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Let’s Breakdown How All the Characters in ‘Top Gun’ Got Their Call Signs

I feel a need for SPEED.

Tom Cruise in 'Top Gun: Maverick'.

After a whopping 36 years, Paramount and Tom Cruise have gotten together to make a sequel to 1986’s Top Gun, about a reckless fighter pilot learning to hone his skills in the skies. In Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick returns as a test pilot and instructor, trying to avoid advancing in rank so that he can stay in the air. Joining Maverick is a new team of young pilots, who train under him for a dangerous mission.

One of the most fun aspects of Top Gun is its call signs (the unique identifiers that pilots use). These call signs can point to a pilot’s personality or achievements, or they can take the form of good-natured ribbing. Here are some of the call signs used in Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick, along with their confirmed or possible meanings!

By the way, if you want a call sign of your own, you can head over to this handy call sign generator. Apparently, I’m Lt. Julia “Backspin” Glassman. I know backspin is what you do to a ball to make it look like it’s flying when it’s really not, so I’m not sure what my call sign says about my piloting skills.

Here are all Top Gun Call Signs, explained.

Call Signs in Top Gun: Maverick

Here are the call signs of some of the main pilots who return or debut in Top Gun: Maverick.

Pete “Maverick” Mitchell

What do you call someone who refuses to play by the rules, shows off some mad flying skills, and does things his own way? That’s right: a maverick. That’s what Pete’s call sign means! He’s a maverick, so they call him Maverick. Top Gun may burn a lot of jet fuel, but it’s not rocket science.

Tom Cruise in Risky Business
(image: Warner Bros.)

Beau “Cyclone” Simpson

Cyclone’s (John Hamm) call sign is a bit ironic because he’s much more cautious and thoughtful than Maverick. As a vice admiral, he has responsibilities that he tries to get Maverick to understand and take seriously.

Tom “Iceman” Kazansky

In his first appearance in the original Top Gun, Val Kilmer’s Tom Kazansky has a cold demeanor and flies by the book, in stark contrast to Maverick’s antics. In the bar, Goose tells Maverick that “that’s the way [Iceman] flies, ice-cold, no mistakes.”

Olaf with no nose
(image: Disney_

Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw

Rooster’s call sign isn’t explained directly, but he’s the son of Maverick’s best friend Goose, who dies in the original Top Gun. Rooster choosing to go by another bird-themed call sign seems like a nod to his father.

Jake “Hangman” Seresin

Everyone’s talking about Glen Powell’s breakout performance as Hangman. Like Val Kilmer’s Iceman in the original film, Hangman gets into some sparring matches with Maverick. His name likely refers to his competitive nature and short-fuse.

Natasha “Phoenix” Trace

Phoenix’s hardcore call sign makes up for the lackluster call sign of the original Top Gun’s sole female pilot (more on that below). Phoenix has to break through a thousand barriers to become a fighter pilot as a woman, so her call sign might point to her ability to get back up after being beaten.

The phoenix from Harry Potter
(image: Warner Bros.)

Mickey “Fanboy” Garcia

If you look at Fanboy’s helmet, you see that his call sign is written in a font that’s similar to the one used in the Star Trek franchise. Is Mickey a literal fanboy, or is the call sign and font a playful joke? It’s hard to say.

Reuben “Payback” Fitch

Jay Ellis plays a pilot who’s set on revenge. Like Maverick, with Payback, the name speaks for itself.

Robert “Bob” Floyd

Bob is a nickname for Robert, so that’s why it’s his call sign. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just another version of his name. Look, not everyone wins the call sign lottery.

(Gif: Fox)

Call Signs from the Original Top Gun

Are all the new call signs not enough? Are you hungry for more cool call signs? Well, here are all the ones from the original!

Nick “Goose” Bradshaw

Goose is Maverick’s best friend in the original Top Gun. On one level, “Goose” refers to his warm, goofy personality. However, actor Anthony Edwards once revealed in an interview that the name is based on a real pilot. As the story goes, one engine went out, but when Goose reported it, he got the wrong engine. As a result, the rest of the crew fired the other engine and the plane crashed into the water. That’s how he got the call sign Goose.

Three cocky geese strut by
(image: unsplash)

Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood

Like Bob, Charlie ended up with kind of a bland call sign, using a variation of her real name.

Mike “Viper” Metcalf

Viper’s call sign isn’t explained in the movie, but we can infer that you wouldn’t want to cross him in the skies. In reality, the call sign is based on a real figure, U.S. Real Admiral Pete “Viper” Pettigrew.

Bill “Cougar” Cortell

Cougar’s call sign isn’t explained, but cougars are pretty fierce, which is a good quality in a fighter pilot.

Cougartown promo photo
Almost as fierce as Courtney Cox (image: Doozer/ABC)

Ron “Slider” Kerner

No one really knows where Slider’s name comes from, since the original Top Gun doesn’t get into his backstory. I bet it’s a great story, though.

Sam “Merlin” Wells

There are two possibilities for Merlin’s name. The first is that he’s named after the wizard from folklore, due to his ability to work magic in the cockpit. Another possibility is that he’s named after the bird of prey, which, like its cousins, hawks, falcons, and eagles, has remarkable flying skills.

He could also have been named after this cat.
(image: The Inflatable Wizard Hat)

Henry “Wolfman” Wolfe

Wolfman fares better than Charlie, since his given name already sounds totally badass. It’s not much of a jump from Wolfe to Wolfman. That lucky dog!

Rick “Hollywood” Neven

Hollywood (Whip Hubley) is so good-looking that he could be a Hollywood star.

Hollywood Sign
(image: Credit: Vacclav /

Rick “Jester” Heatherly

If Jester’s call sign comes from his sense of humor, we never see it on screen. The name is more likely ironic, since this instructor never cracks a smile.

Tom “Stinger” Jardian

Wasps sting. Bees sting. So do commanders who deal out harsh criticisms! Stinger’s call sign might come from any of these traits, or all of them combined.

The Bee Movie
(image: Paramount)

Marcus “Sundown” Williams

As the only Black pilot in Top Gun, Sundown’s name has an unsettling association with sundown towns, but his call sign might refer to his ability to shoot down enemies, with “sundown” referring to their lives ending.

Charles “Chipper” Piper

Like other minor characters, Chipper’s call sign is never explained. There are some possibilities (is it a combination of his first and last name? A reference to how he chips away at enemies?) but really, it’s all guesswork on the audience’s part. Don’t worry about it too much.

(featured image: Paramount)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and covers film, television, and books for The Mary Sue. When she's not making yarn on her spinning wheel, she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. You can check out more of her writing at, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.