KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A retired military pilot in Kansas City, Missouri, who graduated from the U.S. Navy’s TOPGUN program will be part of a team performing at this year’s KC Air Show over Labor Day weekend.
Retired Lt. Col. Paul Amey went through the elite pilot program, whose official title is the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, in the mid-1990s. He’s now a member of the KC Flight Formation Team.
The group of volunteer pilots flies in formations over events and at air shows.
“We’re doing it for the love of aviation, and we enjoy each other, the camaraderie and going out there and performing. It’s just a lot of fun,” Amey said.
Amey launched his military pilot career in 1989 with the Navy. He flew F-18 Hornets and F-5 Tigers. In 2000, he joined the Air Force Reserves, flying the A-10 aircraft out of Whiteman Air Force Base.
Most people wouldn't know the experience of flying a fighter jet, but here’s how Amey best described it:
“It’s a roller coaster, but you get to control the roller coaster,” he said.
Since his retirement from the military, Amey now flies passenger planes for United Airlines. In 2019, he picked up a part-time job working for Draken, a contractor which helps train the military.
In training exercises, Amey often flies a jet as the “enemy” so pilots at TOPGUN and Nellis Air Force Base can practice air-to-air combat or dog fighting.
“We’ll put out as many little aircraft as we can and they’ll take us out one by one,” Amey said. “It’s still fun. I get tickled every time I get to do it.”
He also plays the role of "ally" in which he helps ground-based military members learn how to communicate with pilots to coordinate attacks or protection.
The TOPGUN program was thrust back into the spotlight this summer with the release of the film “Top Gun: Maverick,” starring Tom Cruise.
“We had to go see it in IMAX,” Amey admitted.
He said parts of the movie were great representations of what it’s like to be a fighter pilot. Cruise and other actors faced true G-forces during filming. Although, Amey said other aspects of the film are more farfetched.
Amey gave creators credit for relying on call signs throughout the film. He goes by “Anchor,” a nickname the Air Force Reserves gave him once he left the Navy.
“Everybody has a call sign based on their last name, based on something they did, or an embarrassing moment,” Amey said. “My wife knows all the fighter pilots by their call sign, not their real name.”
The KC Air Show is Sept. 3-4 at the New Century AirCenter in Johnson County, Kansas. For information and tickets, visit their website.