An American Story


By Dan Pedersen

Read by Jim Meskimen

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“If you loved the movie, you will love the real story in the book.” Fox & Friends

On the 50th anniversary of the creation of the “Topgun” Navy Fighter School, its founder shares the remarkable inside story of how he and eight other risk-takers revolutionized the art of aerial combat.

When American fighter jets were being downed at an unprecedented rate during the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy turned to a young lieutenant commander, Dan Pedersen, to figure out a way to reverse their dark fortune. On a shoestring budget and with little support, Pedersen picked eight of the finest pilots to help train a new generation to bend jets like the F-4 Phantom to their will and learn how to dogfight all over again.

What resulted was nothing short of a revolution — one that took young American pilots from the crucible of combat training in the California desert to the blistering skies of Vietnam, in the process raising America’s Navy combat kill ratio from two enemy planes downed for every American plane lost to more than 22 to 1. Topgun emerged not only as an icon of America’s military dominance immortalized by Hollywood but as a vital institution that would shape the nation’s military strategy for generations to come.

Pedersen takes readers on a colorful and thrilling ride — from Miramar to Area 51 to the decks of aircraft carriers in war and peace-through a historic moment in air warfare. He helped establish a legacy that was built by him and his “Original Eight” — the best of the best — and carried on for six decades by some of America’s greatest leaders. Topgun is a heartfelt and personal testimony to patriotism, sacrifice, and American innovation and daring.


God bless all naval aviators, past, present, and future.



Over Southern California

December 1956

Sixty-five and sunny; blue skies all the way home. God, how I loved December in California. No snow, no shoveling the walk to the driveway. Just plans for Christmas dinner in the backyard as the last rays of sunlight bathed the L.A. basin in golden hues.

From the matte gray cockpit of my Lockheed T-33 jet trainer, I looked down at the suburban sprawl born of the postwar housing boom. The orange groves were vanishing, replaced by blocks of little pink houses and picket fences that looked like Legos from my twenty-thousand-foot vantage point.

I used to shine shoes down there. Lee’s Barbershop in Whittier.

I shifted my eyes from the scene below to scan the instrument panel of my “T-bird.” Altimeter, heading, airspeed indicator, turn and bank indicator, vertical velocity gauge. I swept them all in a heartbeat, trained to do so by the best pilots in the world until each scan of the dials and gauges was an act of unconscious muscle memory.

My path to Pensacola began right down there. At Los Alamitos, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a seaman recruit. The naval air station was full of World War II vintage aircraft. As an apprentice engine mechanic in a reserve squadron, I worked on the F4U Corsair. When that legendary gull-winged beauty became a relic in the jet age, the unit I was attached to became the first in the reserves to get jets. A young lieutenant helped me to make the transition. He took me flying in his two-seater. Inspired, I applied to the Naval Aviation Cadet program, which sent enlisted men to flight training in Pensacola. With the help of that generous lieutenant, I passed the exams and made the cut. In 1955, I decamped to the famous naval aviation training center on the Florida panhandle.

Now the long-sought reward was close enough to touch. As long as I kept my grades up, I’d stand an excellent chance of flying jet fighters with gold Navy wings on my chest.

That morning over the L.A. basin, we whistled through the wild blue in technology that would have dazzled those who flocked to California looking for work two decades before. The age of the Joads and Okies was long gone. The jet age was upon us, and I embraced it with all my heart.

To the people down below, this may not have meant a thing. They were going about their peaceful lives, caring for family, stressed out over work and the growing traffic. Some would open the Los Angeles Times as they sipped their morning coffee for a keyhole view to the outside world. Eight hundred and ninety-six drunk driving arrests in the county this Christmas season was a headline in the Times that morning. Beside that story, a tiny blurb described how the Japanese were detecting radiation in the atmosphere. That could only mean the Russians had detonated yet another nuclear bomb.

Vice President Richard Nixon talked of the ten thousand Hungarian refugees the Air Force was flying to the United States for a new lease on life. Victims of Soviet oppression, they’d fought and lost in the Budapest uprising. When Russian armor rolled through their streets, they were lucky to have survived.

The people below me could not imagine such a life. Living in their orderly tract houses, they enjoyed well-kept lawns, sidewalks full of playing kids, and a sense of peace underwritten by men such as I had come to know in the past year. Home for the holiday, I would soon join them guarding our ramparts in the Cold War. The morning was simply gorgeous. The engine’s whine was like music to me, the soundtrack to my new life. I was entering a profession unlike any I’d ever dreamed of.

My dad, a veteran of World War II, had served in Europe in the Army Signal Corps, keeping communications flowing between the front lines and headquarters. He came home to Illinois in 1945 to find his job had been filled. Victory in Europe cost him his career, and he found himself forced to start over in middle age with a family depending on him. Never showing us the fear he surely felt, he moved us to California, believing that every problem can be overcome by hard work. He got a job laying pipelines in Palm Springs. After a shift in the sun, which baked his Scandinavian skin to leather, he would come home with twelve-hour days in his eyes. He never complained; he worked and lived for us. His example of resilience instilled in me that same devotion. I was blessed and knew it.

There was a difference, though. I loved every second in the cockpit. This wasn’t work; it was freedom. Every flight pushed our personal boundaries and revealed that we were capable of more. With each test, we grew as aviators and young men. Along the way, achievement became a drug. I couldn’t wait for the next jump forward toward a fleet assignment. From the tie-cutting ceremony after I soloed to the first time I landed aboard an aircraft carrier, it was a journey marked with memorable moments. A year at Pensacola gave me a sense of identity and purpose that I never felt back home.

I wanted Mary Beth Peck to pin my aviator’s wings on me at graduation. We had met in high school at a church function; I was seventeen, she was fourteen. Even in Southern California, with probably the highest concentration of beautiful girls anywhere, she made everyone else look ordinary. Blonde hair, eyes like the sky at twenty thousand feet. It took only one conversation to realize she wasn’t just a beautiful face. Mary Beth possessed a soft-spoken eloquence and powerful intellect.

We courted properly, and our families grew close as we fell in love. She had written me every day since I’d left home to seek this new path through life. No matter how tough it got at Pensacola, I never let my head hit the pillow until I’d filled a page for her in return.

We had not seen each other since I left Los Alamitos for Pensacola. I’d left home a boy, working my way through junior college. That morning, I returned at the controls of a modern jet trainer, the double solo bars of an advanced naval aviation cadet on my chest. Christmas break was my chance to show her and our families the man I was becoming.

Wings banked now, the T-bird’s polished aluminum skin reflected the sun as Bill and I began our approach to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine. The base’s distinctive double-cross runways stuck out among the tract homes and orange groves. El Toro served as home to some of the greatest combat aviators America ever produced: Joe Foss, Marion Carl, John L. Smith—the men who had stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific during World War II. Most of the people in Orange County knew little of that legacy, but from the moment I started training, we naval aviation cadets were immersed in the heritage that was ours if we proved ourselves worthy.

At Pensacola, we flew the SNJ Texan and the T-28. On my first morning there, our drill sergeant woke us in the barracks with the rattle of his nightstick along the steel frames of our bunks, then double-timed us out to an aging hangar beside the seaplane ramp. In the very same building where some of naval aviation’s pioneers established our tradition, the drill sergeant smoked us with forty minutes of PT. Each morning started with the same ritual. We worked out in the hangar among the ghosts of those who had paved the way for us. Thanks to them, naval aviation became the rebel branch of the service, always striving to develop new ideas, new technology, and new ways of fighting that would send the age of the battleship into history. From the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway to the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, they transformed the U.S. Navy into the most effective naval fighting force on the planet.

Everywhere we went at Pensacola, we felt that tradition and it was an honor to be invited to be part of it. Would my generation contribute to perpetuate it in the years ahead? One thing for sure, I was not going to be the one who washed out and went home to be just another college kid with ducktail hair, working odd jobs to cover tuition.

Where other cadets bought cars and spent time in town, drinking at Trader John’s and other local aviator watering holes, I made a point of staying on base. My dad’s ethic became mine. I studied and worked hard. I was determined to be among the top cadets who upon graduation would be handed the keys to the latest and greatest fighter jets our country produced.

After Basic School at Pensacola, we were required to take a cross-country instrument flight to California, the final stage before we finished Advanced School in Beeville, Texas. The fringe benefit of this last evolution was a chance to visit home.

As we started our descent toward El Toro, Bill Pierson, my instructor in the rear seat, coached me over the intercom. I eased the throttle back and entered the landing pattern. Gear and flaps down, nose flared, I set the T-bird onto the runway. I taxied to the ramp by base operations, shut down the engine, and opened the canopy. Bill jumped out to grab a cup of coffee while our airplane got refueled. I pulled my helmet off and slid on the pair of Ray-Bans that I’d purchased at the Pensacola PX. They were a little over-the-top Hollywood for a cadet. In Florida and Texas I usually only wore them to the beach. What the heck. It was California.

Mary Beth stood on the tarmac, looking up at me with my parents at her side. She was a vision in an angora sweater and below-the-knee skirt. Wearing flat-heeled shoes and with her hair down, she had a smile on her face. Maybe just a hint of awe as well. I could hope.

I unstrapped and climbed out, dressed in a khaki flight suit, a matching jacket, and Navy-issue chukka boots. I’d barely made it down the ladder when she wrapped her arms around me. In an instant, the year of separation seemed like an eyeblink. I knew beyond a doubt, this was the woman I wanted to marry.

Bill watched from the doorway to base ops, a paper cup of coffee in hand. He was a veteran of Korea and countless days at sea. He had shared moments like this one and knew their power. He also knew to stay clear and let me have it; for that I was grateful. The holiday break passed quickly.

I was born in Moline, Illinois, in 1935, and my father served in the army during World War II. My parents were immigrants and I was a first-generation American. Dad, named Orla or Ole, was born in Denmark in 1912 and his parents, Olaf and Mary Pedersen, immigrated the next year. My mother, Henrietta, was one of three beautiful sisters from the Isle of Man. She met Dad at a high school basketball game.

I remember the smell of potato sausage in Mom’s kitchen on the evening we ate Christmas dinner on the back porch. That was a Danish tradition passed down from my paternal grandfather. When I was a kid in Moline, I’d rush from school to his little Scandinavian specialty store, passing barrels of pickled fish. A pot of that potato sausage would be simmering on the stove, filling the place with the scent of home and warmth.

My first flying experience had been in 1946, not long after dad returned from Europe. My father was intrigued with aircraft, as he had some experience with B-25 bombers near the end of the war. One evening, at Moline Airport, he said we were going flying. What a surprise for a ten-year-old boy. The flight was in darkness, early in the evening in a prewar Ford Trimotor, distinctive with its three clattering Wright engines and corrugated aluminum skin. I marveled even then at the beauty of being aloft at night.

Before I went to Beeville, Mary Beth gave me a Christmas gift. I unwrapped it to discover a gold signet ring with a tiny diamond inset on its flat face. She had my initials inscribed on it along with 1956 and Love, Beth on the inside. She was a freshman at Whittier College working in the student union cafeteria. She must have gone into debt to pull this off.

All too soon, this beautiful interlude ended. My instructor met me at El Toro a few days after Christmas. I wore the ring on my right hand as I kissed Mary Beth goodbye on the ramp. Soon I would be an officer and a gentleman. I’d ask her father for permission to propose. We’d start a life in the Navy together. A final hug, no tears, and I scrambled up the ladder and into the cockpit. As Bill Pierson and I taxied out to the runway, I saw her waving goodbye to her naval aviation cadet.

When I landed at Beeville, my first jet fighter awaited me on the flight line. She was a Grumman F9F Panther, a well-traveled aircraft whose dark blue aluminum skin was dotted with patched-over bullet holes. Like my instructor, she was a veteran of Korea, her paint dulled by years of service. With her straight wing and her sub–Mach 1 top speed, the Panther had been relegated to stateside pastures, where she helped train the next generation of naval aviators.

I stood under my bird and shared a Bridges at Toko-Ri moment. How many times had I seen that movie? A dozen? The flying scenes were spectacular. The poignancy of the love story and the fact that pretty much everyone dies in the end was lost to my visions of glory. That first morning with that Panther, I climbed into the cockpit and fell in love.

She was a delight to fly, balanced on the controls and fast for a first-generation, single-engine jet. Alone in the cockpit, I tried aerobatics with her and shot up towed sleeves with her four 20mm cannons. The thrill of it left me craving more.

As we closed in on the final lap of our training, a few boxes remained to be checked. One included a cross-country formation flight to Dallas and back. Three of us cadets took off with a storm closing in on us. The cloud ceiling was under a thousand feet. Speeding over the Texas countryside, we hugged the earth in an arrowhead formation at about five hundred feet, each of us taking turns in the lead. Two miles behind, our instructor trailed along in another F9F observing us at the edge of visibility. The weather worsened. Visibility diminished. We reached Dallas, landed safely. After resting and refueling, we flew back in the afternoon.

At four hundred miles an hour, a Panther travels almost two football fields a second. You have to think a step or two ahead at all times, or the speed simply overwhelms your ability to respond. Get behind the aircraft, and the struggle to catch up will make you mistake-prone. The best pilots ride the wave and are always thinking a move or two ahead of the aircraft. You have very little time to react to something. So when something suddenly flashed between our three Panthers, I was stunned. Looking in my rearview mirror, I saw a red-lit radio relay tower stretching skyward into the overcast. We were at five hundred feet. Those radio towers were fifteen hundred feet tall. It was only an act of God that kept one of us from careening into it with fatal results.

We landed back at Beeville shaken but intact. Our instructor taxied to the ramp several minutes later, and I felt a swell of anger rise in me. Where were you? Miles behind us out of sight when we almost flew into that tower?

After I calmed down, the lesson came into focus. When you’re a fighter pilot, alone in that cockpit, your fate is in your hands. Blaming others is just a dodge. It’s no way to grow or improve. It was up to me to see that radio tower. No one else.

Near misses aside, I ranked near the top of my class in the final stage of advanced training. I felt myself developing into a confident young pilot. Inevitably, such self-realizations will lead the universe to knock you down a peg. Mine was a brutal humbling with lifelong implications.

That day I was supposed to fly a graded check flight in a T-bird with an instructor named Tony Biamonte. We planned and briefed a flight to Foster Air Force Base near Victoria on a day when a solid wall of clouds marched over the Lone Star State to twenty-five thousand feet. Visibility was at a minimum, even down on the deck. In the days before ground control radar, pilots navigated by low-frequency radio signals called LFR. It was still in use as a redundant backup system in the 1950s, and every cadet needed to know how to use it in a pinch. This weather called for it.

We took off into the soup, spiraling upward until we broke into blue skies above twenty-five thousand. Tony sat in the rear seat; I was in the front. Victoria was only about fifty miles away, so this was a quick flight. After checking in with Foster control, I started our descent. We went from blue skies to a world of swirling grays so thick I could barely see our wingtip fuel tanks.

Being inside a cloud is a disorienting experience. Look outside the cockpit too long at the dark heart of a cloud, and you’ll lose all sense of up or down, inverted or upright. Mesmerized, you won’t be able to tell if your wings are level, if you’re in a bank, or if you’re dropping out of the sky. With no frame of reference, your senses go haywire. The same thing can happen while flying at night. In moments like these, you bet your life on your instruments. You have to trust them, not what your body is telling you. It can be hard to believe the gauges over the wisdom in your own gut.

I was wrestling with that phenomenon while trying to carefully listen to the LFR signals telling me where I was in relation to the runway. I could feel myself starting to stretch to keep hold of the situation and stay ahead of the aircraft.

As we began our descent, I tried to keep a mental picture of where I thought we were. That mental picture was crucial. You have to see your bird in the air in your mind’s eye, erasing the clouds and overcast until the landscape below comes into focus. You build the picture with the radio signals. Each Morse code letter, either an A, an N, or a Null, gave you a sense of your position. As I dropped into the pattern, I listened as the letters changed. With each new Morse code signal, I updated my mental picture.

At about two thousand feet, I had us on our downwind leg of the pattern. This meant we were running parallel to the runway a few thousand feet to the side. As we passed ninety degrees to the edge of the runway, I heard the Morse code letter change. That was the cue to make a turn onto the final approach. One more turn and I’d have this box checked.

We were still in heavy overcast, the T-bird buffeted by turbulence. Between studying my instruments, prepping the aircraft for landing, and trying to listen to the radio signals, I grew confused and uncertain.

Is my mental picture wrong?

The signal changed. New letter.

Wait, which end of the runway have I reached? Which way to turn?

I thought I knew where we were, but my confusion destroyed my confidence.

I turned the wrong way, sending the T-bird directly away from the end of the runway. I realized my mistake within seconds. Stopping our descent, I called the tower, fessed up, and asked to return to a holding pattern.

I could feel Tony’s presence behind me right then. I had screwed up. Naval aviation is an unforgiving calling. One error and people—including yourself—die. In training, even a few seconds’ worth of a wrong turn will count against you.

It certainly did here. Tony scrubbed the exercise, telling me to return to Beeville instead. I flew back, tense and upset with myself, seething at the mistake. When we got back on the ground, he asked, “You know what you did wrong?”

“Yeah.” I explained what had happened, mentioning that I corrected the mistake very quickly.

He nodded agreement on that last point. Still, he did not let me off the hook. “I want you to fly this check ride again.”

I’d failed a flight, the only one in eighteen months of training. He saw the expression on my face and tried to reassure me. “Listen. Dan, everybody gets one down check. Don’t worry about it. It is a good lesson in humility.”

I hit the books harder than ever. I studied LFR approaches. I flew the mission profile in the base simulators every day. I went back to the basics and studied Morse code again. There was no way I was going to fail again. In my obsession to succeed, I jettisoned every routine aspect of my life and used the extra minutes to study. That first night, my head hit the pillow, and as I fell off into an exhausted near-coma, a part of my brain felt like I’d forgotten to do something.

I haven’t written Mary Beth.

For the first time since I’d left home for cadets, I’d failed to finish a letter to her.

The next night, the same thing happened. I was falling behind. Her letters arrived like clockwork. Now I’d missed two days and I foolishly let my responsiveness slide even further.

All week, I remained singularly focused. Life distilled down to one thing: Learn LFR approaches and do it right the second time. Mary Beth and every other aspect of my life took a temporary backseat as I worked to overcome my error. No cell phones or long-distance to explain; besides, I was too embarrassed. Big mistake.

This was my initiation into the constant battle all naval aviators face: the demands of the job versus the need for a personal life. The job is so demanding that it almost always wins. In a civilian career, balancing professional and personal lives requires careful attention, but it can be done. In naval aviation, there is no balance. The job always has to come first.

At home, she checked her mailbox every day to find it empty. She went from puzzled to alarmed to deeply hurt as each afternoon brought the same empty box. My grandkids would call this “ghosting.” Imagine you and your love have been texting on your phones day after day while separated for some reason. Suddenly, one of you stops. A few hours might not seem significant, but the communication becomes one-way. The stress level rises. A day passes. Then two. Wondering becomes an agony. No explanation—the person simply vanished, became a ghost.

The word ghosting hadn’t made it to Webster’s English Dictionary yet, but that week in 1957, it’s exactly what I did to Mary Beth as I focused on passing the check ride. When I climbed back into the T-bird for the do-over, the hard work paid off: I aced the flight, landed the aircraft without issue, and returned to Beeville with my confidence restored.

Tony died two months later during a similar LFR check ride with another naval aviator. Life in aviation, even in training, was deadly serious. It required everything you have. Living an intensely focused, out-of-balance life wasn’t just an expression of our passion for flying. It was required in order to survive.

That was one of my last check rides. I finished advanced training and didn’t slip in the class rankings. With the ordeal behind me, I wrote Mary Beth for the first time in several weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about my brush with failure. How could I explain my poor judgment in a letter? I decided to wait until I returned home to explain it to her in person. I needed her to see me as infallible, the confident pilot who’d climbed out of the T-bird at Christmas, rocking those Ray-Bans and beige chukka boots. So I took the path of least resistance: I wrote as if nothing had happened. I didn’t even acknowledge vanishing for all those days. I just picked up where I’d left off.

On March 1, 1957, I got my wings. The graduation ceremony in Corpus Christi was almost anticlimactic. I wanted Mary Beth to pin my wings on me, but flying to Texas was not financially feasible for her or my folks. Instead, my flight training roommate and friend from home, Al Clayes, pinned my wings on my chest that day. I did the same honor for this newly commissioned U.S. Marine aviator.

The Navy commissioned us all ensigns and made Big Al a Marine second lieutenant. We were officers and gentlemen at last, waiting for our first assignments with increasing trepidation. Through the grapevine, I’d heard that there were very few jet fighter pilot slots available on the West Coast that spring. I wanted to be back in California, close to home and Mary Beth, so I’d asked for duty on my side of the country.

When my orders arrived, I tore open the envelope, running through my worst-case scenarios, the first of which was blimps. Yes, the 1950s Navy still flew airships. We called them “poopy bags.” Nobody wanted to go from flying Panthers and T-birds to puttering around at seventy knots with a gigantic bag of gas over your head. No thank you. Then there was ASW. Antisubmarine warfare. This meant multiengine flying and interminably long patrols over open ocean, where everyone aboard tried not to fall asleep.

I took a breath, looked down at my orders, and read the official verbiage directing me to report in thirty days to San Diego.

I read it twice. Then a third time just to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.

I was going to a squadron known as VF(AW)-3.

V stood for heavier than air. No blimps for me.

F stood for fighters.

AW stood for all-weather.

I’d done it. I was going to be a jet fighter pilot.

I was on the road to Topgun.



Texas to Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego

Spring 1957

It’s 2300 here in the California desert, eleven o’clock in the civilian world. I come out every night and sit by the pool at the same time with my wife’s two little white-poofball Maltese pups. They curl up under my lounge chair, which I’ll adjust to be flat. Then I’ll lay here and look up into the night and wait.

The stars are old friends, of course. We all did our share of night flying. At sea aboard an aircraft carrier, the air wings assigned the rookie pilots night flights based on the phase of the moon. A first-timer would need to land by the light of a full moon. If he hit that forty-foot zone in which the tailhook can catch a wire—as it will have to on a carrier or heaven help you—the next time he flies, the moon will be a crescent. Less light, more challenging. The biggest test came on nights with no moon—and bad weather. Nothing gives a naval aviator more gut-check moments than a night carrier landing in a heavy sea. It takes a special breed of cat to do it consistently, that’s for sure.

Whenever the moon looks like the base of a thumbnail, I remember when I commanded the carrier USS Ranger. Somewhere in the Pacific, under a sliver moon, our air wing conducted night ops. One of our young pilots had trouble getting get his F-14 Tomcat back down on the deck. As he made his approach and the landing signal officer (LSO) talked him toward that number-three wire, I watched from my bridge chair. I could tell he was “killing snakes in the cockpit.” That means he was overcontrolling the aircraft. He was feeling overwhelmed and his heart rate was spiked. We’d all been there. The LSO told him to go around and try again. We call that a wave-off.

He did, and the same thing happened. His bucket was full. He was battling fear, the darkness, his instruments, the procedures needed to bring the bird back aboard. It got away from him again.

All night, he tried to land on the Ranger. Twice he had to climb above the clouds to refuel from an airborne tanker. I finally had to call him on the radio, something ship captains almost never do. We leave talking to the pilots to the air boss or their squadron commanders.

“Look, son, we’re into the wind and we’re not going anywhere. We’re here for you, and we’ve got all night. Just relax a bit and smooth it out.”

Those are the moments I loved the most—the kind of mentoring and loyalty to each other I never found anywhere else but inside the brotherhood of naval aviation.


  • "If you loved the movie, you will love the real story in the book."—Pete Hegseth, Fox & Friends
  • "If an institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man, then the history of modern naval aviation might well be described as the lengthened shadow of Dan Pedersen. Here, in direct, vivid, and unvarnished prose, is the high-flying, supersonic tale of the Topgun program and its extraordinary founder. Through it all, Pedersen's innovative spirit, as well as his essential modesty, shines through."—Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author GhostSoldiers and On Desperate Ground
  • "It's hard to read Dan Pedersen's Topgun and not think of Tom Cruise rock-'n'-rollin' through the California mountains in the similarly named motion picture more than 30 years ago...a pleasure to read."—Wall Street Journal
  • "Pedersen's bold, white-knuckle action and passion to be the best make this an exciting book from beginning to end."—Christian Science Monitor, Best Books of the Month
  • "Goose and Maverick, move over -- this is the true heart of Topgun, told with energy, style, humor, and tactical brilliance...a masterpiece that captures the essence of naval aviation in all its complexity and beauty. Dan Pedersen takes us on a high-speed jet ride through the fast times of Topgun, the Navy, and the need to fight our enemies from a position of superiority."—Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.),Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (2009-2013), chairman of the U.S. Naval Institute,and author of Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World's Oceans
  • "With the hot-seat velocity and cockpit realism of a military combat thriller, the author delivers exacting details and emotional acuity....A noble, thrillingly realized combat aviation memoir from one of America's finest."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Capt. Dan Pederson became one of a handful of aviators who convinced Navy brass that a change in tactics was essential....The lives he saved though Topgun training earn him the title of American Hero."
    Washington Times
  • "A superb read...Dan Pedersen's Topgun is a riveting, seat-of-the-pants flight into the lethal world of the fighter pilot told by the man who started it all!"
    Dan Hampton, New York Times bestselling author of Viper Pilot and Lords of the Sky
  • "[A] fast-paced memoir...This remembrance of aerial derring-do is sure to appeal to military aviators and fans of the world of fighter pilots, past and present."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Teeming with white-knuckled action and the dynamic personalities who would come to define a generation of combat pilots, Topgun brings the deadly dance of air warfare alive."—Dick Couch, New York Times bestselling authorof The Warrior Elite and Chosen Soldier
  • "An exciting and well-written journey through more than five decades of naval and air-combat history and the service to which Pedersen devoted most of his life."—Booklist
  • "Forget the movie...This book soars...[A] remarkable inside story of how [Pedersen] and eight other risk-takers revolutionized the art of aerial combat."—Military Press
  • "A powerful insider's account of an important and uniquely American institution."
    The Naval Historical Foundation
  • "For those who will never experience the thrilling privilege of soaring at Mach 2 in the back seat of a Navy F-4 Phantom fighter, Dan Pedersen's superb memoir is the next best thing....Many aviators-turned-authors lose readers in jargon and procedures, but Pedersen's full-hearted personal narrative engages them with maverick charm, showing how he and his innovative team reinvented the art of air-to-air combat in the jet age. Topgun: An American Story is as revelatory as a freshly declassified briefing, written with the flair and insight of Tom Clancy."—Michael Fabey, author of Crashback: The Power Clash Between the U.S. and China in the Pacific
  • "This book is an enthralling read at a breakneck pace, capturing the speed of aviation development from the late '50s through the early '80s....It is in the end a story about renewal and hope for all who dare to be the best of the best and in so doing, improve the world around them."—U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine
  • "Pedersen's soaring new memoir details the roots of America's aerial combat crisis in Vietnam and the stunning response that resurrected American primacy in the skies...[Pedersen] often writes with the precision and artistry of a skywriter, especially when he describes his love of flight....[A] spellbinding memoir."—The Charleston Post and Courier
  • "One of the great turnarounds in modern military history."—CBN
  • "Thrilling, masterful, and meticulously detailed...Outstanding...Riveting...One of the best written, and most historically significant aviation books of the last three decades."—The Aviationist

On Sale
Mar 5, 2019
Hachette Audio

Dan Pedersen

About the Author

Dan Pedersen entered the U.S. Navy in 1953. He was the senior officer in the group of nine men who formed the Navy’s legendary “Topgun” program at Naval Air Station Miramar in March 1969. He served in combat during the Vietnam War, with a flying cruise on USS Hancock (CVA-19) and three on USS Enterprise (CVN-65). He retired as a captain, having accumulated 6,100 flight hours and 1,005 carrier landings while flying 39 types of aircraft. He lives with his wife in Palm Desert, CA.

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