Northmont grad commanded naval base where ‘Top Gun’ filmed

Capt. Slentz got to meet Tom Cruise, but laughed that his scenes as an extra hit the cutting room floor

The original “Top Gun” movie helped inspire Tim Slentz to become a naval aviator.

“After I saw the original, I wanted to land on an aircraft carrier. That is the coolest job,” he said recently during a visit home with family in the Dayton area.

A 1989 graduate of Northmont High School, Slentz then graduated from the University of Notre Dame before being sworn into the Navy.

More than 30 years later, Capt. Slentz was on hand for the filming of parts of the sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick” in his role as the commander of Naval Base Coronado near San Diego.

As commander, he had to approve use of base facilities and grounds for the movie filming in 2018, met those involved in the filming, including star Tom Cruise and was an extra for the filming of a few scenes.

“I never in a million years thought I would be standing next to Tom Cruise, talking to him about a movie on the base I was running,” Slentz said.

Release of the movie was delayed until this year due to challenges, most importantly COVID-19. Those who made the movie held a premiere on the base the same day as the public premiere was in San Diego.

Slentz, now retired and working for Boeing, was on hand.

“It was really worth the wait. It was great,” he said of the movie.

The filming occurred at a variety of bases but the facilities at Naval Base Coronado — made up of eight bases including Naval Air Station North Island — were used for bar scenes (based on a real bar at the base), the beach scenes and Cruise riding a motorcycle on a runway next to a plane, among others.

The base is “very iconic” for aviation, serving as the site of the first Navy airplane flight from North Island in 1911, Slentz said. “We told the movie people we are proud of our history … told them you stay out of trouble; we will stay out of your way.”

The filming was “a huge production” with about 1,000 people working with the film. All had to undergo a background check before they could enter the base. Around 200 would be at the base on any given day. They came through security like everyone else daily, including Cruise, who rode his motorcycle to work.

“The rules were you couldn’t interrupt the normal day of operations at the base, and they didn’t,” Slentz said. “It (the film) didn’t cost the Navy any money. They (Paramount Pictures) paid for everything.”

The base is so large the filming was able to be done along with many other activities going on daily — such as training of Navy Seals. “It was one extra (activity). They worked in seamlessly with the things we were doing,” he said.

When participating as a film extra for a couple of days with his wife, Slentz took personal time. In the end, he didn’t see himself in any of the scenes. “I ended up on the cutting room floor,” he said.

The closest he came to being in the movie, was his helmet. It is sitting on a mantel in the bar. “The way they filmed it, it is blurry, but I know it is my helmet. It’s the closest I came to fame,” he said with a laugh.

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