Fighter Pilot: The Real Top Gun

Fighter Pilot: The Real Top Gun (ITV)

With Tom Cruise’s Top Gun 2 not due in cinemas ’til next July, ITV has scrambled its own supersonic, barrel-rolling summer blockbuster, transplanting the action from the California desert to… er, Wales for a three-part fly-in-the-cockpit documentary. 

On the isle of Anglesey, a handful of rookie cadets are in training to join ‘Lightning Force’ – an elite group of pilots qualified to fly Britain’s most advanced fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning. Which, short of replacing Virgil Tracy at the controls of Thunderbird 2, is surely about as cool as jobs get. (For added bragging rights, Lightning Force is also part of the RAF’s 617 Squadron – that’s right, they’re your actual Dambusters.)

Like Top Gun, all the pilots of have nicknames. Except, this being the British military, instead of Maverick, Iceman and Viper, they’re called things like ‘Bally’, ‘Sedge’ and ‘Puppy’. Then there’s Danielle, aka ‘Danners’, an ex-Navy helicopter pilot whose test sorties through the white-capped peaks of Snowdonia added a thrillingly cinematic quality to proceedings, suggesting that a Welsh Top Gun would, in fact, look pretty damn cool, actually. (Danners’ husband, incidentally, flies planes for a low-cost airline, so let’s hope they never get their shifts mixed up, or some passengers on a package holiday to Tenerife might be in for a bumpier ride than they bargained for.)

Meanwhile, 4,000 miles away in South Carolina, we caught up with Lightning Force pilots getting frontline ready, including the moment when ex-Tornado pilot Bally took to the air in an F-35 for the first time. Or, at least, he tried to: having finally got his hands on the £100m state-of-the-art fighter jet, he found he couldn’t log in. (Did he try Password0, I wonder?) 

An engineer was called, who told him to switch it off and switch it back on again, using what he cheerily described as the jet’s equivalent of ‘ctrl-alt-delete’. So now we know what the real Top Gun is like, I look forward to next year’s sequel, in which Maverick, Iceman and co spend two thrilling hours sitting on the tarmac on the phone to the IT helpdesk.

TV extra:


Battle of the Brass Bands (Sky Arts)

The pits and factories may be gone, but northern England’s brass bands play on with as much pride and passion as ever, as this charming new series proves. The first episode brought us a musical War of the Roses, with Yorkshire’s Brighouse and Rastrick facing off against Stockport rivals Fairey for the prestigious Whit Friday trophy. Brassed Off’s Stephen Tompkinson narrates, blowing the trumpet for a tradition that’s clearly not ready to sound The Last Post quite yet.


Stath Lets Flats (Channel 4)

The Bafta-nominated comedy is back for a second run, and Jamie Demetriou’s dim bulb lettings agent isn’t getting any brighter: this week, he tried to get Netflix on an electric hob, and responded to a colleague’s news that she’s pregnant with: “Are you the mother?” It’s hard not to love a man so innocently childlike that his idea of a revenge attack involves ‘gunge’, but you can only agree with his dad’s sage advice: ‘Maybe don’t try to do anything, ever.’

Published in Waitrose Weekend, 22 August, 2019

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