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Who Was the Real Charlie Blackwood?

Charlie Blackwood, the love interest for the character played by Tom Cruise in the 1986 film “Top Gun,” may be a fictional character, but she was inspired by a real CNA analyst: Christine Fox. At the height of the Cold War, Fox spent two years as the CNA field representative at Naval Air Station Miramar, where TOPGUN was based. Around that time, producers and screenwriters were milling about Top Gun, refining ideas for a film. Both the lead actress, Kelly McGillis, and the TOPGUN commanding officer had rejected the first couple of ideas for the female lead’s career. They needed to come up with a plausible job that would bring her in contact with a Navy pilot. Then someone spotted Fox, and a famous Hollywood romance between a Navy aviator with the call sign “Maverick” and his operations analyst was hatched.

But there were many differences between Charlie and Fox. Like all CNA analysts at TOPGUN since 1975, Fox worked with the instructors, developing tactics. She was not teaching student fighter pilots. And Fox has her graduate degree in applied mathematics, not astrophysics. Finally, Fox did not wear black-seamed stockings or high heels, costuming decisions both she and McGillis found ridiculous.

Fox, who later became acting deputy secretary of defense in the Pentagon, spent her years at TOPGUN developing and refining fighter pilot tactics for the Outer Air Battle. The aim was to defend a massive perimeter around aircraft carriers from long-range Soviet bombers. For much of that time, Fox was devising mathematical models for flight plans on Top Gun’s Wang computer. She recalls, “while the results were getting plotted — kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk — out of the old printer, pilot instructors would hear it and come running. They would huddle around the Wang, rip it off the printer and run away saying, ‘Let’s plan flights.’ I’d say, ‘No! I haven’t checked it.’ They couldn’t do the modeling, but I couldn’t do it without their insight.”