Picture it: Tom Cruise in aviator glasses, grinning confidently as he hops into his jet, a guitar solo rockin' in the background — the image is burned into our minds as the epitome of the American fighter pilot. Almost 16 years after Top Gun's enormously successful release, however, director Tony Scott says it's far from the movie he originally wanted to make.

"I was fighting with [producers] Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, saying I wanted to do it in the bowels of an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean — Top Gun/Apocalypse Now," says Scott, who spent three weeks living on the Miramar naval base to research the film. "I didn't quite get it until we were well into pre-production. Then all of a sudden it clicked that, for this particular movie, it was the rock-and-roll stars of the skies — silver jets against blue-black skies!"

But in the back of his mind, Scott was still thinking: "I want to come back and re-examine who the real guys are." He saw his chance when newcomer Jesse Negron came to him with the idea for American Fighter Pilots — a reality show that follows three Air Force men training to fly F-15s. The two exec producers say that when the show debuts on CBS this Friday (at 8 pm/ET), we'll see pilots as just regular guys with a really tough job.

"While they certainly have a twinge of [Top Gun attitude] in their personalities, these are the guys next door," Negron says. "I remember going to my first pilot party on the beach, expecting lots of women and beach volleyball and that sort of thing. But it was a bunch of guys with their wives and toddlers running around!"