Hollywood is known for churning out blockbusters, and if one takes hold, you can bet that a second and third are already being planned. The same goes for remakes, reimaginings and prequels. Audiences are gravitating toward characters and storylines they are familiar with and are eager to see the lead up to their favorite characters or perhaps the conclusions.
More than 30 years after its debut, another sequel is in the works that many ‘80s action fans are eagerly anticipating. Cinema’s most famous pilot is back for “Top Gun; Maverick.” The long-awaited sequel to the original 1986 “Top Gun” has been in the works for some time, and production on the sequel began earlier this summer. Only a few details of the plot have emerged, but according to “Variety,” Tom Cruise’s character will now be an instructor, with the film exploring “a world of drone technology, fifth-generation fighters and the end of the era of dog-fighting.”
The movie made Cruise and Val Kilmer household names, and the sound engineering and battle scenes were groundbreaking for its time. The original story is centered around a group of real-life aviators, one of whom has ties to North Idaho.
Christopher “Boomer” Wilson, a resident of Hope at the time of his 2010 death, was a 28-year veteran of naval aviation, having accumulated more than 5,400 hours in the air for the U.S. Navy and taking the controls of 30 different types of aircraft.
People throughout the world caught a glimpse of Wilson’s distinguished career as it was Wilson who was the inspiration for “Viper,” the commander of Top Gun played by Tom Skerritt.
In addition to leading the Navy Fighter Weapons School, Top Gun, Wilson logged more than 150 missions over Vietnam and Laos, was a lead force in the ACEVAL/AIMVAL joint missile and tactics test at Nellis AFB in Nevada, earned six Air Medals for heroism and served as the Commander for Fighter Squadron TWO.
But to Wilson’s family, his career, although remarkable, was nothing in comparison to the man he was. To them he was simply known as Dad, Chris and Pop Pop; a man who enjoyed nothing more than being with friends and family and playing and joking with his grandchildren. “He was such a humble man,” said Kim Russo, Wilson’s daughter and a resident of Sandpoint. “In fact, I did not even know of many of his accomplishments until his funeral.”
Growing up, Kim said they were primarily stationed in San Diego with the exception of one year when the family lived in Las Vegas. Following her parents’ divorce when she was 12 years old, Wilson was stationed in Hawaii and finished out his career working at the Pentagon.
“I remember he would fly in before the ship arrived,” said Kim of the memories of greeting her dad as he returned from a mission. “We would run to give him a big hug when he got off the plane.”
Kim said she and her siblings did not really know what their dad did on a daily basis. “We just knew he was Dad and that he had a cool job,” she said.
Wilson’s wife Tere said she, too, knew little about his career. But since his untimely death from cancer, she has been privileged to learn more of her husband’s career from many of Boomer’s comrades.
“His early F-8 days and flying missions in Vietnam were most likely some of his fondest and most challenging times,” said Tere. “He always felt badly and personally challenged about his long cruises away from his family.” She adds, however, that Wilson felt honored to be able to contribute to something that was bigger than his own life and personal goals—the Navy and the United States of America.
When she was about 13 years old, Kim recalls learning a bit more about the important work her dad did when his career was depicted in Top Gun. “I got to go to the set and meet Tom Cruise during the volleyball scene,” said Kim, who was likely the envy of all her teenage friends.
“Jack Epps wrote the script and spent two months with Boomer and the instructors at the Top Gun school,” explained Tere. “He used many of Boomer’s stories, along with the other guys' stories, while writing the script.” In fact, the famous coffee cup spilling fly-by was Boomer’s story, however, significantly toned down from the actual incident. During his young days as a pilot, Boomer broke the sound barrier at the Cubi Point Officers Club in the late ‘60s, and while doing so he broke a huge plate glass window and many light bulbs throughout the base. “Hence the call sign ‘Boomer’ was born. Luckily he never was blamed for the incident!”
Tere explained that her husband shied away from the attention he received from his notable career, but the family could not be more proud of the man they loved dearly and miss every single day. “Our family is truly humbled, honored and extremely proud of Boomer, his accomplishments as a Navy officer and a loving father, husband and friend. He was one in a million,” said Tere.
During the last 14 years of his life, Boomer and Tere called Hope, Idaho, home for much of the year. “We fell in love with Sandpoint and Hope after researching the area for a retirement home,” said Tere. “The multi-seasonal recreation and the unpretentiousness of the community drew us here as well.”
Wilson was very active in the community, specifically at the Bird Aviation Museum, where he enthusiastically served as a volunteer.
“When Drs. Pam and Forrest Bird opened the museum, Boomer started the docent program for them,” said Tere. “His favorite part of serving as a docent was giving tours to the young students who came through the museum.”
With all of his accomplishments, awards and honors, Kim said that for her and the family what means the most is the type of man her father was. “So many people looked up to him because of his career, but that’s nothing compared to the person he was—a loving and dedicated father, grandfather and husband,” she said. “His was a life cut too short.”
The next time you go to a movie centered on a Navy SEAL mission, marine rescue operation or historical battle, remember that while as entertaining as these are, most are the stories of those who actually lived through them. Some made it out, others did not, but all should be remembered. Unless you’ve lived within a military family, the situation is difficult to understand, but honoring the service and sacrifice these families make for our country is paramount.
“Top Gun; Maverick” is sure to be entertaining and bring in plenty of cash, but let’s not forget that its original inspiration came decades ago from brave patriots like Boomer Wilson. The movie is scheduled for release in June of 2020.