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Real-life ‘top gun’ & Lowville native soars in upcoming sequel

Real-life 'top gun' hails from Lowville.
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 6:04 AM EDT
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If you keep a keen eye while watching the “Top Gun” sequel coming out this week, you may see a north country native in the sky. Emily Griffin brings us his story.

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - “Top Gun” is a movie about an elite Navy flight school. This week, Tom Cruise returns as Maverick for the film’s sequel.

He is an actor. But Orion Kelly, a Lowville native, is the real deal.

“Growing up, my dad was also a Navy pilot,” Kelly said. “I ended up growing up in upstate New York, went to Lowville Academy, graduated there in 2007.

He went on to study engineering at RIT, then was commissioned in the Navy and began flight school.

He learned to master different aircraft in Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Virginia, and California. He also deployed with the Nighthawks in 2015. After his tour, he was accepted to TOPGUN.

“TOPGUN was something that always interested me,” he said. “I watched the original, it’s one of my earlier memories. I remember watching it with my dad when I was a little kid. I can’t say it was the thing that inspired me to do what I did, but I can’t say it wasn’t, at least some part of it. It’s very performance based, as well as your character. Very challenging but very rewarding as well.”

After finishing the program, he became an instructor for TOPGUN. And that is how he found himself at the right place, right time for a movie cameo.

“So obviously the movie wanted to have actual aircraft flying and real pilots, so it was just kind of luck of the draw,” Kelly said. “I was available to go and fly that day and was able to then have the opportunity to go do that.”

He says it means a lot to see his profession represented on the big screen.

“I know when the first movie came out, there was a big jump in Navy recruiting, so I hope it does that again and of course shows our profession in a positive light.”

You won’t exactly see Kelly in the film, but shots with the aircraft zooming by? That’s him.

“It certainly will be a time capsule I can look back and say for those few seconds I’m in a fleeting shot,” he said. I’ll show my kids one day that’s daddy out there. But more importantly, it’ll bring back memories of the other members of the TOPGUN staff, some of my closest friends that I was able to meet and develop professionally with. I think that’s the biggest thing the movie is going give me, not the movie itself but the memories of the time surrounding the movie.

Kelly is now a training officer in California, with his wife and three children.

“I certainly did not see myself where I am today back when I was graduating high school in 2007, aside from just saying ‘that’s what I would like to do someday.’ If you have a goal, just shoot for it and you never know where you’re going to end up.”

“Top Gun: Maverick” hits theaters this Friday, but the Lowville Town Hall Theater -- so excited for their hometown hero -- struck a deal to play the film for free this Thursday.

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