The opening and final scenes in Top Gun: Maverick in the Mojave Desert hangar with the silver P-51 Mustang, which also appears in the video with Lady Gaga, were filmed at the Inyokern Airport in California. The typical WWII military architecture of Pete Mitchell’s hangar didn’t go unnoticed by the expert eye, so we decided to investigate.
The airstrip at Inyokern Airport was built as an emergency landing field in 1935. During WWII the Inyokern Airport was used by the US Navy as Harvey Field and opened on May 10, 1944. Harvey Field was also used as the China Lake Auxiliary Field. Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern opened on December 12, 1943, with a 900-square mile test range. Vought F4U Corsair trained at the base. Harvey Field is named after Lieutenant Commander Warren W. Harvey for his work on aviation Ordnance for aircraft. Harvey commanded Fighting Squadron Three (VF-3) before the start of WWII, elaborating the plans for fighting plane tactics. Harvey Field officially closed in April 1946.
After WWII, the Quonset huts and several other buildings were moved to the new China Lake facility, a few buildings were sold to the townspeople and a few more buildings were demolished. However, the control tower, the Kodiak hangar, fuel pits, ammunition bunkers, and the runways remained. The County regained control of the airport and named it Kern County Airport #8 but the transfer was not recorded until 1952.
In 1952, the first commercial passenger flight from Inyokern to Burbank was initiated. The fare was $5.00 each way and the aircraft was a DC-3, with a stewardess on board. The aircraft was named “City of Inyokern.” A small parking lot was paved near the terminal to accommodate the new business. The author remembers using this service many times during the late 1950s and 1960s.
The control tower was removed in 1959. The remaining Navy-built building became the airport terminal. Improvements were made to the airport in the 1970s and 80s in the form of new landing Radar, a fire department, new roads, and runway repairs. In 1985 the Indian Wells Valley Airport District was formed. In 1998, Skywest Airlines, United Parcel Service, Federal Express, and others used the airport on a daily basis. Many new facilities have been added over the years. Armitage Field at China Lake became the new Naval Air Station, China Lake in 1955. Its mission was to provide support for research, development, and test and evaluation work in connection with guided missiles, aircraft weapons delivery systems, aircraft rockets, rocket launchers, underwater ordnance, and aviation fire control and target drone operations.
Today Inyokern Airport is a public airport located 1 nautical mile northwest of the central business district of Inyokern, in Kern County, California. It is owned by the Indian Wells Valley Airport District and serves the Indian Wells Valley area. The airport is mostly used for general aviation and was previously serviced by a number of commuter and regional airlines over the years, with passenger flights to Los Angeles a prior occurrence.How a retired Navy Captain could own such a hangar and a P-51 Mustang still remains a mystery.