CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – University of Illinois alumnus Scott Altman has worn many hats in the world of aerospace. He has known he wanted to be a pilot since he was 3 years old watching “Sky King” on TV.

“I turned to my parents and said, ‘you know what, I want to fly. That’s what I want to be when I grow up,” he said. 

What Altman didn’t know was that he would be too tall to fly in the Air Force. The Air Force told him he had a tall sitting height and could not be an Air Force pilot. Instead, he spent time in the Navy as a pilot, flew to space with NASA for five straight spacewalks and even flew for Tom Cruise in the original “Top Gun” movie.

He wore the same flight suit and helmet as Cruise while flying. But, since Cruise’s helmet was fit for his own head, it was too small for Altman and he said that it was not fun to wear it!

Altman was able to transfer the skills that he learned as an engineering student at U of I to the big screen while in this role. He tried many different stunts that he would not have been able to do in any other environment. 

He flew over low terrain at Naval Air Station Fallon, operated many different planes off of the coast and participated in a lot of “air combat maneuvering,” also known as “ACM” or “dog fighting.”

One of his favorite memories was “buzzing the tower” where he landed at a lower height very close to the control tower. In fact, he got to do it nine times to make sure they got the perfect take. If he did that any other time outside of filming “Top Gun” he would have had his wings stripped off. 

Normally air combat is spread out. For the movie, however, they had to make adjustments and fly close together so everything would fit on the screen. This was one of the most challenging aspects to adjust to. 

“You had to get the timing right and put a full stick deflection in before you saw the guy right above you start to move,” he said. 
It was an experience that Altman will never forget. Today, he has tracked more than 7,000 hours in many types of aircrafts, and he has spent 51 total days in space. He currently serves as the president for the space operating group at ASRC Federal. None of this would have been possible without a rejection from the Air Force, but an acceptance from the University of Illinois Engineering.