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Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and Boeing Host Viewing of “Top Gun: Maverick” for Springfield School District 186 Students Featuring Retired U.S. Navy Pilot and TOPGUN Instructor Kevin “Proton” McLaughlin

By October 25, 2022December 2nd, 2023No Comments

October 25, 2022

 Event highlights importance of STEM education

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA) and Boeing, in concert with the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday hosted a showing of “Top Gun: Maverick” for Springfield School District 186 students, featuring an introduction by retired U.S. Navy Pilot and former real-life TOPGUN instructor Capt. Kevin “Proton” McLaughlin.

McLaughlin graduated from the elite Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as TOPGUN, in 1998 and was its commanding officer from 2012-2013. He served as an advisor on the movie during initial planning stages, before joining Boeing as liaison to the Navy. The event took place at the AMC CLASSIC Springfield 12 movie theatre to highlight the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education as part of the IMA’s programming celebrating Manufacturing Month, which is observed in Illinois throughout the month of October.

“Real life is often so much cooler than the movies, and it was an honor to connect students with Capt. McLaughlin, better known by his call sign ‘Proton,’ who spoke about the importance of education in achieving your dreams,” said Mark Denzler, President and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “Whether it’s flying F-18 fighter jets or building them, anything is possible with the right training, dedication and hard work. The stars of the movie are really the amazing fighter planes.”

As the manufacturing industry evolves in the face of rapid technological development, with trends suggesting a shift toward a higher-skilled workforce, the IMA is leading the way on education and workforce development programs. This includes championing the creation of two new world-class manufacturing academies scheduled to open this fall, and a new law that will require all high schools to offer career and technical education by 2025, which will help students better understand career pathway options as early as sixth grade.

“At Boeing, we are always looking to inspire the young minds of the next generation of innovators, engineers, scientists and manufacturers,” said McLaughlin. “What better way to reach those young thinkers than showing them one of our company’s finest aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, in action on the silver screen? There’s no CGI when it comes to this fighter jet either. What these kids will see on that screen is real life flying maneuvers by jets that were produced and manufactured right here in the Midwest.”

About 150 students from Lanphier High School, Southeast High School and Springfield High School attended the event, which helped provide a greater appreciation for the many education components of a career in aviation, including an understanding of physics, weather and engineering.

“Community partnerships and opportunities to work alongside organizations outside our field of expertise is a key to success for students.  The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA) and Boeing decided to jointly provide a very valuable STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Event to our students that will allow them to learn and grow in new ways. The hands-on experiences and interactions with experts in STEM fields help our students to see what career and college choices they might make in the future,” said Jennifer Gill, Superintendent, Springfield Public School District 186. “This event will leave a lasting impression on our students, and we can’t thank IMA and Boeing enough.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and aerospace community projects an additional 2 million employees will be needed in the aviation and aerospace industries in the next two decades and building a strong understanding of STEM is critical to student success and our country’s overall wellbeing.

“We are proud to partner with the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and Boeing to demonstrate the exciting career paths that are open to students with a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math. A strong grasp of these concepts is not only important for future employment opportunities, but the economic strength of our community and state,” said Mike Murphy, President and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.


About the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA)

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association is the only statewide association dedicated exclusively to advocating, promoting and strengthening the manufacturing sector in Illinois. The IMA is the oldest and largest state manufacturing trade association in the United States, representing nearly 4,000 companies and facilities. For more information, visit