Maverick’s WWII Hangar

The Inyokern Airport WWII era "Kodiak" Hangar as appeared in the movie Top Gun: Maverick.


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 front of the Inyokern Airport WWII era “Kodiak” Hangar. Photo by Seven Comber

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.

The inside of the Inyokern Airport WWII era “Kodiak” Hangar. Photo by Seven Comber

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.

Owned and flown by legendary actor Tom Cruise, the aircraft was built in 1944 at the North American Aviation plant in Dallas, Texas. It was built as F-6K 44-12840 – a photo-reconnaissance variant of the P-51. One of just 163 such examples ever built, it carried two Eastman Kodak K-24 cameras in fuselage mounts to overfly enemy territory and capture images of potential targets or battlefield damage. Photo courtesy of SDSA

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.

16 Comments

  1. It’s one of the benefits of it being a movie is it doesn’t have to be factually accurate as are many things in the film including Tom Cruise owning a mustang and a hanger

      • Kids and wives are expensive.
        Not having either frees up lots of money for other things, like investments: find a vacant commercial property, make a down payment, fix it up, rent it out.

    • As has been stated in the article AND in the comments here, Tom Cruise does own a Mustang. From the caption above, it is the rarer photo reconnaissance version, an F-6K 44-12840, as also used in the film. It’s registered as N51EW to ‘Valhalla Aviation Inc’, of Los Angeles CA. (Also, just for accuracy, for aircraft the building is a ‘hangar’ not ‘hanger’.)

      • He does own a P51 mustang he paid 4 million for it . Check your facts people he has been a pilot since 1994. And he is flying it in the Lady GaGa video Hold my Hand.

      • It’s no sillier than his dockworker character in “War of the Worlds” driving a 1966 Shelby GT-350H everyday.

    • Actually I remember a very young 1 Star General in USAF/ESC owning his own P-51 and a vintage Corvette so the reality of a single Naval Commander who doesn’t appear to have any expensive hobbies and drives a motorcycle, owning his own P-51 and a hanger does not seem all that far fetched

  2. It’s not hard when you think about it. Captain Pete Mitchell served in the US Navy for thirty plus years. He could have acquired one in the 1980s. The P-51 served in several Central and South American countries until the late 1970s. Most were sold to private individuals in the 1980s and 1990s for $5-600,000.

  3. There are plenty of ways that Maverick could own that Mustang. My version is that Duke Mitchell actually bought it surplus in the 60s when they were cheap and before he disappeared across a line on a map. Pete inherited it.

  4. Nice article! Grew up in Ridgecrest and didn’t know about so much history of Inyokern Airport. Took commuter flights to LA, they used say carry your vomit bags when the dessert wind picks up.

  5. It is not unusual for affluent airplane owners to share their bird with a professional pilot and/or mechanic. I know some. As to Penney owning the Porsche she was driving, a juicy divorce settlement could well support such a lifestyle.

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