All these years on the classic 80s film Top Gun retains its ability to inspire, and a chance conversation saw advertising photographer Blair Bunting attempt to recreate one of the movie’s most memorable moments.
It’s amazing sometimes where a random conversation on a flight can lead. In the case of Los Angeles-based advertising photographer Blair Bunting, his lively discussion with friends revolved around the scene in Top Gun where the characters Goose and Maverick go inverted over another plane and Goose takes a picture with a Polaroid to record the moment. “This then turned into a scholarly debate about whether the picture would have been good or bad, or what would it have looked like,” says Blair, “and we eventually figured the best way to find out would be to actually recreate it.”
Contact was made with the Patriots Jet Team based in Byron, California, and they agreed to set everything up. Suddenly, what had been a hazy concept conceived with the aid of a sketch on the back of a napkin was becoming real, and Blair set to work planning how he was going to cover it all and come away with something to document this epic moment.
“I figured that being in a fighter jet that was upside down over another one would be a once in a lifetime experience,” he says, “so I wanted to be working with the highest resolution possible. Due to the variable nature of the flight I chose to take the Hasselblad H6D with me, fitted with a 35-90mm lens. As the G-Forces came into play during the flight it meant that the weight of the set up became very significant and I was hand-holding everything throughout, so it was quite a challenge. I had practiced using it upside down over the side of my hotel bed the night prior, but nothing could prepare me for what it was going to be like in the cockpit.”
It was one of those assignments where the adrenaline is pumping so fast that there’s no time to be scared, and Blair found himself surprisingly calm as the high-speed planes went through their manoeuvres.
“At the back of my mind was the fact that my ejector seat had been disabled to make sure that I didn’t accidentally hit it with my camera while we were inverted, effectively firing us at the other plane. I tried not to think about it and to concentrate on what I was doing.”
The moment arrived, Blair’s plane performed its flip and suddenly the two jets were over the top of each other, just a matter of metres apart. Instinct took over, the shutter was fired and a remarkable record of the moment was made.
Did the exercise ultimately set the Top Gun record straight? “Well yes and no,” says Blair. “We got a little bit of a photo out of it but there’s no chance that Goose got anything that turned out halfway decent. He probably got nothing more than the inside of his canopy flashing right back at him, but it’s still a great moment in a great film.”