20 years of watching Top Gun and I only noticed this today, after almost an annual repeat!

enter image description here

At 00:29 in this video, you can see what seems to be condensation swirling in the wake vortices.

Up until today, I thought this was just a cool shot catching some serious condensation under a high-G maneuver. However, if you look closely, you can see that it's actually a fuel jettison! At 00:38, it's very obvious.

I'm guessing that this is nothing more than show-boating and it sure did produce a cool shot.

Fuel jettison/dumping is used to reduce landing weight in emergencies but, is there any tactical/ops reason to do this?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I've watched Top Gun enough times that I can recite the dialogs of the whole movie, but I never noticed that! $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 19:23
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I didn't think it was a dump, I always thought it was a smoke generator. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 19:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @GdD It's hard to tell, but a smoke generator would make more sense. Also see this question. I'm going to leave it for a few days, but it does seem that it was done "just because" - which I'm cool with :) Jester's dead. Yee hah! $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 22:15

3 Answers 3


Doesn't look like it was any 'tactical' reason- rather it was used to get a cool shot, which is totally OK with me. From rulit.me:

While setting up for a filming pass, the camera crew had difficulty spotting the gray F-14 against the mountainous background. Over the radio, Rat asked the pilot to blip the fuel dump switch and make a mini-cloud. The resulting effect of the atomized fuel swirling in the Tomcat’s vortices looked so good that this technique was used several times in the finished film.

I think they're talking about this scene:

Top gun

Image from youtube screenshot

Looks like they used this technique to frame the aircraft against featureless mountains, sky etc.

Note: The site seems to have taken the quote from Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death, and Hollywood Glory as One of America's Best Fighter Jocks by Dave Baranek.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good find! Thank you. That looks definitive to me. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 9:23

Short answer: it’s not done in real air to air engagement, but it looks really cool on film. While it is common for pilots to jettison external tanks and other ordnance prior to getting into a merge to reduce weight and increase maneuvering limits, you will not dump internal fuel. That’s pure energy, time and options to a pilot in a dogfight.

You have to remember Top Gun and other entertainment products are designed for their aesthetic and buy appeal more so than pure realism. Most of the ‘dogfights’ are aircraft flying in formation, then carefully edited to look like an ACM engagement. And a little bit of knowledge about how to make movies also comes into play here. Scenes and shots have to be framed in a 16 x 9 aspect area which, when projected onto a widescreen allows an aviation illiterate audience to ‘know’ what’s going on. They also will commonly used scenes that have psychological cues to other things. In the scene you’re talking about, the F 14 dumping fuel looks something like a boxer losing his robe as he smashes his gloves and comes out of the corner of the ring ready to fight. This is also enhanced by actor Michael Ironside’s dialogue as Jester giving a preflight description of the training exercise ie “Gentleman, this is your first hop….”, something like the ref at a fight calling the start of a round. Some scenes in that movie are laughably unrealistic such as the hangar classroom scene which bears absolutely no resemblance to to any NFWS Topgun classroom setting; it’s more based on the high school ethos and the ‘Who’s hot for Teacher?’ vibe between Maverick and Charlie. Again far more relatable to with your average moviegoing audience than the spartan classrooms in double wide trailers that the real Topgun used at that time.


I am 4 years late but kind of bored. This was mostly just for show, but fuel jettison (just like weapon jettison) has some tactical use. Reduced weight creates a higher TWR meaning more acceleration, as well as more maneuverability. It would be a waste of time tbh that you could use setting up for the merge and getting ready for the fight, but if you are desperate it could be a last resort, and possibly even a countermeasure against radar missiles as liquids do have a big impact on radar similarly to chaff.


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