Early screening of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ raises money for the Vail Veterans Program

The special screening featured a meet and greet with former Top Gun flight school commander Tom Trotter

Naval aviator and former Top Gun flight school commander Tom Trotter and his wife Jill Trotter met with moviegoers at the special screening at the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards.
Carolyn Paletta/Vail Daily

On Thursday, the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards hosted a special early screening of “Top Gun: Maverick,” the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 blockbuster starring Tom Cruise. The event included a cocktail hour with Tom Trotter, a former Top Gun flight school commander who now calls Eagle County home.

All proceeds from ticket sales went to the Vail Veterans Program, a local nonprofit organization that enables veterans with severe injuries to regain confidence and push their boundaries through rehabilitative sports and recreation activities.

“What a good cause, and what a difference it makes in veterans’ lives that have lost limbs,” Trotter said. “Those guys have made just short of the ultimate sacrifice. Just amazing human beings, so it’s a great organization and a great way to get some benefit out of an event like this.”

In the hours leading up to the screening, the theater was buzzing with veterans and enthusiastic community members, many of whom were outfitted for the occasion. James Oefelein wore his actual Marine Corps uniform from his five years of service, and was accompanied by friends in less authentic but equally appropriate one-piece flight suits.

Former Marine James Oefelein, in the tan suit, poses with friends at the Riverwalk Theatre.
Carolyn Paletta/Vail Daily

In front of the theater, Trotter and his wife Jill Trotter donned bomber jackets and Top Gun hats. Trotter met with moviegoers and answered questions about his experiences in the Navy, and how realistic the movie is.

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Trotter said that he personally knows the admiral who was tasked with signing off on all of the maneuvers shown in the film, and that as hard as it is to imagine, all of them are real and performed by actual Navy pilots.

“We are not allowed to fly that low in the Navy — 500 by yourself — but you’ll see him between 40 and 50 feet, and there are cameras under the wing,” Trotter said. “You will not believe it. You’re going to get goosebumps when you watch it, and it’s real.”

Advanced camera technology also allows viewers to get a better sense of the speed and intensity of the flight patterns that they are watching on screen. Trotter emphasized the physical toll that flying at such speeds takes on the pilot, and though he’s experienced plenty of high G-force situations during his years in the Navy, he admitted that those maneuvers are behind him.

“You’ll see when he does some of the maneuvers, it’s punishing because you’re like eight times your own weight at eight Gs,” Trotter said. “I don’t have the 7.5-G body. The mind is there, the body’s not.”

Tom Trotter flying his current fighter plane, one of only two like it in the U.S.
Jill Trotter/Courtesy photo

Riverwalk Theater owner Grant Smith hosted the screening and did not take any of the profits from the show. He said it was a great opportunity to raise both money and awareness for the Vail Veterans Program.

“I believe that we should find ways to help others, and if we can use this to help other people and collectively get together as human beings, then that’s what we are about here at Riverwalk Theater,” Smith said.

Sarah Heredia, the operations and development manager for the Vail Veterans Program, said that around 160 tickets were sold, and the proceeds will go toward funding their many programs.

“We’re so happy with the turnout, and it was a great opportunity to connect with the local community that remains so supportive of our important mission,” Heredia said.

Trotter completes a young audience member’s uniform with a pair of aviator sunglasses.
Carolyn Paletta/Vail Daily

Before the movie, Trotter met with one of the youngest audience members, who came dressed in head-to-toe fighter pilot apparel, and completed the look with a pair of aviator sunglasses. The original “Top Gun” movie inspired a whole new generation of fighter pilots and caused a massive spike in applications to the Navy. Trotter said that the landscape and technology have changed since his and Maverick’s early days, but that there will always be people called to service in the skies.

“They’re a little thin in the ranks these days, believe it or not,” Trotter said. “I’ll tell you it’s a calling. It’s a tough job. The service and the sacrifice is tremendous, but we still have volunteers that want to serve this country and be gone for that amount of time.”

“Top Gun: Maverick” is out in theaters everywhere this weekend. For upcoming showtimes at Riverwalk Theater, visit

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