As we wrote here at a couple of months ago, we were able to recently make the acquaintance of Dave “Bio” Baranek. We were interested in doing a review of his new book Tomcat RIO which hadn’t been published yet, But Baranek sent us a copy of his previous book “Topgun Days” which we reviewed back in June.  

When Tomcat RIO arrived in the mail about two weeks ago, I was excited, since, if it was going to be anything like Topgun Days I wouldn’t put it down… and that was a very true statement. Because once you do begin, you will be enthralled.

Baranek was a Topgun instructor but at the beginning of this latest book, he got to return to an F-14 Squadron (VF-124) for refresher training, and then it was back to the fleet and to VF-2 onboard the USS Ranger (CV-61). Nearly all fighter pilots have very cool nicknames or call-signs. Baranek chose “Bionic” because it sounded like Baranek. But being thin, the Navy pilots didn’t believe he looked very bionic so it was shortened to “Bio.” He went into detail on how it is a Naval aviation tradition for pilots to pick (or be assigned) cool call signs.

During the summer of 1987, the Strait of Hormuz was a hotspot. Iran and Iraq were at war and an earlier cruise had a U.S. Tomcat fire on Iranian pilots. During the 13 weeks in the Indian Ocean, Bio and his pilot performed 45 landings, of which about half were night landings. He was assigned a new pilot (FNG). Once, when they were alerted for a mission, his pilot blasted over the bow and flight deck on full afterburners after takeoff, which earned him an ass-chewing… but the other pilots loved it. 

In January 1988, Bio got a closeup look at the SR-71 Blackbird, the Air Force’s super-secret, and incredible spy plane. Capable of flying at Mach 3 and at an altitude of over 80,000 feet, it was a treat. He and the Blackbird pilot were chatting under the wing when the Blackbird pilot asked to see Baranek’s Tomcat. Baranek recalls, “It was like Shakespeare asking to borrow your pen.” He and his pilot got a treat and watched two Blackbirds take off. 

Baranek would take command of his own squadron VF-211 with nearly 300 people and 14 aircraft worth about $700 million. The squadron took part in Operation Southern Watch, to ensure that Iraq complied with the no-fly zone stipulated by the U.N.’s resolution. On his last flight, Bio got the traditional “soaking down” as the pilots in the squadron loaded up with fire extinguishers and let him have it. They brought champagne and toasted their commander as he turned over the squadron to a new skipper. 

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.

A particularly outstanding feature of Tomcat RIO and his earlier Topgun Days is the incredible aerial photography that Baranek found time to do while in the backseat of a 52,000-pound aircraft doing 450 knots. Baranek’s photos are some of the best aviation shots you’ll find anywhere.