Tag Archives: Tony Scott

Top Gun Days: a book reveals how the best F-14 Tomcat air-to-air scenes were filmed

Developed in the late 1960s to protect US Navy Carrier Battle Groups (CVBG) from the raids conducted by the Soviet bombers armed with long-range cruise missiles, the F-14 was the best fleet defender thanks to its weapons system, the AWG-9 radar.

This radar featured a large antenna, giving to the radar the possibility to scan huge part of airspace and the ability to track up twenty four targets. Furthermore, the AWG-9 could support six AIM-54 missiles attacking six different targets simultaneously at unmatched distance of one-hundred mile range and each Phoenix included a small onboard radar to guide itself during the last part of the run against the target.

No contemporary aircraft, friend or foe, can match Tomcat since all these features gave to the F-14 unprecedented and unparalleled mission capabilities.

But to have an edge above its adversaries by using this complex weapon system, the pilot was not sufficient on board the F-14: in fact it requires another skilled crew member in the back seat, called Radar Intercept Officer (RIO).

The RIO had the responsibility to chose among four search radar modes, he selected the scan pattern of the radar from a dozen choices and assured the radar antenna search the correct portion of the sky. Once the targets are detected, the RIO advised the pilot where to fly to optimize radar performance and set up for the attack. He could also launch long range missiles pushing the red button in the rear cockpit.

In other words a trained RIO would have been essential against a Soviet bomber raid. But the F-14 RIO was also responsible for communication and navigation and he assisted the pilot for the checklists. But also during a dogfight the RIO can make the difference giving its contribution reporting airspeed or fuel state and reporting to the pilot even more important information like the position of the bogey during the air to air combat.

“Even though you’re doing the flying, I’m right here with you in the fight”, with these words a real Tomcat RIO, Dave “Bio” Baranek, in his book Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks, describes the crew coordination, the term which became an essential skill for every Tomcat crew.

Self Portrait

According to Topgun Days, a large fighter like the F-14, thanks to its design could win an engagement also against a smaller and more maneuverable fighter: a result that can be achieved only with an aggressive and trained crew.

To help the reader to understand the challenge of flying the F-14 Tomcat, Bio provides inside his book not only the full story of his career as Naval Flight Officer (NFO), but also some short intelligence briefings where you can even find several details about the history of the legendary Fighter Weapons School, the official name for the unit known as Topgun.

But the book is not only a detailed source of F-14 technical information since, as the title implies, Topgun Days also covers some never revealed before features about the realization of the most famous aviation movie, Top Gun.

So we discover that the first intercept of the MiG-28 (the movie fictional name of the F-5) was filmed over the Pacific from a Learjet 25 belonged to the air-racing legend Clay Lacy on board of which there was film’s director, Tony Scott.

After two head-on passes between the F-14s and MiG-28s, during which the two formations had been much closer than the normal 500-foot of separation generally required for safety purposes during training flights, the adrenaline that filled pilots was enough to make unforgettable that kind of experience.

But Tony Scott commented on the radio “Can we do it one more time, only a bit closer?”

Film’s director request was due to the fact that during the crucial passes between the black-painted bandits and the American Tomcats there was too much space between the aircraft and the two sections could not be fitted in the same frame.

For pilots this meant that they had to fly an even closer pass.

So, after the Tomcats made their turn, the lead Tomcat’s RIO called the distance every two miles, every twelve seconds and after this third thrilling faceoff at 700 MPH, Tony Scott eventually came up on the radio saying “That’s great gents! Super!”

Baranek’s book also includes more secrets about the making of the movie, because “Bio” took part to Top Gun flying in the rear cockpit of the only F-5 in a two seat configuration among those used in the movie and this is perhaps the best feature of Topgun Days: the perspective whose flew with the best trained American fighter pilots.

Dario Leone for TheAviationist.com

VF-24 F-14 Zone V

Image credit: Dave “Bio” Baranek


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Top Gun’s Maverick turns 51 today. With a huge aviation experience: from F-14s to a WWII P-51 Mustang

Here below is an interesting Guest Post by film and television blogger Alex Smith. The article focus on Tom Cruise’s experience in Top Gun and the 51-year old today Maverick’s love for aviation. Enjoy!

On Jul. 3 we wish a Happy 51st Birthday to Tom Cruise, international movie star, heartthrob, and aviation enthusiast! Cruise loves flying the friendly skies: not only is he a certified pilot, but he also owns five private jets and a P-51 Mustang WWII-era fighter he keeps in perfect flying condition.

Tom Cruise has always looked toward the heavens, from his time as a teenage seminary student named Thomas Cruise Mapother IV to his real-life training flying an F-14 for the role that launched him to international stardom, fighter pilot Maverick in Top Gun, a movie that did more for naval aviation than any film since The Battle of Midway.

For Top Gun, one of the most famous movies directed by Tony Scott (that commit suicide last year), Cruise — along with Anthony “Goose” Edwards and Val “Iceman” Kilmer — received what are known as “back seat rides” in F-14s in order to get a feeling of what it really feels like taking G’s and going through mid-air maneuvers. To add even more verisimilitude to the movie’s flight scenes, many shots of the three actors in their fighters were taken while the Tomcats were actually in the air.

The cast and crew were always aware of the risks pilots face, and that helped them present a more realistic story in  Top Gun. Sadly, they were reminded once again of the dangers of aerial careers when veteran Hollywood stunt pilot Art Scholl was killed filming scenes for the movie from a vintage Pitts S-2 biplane. The 1986 movie was dedicated to this stunt aviation pioneer.

Cruise was only 24 when Top Gun was released in theaters — and enough time has passed that he would be better cast as one of the flight school instructors than as the hotshot young Navy pilot! — and saw his career take flight due to the heroic role. But his acting profile wasn’t the only thing that received a huge boost from the movie: some naval recruitment offices saw their call volume jump 500 percent over the summer that the movie came out.

Although the Navy was prohibited from recommending the movie, some Navy recruiters manned information tables outside theaters showing Top Gun, and many would-be recruits reportedly mentioned the movie as what sparked their interest about opportunities in naval aviation. One wag called Top Gun “the greatest recruiting video of all time.”

No doubt many people thought about becoming pilots after the experience of Top Gun, but none more than Mav himself, Tom Cruise. Even though that at 5’7″, he’s one inch too short to qualify for flying for the Navy, the actor made up for that by earning in pilot’s license in 1994 and collecting aviation history like the P-51 fighter that had “Kiss Me, Kate” painted on the side for his then-bride Katie Holmes, mother of their daughter, Suri.

Cruise has received some flak — not from aerial dogfights, but instead from environmental groups, who dubbed him “Emissions Impossible” after rumors leaked of his using his Gulfstream jet to pick up groceries for Katie. His camp hasn’t denied the rumor, but if you can’t have a little fun with your airplanes as you turn 51, what’s the point of being an internationally beloved film icon who knows how to fly? Or maybe annoying eco-warriors is pilot Tom Cruise’s way of staying in the “danger zone.”

Author Bio: Alex Smith is a film and television blogger for Direct2TV.com, where he writes about everything from new releases to the campy sci-fi classics of the 1970s and 80s. He has been a big fan of Top Gun since childhood, and still hopes to one day pilot an F-14. He lives and works in Washington, D.C.

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Tony Scott, Hank Kleeman, Kara Hultgreen and the F-14 Tomcat: three (tragic) stories and a legendary plane

Few days ago, Dario Leone, a long time reader and a huge F-14 Tomcat fan, sent me an email to point out what he had noticed about the date Tony Scott, the famous director of “Top Gun”, chose  to commit suicide.

He had observed that Aug. 19 was the 31th anniversary of the day when two F-14s downed two Libyan fighters in 1981 (something that Scott, most probably, didn’t even know) and provided some interesting news about the fate of the two Tomcats involved in the dogfight and their crew members.

“Top Gun is the film that made the F-14 famous all around the world. Downings and crashes aside, aircraft depicted in the movie were true and they were driven by real pilots of the U.S. Navy belonging to VF-51 Screaming Eagles […] In a certain way, Tony Scott brought on the big screens what had happened on Aug. 19, 1981,” Leone wrote to me.

On that day, two F-14A Tomcats belonging to the VF-41 Black Aces and launched from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68 ) were attacked on the Gulf of Sidra by two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 and shot them down with two AIM-9L air-to-air missiles just 45 seconds after the first Libyan fighter opened fire (Rules Of Engagement were the same as in the film, namely: “do not fire until fired upon”).

One of the two aircraft was the BuNo 160403, callsign “Fast Eagle 102”, with Cdr. Hank Kleeman and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) Lt. Dave Venlet on board.

“Kleeman is famous in the Tomcat community not only for being the first pilot to score a kill with the F-14 but also for getting  the Secretary of the Navy’ s approval for the F-14D four years later. Unfortunately he died in a landing accident (plane hydroplaned off the side of the wet runway, then flipped over) at NAS Miramar on an F/A-18A Hornet (BuNo 162435).”

The other Tomcat involved in the Aug. 19, 1981 dogfight was BuNo 160390, callsign “Fast Eagle 107”, piloted by Lt. Larry “Music” Muczynski and Lt. Dave Anderson as RIO.

“That plane earned the headlines again on Oct. 25, 1994 when, piloted by Lt. Kara “Revlon” Hultgreen, U.S. Navy’s first female F-14 pilot, crashed into the sea while landing aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, off San Diego. While her RIO, Lt. Matthew P. Klemish, ejected safely she didn’t survive the ejection.”

As a consequence of the incident, two separate investigations were conducted.

“The Judge Advocate General (JAG) cited a technical malfunction as the root cause of the crash whereas the Navy Mishap Investigation Report (MIR) came to the conclusion that it was a pilot error to induce the fatal left engine stall.”

Until the latter was leaked, the JAG version was Navy’s official position on the mishap.

The video below includes footage of Kara Hultgreen’s incident.

“There are dates that seem to mark the path of the life of people and their destiny. In this case, August 19th has not only marked in a way or another one the fate of some people, but also the history of a legendary plane, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.”

Top Gun director Tony Scott commits suicide. He personally paid 25,000 USD to keep an aircraft carrier on course and shoot the F-14s backlit by the sun

On Aug. 19, at around 12.30 pm, Tony Scott, film director of Top Gun, committed suicide by jumping from a Los Angeles county bridge.

Although he directed and produced many successful movies, his most famous hit is Top Gun, filmed in 1986.

Actually Top Gun 2 was in the works too with Tom Cruise initially thought to be a drone pilot and then “diverted” to the F-35 test pilot role. The future of the sequel project is obviously uncertain now that 68-year-old Tony Scott has died.

One of the most interesting things about Tony Scott and Top Gun was unveiled by the director in an interview included in the Special Edition DVD issued for the movie’s 25th anniversary.

During the filming, Tony Scott and his crew spent some days onboard USS Enterprise to shoot aircraft as they landed and took off from the aircraft carrier. Since the U.S. Navy’s flattop was on an operational cruise, the crew had to film normal flight ops. However, Tony Scott wanted to shoot flight deck activities with planes backlit from the sun. So, when the ship changed course with a consequent change of the light, Scott asked it the commanding officer could keep on the previous course and speed for a little longer.

However, he was answered by the commander that it would cost 25,000 USD to turn the ship, so he wrote the aircraft carrier captain a check so that the ship could be turned on the previous route for five more minutes thus giving him the possibility to shoot under the desired lighting conditions a bit longer.

The footage was used during the movie’s stunning opening scene.

Although I’m not sure whether that check was eventually collected, I think this story shows how much Tony Scott cared about the success of Top Gun.

As tweeted by BBC News Producer Johnny Hallam:

“I hope some crazy pilot buzzes the #Miramar tower today in memory of Tony Scott and Top Gun #AvGeek”