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Young 'Top Gun' fan grows up to become Jacksonville pilot, airport director

"'Top Gun' was definitely a huge part of my reason for getting into the aviation industry," said Matt Bocchino, pilot and director of Cecil Airport and Spaceport.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Here's a guess for what you may have done this weekend: go to the movies!

The new "Top Gun" hit theaters, 36 years since the first one. That means it was 36 years ago that some little kids were watching and now some of those kids are adults working in aviation.

Matt Bocchino was a young boy when he watched the first "Top Gun" movie and got inspired. Now he's the one in the sky.

"I don't think my mom knew that I saw it at that age," Bocchino laughed.

After that, the path, or you could say the runway, was laid out for Bocchino's future.

"'Top Gun' was definitely a huge part of my reason for getting into the aviation industry," he said.

Now Bocchino is a pilot and the director of Cecil Airport and Spaceport.

"The action, the adrenaline, the airplanes, the loud noises, which is kind of how I ended up at Cecil," Bocchino said. "A lot of stuff you see in the movie there happens out here."

In 2019 Tom Cruise's fighter jet from the movie was at Cecil Airport and Spaceport.

"It flew into Cecil and then Boeing converted it into a Blue Angel," Bocchino said.

Now decades after "Top Gun" debuted, the kid with the popcorn has become the man in aviator sunglasses flying the plane.

"It's freedom," said Bocchino. "There's a famous saying, 'a mile of runway will take you anywhere.'"

The first stop: to the movies.

If the original movie helped inspire Bocchino to become a pilot, could Hollywood help the pilot shortage? 

"Partially because of this movie, I wanted to be in the military or fly for a living or both," Bocchino said. "I'm Type 1 diabetic so that's how we ended up in this path."

Bocchino believes the new "Top Gun" movie could have a similar effect on people now.

"Back in the '80s that was a huge recruiting boom for the Navy when 'Top Gun' came out," he said. "I imagine that's what they're hoping for with this movie, too."

It's been reported recruiting boomed after the original "Top Gun", but First Coast News hasn't found data to verify this. There is Bocchino's personal testimony.

Commercially, the lack of pilots is leading to delays, flight cancellations, and even grounded flights. Flight training company CAE predicts more than 260,000 airline and business jet pilots will be needed over the next seven years.

Could Hollywood help get people interested in flying overall? Bocchino thinks so.

"Like when I was a kid and all the other people my age, I think it will inspire people to want to do this," he said.

The new "Top Gun" reportedly received support from the Department of Defense Entertainment Media Office, helping with equipment, and technical expertise.

In honor of Top Gun: Maverick's release, how about a #tbt post to 2019 when Maverick's actual ride came to Cecil for maintenance?

Posted by Cecil Airport on Thursday, May 26, 2022

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