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In Top Gun Maverick (2022), Maverick flies F14 and evades from enemy flight:

Maverick: Splitting the throttles. Coming around.

What does "Splitting the throttles" mean?

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2 Answers 2

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"Splitting the throttle" refers to the application of different power settings on the engines of the aircraft. In the case of the scene from Top Gun: Maverick, the afterburner on the left engine is cut (see image below).

enter image description here

Source: Top Gun Maverick

The purpose of this application of differential thrust is to enhance the yaw rate of the aircraft beyond what conventional control surfaces on the rudders of the aircraft could accomplish. This illustration (albeit for a commercial airliner) illustrates the forces that lead to increased yaw:

enter image description here

Source: Lu et al. "Adaptive Differential Thrust Methodology for Lateral/Directional Stability of an Aircraft with a Completely Damaged Vertical Stabilizer"

A neat breakdown of the manoeuvre from the movie is provided by a former airforce pilot on his YouTube channel: F-14 Split Throttle Dog Fight From Top Gun Maverick | Fighter Pilot Reacts

For some related discussions, see also:

  1. Was differential thrust used in the P-38 to improve turn performance?
  2. Do any aircraft use throttle steering during normal flight?
  3. (Reddit) Multi-engine pilots: do you ever use differential thrust to turn the aircraft in flight?

Interestingly, differential thrust is now receiving increased attention from aerospace researchers for its potential application in electric aircraft with distributed propulsion systems. After all, if the entire leading edge of the wing is covered in small propellers, applying finely tuned amounts of differential thrust might be a useful part of maintaining directional stability in low-energy stages of flight.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just to be picky, do not forget "that the use of CGI was extensive in the film with the F-14 and Su-57 visualized entirely by computer". I wouldn't use a frame taken from the movie to make a point 😉 $\endgroup$
    – sophit
    Jul 7, 2023 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed - as @sophit points out, all scenes featuring the F-14 were rendered using CGI (for a lack of cooperation on the part of the Iranian Air Force 😎). $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2023 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like the landing of United 232 using differential thrust due to complete loss of control surfaces bears mentioning here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Airlines_Flight_232 $\endgroup$
    – llama
    Jul 7, 2023 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ The eagle-eyed will notice that this CGI is wrong as it depicts an aileron. The F-14 doesn't have ailerons and roll control is provided by the elevons + spoilers on the top of each wing. $\endgroup$
    – DeepSpace
    Jul 11, 2023 at 7:28
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It is not a figure of speech, "splitting the throttle" is quite literal. The throttle handle in the F-14 (and in many other aircraft with dual engines) consists of two levers, that control the amount of gas going to the left and right engine. You can see it in this picture:

enter image description here

Under normal circumstances you move the throttle as a whole, causing both engines to have the same level of thrust. But when you move them individually, you literally "split the throttles". This is normally only used when you start the engines (one by one) or in case of fuel or engine problems.

Theoretically it could be used for somewhat creative manoeuvring, almost like you have thrust vectoring, like what Maverick was doing in the movie, especially when you put one engine in afterburner and the other not (with all risks of a flame out), but in real life it was hardly (if at all) used for manoeuvring, as far as I know.

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  • $\begingroup$ "in real life it was hardly (if at all) used for manoeuvring" There's been at least one famous case where it was used in a commercial airliner that suffered a hydraulic failure. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Jul 8, 2023 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ Are the two levers normally locked or clipped together, with e.g. a pushbutton release? $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2023 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ In commercial aviation the autopilot takes care of this. The autopilot allows a certain split to handle differences in thrust created by the engines. The throttle angle section produces an A/T disengage signal when said adjusted throttle split angle exceeds a predetermined value. (e.g. Boeing 737). This has lead to accidents though. $\endgroup$
    – Jens
    Jul 8, 2023 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkMorganLloyd No, the throttles don't have such a mechanism. I don't think any dual engine jet has a latch to lock the throttles together. I know the Thrustmaster Warthog throttle (modeled after the A-10) has such a locking mechanism, but that's just for when you fly a single engine aircraft in your favorite simulator. The real A-10 doesn't have that latch, and neither has the F-14, F-15, F-18, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Gerben
    Jul 8, 2023 at 22:09

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