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Bring Navy pilot school back to California

Bring back Topgun!

By that, I do not mean ?Top Gun,? the cliche-ridden Tom Cruise film about naval fighter pilots in San Diego. That ?Top Gun? is already on its way back, with a sequel due next year.

What California really needs is Topgun, the U.S. Navy?s graduate school for elite fighter pilots that inspired the movie. For three decades, Topgun thrived in San Diego ? before it moved to the Nevada desert, as part of the 1990s military consolidation. Its departure still burns. Topgun was a human-centered institution that studied the failures of naval aviation in order to train better pilots. It is precisely this spirit that today?s California, drunk on technology and celebrating its own successes, desperately needs now.

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?Top Gun? Memoir Warns American Military Air Superiority Is In Danger

In his engaging and succinct memoir Top Gun: An American Story, Topgun?s original commanding officer Dan Pedersen argues that ?what matters is the man, not the machine,? and because of this truism, pilot training will always be far more important than the technology of jet fighters for winning battles in the sky. At present, says Pedersen, ?Something is rotten in Washington, and one day, sadly, we will lose a war because of it.?

Pedersen claims that the Navy lacks relatively cheap fighter jets for training such as the old F-14 Tomcats (the ?Top Gun? jets in the movie) and others. He cites a price tag for the new F-35 as $330 million per plane. The service can?t buy and maintain a large number of trainers at those prices, he says. As a consequence, much of fighter pilot training must be done on simulators, which, in Pedersen?s view, are an inadequate substitute for real flight time.

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