the JASDF’s F-15, the service describes the jet as “Japan’s Top Gun” and indeed it continues to provide the backbone of its air defense capabilities.
Despite their age, 68 of these aircraft are earmarked for a long-awaited upgrade that will take them to F-15JSI “Japanese Super Interceptor” standard with the addition of new radar, electronic warfare systems, weapons, and possibly more.
As for new weapons, these are likely to be headed up by the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) but could potentially include additional ordnance in the future, such as hypersonic weapons that are in development in Japan. One weapon that had been considered but which has now been dropped from the upgrade plans is the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM.
The total value of the upgrade has been estimated at $5.62 billion.
Previously it had been announced that up to 98 Eagles would be upgraded, amounting to around half of the current F-15J fleet, with the remainder scheduled to be replaced by 105 F-35As as outlined in the Medium-Term Defense Program.
Under the current plans, the 68 upgraded aircraft will be single-seat F-15Js, while a decision is yet to be made on whether or not to upgrade the 34 two-seat F-15DJs.
Nevertheless, with the F-15JSI program set to sustain the remaining portion of the Japanese F-15 fleet out to at least 2040, there’s plenty of scope for more special schemes in the years to come.
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