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Air Force: Disgraced Rep. Cunningham was inspiration for Top Gun

Ron Brynaert
Published: March 3, 2006

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Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, sentenced to 8 years, 4 months in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes in return for unduly influencing the awarding of Defense Department contracts, was once the "inspiration" for the '80s Tom Cruise movie "Top Gun," RAW STORY has found.

From a biography of Cunningham at the Air Force Website:


Randy H. “Duke” Cunningham was the first American pilot ace of the Vietnam War. Born in 1941 in Los Angeles, California, he was told by a soothsayer as a child that he would become a famous pilot. After earning two degrees in education from the University of Missouri and then coaching two high school swimmers to Olympic medals, Cunningham was commissioned in the US Navy in 1967. He graduated at the top of his class in 1968 and was then sent to the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II Replacement Air Group at Miramar, California.


Upon graduation, Cunningham’s new unit, Fighter Squadron 96 (VF-96), was unprepared to receive him so he was given temporary duty at the new “Top Gun” Fighter Weapons School. He eventually joined VF-96 and participated with them in the Navy’s first-ever Fleet Adversary Program, which was similar to a mini-Top Gun class. It was also at this time that his love for John Wayne movies and his aggressive character earned him the nickname “Duke.”

Following an uneventful tour in Vietnam aboard the USS America, his unit returned to Miramar to complete a second Fleet Adversary Program. VF-96 then returned to combat aboard the USS Constellation. On 19 January 1972, Cunningham and radar intercept officer, Bill Driscoll, downed a MiG-21 Fishbed in a treetop-level dogfight. It was their first victory and ended a 2-year lull in the air war.

On 8 May 1972, Cunningham engaged three MiG-17 Frescos and shot one tailing his wingman. Two days later, at the onset of Operation LINEBACKER, over 20 MiGs attacked his formation while flying east of Hanoi. In an intense battle, he quickly destroyed a MiG-17. Turning to assist others, he downed a second MiG-17, saving his executive officer. He then flew head-on into another MiG-17. However, this adversary was no ordinary pilot. It took three engagements, but Cunningham managed to down him. Unfortunately, while heading back to the carrier, his Phantom was hit by an SA-2 Guideline. Ejecting over the Gulf of Tonkin, he and Driscoll were rescued by a Navy helicopter.

After the war, Cunningham held several staff positions and eventually commanded Fighter Squadron 126, the Pacific Fleet Adversary Squadron. He retired in 1987 and took a position as the Dean of the School of Aviation at National University in San Diego, California. Passionate about civic affairs, Cunningham ran for public office in 1990. In 2002, he was elected to his seventh term in the House of Representatives, representing California's 50th Congressional District. Cunningham currently serves on the House Appropriations Committee, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and on five subcommittees.

SETTING: On 10 May 1972, Duke Cunningham became the first pilot ace of the Vietnam War and the first Navy jet ace in history. He was also the only American to down three MiGs in one day, including a victory over a leading ace. Unable to out-climb the MiG, Cunningham chopped the throttles on his McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II and slowed to 150 knots. When the MiG overshot him, Cunningham closed quickly and destroyed it. His actions earned him a Medal of Honor nomination. He was also the inspiration for the hit movie Top Gun.


RAW STORY has learned, via a WHOIS search at Network Solutions, that Cunningham has a Website called Top Gun Enterprises Inc. at

Although the site says that it is "new" and still "under construction," it was registered in May, 2001, and active as late as June of 2005.

An archived cache from last May shows that Cunningham used the Website to sell an assortment of products including an autobiogaphy called "Fox Two," a 35 minute VHS video called "TOP GUN The Story Behind The Story," and the Randy "Duke" Cunningham Fighter Ace Buck Knife.

Near the bottom of the products page at Cunningham's site was a logo which included the slogan "Have MIG will travel."

""Duke" Cunningham is a Congressman we can be proud of," began the biography which once ran at

According to an article written for California's North County Times last June, "Cunningham placed the value of Top Gun Enterprises at between $500,000 and $2 million."

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