Over thirty years since its initial release, Top Gun is still revered as one of the most popular aviation films out there. Not only does it have memorable characters, but also a catchy soundtrack and quotable lines.
But while Top Gun’s simple story works for a movie, can it be translated into a television series? Absolutely, because there’s a whole history of aviation-themed TV series that came out before and after Top Gun with the same blend of action and drama in them. So while waiting for Top Gun: Maverick, it might be worth giving these shows a watch.
10 Pensacola: Wings of Gold
Set at the real naval air station of the same name, Pensacola: Wings of Gold revolved around an elite military flight unit led by an elderly war veteran named Bill “Raider” Kelly. Played by James Brolin, who’s known for shows like Marcus Welby, M.D., he served as a mentor figure to the younger pilots and supervised them during top-secret missions.
Other notable television actors that appeared on the show were Michael Trucco, who was in the Battlestar Galactica remake series. Though Pensacola was made in America, the episodes were broadcasted outside of the US during its three season run in the late '90s. But currently, the series is available on Amazon Prime.
When Top Gun was released in 1986, a TV series called Airwolf was broadcasting its third and supposed final season on CBS. However, it found a new home on the USA Network a year later and did one more season that ended up being its last.
In its prime, though, Airwolf was about the eponymous high-tech helicopter which ends up in the hands of a test pilot named Stringfellow “String” Hawke. Aided by mechanic Dominic “Dom” Santini and fellow pilot Caitlin O’Shannessy, the three get involved in a series of missions for the Firm (a government agency that wanted the Airwolf for themselves).
8 LA to Vegas
Though there have been shows about airports before, such as the short-lived LAX series, they tended to be drama-oriented. By contrast, LA to Vegas is a straightforward comedy that focused on the flight crew and passengers of a fictional low-budget airline called Jackpot Airlines.
Airing last year on Fox, the show was canceled after fifteen episodes due to ratings falling short after its premiere. This was in spite of the fact that it had Will Farrell as an executive producer and already had ideas for a second season. Fortunately, the series can be watched on Amazon Prime and YouTube.
7 Yomigaeru Sora – Rescue Wings
While anime may seem like a narrow sub-genre of cartoon series from Japan, it actually has a wide range of stories that can appeal to just about anyone regardless of age. For instance, fans of aviation might enjoy Yomigaeru Sora — Rescue Wings which was released in 2006.
Consisting of twelve episodes and an OVA (Original Video Animation), the series was about a Japan Air Defense Force pilot who gets transferred to a search and rescue division. At first, he’s reluctant about the assignment but gradually changes his mind over the course of the series. In addition, Rescue Wings inspired a live-action movie and manga series.
In America, one of the most popular aviation cartoon series was TaleSpin. Premiering in 1990, it featured characters from Disney’s animated Jungle Book movie and put them in different roles.
For instance, Baloo the bear is a delivery pilot who gets into all sorts of adventures involving air pirates led by the devious red wolf Don Karnage. Other characters that show up include the tiger Shere Khan, who’s a ruthless businessman, and Louie the orangutan who runs a nightclub. Though TaleSpin wasn’t the first Disney show to take this approach to pre-existing characters, as others included Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers DuckTales and Goof Troop.
5 Baa Baa Black Sheep
Also known as Black Sheep Squadron, this '70s show revolved around a ragtag group of fighter pilots of the same name stationed at the Solomon Islands in World War II. Led by Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington, this squadron would be sent on various air missions while getting into all sorts of trouble with their superiors.
But what makes Black Sheep more interesting is that it is partially based on real events. For instance, there really was a squadron who were nicknamed the “Black Sheep” though their official designation was VMF-214. But apart from Boyington, who was a famous flying ace during World War II, the other characters on the show were either made up or loosely based on real people.
4 Sky King
Like many shows during the 1950s, Sky King was originally based on a radio drama of the same name. Though the actors who starred in the radio drama didn’t necessarily reprise their roles in the TV show version.
Set in Arizona, the show revolved around the titular character Schuyler “Sky” King who lived on a ranch with his niece Penny and nephew Clipper (who was only around for the first season). Together, they would fight crime capture spies and rescue missing hikers using Sky’s personal Cessna airplane the Songbird. Released on NBC, it ran for four seasons before being syndicated.
Before there was Transformers, let alone the original Voltron series, one of the most popular shows for kids was Thunderbirds. Known for pioneering the use of Supermarionation, which is basically puppets with electronic parts, it broadcasted in the UK during the mid-60s.
Plot-wise, the series revolved around an organization called International Rescue who helped save people using five special vehicles collectively called the Thunderbirds. Due to the series’ popularity, it led to two feature films with the puppets as well as a live-action movie in 2004 starring Vanessa Hudgens. There were also two remake series, with the latest one debuting in 2015 titled Thunderbirds Are Go.
2 Miss Pilot
While shows about airport pilots may seem like an American concept due to the handful that have been made in America, there are Asian dramas that revolve around airport pilots too. Take, for instance, this Japanese show titled Miss Pilot in English which ran for eleven episodes in 2013.
As the title implies, it’s about a female pilot who learns the ropes of flying a commercial jet along with several others who’ve dreamed of having such a job beforehand. Now comparatively speaking, there aren’t any other shows that have female pilots in the leading role as opposed to supporting. Even in the commercial flight industry, female pilots are a minority.
1 Tales of the Gold Monkey
Prior to TaleSpin airing on The Disney Afternoon block, there was a similar show that came out during the early '80s titled Tales of the Gold Monkey. Set in the 1930s, it revolved around the adventures of delivery pilot Jake Cutter on the fictional island of Bora Gora in the South Seas.
Much like Raiders of the Lost Ark, which inspired this series’ release at the time, the show involved pulp-style action stories with international spies saving natives and treasure-hunting. Ironically, though, the eponymous Gold Monkey only featured in the two-part pilot episode and nowhere else. Airing on ABC, Tales of the Gold Monkey ran for one season.