Like seemingly every other human on the face of the planet, I spent part of my Memorial Day weekend taking in the movie “Top Gun: Maverick.” I’m so glad I did. It was a joyous romp. It was a true movie event. And it was all possible thanks in part (OK, in SMALL part) to a former local college athlete.
Now 20 years removed from the end of her career as the goalkeeper for the Navy women’s soccer team, Commander Kristen “Dragon” Hansen has had a remarkable career as a pilot. She piloted the final flight of an F/A-18C Hornet in 2016 before the switch was made to the F/A-18E Super Hornet. She’s a graduate of the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (the actual TOPGUN). She has amassed more than 2,000 flight hours and been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan as part of her service.
And in early 2019, she had a run-in with Hollywood.
“At the time that they were filming up in Fallon, Nevada, where TOPGUN actually is, I happened to be working at a different department on the base,” Commander Hansen said on Glenn Clark Radio May 31. “And when they were looking for pilots to fly in the movie, the skipper of TOPGUN at the time asked if I’d be interested in flying during the week that they were out there and I said absolutely, and that’s about it. I got to meet [actress Monica Barbaro] and the cast and it was a fabulous experience.”
Those incredible flight scenes you saw in the film? The former Midshipmen goalie was responsible for some of them.
“Some of the scenes, yes, I was flying in them,” Hansen said. “There’s obviously a huge group of people that were involved with it that got to fly. I was very lucky to get to fly with Monica and Lewis Pullman [who played Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd] for their scenes and some of the beginning of the shots. And then one of the lieutenants, Amy [“Bacon” Heflin], from across the street at one of our rags, she flew Monica for kind of the mission scene.”
While the actors of course were not actually flying the fighter jets, Hansen said she and the other pilots went to great lengths to make the scenes look more realistic.
“There was a lot of effort to make sure that when we turned, we tried to tell him which way we were turning so they could look in that direction and it looked more natural of how they were operating the aircraft,” Hansen said.
She also confirmed that the actors went through intense Naval training, including the seemingly tortuous “Helo Dunker,” which replicates what you would need to do to escape from a downed helicopter underwater.
“It’s pretty miserable,” Hansen confirmed. “I don’t recommend it at all.”
While such training was necessary for the filming, Hansen said the pilots appreciated the lengths the actors went to help create authenticity.
“All of them put in a ton of effort into learning about the community and what it was like to be in a ready room and what it was like to work together airborne and to prepare for missions. All of them took that very seriously,” Hansen said. “I think it was cool to see them go through that, just so they understood a little bit more of the community as a whole and the training that was involved. And I think that was something that we all appreciated a lot, the amount of effort that they put into not only making a great movie but just to make sure that it was as accurate as you could make it while still being entertaining.”
Barbaro, who played Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace in the film, described Hansen (and Heflin) as “the ultimate role models for creating my character” in an interview with Vogue. (Hansen’s nickname, like so many others in the Navy is more ironic — she used to force her male counterparts to watch the movie “How To Train Your Dragon.”) Hansen says that while references to the original film actually earned you a fine within TOPGUN itself, she would love the chance to work on a hypothetical third “Top Gun” film.
“I would love to work with them again,” Hansen said. “They set the bar really high for themselves, and if anybody could do it again it would definitely be them. But it was such a pleasure to work with them all. Monica is an outstanding actress and even a better person, so it was just so nice to get to meet her and work with her, and it was so much fun flying with Lewis and all those guys.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Navy Athletics