Dave “Bio” Baranek enjoyed a successful and satisfying 20-year career in the Navy, starting with assignments to F-14 Tomcat squadrons and the elite TOPGUN training program, and later assignment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US 7th Fleet. At one point, he commanded an F-14 Tomcat fighter squadron, responsible for nearly 300 people and 14 aircraft worth about $700 million. He completed his career with 2,499.7 F-14 Tomcat flight hours and 688 carrier landings. His logbook also records 461.8 flight hours in the F-5F Tiger II.
While serving as a TOPGUN air-to-air combat instructor in 1985, he had the unusual experience of flying aerial sequences used in the film “Top Gun,” starring Tom Cruise and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. He also served as a dialogue advisor on the project, and took some of the few available photographs of the movie’s black F-5 fighters in flight.
He retired from the Navy in 1999.
In 2010 Bio decided to make an outstanding gift to the aviation geeks worldwide when, publishing his first book Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks, he revealed the adrenaline experienced by US Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers (NFOs) during their day to day life in a Fleet Squadron.
As described in the chapter “Rocket Rider,” on Dec. 19, 1981 Bio experienced one of the most exciting moments of his 3 ½ year assignment to Fighter Squadron (VF) 24 Fighting Renegades. On that day he and Commander Bill Switzer (then VF-24 Commanding Officer, CO) were scheduled to fly a series of 2v2 radar intercepts, F-14 Tomcats against A-7 Corsairs. Baranek and Switzer completed their mission and at 5:15 PM were ready to land aboard their aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64), sailing in the Indian Ocean.
But just after they slammed onto the flight deck, Bio realized that something was wrong. As Baranek recalls “I should have been thrown forward into my shoulder straps by the sudden deceleration of the trap, but instead I was still sitting upright. […] We rolled along the deck. There was some resistance slowing us down, but nowhere near enough to bring Renegade 205 to a stop. In a normal trap, the arresting wire plays out like a fishing line under tension, and the rollout of several hundred feet of cable takes about two seconds. […] Then there was one last feeble tug, but we continued rolling toward the end of the landing area. We were traveling about fifty knots – too fast to stop, too slow to fly. Skipper Switzer called, ‘Eject! Eject!’ His voice had taken on a new urgency, almost impatience – What are you waiting for? His hand was on the stick, still trying to fly, so it was my job to pull the handle that would eject both of us.”
Bio reacted on Switzer’s first syllable, yanking the yellow-and-black striped ejection handle. Once Baranek pulled the handle, everything that followed was automatic as he explains in detail. “When the ejection sequence control mechanism determined the canopy had cleared the aircraft, the rocket in my seat fired. I instantaneously experienced an acceleration force of about 20 g – outside the recommended operating range of the human brain-and blacked out for a few seconds.”
Bio and Switzer were recovered by one of the SH-3 Sea King rescue helicopters of the ship and it was later determined that the mishap was caused by one of the four cables (the one engaged by Switzer and Bio’s Tomcat) was not set to the correct F-14 weight.
For this reason, as you can see in the following video (which is the footage of the actual incident) since the arresting gear mechanism was completely overwhelmed, the cable snapped and the Tomcat (Renegade 205, F-14A BuNo 159623) went over the side. And in Topgun Days we get an instant-by-instant description by one who personally experienced it.
Photo credit: Dave “Bio” Baranek
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