The U.S. Navy officially retired its last F-14 Tomcat in September 2006, (the actual last flight was Oct. 4) but the twin-engined, supersonic, variable sweep fighter enjoys a permanent place in lore, due in part to its starring role in the Tony Scott film Top Gun (1986).
Baranek puts the reader into the cockpit of the Tomcat in real-world crises and in the fight scenes in the movie.
Although many of today’s naval aviators weren’t yet born when Tom Cruise and the Tomcat blazed across cinema screens, the legend refuses to go away. “There’s hardly a night when you can’t find Top Gun on some television channel,” said retired Cmdr. David “Bio” Baranek, who was a back-seat radar intercept officer on the F-14.
That’s why Baranek wrote a book about it.
Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death, and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks is Baranek’s memoir of naval aviation, the F-14, and especially Baranek’s role doing some of the flying seen in the spectacular dogfighting sequences in the film.
Baranek seems more comfortable in the air and more awkward being chauffeured in a limousine for the Hollywood wrap party.
Baranek puts the reader into the cockpit of the Tomcat in real-world crises and in the fight scenes in the movie. For the film, Baranek also flew in an all-black F-5F Tiger representing the enemy’s MiG-28 fighter. Though Baranek doesn’t say so, the producers pick the name to keep their enemy aircraft fictitious: Real Soviet MiG fighters are given designations that use odd numbers.
Topgun Days tells us how the producers and Navy flyers crafted the mishap scene in which Maverick (Cruise) ejects safely while back-seater Goose (Anthony Edwards) is killed bailing out of their crippled jet. In this memoir, Baranek seems more comfortable in the air and more awkward being chauffeured in a limousine for the Hollywood wrap party.
Made with serious support and some direction by the Navy, the movie Top Gun, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, grossed $350 million worldwide, brought swarms of young Americans to Navy recruiting offices, and inspired Fire Birds (1990), a feeble attempt to accomplish the same thing for Army AH-64 Apache pilots. The movie continues to sell well in DVD, but has its detractors. In the March 2010 Aviation History magazine, Walter J. Boyne, a former director of the National Air and Space Museum, placed Top Gun at the top of his “10 Worst Aviation Movies.”
“I know that many are enamored of this film, and some fighter pilots even suggest that it is a true representation of the cocky fighter pilot spirit,” wrote Boyne, “but to me it was an embarrassing waste of time and money. The airplanes are gorgeous, but they are slavered over with the hot spittle of guys who think they are really cute in flying gear, especially when they have neato names. I cannot imagine that anyone of their ilk would be tolerated in any military unit.”
Baranek’s breathtaking still photography will, by itself, lure many readers to this book.
That minority view is unlikely to dampen prospects for Topgun Days. (At the real Navy Fighter Weapons School, the term Topgun is one word, not two).
A Floridian who built model airplanes as a child, joined the Navy in 1979, and eventually commanded a squadron, Baranek is also an air-to-air photographer. His pictures have appeared in aviation magazines, including The Hook, the journal of the Tailhook Association. Baranek’s breathtaking still photography will, by itself, lure many readers to this book.
A web site with details about the book can be found at http://www.topgunbio.com/.