Radar intercept officer recounts experience in the F-14 Tomcat

Dave “Bio” Baranek relives his “Top Gun” days aboard an F-14 Tomcat at the Warbird Air Museum in Titusville.

Scroll through the credits of the 1986 hit movie “Top Gun” and you will discover Dave “Bio” Baranek’s name as a consultant to the film.

Is that cool, or what?

Baranek snagged the coveted gig, which included a visit to Paramount Studios in Hollywood to help “authenticate” the dialogue, because of his experience as a commanding officer of an F-14 Tomcat squadron, as well as because of his stint as a Navy instructor specializing in the elite warbirds depicted in the film. 

Not long after he learned how to walk, Baranek already was dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot. Fate, in the form of bad eyesight, precluded the realization of the dream, but Baranek prevailed and became a radar intercept officer, or RIO, in the two-seater fighters.

“I wanted to be Maverick, but I ended up being Goose,” the Satellite Beach resident joked. 

A RIO’s job is no walk in the park, since radar, navigation and communication are under his wing.

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which first flew in 1970, was a formidable supersonic warrior that carried the Phoenix, the longest-range missile in the world. Both the pilot and the RIO could deploy it. Additional weaponry included middle- and short-range missiles, plus a “cannon,” as the machine gun was called.  

By the way, “Topgun” is the Navy term for best pilot. 

Baranek’s flying career is chronicled in his books, “Topgun Days” and “Before Topgun Days.”  A third, “Tomcat Rio” has just been released and features 59 incredible images of the fighters, photos

Baranek took. 

“I used to take my camera on most of my flights,” he said. 

His 20-year career with the Navy also included an assignment to the Joints Chief of Staff. 

The Tomcat, wild by nature, was not an easy plane to maneuver.

“We had friends killed in mishaps, although the majority of flights were flawless,” Baranek said. 

One not-so-flawless flight could have been tragic if luck had not been on Baranek’s side. Because of the carelessness of a ground crew member, Baranek’s plane was not properly hooked to the carrier when landing. The Tomcat careened off the runaway and into the ocean, where the $20 million warbird promptly sank.

“We had to eject, but luckily we landed in the ocean,” remembered Baranek. 

Both pilot and RIO made it out of the ordeal relatively well, just as you would expect Topguns to do. 

Dave Baranek’s books, are available at Amazon.