Christine Fox, the woman who inspired the Kelly McGillis character in "Top Gun," has been named acting deputy defense secretary, making her the highest ranking woman ever at the U.S. Defense Department.
Fox, who left the Pentagon earlier this year for a job as a senior adviser at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, is "a brilliant defense thinker and proven manager," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. She'll assume the acting deputy role while Hagel searches for a permanent replacement for his departing No. 2, Ashton Carter.
As the former director of the Defense Department's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, Fox had been essential in tackling the nearly $1 trillion in defense cuts projected to hit the Pentagon.
"There needs to be a serious national dialogue on what a sensible, sustainable and strategically sound defense budget looks like," she wrote in Defense News in September.
According to her bio on the Defense Department website, Fox also "oversaw [the Center for Naval Analyses] analysis of real-world operations, including the operations in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, the operation in Afghanistan in response to the September 11 attacks, and the operation in Iraq in early 2003."
But her role as a civilian mathematician at the Naval base in San Diego in the mid-'80s is what inspired "Top Gun" producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer to create Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood, an astrophysicist who serves as Tom Cruise's love interest in the 1986 film.
Here's how Fox was described in a 1985 People magazine profile:
When the fighter pilots at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego hear the sound, they snap to full alert. Click. Radar operators close their eyes and just listen, knowing precisely what is coming their way. Click. Click. High heels in the hallway. Softer than a sonic boom, less penetrating than an F-14 afterburner, the footsteps of 6' Christine Fox, 30, nevertheless carry the impact of a preemptive strike.
In the movie, her character coaches Cruise and other "Top Gun" pilots on how to combat enemy aircraft. But in reality, Fox rarely interacted with pilots. And when she did, Fox said, she rarely saw sparks.
"I don't know anything about flying airplanes," Fox told the magazine. "But I know a lot about the guy in the back seat — his mission, his radar and his missiles.
"The fact that I know so much about what these guys are doing every day and they come in and talk to me about it — 'Why is my radar doing this?' — changes the relationship. It takes some of the romance out."
"She's so professional that her looks don't become a point of interest," Cmdr. Harry Hunter told People. "When she walks in you say 'wow,' but 30 seconds later you're talking business."
Fighter pilots did have a nickname for Fox: "Legs." But it didn't bother her.
"The reason it doesn't bother me is that it doesn't interfere with the work," Fox told the magazine. "It's just part of an attitude all aviators subscribe to, something they adopt as soon as they join the fighter community. If that prevented them from coming over and asking for help, then it would be a disaster. Anyway, I make fun of them for being macho creeps sometimes."