The Whitefish native serves in the Navy’s prestigious TOPGUN program


A Whitefish native serves with Naval Aviation Warfare Development Center supporting TOPGUN Airmen at the Navy’s premier Tactical Air Warfare Training Center.

Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Zignego graduated from Whitefish High School in 2003.

“I understood the importance of respect and hierarchical structure before joining the Navy, which certainly helped me adapt to the culture,” Zignego said.

These lessons helped Zignego while he served in the Navy.

Today, Zignego is an aviation electronics technician aboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon, Nevada.

Fifty-two years ago, TOPGUN was introduced with the mission of reducing naval aviator casualties suffered during the Vietnam War. Within a year, this goal was achieved, with the United States having one casualty for every 12 enemy killed. Since then, TOPGUN has continued to train the best naval aviators and inspired a blockbuster movie released in May 1986, with a sequel scheduled for May 2022.

Today’s U.S. Navy Airmen possess the professionalism, tactical skills, innovative spirit, and understanding of advanced technologies to succeed against adversaries. They are disciplined, critical thinkers who excel in harsh environments – like those seen in the film, according to US Navy officials.

“I am extremely excited about the impact this film will have,” said Vice Admiral Kenneth Whitesell, Commander of Naval Air Forces. “Much like the trend that followed the original film, I’m confident that Top Gun: Maverick will have a huge impact on our Navy recruiting efforts, greatly increasing the number of brave and talented sailors in our ranks.”

According to Navy officials, TOPGUN is a prestigious program open only to the top 1% of naval aviators. Airmen taking the course are trained in a variety of areas, including aerial combat, jet aircraft handling, enemy tactics and more.

NAS Fallon’s mission is to support carrier air wings prior to deployment, as well as other units during training and exercises. This goal is achieved through 300 clear flying days per year, four bombing ranges, an electronic warfare range and numerous other training facilities. The base also houses a 14,000 foot runway, which is the longest in the navy.

NAS Fallon offers Airmen the unique opportunity to train in realistic combat scenarios while including all the elements of an air carrier wing. It is the only facility in the world with this capability.

Aircraft stationed at NAS Fallon support aircraft carrier missions around the world. This year, the Navy celebrates the centenary of the aircraft carrier and its importance to naval aviation. When the air wing is embarked on an aircraft carrier, the ship contains more than 70 attack fighter jets, helicopters and other aircraft, all of which take off and land on board the aircraft carrier at sea. With more than 5,000 sailors serving aboard these ships, aircraft carriers are autonomous mobile airports.

“The carrier is the centerpiece of our United States Navy, our flagship, and a constant reminder to the rest of the world of our enduring maritime presence and influence,” Rear Arm said. James P. Downey, USN, Aircraft Carrier Program Executive Officer (PEO). “These ships touch every part of our navy’s mission to project power, provide control of the seas and deter our adversaries.”

Serving in the Navy means Zignego is part of a world that takes on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances, and reforming business practices in support of national defense strategy.

“We are essential to keeping global trade flowing and preventing acts of aggression from potential threats,” Zignego said.

With more than 90 percent of all commerce traveling by sea, and 95 percent of international telephone and Internet traffic carried by submarine fiber optics, Navy officials continue to emphasize that the prosperity and security of the United States are directly tied to a ready Marine and force.

Zignego and the Sailors with whom they serve have many opportunities to achieve feats during their military service.

“I recently earned a meritorious promotion to Petty Officer First Class, which I am extremely proud of,” Zignego said.

The future of U.S. aviation depends on the Navy’s ability to realize its vision to defeat tomorrow’s air threats with the support of ground crews and airmen.

As Zignego and other sailors continue to train and perform missions, they are proud to serve their nation in the United States Navy.

“Serving in the Navy brings me a sense of pride and I consider it a great way of life,” Zignego added.

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