Top Fun : Doctor Takes Flight in Supersonic Birthday Gift

Times Staff Writer

They call him "Top Doc."

Dr. Malcolm Pond has borne the nickname since his fellow physicians learned that the Riverside cardiologist was going to fulfill his dream of piloting a supersonic jet as actor Tom Cruise did in the movie "Top Gun."

Thanks to his wife, who wanted to do something special for his 40th birthday, Pond flew out of Van Nuys Airport Saturday in a privately owned supersonic jet.

"I just hope I don't lose my cookies," said an excited Pond before the hourlong training flight.

The unusual birthday gift was arranged with the help of Dreams Come True, a Los Angeles company that tries to create events or situations to fulfill a person's fantasy. "We do anything that's fun and legal," said John Alexander, company president.

Alexander said the 3-year-old company offers custom-made fantasies as well as prepackaged events--such as a ride in the original Batmobile or a chance to make pizzas with famous chef Wolfgang Puck. The company has served breakfast in bed for a dog (presumably that was the owner's fantasy) and once helped a woman obtain a two-day internship with a French shoe designer in Paris.

But, even by the company's standards, Pond's dream was unusual and required lengthy planning.

Pond's wife, Charis, first contacted Alexander last December and presented her husband a gift certificate on his birthday in March. Scheduling difficulties held off the flight until Saturday. Alexander said the price tag was more than $5,000.

Charis Pond, 42, said she knew the gift would be a winner when she and her husband watched "Top Gun" at home on his birthday. During the dramatic dogfight scenes, she said, her husband looked on in admiration and said, "Oh, if I could do that just once!"

At the movie's conclusion, she told him he could.

Pond said he has piloted a variety of aircraft during 12 years of flying and has lately favored the leisurely pace of gliders. But he wanted to try the jet, he said, because it is just the opposite of flying gliders--"the antithesis of it."

"It's a blowtorch with wings," said Clyde Ramin, a member of the ground crew that tends the T-38 owned by Chuck Thornton, president of Thornton Aviation in Van Nuys. The jet, seen in a Pepsi television commercial and in the recent movie "Dragnet," is similar to aircraft used to train Air Force fighter pilots, Ramin said.

Alexander contacted Thornton Aviation for the training session and the company provided the plane and instruction.

The jet is surprisingly small, only 45 feet from its needle-nose to its engine, and has a wingspan of just 25 feet. But it can travel at Mach 1.3, roughly 900 m.p.h., and can make two 360-degree barrel rolls in one second. It does not carry armaments.

Pond studied flight manuals for days and underwent a four-hour briefing with Thornton before they took off Saturday for exercises over the Mojave Desert and parts of the Sierra Nevada. Pond, who has had some stunt-flying experience, said he was looking forward to trying a few acrobatics.

After an hourlong flight, the plane returned safely to Van Nuys airport.

With his moderate frame and wispy reddish hair, Pond hardly cut the figure of a dashing fighter pilot, but he certainly looked good to his wife.

As for the real "Top Gun," Tom Cruise, she said, "He doesn't do anything for me."

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