What are the key skills that a jet pilot needs?
“The main quality that I see in the best jet pilots is that they’re multi-skilled. They’re not just great at one aspect of flying supersonic jets but across the board. Ultimately, the best pilots are athletic, coordinated, have good three-dimensional awareness and are all extremely competitive.”
How do you decide on a pilot’s callsign?
“Callsigns are always given to you and are rarely complimentary. They’ll often play on your name, looks or even something you might have done in the past… we have a lot of fun creating them! Mine is “Guido” because of my Italian heritage. I’m proud of being Italian so I really enjoy my callsign – but that’s not often the case for other pilots.”
Tell us how you survive in the air.
“It’s very difficult to keep track of everyone, for a start – especially if there are multiple aircraft in an engagement. Success is all about Situational Awareness (SA) and we train aggressively to make ourselves better at it. The more practice you have the better you can predict the flight paths and follow-on maneuvers of the other aircraft, and that’s critical to your success. We have a saying, ‘if you lose sight, you’ll lose the fight.’”
You’ve flown a whole range of aircraft, but which was the most fun?
“I have been fortunate to fly five different jets and really enjoyed them all. That said, I’m so glad I was able to fly the F-14 Tomcat. This was the first jet that I flew operationally, and you always have a special place in your heart for your first love, right? The Tomcat I flew had big General Electric engines which made it tremendously powerful. I thought of it like the Harley Davidson of jets; loud, dominant, powerful and with an attitude.”
Let’s talk Top Gun. What happens if you attempt a tower fly-by like Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick, in the first movie?
“In reality that would never happen as the airfield has strictly controlled air space. At sea, with the aircraft carrier, we will often request one, and sometimes even do a supersonic version. But it’s always approved by the tower as it would be just too dangerous without it. Fun for the movie though.”
Has anybody tried the ‘inverted roll’?
“That’s more of a Hollywood thing. As you perform certain manoeuvres, you can get very close to the opposing aircraft, and at times even see the other pilot in his cockpit. But everything is happening so quickly that taunting another pilot just wouldn’t happen. That said, as we get ready to engage – or just after we complete an engagement – maybe some gestures are made. But it’s all in fun, and if that happens, it’s all done in a very controlled environment.”
Does the reckless nature of Maverick make him a better or worse pilot?
“In today’s world things are more controlled, meaning that there’s more discipline required of all jet pilots and military personnel. The key to successfully flying your jet is laser-like focus and knowing when to push the envelope. In truth, ‘reckless’ is not a quality of any successful pilot I know. Maverick’s style might have been better suited to the world of the past, but it’s certainly not what you see today.”
So, would the stars of Top Gun make it as jet pilots?
“Everyone really did an amazing job with the film, but would that transfer into actually being a successful jet pilot? I’m not sure, to be honest, as the competition is fierce. Certainly, I think that Glen Powell (Hangman in Top Gun: Maverick) would do very well, though.”
How does the IWC TOP GUN collection measure up as a Pilot’s Watch?
“Since 2006, IWC has been licensed by the US Navy for TOP GUN Watches and they put an incredible amount of research and attention to detail into manufacturing them. TOP GUN watches are made with highly robust and resilient materials such as scratch-resistant, anti-reflective black ceramic or lightweight titanium. They are engineered to withstand even the extreme conditions that pilots are facing in the jet cockpit. The fact that they to function reliably in such an unforgiving environment is a real testament to their quality.”
So which is your favourite?
“I own a Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor, a very exclusive watch that’s only available to TOPGUN graduates. I also love the Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium.”
Finally, what’s the best thing about being a jet pilot?
“The opportunity to see our planet with such a unique perspective is very gratifying. I like to visualise removing the actual metal jet around and envision my body flying through space – as that is really what my body is experiencing. It’s pretty surreal and the visual images I get from flying a fighter is something I will always remember.”
Taking the TOP GUN collection into the cockpit
“On a jet mission, I’m not sure that there is anything more critical than time,” says Jim DiMatteo. “Everything is connected to it, and when we begin a brief, the first thing we do is synchronise our watches. In a modern fighter jet, of course, we have advanced avionics systems and embedded, GPS-synchronised clocks on our instrument panels. But we do use our wristwatches to coordinate movements before we get into the jet, just to double-check the avionics and make sure the system is working correctly. Oh, and we wear them to look cool, too. Every fighter pilot needs a cool watch.”
CAPT Jim DiMatteo, USN (Ret) statements and opinions are his own and are not on behalf of the United States Navy or its components.