By James Hibberd
January 29, 2020 at 08:00 AM EST
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EW has six new photos from Top Gun: Maverick as the film’s director, Joseph Kosinski, gives his first interview about the highly anticipated sequel to the 1986 hit.

Below are images of the film’s new crop of pilots that Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has returned to flight school to teach a thing or two about speed and the need thereof. Unlike the young pilots in the original film, the trainees in Maverick are all previous graduates of the Top Gun school (a.k.a. the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program).

Scott Garfield/Paramount

“Those pilots were entering the Top Gun school for the first time,” Kosinski says of the original film’s characters, which included Maverick, Val Kilmer‘s Tom “Iceman” Kazansky and Anthony Edwards’ Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. “In our film, these are all Top Gun graduates who are coming back for a special training detachment — which is another aspect of Top Gun where they can go back for specialized training after they’ve already graduated. They’re at a different level of experience than in the first film.”

Scott Garfield/Paramount

For the new actors, that meant eventually experiencing up to 1,600 pounds of force in F-18 Super Hornets, which were specially outfitted with up to six IMAX-quality cameras to capture the actors as they pretended to pilot the planes (which were actually operated by a Navy pilot in the other seat).

“The experience is thrilling but very physically grueling,” Kosinski says. “The maneuvers that we were putting them through to tell this story were not something that you can just jump in and do. They all had to go through months of aerial training. We put them through a training course that Tom actually designed himself. He’s a licensed aerobatic pilot, and he was thrown into deep end when he did the first Top Gun without any training. So he knew that they would need to kind of work up to that level. So they started in Cessnas and then worked their way up aerobatic airplanes then into small single-engine jets before they were in the Super Hornet. Occasionally it made some of the actors sick and that even happens to experienced fighter pilots.”

Scott Garfield/Paramount

“There’s no crew up there,” he adds. “I’m not up there with him, there’s no cinematographer, no hair and makeup. They are responsible for every aspect of the filmmaking process when they’re up in those airplanes.”

The most extreme sequence was glimpsed in the teaser trailer, where Maverick is flying across the desert at a rather insanely low altitude.

Scott Garfield/Paramount

“For the sequence where Tom got to do some extreme low-altitude flying in this film, we had to get special permission from the Navy to do it,” he says. “It was one of the most extreme aerial sequences that we could come up with. Also, getting to do a real launch off a carrier and a real landing on a carrier — no one else has been able to ever do that in a movie before. Tom got to fulfill every kind of aviation dream that he had.”

Miles Teller plays Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of the original film’s ill-fated Goose, and the relationship between Maverick and Rooster is the biggest driver in the film.

Scott Garfield/Paramount

“The relationship between Maverick and Rooster really forms the emotional core and spine of the film,” Kosinski says. “It was really one the key reasons Tom felt like that now this is the time to go back and do this.”

Iceman has returned in the new film as well, but so far has been absent from all the marketing materials. How the character fits into the new story isn’t something Kosinski wants to yet reveal.

Scott Garfield/Paramount

“The rivalry and relationship between Iceman and Maverick is one of those things that makes that first film so iconic,” he says. “It’s a relationship that is important to the Top Gun franchise and as a fan I would want to see how it’s evolved.”

Top Gun: Maverick will be released June 26, 2020.

Photos: From top to bottom: Danny Ramirez as “Fanboy,” Glen Powell as “Hangman,” Jay Ellis as “Payback,” Miles Teller as Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Monica Barbaro as “Phoenix,” Lewis Pullman as “BOB.”

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