I recently had the chance to read the book Topgun Days by Dave “Bio” Baranek. As many readers of this blog know, Topgun is the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, created during the height of the Vietnam War. The Navy had been concerned about the high number of US aircraft losses, and believed that the Ault Report (written by USN Captain Frank Ault) revealed an inadequacy in air combat maneuvering skills among Naval aviators (and Air Force too!). From this report, Topgun was born, and it was later introduced to the general public through the movie Top Gun starring Tom Cruise.
Dave “Bio” Baranek does an excellent job providing a behind the scenes peek into the real Topgun experience. While providing an overview of his days as a Grumman F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Bio highlights his initial training in the Topgun program, and then onto his role as an official Topgun instructor. The story starts with Bio’s becoming a brand new Naval Flight Officer ensign fresh out of flight training, and a quick squadron tour and two deployments. Bio suddenly finds himself shipped back state side so that he can enter the Topgun program, what many feel is the ultimate opportunity for a Navy Fighter Pilot/RIO. What follows is an excellently told story of the real way that Topgun operated, the personalities of those involved, and the hard work required to succeed.
Shortly after graduating Topgun, Bio finds out that he was one those who’s name ended up on the “Wish List”, the list of student who performed so well that they were to be invited back as an instructors. And as an instructor, Bio was fortunate to be at Topgun while the filming of Top Gun with Tom Cruise was also occurring. Bio provides great insight into all that went into making the movie from their perspective. The impressive work that the Navy and Paramount did in filming the breath-taking scenes in the movie is described in detail. And the author also shares a number of personal stories that provide an entertaining view into what it must have been like to live the Top Gun experience while also trying to share it with the rest of the work.
This book was written for a wide-ranging audience, military aviation history buffs will get something out of it, as will those who don’t know a F-14 from a F-15. Dave Baranek’s writing is straight-forward, told from the perspective of one who actually lived the experience, and entertaining enough to force you to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. I recently had the opportunity to exchange some e-mails with the author, and he comes across as a nice guy with a typical high-energy military manner, excited about what he has done, and a true aviation fan. I look forward to his future works…
If you click the link above, you can buy the book at Amazon, the perfect gift for a friend, family, or just for yourself!