F-14 Tomcat

“It’s time to buzz the tower:” Former F-14 RIO explains how the legendary Top Gun tower fly-by scene was filmed

Civilians in communities near Miramar called the base and local news media asking about a ‘berserk F-14 pilot’…

Maverick: Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby.
Air Boss Johnson: That’s a negative Ghost rider, the pattern is full.

To Aviation Geeks, this is a memorable quote from Top Gun, their all-time favourite movie.

Author Dave ‘Bio’ Baranek, The Aviation Geek Club contributor, former F-14 radar intercept officer (RIO) and instructor at the real-life Topgun school who helped film the movie, provides a unique description of the famed Miramar tower fly-by scene in Issue 13 “Grumman F-14 Tomcat” of Aviation Classics magazine.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Artwork depicting F-14A NG213 (BuNo 160888) flown by Steve Petro Petrosky and Dave Bio Baranek

“This was the first F-14 footage shot for Top Gun, and it represents a fantasy of many aviators: making a low pass by your home-field control tower. Although VF-51 was focused on its Red Flag detachment, the squadron had already applied the fictional tail insignia to one aircraft for the movie. Smegs [Lieutenant John H ‘Smegs’ Semcken, a former F-14 pilot who during his final assignment to NAS Miramar public affairs office assisted with the production of Top Gun] coordinated with Miramar flight ops personnel for the unusual flight and received approval from the FAA, who warned that the aircraft had to stay in the Miramar airport traffic area, which stops abruptly just south of the main runways to avoid conflict with a civilian airport. Bozo [Lieutenant Commander Lloyd “Bozo” Abel] and his RIO, Mark ‘Slick’ Schlichter, planned accordingly and manned their jet. On the takeoff roll, however, that aircraft suffered a FOD on one engine and the aircraft was down. The crew quickly manned a spare, bureau number 160665, and this one performed as required.

Scott [Top Gun director Tony Scott] envisioned a supersonic pass to make the point about Maverick’s recklessness, but Bozo knew this would be unwise for many reasons. He also knew that a jet at low altitude would look plenty fast at a moderate airspeed, so he kept the speed around 300 knots indicated. Manually sweeping the wings back to 68 degrees added to the illusion of speed, although it meant that Bozo would be in buffet – an aerodynamic warning of approaching a stall -as he made the turn to remain within the airfield boundary to the south.”

Bio continues:

“Balancing their kid-in-a-candy-store opportunity with the desire not to mess up, Bozo and Slick made several passes, crossing the airfield around 100 feet above ground level (AGL) or less. Remember, this was their first experience of flying for the cameras and they had relatively little time to mentally prepare for this unusual mission. It was going well; Scott was getting the film he needed, but wanted more passes so he could choose the best. Then the phone calls started. Civilians in communities near Miramar called the base and local news media asking about a ‘berserk F-14 pilot’. When the word got to Smegs, who was with the film crew as usual, he called knock it off. Scott wanted to film the F-14 performing a roll after the flyby, but that was only simulated in the cockpit mock-up.”

The following, popular video features Bozo taking part in the actual flight of the legendary Miramar tower fly-by.

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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