TOPGUN and Tomcat Days with Navy Commander Dave “Bio” Baranek

Welcome to episode fifty-one of the Lessons from the Cockpit podcast!

This is an interview I’ve wanted to do for a long time!

Commander Dave “Bio” Baranek as an F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer or RIO had a great Naval Aviation career. Leaving college with a passion for flying, Bio got into the Tomcat community shortly after the F-14’s introduction into the fleet as the Navy’s premier air superiority fighter. Bio saw the Tomcat grow from an air superiority fighter to a precision strike platform when Tomcats began carrying air-to-ground weapons and the LANTIRN targeting pod. While teaching at TOPGUN, he and the instructor cadre were a little surprised when told they would be participating in the creation and filming of arguably the most iconic aviation movie of the 80s with a little know actor in the lead role. Dave Baranek published many of these stories in his three books, which can be purchased through the Amazon links below.

Grumman F-14A Tomcats of VF-24 Renegades and VF-211 Checkmates Dave "Bio" Baranek flew with during his career as a Naval Flight Officer.

His first book TOPGUN Days tells his story of naval aviation in the 1980s Cold War chasing The Bear, chosen as an instructor RIO at Navy Fighter Weapons School and the filming of the 1986 blockbuster movie TOPGUN staring Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, and Kelly McGillis. People are still listening to that musical score!

VF-211 Checkmates F-14A Tomcat in full afterburner on the catapult waiting to launch on an Enduring Freedom mission over Afghanistan.
Lt Dave Baranek on the left post-flight of a TOPGUN mission in the black Northrop F-5F "MiG-28" after supporting the filming of the movie TOPGUN.

Dave’s second book Before TOPGUN Days takes place before the events recounted in his previous memoir, Topgun Days, Bio brings to life the anxieties and excitement of entering the fast-paced world of naval fighter aviation. From a green recruit to an experienced flyer, discover what the journey is like to become a TOPGUN instructor.

His third book Tomcat RIO shares the challenges F-14 aircrews face flying intense missions against known and unknown enemies like a deadly foe called complacency. Learning a whole new mission late in his career, Bio saw the F-14 grow from an air superiority fighter to a precision strike asset. As a Navy expert in fighter tactics and aircraft carrier operations, his experience propelled him into command of a frontline F-14 fighter squadron, the world-famous VF-211 Fighting Checkmates, leading more than three hundred people while deployed on an aircraft carrier under combat conditions.

VF-24 Renegades F-14A Tomcat escorting a Russian Il-38 MAY maritime reconn and patrol plane near a US Navy Carrier... common Cold War event!

The Lessons from the Cockpit podcast is financially supported by Wall Pilot, custom aviation art for the walls of your home, office, or hanger. Help us keep the show going by purchasing one or two of very detailed aircraft profiles printed on vinyl in four, six, and eight-foot-long graphics you can peel off and stick to any flat surface. Wall Pilot can create a custom aircraft profile with your name on the canopy rail, preferred weapons load, tail number, and squadron emblems by contacting them at Wall Pilot’s website.

Ready-to-Print aircraft profiles of the Grumman F-14A Tomcat from VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-32 Swordsman are available at these links. Profiles of F-5E Aggressor aircraft which appeared in the movie TOPGUN in the GRAPE and SNAKE schemes are also available from Wall Pilot Ready-to-Print section.

Grumman F-14A of VF-32 Swordsmen deployed aboard the USS John F Kennedy during the 1991 Desert Storm air campaign
USAF 64th Aggressor Squadron F-5E painted in the Old Grape scheme simulating WARSAW Pact MiG-21 Fishbed fighter aircraft

Please share this and previous episodes of the Lessons from the Cockpit podcast with family, friends, and loved ones. All episodes of the Lessons from the Cockpit podcast can be downloaded from the Mark Hasara podcast website.

Thanks for listening and tune in next week for another episode where we debrief the most fascinating and intriguing pilots, aircrew members, maintainers, and aviation enthusiasts from all over the world to hear their stories but more importantly what they learned from their extraordinary military, commercial and private flying experiences.  

Mark Hasara

Have a great Day!

Sluggo Sends!

P.S. — If you’re reading my book Tanker Pilot: Lessons from the Cockpit, I’d really love to hear your thoughts in a review on Amazon here, I read them all.

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