If you've seen Top Gun, then you know how it ends — with a huge dogfight. Enemy MiGs shoot down one F-14 Tomcat, but at the expense of four airframes. The hero of the engagement, Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, is responsible for shooting down three of those MiGs.
At the end of the film, Maverick gets his choice of duty stations and returns to Top Gun as an instructor where he's reunited with the lovely Charlie. Happily ever after, right? This is all well and good in Hollywood's version of the military… but what would have really happened after that dogfight?
Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell would be in for a very extensive chewing out — in something much more intense than this counseling session.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kyle Hafer)
He'd probably get chewed out for the high-speed pass
In fact, it may very well go beyond a chewing out since he has a pattern of performing these — three before the film starts, another at Top Gun, and yet another during the climactic dogfight. At the very least, he's likely to get a letter of admonition placed in his file. His chances for promotion to lieutenant commander will still be high, but he may be passed over for a year or two.
Maverick would be in so many debriefings, he'd be sick of talking about the dogfight.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams)
He'll spend a lot of time talking about the dogfight
He will be debriefed. He'll have after-action reviews and write several after-action reports. By the end of it, he'll probably be sick of talking about the dogfight — as will the other pilots and radar-intercept officers involved. Merlin will be stuck talking about it for years, and so will Iceman, Slider, Hollywood, and Wolfman.
Like this EOD specialist, Maverick would be decorated for valor.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher A. Veloicaza)
He'll eventually get decorated for valor
After all is said and done, three kills is hard to ignore. Then-Lieutenant Randall "Duke" Cunningham received the Navy Cross for his three kills on May 10, 1972. More likely, Maverick would get the Silver Star or Distinguished Flying Cross.
Like Frank Kelso, Maverick could see his career hit a roadblock after the Tailhook scandal.
His career, after Tailhook, will probably come to a halt
The Tailhook scandal rocked the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, bringing dozens of instances of officers committing sexual assault to light. As a consequence for their actions, many careers were snuffed out.
Maverick's past antics at parties (including the infamous bet with Goose) would likely catch up with him. If he's on a promotion list, some Senator would probably put a hold on it until he's removed. Maverick will be able to serve 20 as a lieutenant commander and get his retirement.
Maverick's flying career post-Navy would likely include working for a contractor.
(U.S. Navy photo by Gillian M. Brigham)
He'll keep flying — but with a contractor
Maverick's post-Navy career would likely see him with a contractor, like Draken International. He probably wouldn't fly the F-14 anymore, but rather a wide range of jets, from the A-4 to the MiG-21. Combined with his Navy pension, Maverick would do pretty well for himself when all's said and done.