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Top Gun's influence on San Diego Navy fighter pilot's 20-year career

Navy pilot
Posted at 5:00 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 21:50:26-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - A man who spent most of his 20-year career as a fighter jet pilot in the Navy says the movie Top Gun was influential to the beginning of his military career and now is also influential at the end of it.

Doug Lito was in high school in 1986 when the original Top Gun movie came out, and he said that movie is the reason he joined the Navy.

“I was like 'that’s what I want to be when I grow up for sure,'” said Lito.

He did just that. After completing the ROTC program at Duke, he went to flight school in Pensacola, then got orders for San Diego. He then spent most of the next 20 years flying jets at Naval Air Station North Island before retiring four years ago.

As he was retiring, the new Top Gun: Maverick sequel was in the works, and he scored a role as an extra in the new film. He said in total, he was on set for eleven days.


“We filmed it here at North Island on the beach. You’ve probably seen in the trailer some beach scenes and bar scenes, I was in all of those,” he said.
He said a majority of the extras in movie were all military, so the scenes of them hanging out at a well-known bar on base were genuine.

“Filming Top Gun was like a reunion for me. So many of my pilot buddies were with me. We were in the bar and we were having as much fun as it looks like we're having,” he said, referring to the bar scene.

He added that Paramount Pictures did an incredible job of keeping the accuracy as much as possible. Not only did they wear their own pilot jumpsuits, but parts of the set were in places where he actually trained and spent time on base.

He then attended the red carpet event on the USS Midway to mark the premiere of the film in San Diego. That continued to bring his story full circle because of the event’s location on the USS Midway.

“My retirement ceremony was on the flight deck, the exact same location where this red carpet experience was. It was a great time, I get choked up thinking about it. My whole family was there and all my friends from the military… it's quite an honor to get piped ashore,” he said, pausing as he talked about his retirement ceremony.

He said Tom Cruise and all the stars of the movie were incredibly kind, both during filming and at the red carpet premiere.

"The cast and crew were so so nice to us, very respectful of the military, very appreciative of us. Tom Cruise spoke to me personally, he’s so so nice," he said, adding that he felt guilty for how long Cruise spent talking to him at the premiere.

Lito said his friend was able to see the early screening of the movie and told him that for a Hollywood film, the storyline was accurate.

"He said the story was totally plausible. As military guys we always poke holes in all the movies, like that’s so fake. And he’s like I could actually see this story happening," said Lito.

If anyone wants to keep an eye out for him, he said he’s in the scenes at the bar and also on the beach. He said this experience also helped launch him into his next career: acting. Since the movie filmed in 2018, he’s had multiple other roles as an extra in major films, including playing a sniper in Marvel’s Shang-Chi.