In the movie Independence Day, one of the characters ends up saving the day by flying an F/A-18 fighter jet into the Alien Mothership.

That character's only previous experience flying was crop-dusting with a small crop-dusting plane (and we can assume he wasn't necessarily the best pilot there, but was competent).

While I understand there are holes, and exaggerations, etc. in the movie, I was curious - Could you train a pilot who has only flown small crop-dusting planes to successfully take off and fly a fighter jet within say, 1 month?

Or for all practical purposes would it be better to simply not use that pilot (because they might crash the plane on takeoff, etc.)?

(I'm unsure if this is a better fit over on Aviation SE or here...)

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    It's more feasible than aliens visiting Earth and uploading viruses to unkown computer systems
    – Keltari
    Dec 21, 2018 at 5:04
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    When the character described his background as "After 'Nam, I got into crop dusting....", I figured that he had been a fighter pilot in Vietnam, and then had transitioned to crop dusting afterwards, so he had some fighter experience, even if a long time ago and on a different plane. I admit that it is vague on this point. Dec 21, 2018 at 14:07
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    @Keltari In fairness, it wasn't an unknown computer system. The movie indicates that our computers and other technological wonders were developed based on the alien tech that landed in the 50s.
    – ceejayoz
    Dec 21, 2018 at 15:06
  • No one has really answered the question, and while I'm not certain, and I agree Aviation would be a better stack for this, from what I know of flying, a month seems like enough time to be able to at least fly a fighter jet if one is starting with flight experience on a small plane. All of the principles of flight are the same. The feel and the critical speeds and altitudes and etc. all change. Probably the hardest thing to learn would be the avionics (radar, etc.), reading the HUD, using weapons, radio, afterburners, and other fighter-only things. Merely flying seems a lot more doable. Dec 22, 2018 at 0:12
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    Congratulations though, this question is the winner of the corresponding topic challenge.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 30, 2018 at 22:19

2 Answers 2


The character of Russell Casse is currently employed crop-dusting, but this is not his only experience flying.

According to this wiki, he is a former F-4 fighter pilot and fought in the Vietnam War.

While getting competent in any plane requires some familiarity and training, it's a far more likely conversion from one fighter jet to another, than from a propeller driven crop duster to an F/A-18.

From one copy of the script:

Well, I'm, uh, Russell Casse, sir. And, uh... after 'Nam, I got into crop-dusting. And, uh... been doing that ever since.

Which at the very least implies heavily that he has combat flying experience and transferred to crop dusting after he got out of service, even if there is no specific mention of the F-4.

Even if there were no in-script evidence of his service history, a large number of commercial pilots in the USA are ex-military. This article indicates that at the time the movie was released this was still over 50%, and older pilots are more likely to be ex-military. Now not all pilots are fighter pilots, but I think on balance this is not a particularly unlikely plot point.

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    Ohh, that makes sense! I haven't seen the movie in a while and forgot (or never caught on) he was a former military pilot.
    – BruceWayne
    Dec 20, 2018 at 21:41
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    Yeah, though I'm trying to track down specific in-movie quotes to support that - at the very least he is a stereotype of a PTSD afflicted vietnam vet.
    – iandotkelly
    Dec 20, 2018 at 21:45
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    Side note! If you watch another ending of the movie, he's flying an old bi-plane with a bomb on it into the mouth of the mother ship instead of the fighter jet. Dec 20, 2018 at 21:54
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    @iandotkelly , that was the original ending, technically, wasn't it? And then they added the 'alternate' ending of him being in an F/A-18 which eventually "morphed" into being accepted as the normal ending? I thought...........could be wrong. Dec 20, 2018 at 21:58
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    The theatrical release he flies a jet exclusively in the big attack. There is a portion where he flie back in to save the day after all the rest of the pilots have expended their missiles, but when he attempts to fire the missile locks fail, which motivates his heroic sacrifice. youtube.com/watch?v=VHJWlPGKe5s Dec 21, 2018 at 4:15

All Russell said was:

"I can fly, I'm a pilot"

It was later in the briefing that Russell filled in a bit of his story,

(Russell giving his background to Major Mitchell) Well, I'm, uh, Russell Casse, sir. And, uh... after 'Nam, I got into crop-dusting. And, uh... been doing that ever since. On a personal note, sir, I'd just like to add that, uh...ever since I was kidnapped by aliens 10 years ago,...I have been dyin' for some payback, and I...just want you to know that, uh... I won't let you down.

But in an alternate ending Russell flew his biplane into the alien ship...

[Narrator] So this scene exists in the movie as is but it ends a certain point. We wanted show that they were so desperate for pilots that they'd ask anybody. That's where we ended in the final version of the movie, but here's how it originally ended...

[Major Mitchell] Sorry, sir.

[Russell Casse] Wait a minute you don't understand... I... I got to be a part of this, it's important to me. These guys, they, they, ruined my life.

[MM] Why don't you just go sleep that off sir.

[RC] scoffs But I can fly! You want people that can fly, I can fly! It's the one thing I do...

[Narrator] The original idea was to show how he was... the one talent he had he couldn't use in an important moment. He would later show up in his biplane and save the day. But what we lost by that, we never able to actually see him sobering up, we weren't able to see him in training, and so all those scenes were shot later in the last minute.

So what this tells us is that Russell originally wasn't supposed to have any jet-fighter experience, but was later changed to fit the story better.

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