USS Midway Museum


The future of tomorrow’s military is developing in the nation’s high schools today. There are currently more than 500,000 student cadets participating in nearly 3,300 Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) units around the country.

As part of their leadership development training, the cadets participate annually in the JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge.

Enter the USS Midway Museum’s Leadership Academy.

“Using the example of famous U.S. Navy Flying Midshipmen like Jim Lovell and Neil Armstrong, both former Navy pilots and NASA astronauts, the cadets were challenged to identify the character traits of a good leader and discuss how they can continue to develop their own character as they become future leaders,” said Chase Odell, Midway’s youth and leadership programs manager. 

In 2015, Midway’s education department partnered with the Travis Manion Foundation to create an onboard leadership program dedicated to teaching and improving character development skills in future generations. The academy features a day-long program that helps develop young adults as values-based leaders.

While on board Midway, the cadets were challenged with three different hands-on activities that allowed to them to put their leadership lessons into action.

The first was an obstacle course they had to navigate as a team with no spoken communication. The second challenge was to, again as a team, build the tallest structure possible in 10 minutes given only 10 balloons and a roll of tape. The last team activity was completing a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces needed, unbeknownst to the cadets, placed in the puzzle boxes of other teams.

“These challenges focused on a number of leadership qualities needed to be successful not only as military officers, but as leaders in all walks of life,” said Chase. “The focus of the lessons tested the cadets in several areas including teamwork, perseverance, creativity, integrity, judgement and humility.”

The cadets where very appreciative for the opportunity to attend Midway’s leadership program and enjoyed the interaction with their mentors as well as tackling the challenges.

“These activities where cool and fun,” said one of the San Diego High School cadets. “I can’t wait to use them next year with our freshman cadets.”

Since the museum’s Leadership Academy piloted seven years ago, thousands of youths from the San Diego community have participated in the character and leadership development curriculum.

The program’s goal is to empower students to develop their unique character strengths and to hone their leadership skills in order to better serve others.

“Every cadet was smiling and having fun,” said Lt. Col. Lars Staack, the senior Army instructor for the San Diego Unified School District. “It shows that the Midway team cares about the future leaders and makes learning fun.”

“Praise like this make us look forward to hosting more leadership academies on Midway,” said Chase. “We hope to continue our new partnership with the Army JROTC and its leadership challenge program next year.”

“Top Gun: Maverick” movie madness has taken the world by storm this summer. In the two months since its release, the much-anticipated sequel, starring Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, has grossed more than $1 billion in box-office sales domestically and internationally.

The red-carpet fan experience for the movie held on the USS Midway Museum in early May, which involved all the film’s stars, was also an overwhelming success. The media coverage for the epic world-premiere event on board the ship reached an estimated viewing, listening and reading audience of more than 9 billion people globally (yes, that’s more than the population of the planet).

As Midway prepared for its first post-pandemic summer in more than two years, the museum’s marketing team worked closely with its advertising agency, VITRO, to see how the “Top Gun” phenomena could be incorporated in the ship’s summer marketing campaign.

“There are very few naval ship museums in the world where visitors can get as intimate a taste for aircraft carrier aviation as they can on Midway,” said David Koontz, Midway’s director of marketing. “Exhibiting 30 beautifully restored military aircraft ranging from World War II era to the present day, Midway prides itself on bringing naval aviation and the Navy’s history to life.”

For VITRO, tapping into the power of “Top Gun” made perfect sense in marketing summer visitation to Midway.

“It all stemmed from the insight of turning fiction into nonfiction,” said Ricky Harpin, Midway’s advertising account manager for VITRO.  “Although “Top Gun” is a fictional movie, it’s based on a real group of aviators that experience real heart-pumping action, and land on real aircraft carriers like the USS Midway. Leveraging the fandom and excitement around the film, we encouraged movie lovers to visit the museum for an authentic, real-life “Top Gun” experience that they could only get here in San Diego.”

The VITRO team has worked with Midway for nearly four years and knows well the vision and culture of the museum.  Having the opportunity to channel “Top Gun” as a vehicle to create an advertising campaign was an exciting proposition.

“We were beyond thrilled to work with the Midway to develop a campaign that could inspire a whole new generation of “Top Gun” lovers,” said Ricky. “The museum and everything that it represents is such an interesting and authentic story to tell, and that’s what made creating such a unique advertising program both effective and fun to work on.”

As with all marketing and advertising efforts, the goal is to always maximize exposure within an established budget.  This process is often as important as the actual development of creative components of any campaign.

“It was all about being in the right place, at the right time, in front of the right people in order to build awareness and drive ticket bookings,” said Ricky. “Knowing that there was going to be a lot of attention on the movie, we capitalized on this by buying digital placements where we knew interested audiences would be Googling and visiting online “Top Gun” movie sites and articles.”

Along with creation of digital advertisements for online and social media sites, VITRO knew that theaters would be packed with movie goers, especially in the first several weeks following the film’s release. To make the most of this opportunity, they produced a fun and engaging 30-second video, shown in local theaters, of museum visitors on Midway’s flight deck reciting some of the classic lines from the original “Top Gun” on camera.

“When we had their captive attention in the theater, we showed them the entertaining video during the previews,” said Ricky. “We were also able to digitally retarget the same visitors to encourage them to visit the museum.”

The in-cinema video ran for six weeks in 17 San Diego-area theaters on more than 250 movie screens. It was estimated that more than 750,000 people watched the video.

The “Top Gun” summer marketing campaign for Midway is a perfect example of exceptional strategic planning coupled with playful creativity and insightful tactical execution taking advantage of an extraordinary moment in time.

“A visit to Midway is one of the most unique museum experiences anyone can have,” said David. “Having our summer advertising be, in essence, a wingman to the new “Top Gun” movie proved to be tremendously successful in attracting new as well as repeat visitors to the ship.”

The third season of United Stories of America is now available on the USS Midway Museum’s YouTube channel.

This five-part video series highlights the USS Midway as a floating city. This season’s docuseries tells fascinating stories of what it took to operate this giant warship. The videos focus on the captains that commanded the carrier; the dangers of working on the flight deck; life at sea with 4,500 of your closest friends; the ballet dance of flight operations; and resupplying a ship in the middle of the ocean. 

United Stories of America is underwritten by USAA. The three-year project exports the inspirational museum-visitor experience to the web, educating and inspiring people around the world.

Floating City
Flight Ops
Dangerous Jobs

What started as an action-packed movie paying homage to naval aviation in the mid-1980s, has evolved over the past three decades into an international phenomenon that has built a massive and still growing global cult following.

It’s estimated, albeit unofficially, that members of “Top Gun” fan clubs, Facebook groups and Tom Cruise fansites around the world number in the hundreds of thousands, maybe even more.

These fans crave, in a good way, everything “Top Gun.”  They love to eat, sleep and drink anything related to a film that has become one of Hollywood’s all-time iconic motion pictures.

“There is the love of aviation that draws people in,” said Paul “Chappie” Ward, a Midway volunteer docent and member of one of the largest “Top Gun” Facebook groups. “It’s just the film itself, the cinematography, soundtrack and relationships grab you.” 

In 2018, Michael Sherriff established a “Top Gun” Facebook group in his native Scotland. In four short years, the group’s fan base has grown to nearly 80,000. In the last month alone, more than one million people have visited this Facebook page.

On the eve of the public release of the new “Top Gun: Maverick” film, more than 200 members of the Facebook group converged on San Diego from nine countries for a bus tour of filming locations, panel discussion with the filmmakers of the original “Top Gun,” lively dinner at Kansas City BBQ (made famous in the original motion picture) and a behind-the-scenes visit to the USS Midway Museum.

The tour of Midway was designed to show members of the group many of the actual spaces on an aircraft carrier that they saw in the movie. 

“Those who toured Midway were just blown away by the sheer size of the ship,” said Paul, who facilitated the ship visit. “Being able to share the Midway story with new friends was wonderful. Seeing them experience eureka moments and make a personal connection with not only the function of a carrier, but with those young men who made Midway Magic happen every day for 47 years was very fulfilling.”

“I have a deeper amount of respect for this film, which I didn’t know was possible,” said Kristine Wateri, a group member who traveled to San Diego from Oregon. “After being on the Midway’s flight deck, talking with “Top Gun” pilots, and learning about life on a carrier, this film has an even deeper meaning for me.”

Bill Badalato, the executive producer of “Top Gun,” was also with the group during its visit to Midway. Walking on the museum’s flight deck brought back memories of when he was filming scenes on an aircraft carrier for the original movie more than 30 years ago.

“It’s very impressive the engineering that goes into the launching of aircraft,” said the 81-year-old producer whose credits also include the films “Broken Arrow,” “Alien: Resurrection” and “Men of Honor.” “I had seen the steam on the flight deck but did not realize the process beneath the flight deck. It was overwhelming.”

The F-14 Tomcat was the favorite stop on the tour of the USS Midway Museum for the “Top Gun” Fan Club.

Classrooms from 25 states have now experienced USS Midway Museum’s distance learning virtual field trip programs presented by Qualcomm Incorporated. In all, since distance learning programs began, more than 250 live broadcasts covering 14 locations on board Midway have reached more than 10,000 students in more than 440 different classrooms.

According to educators who’ve experienced Midway’s distance learning programs, the reason for their popularity is not only the engaging live presentations, but also the pre- and post-lesson materials and activities received as part of the experience which included downloadable video content that supports the live experience;  live questions and answer time which allows students to demonstrate their grasp of STEM principles; the ability to use the distance learning content in both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments; and the technical ease of participating.

“We meet the teachers where they are, using whatever technologies and platforms they have available to them,” said Wayne Nuzzolo, Midway school programs manager. “With Midway technology, we can make our distance learning programs available to virtually any classroom, educator, or student live or through content downloads like the Midway Math application.”

“We’re thrilled that the Midway’s virtual programming has expanded their reach to students across the country,” says Natalie Dusi, manager of corporate responsibility at Qualcomm Incorporated. “Connecting students to these hands-on STEM experiences is vital to providing equal access to educational resources and encouraging students from all backgrounds to participate in the STEM ecosystem.”

Teacher’s from around the country have been thrilled with the quality of Midway’s distance learning program.

“The moment it was over, my class was buzzing about their favorite parts,” said a  teacher from Anchorage, Alaska. “And it was also cool for some kids to get to see sunny California, since some of them haven’t ever left Alaska.”

“We had such a great virtual tour,” said another teacher from Las Cruces, N.M. “It was full of information and was engaging for our students.”

On another exciting note, Midway’s new Introduction to Computer Science program, also presented by Qualcomm, supports students in grades 6-8. The program teaches basic computer technology and shows how computers, computing systems, hardware, software, cybersecurity, and data analysis were used on board Midway.

For asynchronous study, Midway’s STEAM Student Tour app is another popular program. Using video, animation and augmented reality, the app, presented by Qualcomm, guides students on a virtual tour of Midway spaces like the fo’c’sle, enlisted berthing, flight deck, the ship’s galley. It also portrays underway replenishment and helicopter flight operations. At each stop, students are challenged with IRL (in real life) math problems that must be solved in order to continue their virtual tour. The module was developed for both synchronous and asynchronous educational settings, meaning the experience can be conducted within a classroom setting or assigned to students to explore and experience on their own.

Qualcomm also continues their support for Midway’s “No Child Left Ashore” scholarship fund hosting the first 250 classrooms which register each year for distance learning field trips and Midway education’s Damage Control Shipboard Engineering program. The program uses the Navy’s damage control model to teach middle school students how to identify and use engineering concepts to create solutions for situations sailors might encounter onboard.

Qualcomm is the world’s leading wireless technology innovator and the driving force behind the development, launch, and expansion of 5G. When we connected the phone to the internet, the mobile revolution was born. Today, our foundational technologies enable the mobile ecosystem and are found in every 3G, 4G and 5G smartphone. We bring the benefits of mobile to new industries, including automotive, the internet of things, and computing, and are leading the way to a world where everything and everyone can communicate and interact seamlessly.

GEICO Military has invested in USS Midway Museum’s mission to pro-actively engage its guests and create a fun and inspirational experience by sponsoring the ship’s self-guided general and family audio tours. Recorded in the voices of the sailors who served on Midway, the audio tours guide guests through Midway’s decks and spaces recounting what life at sea was like on board the longest serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century.

“GEICO has been proudly serving military personnel for more than 85 years. The USS Midway is an extension of our respect and support for the men and women who serve and have served our country. We are honored and proud to partner with the Midway team,” says Jay Snead, director, GEICO military affairs team.

The partnership delivers GEICO Military brand visibility through onboard tour stop signage and audio tour handset lanyards as well as a recorded introduction on both audio tours. As part of the partnership, Midway also introduced a tour stop telling the GEICO Military story and of their support for military families beginning in 1936.

GEICO Military also sponsors the three American For Disabilities (ADA) virtual video tour kiosks; one kiosk each on the flight deck, hangar deck, and 2nd deck. The authentic nature of a guest’s visit on board Midway can present access challenges for some individuals. 

The three kiosks use interactive video to tell the stories of Midway’s sick bay, engine room, officer country, island (bridge), Damage Control Central, and city at sea for those who have difficulty accessing those physical spaces on board. These engaging, interactive kiosks offer guests a menu of story options covering the specific experience. Each kiosk includes a large monitor and display board to familiarize guests with the on-screen content options.

According to Craig Fisher, Midway’s director of partnership marketing, GEICO Military’s support for Midway has grown over the past several years.

“From sponsorship of Midway’s patriotic-themed public special events and the Operation Frequent Wind exhibit to self-guided audio tours and virtual video tour kiosks, GEICO Military helps the museum tell the stories that help us appreciate the courage and sacrifice of those who serve,” said Craig.