DOGFIGHTING, CHEATING DEATH, AND HOLLYWOOD GLORY AS ONE OF AMERICA'S BEST FIGHTER JOCKS
BY DAVE "BIO" BARANEK
Navy Topgun Instructors, among the best trained and most respected of all aviators, are not born; they are made through their own determined efforts and the coordinated work of their predecessors. A new book, TOPGUN DAYS (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010) reveals in exuberant prose how a young man goes from aspirations to realizing his dreams.
Former F-14 radar intercept officer and Topgun instructor Dave Baranek (callsign: Bio) describes the commitment required to first master the mighty F-14 Tomcat fighter, and then the extreme demands placed on instructors once they report to the Topgun school. He goes from being waterboarded in survival training to performing at the highest levels while subjected to six-and-half times the force of gravity during gut-wrenching dogfights. He speaks of the long hours instructors put in to prepare their lectures, and reflects candidly on the untimely deaths of two of his associates in aircraft accidents. He describes his own struggle for his very life after ejecting from a crashing F-14.
But TOPGUN DAYS is not only about trial, it is about adventure and triumph. Dave takes readers among the clouds with his vivid accounts of the incredible power and maneuverability these young men harness. The rewards include unforgettable action and the camaraderie of others who he respects. In Dave’s case, they also include a touch of Hollywood fame as he helps to create that well known blockbuster, “Top Gun.”
Dave Baranek (callsign "Bio") was one of 451 young men to receive their Wings of Gold in 1980 as Naval Flight Officers. Four years later, seasoned by intense training and deployments to aircraft carrier air wings supporting America's modern gunboat diplomacy in the tense stand-off confrontations of the Cold War, he was the only one of that initial group to become an instructor at the Navy's elite Fighter Weapons School based at Miramar Naval Air Station in southern California.
When he arrives at Miramar, also known as Fightertown USA, 21-year-old Bio is fresh out of Navy flight training in Pensacola, Florida, with much to learn. He is expected to master the Navy's powerful and sophisticated F-14 Tomcat fighter, a swing-wing machine capable of flying more than twice the speed of sound, and which routinely pulls more than 6 g in dogfights. But he also has to fit in to the close-knit world of a Navy fighter squadron, the "Fighting Renegades" of VF-24.
He has his first supervisory experience as an officer, managing a crew of weapons technicians when he's not studying tactics. He takes readers along on a typical air combat maneuvering training flight, from the pre-flight brief, through takeoff and positioning, and then the "fight's on" call, the interception, the merge, evasions and kills, until "knock it off" is declared and we bug out for the debrief. He also learns the intricate patterns of aircraft carrier operations, where each person has an important role and a small mistake can lead to disaster.
Soon VF-24 leaves the familiar training ranges and heads into the "real world," embarking on a 7 ½ month deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Readers travel along as the flyers carry live missiles and aerial refuel to keep their tanks topped off for any situation. They escort Soviet bombers that probe the carrier's defenses, spend hours flying above the boundless ocean waiting for threats that never arrive, and sometimes have the welcome challenge of dogfight training. While operating from the carrier, every flight begins with a thrilling catapult launch and ends with some of the most demanding flying in all of aviation: landing on a pitching flight deck.
Bio learns that warnings about the dangers of carrier operations are no exaggeration when the arresting gear is set incorrectly and he ejects himself and his pilot from their Tomcat a fraction of a second before it crashes into the ocean. And like all professionals they get back out there and start flying as soon as possible.
Bio then goes through the toughest flying around when he is selected to attend the Navy Fighter Weapons School as a student, along with another new pilot from VF-24. The nickname for this "graduate school" for fighter pilots, established by Vietnam-era air-combat veterans determined to transfer their hard-won experience to future generations of jet fighter crews, was "Topgun."
And based on their performance in the class, in the months that follow Bio and his pilot are both chosen to return as instructors.
As a Topgun instructor, Bio is responsible for teaching the Navy's and Marine Corps' best fighter pilots how to be even better. He schools them in the classroom, delivering meticulously refined lectures on tactics and technology, illuminated with his personal experience. And then he goes head-to-head with them in the skies, playing the role of a clever, experienced, determined adversary to push the skills of these front-line airborne warriors to the limit.
Then, in a few fateful days in August 1985, Bio is assigned to combine his day-to-day flight duties with an unusual new mission: participation in a Pentagon-blessed project to film action footage for a major Hollywood movie focusing on the lives, loves, heartbreaks, and triumphs of young fighter pilots competing for the title of "Top Gun" — a scenario loosely based on the experiences of the Topgun program's cream-of-the-extreme graduates. Bio's role is to fly the aerial stunts as one of the movie's "bad guys," dressed up in the Paramount wardrobe department's ominous black flight suit and helmet, and leading the action from a black jet emblazoned with Soviet-style graphics.
After flying close-in, high speed passes to suit the requirements of the movie's action director, Bio finds himself "detached" along with a buddy to Hollywood to serve as a technical consultant punching-up the movie's script with realistic cockpit dialog and authentically dangerous predicaments.
Bio returns to the (exceptional) routine of his profession, while the release of Paramount's movie brings sudden, international attention to the Navy's Topgun program.
Bio finds himself riding in limousines to attend gala premiers and being singled-out by giggling teenagers and awed schoolboys who recognize the name "Topgun" on his t-shirts. The book ends with his reflections on his career experiences to date, and his longing to return to the challenging mission and camaraderie of an F-14 Tomcat squadron, flying from aircraft carriers into the real-world missions of the Cold War.
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Size: 6" x 9" hardcover or softcover
Pages: 320, including 22 pages of reference material
Cover price: $24.95 hardcover; $16.95 softcover
Also available as an e-book.
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., an imprint of W W Norton [SKYHORSE SITE]