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American Impression: Two guys, 'Top Gun' and a perpetual road trip through America

How a former architecture student from Quebec and an insurance broker from Arizona City have found a life traveling America impersonating pilots from "Top Gun."

Judd Slivka

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Published: 7:20 PM EDT August 1, 2023
Updated: 6:15 PM EDT August 2, 2023

People here say the air here smells like money. It’s a constant refrain. This is the cow center of Texas and the air is heavy with the scent of manure. But if you’re a rancher or a dairyman or feedlot owner, the smell of cow stink is, in fact, the smell of money.

It’s 4 a.m., dark and hazy and stinky. Somewhere in the manure cloud, a guy who looks like Maverick from "Top Gun" is running down a mostly deserted U.S. 87, turning right out of the Holiday Inn Express driveway, past the dark Tractor Supply Co., arms pumping and heading down the commercial strip.

Or maybe he’s not. I wasn’t there to see it, I just heard about it later that morning. It could be true or it could be part of the myth. The story of a Maverick and an Iceman impersonator traveling around the country in 2023 really is a story about myths. The physical resemblance, the lines they rattle off from the "Top Gun" movies, the flight suits, the people who gather to get pictures with them: It all mingles together, fiction and non-fiction, until it becomes a self-perpetuating legend about a movie and the movie becomes real life and real life resembles the movie.

It’s a uniquely American success story built on the shoulders of a French-Canadian, a guy from the bland suburbs of Phoenix and a story that some parts of America have held tight for 37 years.

And a trip to an airshow in rural Texas puts a spotlight on it. All of it.

Credit: Judd Slivka
Jerome LeBlanc (l) and Brian Ernst, Top Gun impersonators, walk away from the Commemorative Air Force's Devil Dog B-25 bomber.

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