Cool your jets, get a head in the clouds

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

THE first im­pres­sion of Real Top Guns is that it could well have been named the Over- the- Top Guns. A blokey Aussie voice- over, the­atri­cal mu­sic and dra­matic graph­ics make it seem more like a De­part­ment of Defence re­cruit­ment pitch than an SBS doc­u­men­tary.

A some­what hy­per­bolic in­tro­duc­tion notes that our F/ A- 18 pi­lots are ‘‘ at the front line in defence of the na­tion, fly­ing some of the most awe­some and lethal air­craft ever built’’.

With su­per­sonic jets and space- age weapons, com­bat pi­lots are the first and last word in ae­rial pro­tec­tion.

‘‘ But away from all the hard­ware, the dis­ci­pline and ca­ma­raderie, fighter pi­lots are hus­bands, fa­thers and sons. At home or in the hot seat, they are real top guns.’’

Af­ter a Bex and a lie down, how­ever, Real Top Guns set­tles down to of­fer an en­gross­ing inside view of what is ar­guably Aus­tralia’s most im­por­tant defence as­set.

The se­ries was shot with six squadrons over six months and its mak­ers were given un­prece­dented ac­cess to the RAAF’s elite com­bat pi­lots and their air­craft. This in­cluded get­ting high- def­i­ni­tion cam­eras into cock­pits to record some im­pres­sive ae­rial footage.

Episode one is ba­si­cally a sce­ne­set­ter that in­tro­duces us to some of the pi­lots.

The main ac­tion comes from 77 Squadron as it flies an aer­o­batic cap over the Melbourne Cricket Ground dur­ing the 2006 Com­mon­wealth Games. They are there to shoot down any ter­ror­ist air­craft that may approach the venue.

There is a mo­ment of ten­sion as an off- course civil­ian jet heads to­ward the MCG be­fore veer­ing off, and an­other as 24- year- old pilot Beau Pitcher, fly­ing for the first time fully armed, at­tempts a midair re­fu­elling at night.

At RAAF Tin­dal in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, 22- year- old Kar­tik ‘‘ Tik’’ Ma­haraj is get­ting mar­ried in a Hindu cer­e­mony be­fore head­ing off to Malaysia for war games with 75 Squadron. His air­craft has prob­lems taxi­ing and there are doubts it will be able to go. Prob­lems also emerge with a Boe­ing 707 tanker that is sup­posed to trans­port per­son­nel and the mas­sive store of equip­ment needed to sup­port the fight­ers.

Apart from some jar­gon- filled con­ver­sa­tions be­tween pi­lots and the ground, the se­ries is pitched sim­plest level and for the con­sump­tion.

Its strength is not so much the hard­ware, al­though ev­ery­body likes cool shots of fighter planes in ac­tion, but the in­sight the pro­gram gives into the men and women fly­ing and sup­port­ing the air­craft.

Some of them may be young but it’s nice to know that those at the mil­i­tary coal­face are so cool, com­pe­tent and well trained.

And yes, they do have the best job in the world. at the widest

Mar­riage first, fly later: One of 75 Squadron’s pi­lots, Kar­tik Ma­haraj

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