By Mike Bedigan, PA Los Angeles Correspondent
Tom Cruise landed a helicopter on a US aircraft carrier during an epic red-carpet arrival at the premiere of his new aviation blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick.
The Hollywood star said it had been a case of “now or never” when discussing plans for the sequel, which comes 36 years after the release of the 1986 hit film.
Due to be released in cinemas on May 27, Maverick sees Cruise reprise the role of US naval aviator Pete Mitchell.
Other stars include Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Monica Barbaro, Val Kilmer, Jon Hamm and Glen Powell.
After touching down and stepping out on to the USS Midway carrier in San Diego, California, the actor thanked fans and praised his fellow cast members.
“This moment right here, getting to see everyone, no masks. This is pretty epic,” he said, speaking to Deadline at the event.
“It was really now or never, it was a moment, we were looking at how to tell this story… I’ve been thinking about it and figuring it out.
“I thought if we’re going to go in, we have to go in now.”
He added: “Of course (Top Gun) is this great summer experience, and what it became to audiences and generations is something I could never have imagined at the time we were making it.
“But it’s a drama at its heart and it has that kind of storytelling that I cut my teeth on, that I love seeing with these characters.
“The movie means a lot to me, a lot to my career, a lot to the studio and a lot to audiences.”
Cruise provided his cast members with a rigorous training programme in preparation for the film, including real-life jet plane flying lessons.
“This cast is amazing, they’re unbelievable these guys… they’re a very talented group,” he said.
The actor was praised by his co-stars as a “mentor and friend” who “cares that everybody wins”.
“Tom Cruise doesn’t half-arse anything,” Powell, who plays Hangman in the film, told Deadline.
“Without Tom on this movie being our flight instructor, our mentor, our friend, there is no way we could pull this off.
“Tom is Maverick in real life, he’s as cool as it gets.
“The thing that makes him special is that he cares that everybody wins. You watch this movie and every single character in the movie wins, everyone looks cool.
“It’s never about him, it’s about the end product.”
Hamm, who plays Vice, paid tribute to Cruise’s “unparalleled work ethic”.
“He’s the first guy on set and he’s the last guy to leave. He works every day and he works harder than everybody,” he told Deadline.
“His enthusiasm for film-making, especially a film like this that he has such a rich history with, is infectious.”
Maverick was originally due for release in July 2019 but was repeatedly pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.