Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Arlington

  

  

May 28, 2018 is Memorial Day in the United States.  This day in 2017 I was traveling to Amsterdam through Chicago O’Hare, where there was a display honoring fallen military servicemen and women.  Five days later I flew back east to Washington DC.  There I met up with a TOPGUN instructor at the Udvar-Hazy Center.  Before leaving Washington DC I dropped by Arlington National Cemetery.

  

Memorial Day at Chicago O'Hare

Memorial Day at Chicago O’Hare, 2017

     

     

  

  

Arlington is a paradox.  It’s sad but uplifting.  Stark but comforting.  Graves surround you, yet you are honored to be among a multitude of heroes who fulfilled a higher call.

  

The Marines at Iwo Jima

 The Marines at Iwo Jima. 

We drove past the Marine Corps War Memorial and walked through the gates of one of the most famous cemeteries in the world.  I went against the crowds headed for John F. Kennedy’s grave.  I wanted to see the pilots.

  

'Pete'Quesada, father of tac-air.  Pappy Boyington, Black Sheep Squadron

‘Pete’ Quesada, Tac-Air pioneer.  Pappy Boyington, Black Sheep, Medal of Honor.

      

Pete Quesada’s tactical air force supported General George S. Patton’s drive all across France, acting as a virtual army protecting the Third Army’s flanks.  The irrepressible Pappy Boyington led one of the most successful fighter squadrons in the Pacific.  James Doolittle, whose diminutive headstone is all the more eye-catching, was awarded the Medal of Honor for flying land bombers from an aircraft carrier to raid Japan just four months after Pearl Harbor.  Unknown to many pilots, he also pioneered the concept and practice of instrument flight. 

James Doolittle, Tokyo Raider

James Doolittle, Tokyo Raider, Medal of Honor

I visited other aviators.  Joe Foss and Marion Carl, both Marine Corps pilots and aces.  Joe Foss was a Medal of Honor awardee.  Claire Chennault, father of the famous Flying Tigers in China is buried here.  Gary Powers, shot down on his clandestine U-2 flight over the Soviet Union, is also buried here. 

I passed other famous graves.  Omar Bradley is here, Army Group Commander in WWII and later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Berlin crisis.  Five stars.  “Lightning” Joe Collins served under Bradley as VII Corps Commander at Normandy, the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge.  He was Army Chief of Staff during the Korean war.  Four stars on his marker.  George S. Patton IV is here, son of the World War II general.  His father is buried in Luxembourg. 

  

Omar Bradley.  'Lightning' Joe Collins.

Omar Bradley.  ‘Lightning’ Joe Collins.

      

I re-focused.  There was one more pilot on my list, a long walk.  I passed a military burial.  They fired the volley of shots, and then a bugler on a hill sounded Taps.  The bugler really does stand on a distant hill.  I thought that was just in the movies. 

I found her on a far lot.  The first woman to fly fast jets in an operational Navy squadron: the A-6 Intruder, and then the F-14 Tomcat.  She ejected a fraction of a second too late from her F-14 during a landing mishap on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.  To this day there are those who take pains to declare that the crash proved she didn’t deserve to be an F-14 pilot, that women were coddled through military jet training.  But that’s for another article.

 

Kara Hultgreen, call sign 'Revlon'

Kara Hultgreen, call sign ‘Revlon’

 

I said a short prayer.  She was a carrier pilot, after all, serving her country.  She was only 29 years old. 

I walked the long road back to the gate.  At the gift shop, I saw the headlines. 

     

D-Day Headlines

June 6, 1944 D-Day headline.

 

It was June 6, 2017. 

  

  

Posted from Manila

May 29, 2018

.

Advertisements

     

     

David Baranek, call sign ‘Bio,’ was an F-14 naval aviator, became a TOPGUN instructor, the Commanding Officer of an F-14 fighter squadron, and a book author.  He flew in the movie ‘TOP GUN’ and helped write the dialogue.  When I grow up, I want to be like my friend ‘Bio.’

     

David 'Bio'Baranek, F-14 Squadron Commander

       David ‘Bio’ Baranek, F-14 Squadron Commander

  

  

David and I first connected on Facebook, and then I met him in person almost exactly a year ago, in the US.  He toured me around the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, and signed one of his books for me. 

     

Facebook friends meeting for the first time at David's book signing, Udvar-Hazy CenterFacebook friends meeting for the first time at David's book signing, Udvar-Hazy Center

Facebook friends meet in June 2017, at David’s book signing, Udvar-Hazy Center.

        

Tonet and David in front of the F-14 at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center

In front of a real F-14, with a real TOPGUN Instructor.  Doesn’t get better than this.

       

That evening David and his wife Laura joined Shirl and me for dinner in Washington DC.  And F-14 stories, TOPGUN stories, and carrier deployment stories.  A year later, I regret not having asked him a bazillion other questions.

  

Dinner with Laura and David in Washington DC.

Dinner with Shirl, Laura and David in Washington DC.

           

I found David’s book, TOPGUN DAYS, in the big Kinokuniya bookstore in Singapore on May 13, 2011.  May 13 just happened to be “TOP GUN Day,” the day the movie premiered in 1986.  I devoured the book, reviewed it on Facebook and got copies for pilot friends.   

Remember the iconic scene where ‘Maverick’ and ‘Goose’ flew inverted over the ‘MiG-28?’   Well, David was the Radar Intercept Officer in the ‘MiG-28,’ in reality an F-5F from the TOPGUN ‘Aggressor’  squadron

     

'Bio' Baranek in the movie 'TOP GUN.'

‘Bio’ Baranek points to himself, then a TOPGUN instructor, flying in the movie.

        

He also wrote radio and intercom dialogue for the training missions and dogfights.  After shooting wrapped, he and his wife Laura attended the cast and crew party. 

    

David and Laura with Tom Cruise at the TOP GUN cast party

David and his wife Laura with Tom Cruise at the ‘TOP GUN’ cast party.  Tom Cruise is on the right and David is on the left.  In case you were wondering.

     

David’s inside stories about the movie are in the book.  And there’s a lot more. 

TOPGUN DAYS thoroughly portrays the intensity and focus needed to join “the elite, the best of the best.”  The best pilots and RIO’s from each class really did get invited to become instructors in the school.  Their mission was to graduate the absolute best fighter pilots in the world.  It is inspiring to read David’s account of the “murder boards,” and all the complex preparation for training sorties.  He accurately describes the studious mastery needed to squeeze the maximum performance from the F-14 and its radar and weapons systems.  

Every boy from Orville Wright to Luke Skywalker dreamed of flying in jet fighters, and there are none better than TOPGUN instructors.  David lived the life we dreamed of as kids.

     

Too many stories, too little time.

Too many stories, too little time.

  

David’s second book, BEFORE TOPGUN DAYS, is a prequel.  It dives into David’s aviation training, filled with anecdotes of his first years of flying for the fleet.   

On his first 7-month cruise David deployed with fighter squadron VF-24 on the aircraft carrier USS Constellation in 1981.

Wait – my cousin Albert was in the same Tomcat squadron on that same ship, that year.  It turns out that they remember each other well!  I recall seeing Albert at a brief family reunion in Manila when his carrier docked at Subic Bay on the way to the Indian Ocean.  Meanwhile, David was at Subic taking cockpit video of his Tomcat taking off from Cubi Naval Air Station. 

  

VF-24 F-14 Tomcat airborne Subic, 1981

VF-24 F-14 Tomcat airborne Subic, 1981, screenshot from Bio’s cockpit video

 

Thirty years later, I flew my airplane off that very same runway.  My 1,600-pound Cessna 152 and David’s 60,000-pound F-14 probably used up the same amount of runway before taking off!  F-14s are awesome but there is no doubt a 152 is superior in takeoff field length, haha. 

  

On December 19, 1981, David and his squadron CO trapped on the carrier and caught the #4 wire … which turned out to be inadequately tensioned.  ‘Bio’ ejected himself and his pilot just as the airplane went off the flight deck into the Indian Ocean.  His video account of the ejection and recovery is both tense and funny.

  

Split-second before David and pilot eject as F-14 goes over the side

 Split-second before David and pilot eject as F-14 goes over the side.

     

David also rode out a single-engine catapult shot and recovery on the USS Ranger on another cruise, in the South China Sea, September, 1983.  A thrilling account of that episode is here, by the pilot of the Tomcat.

David later became the CO of VF-211, then fulfilled assignments with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US 7th Fleet.  He retired after 20 years in the Navy, and is now a defence contractor. 

David was an enthusiastic photographer during his Navy career, and has an impressive collection of photos, many of which have been commercially published on the internet.

     

Photo by Airfighters.com/David Baranek

Photo by Dave Baranek in Airfighters.com

     

Dave Baranek has a lot of stories to tell.  Read his books.  There’s a review and an excerpt here for you to enjoy, along with some of his photos.
  
https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/what-it-was-like-being-a-topgun-instructor-while-they-f-1655347873

  

Or browse his website, http://www.topgunbio.com/.  There are dozens of photos, videos, and anecdotes there, plus links to many interesting websites.   He is writing his third book.

  

Tomcats forever! 

     

Shirl, Tomcat, 'Bio.'

Shirl, Tomcat, ‘Bio.’

     

     

Posted from Manila

May 13, 2018

   

.

Air Combat

    

    

April 27, 2016 was one of the best entries in my pilot logbook:  Air Combat Manoeuvring — “dogfighting.”  Air Combat USA was an outfit in Fullerton Airport, California.  We showed up at their hangar for a pre-booked flight.  Suddenly our world changed.  We were on an aircraft carrier.  We were about to launch into air combat against a real pilot, in a real fighter airplane, with badass ex-Navy and ex-Marine fighter pilots.

There were two little boys in those Marchetti SF-260 fighter airplanes that day.

     

     

Now, two years later, my former adversary Paolo sits all grown up in the cockpit of an A-330 airliner.  In fighter pilot lingo he is “flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.”

    

13268529_10153722187132857_1843832433820495580_o-001

Paolo ready to go Mach 2 with his hair on fire.    

 

But two years ago, he travelled trans-Pacific the day before our knife fight and pleaded jet-lag.  He also claimed that he spent the night with “Charlie.”  Yeah, right.  I texted him that Charlie and I were already at the beach playing half-naked volleyball with Maverick and Goose.

We met at Fullerton and stepped through the looking glass.  We were instantly in an aircraft carrier fighter squadron ready room.  Within minutes we were ordered to the locker room to put our flight gear on. 

     

13267845_10153722200997857_4574696440455726131_n

Air Combat USA ‘Ready Room.’  

 

We considered recreating the locker beefcake scene from the movie. 

“Yes, Ice…man.  I am dangerous.” 

Tim, Paolo’s Dad, threatened to walk out if we stripped down to towels.  So we put our flight suits on and sat for the briefing.

    

13248474_10153722209372857_615106355681881639_o-001

Tonet and Paolo

        

An ex-F-14 Navy jock, call sign ‘Spartan,’ ran the one-hour brief.  The biggest thing on the board was “LOOK GOOD AT ALL COSTS.”  The Marchetti SF260s we would fly had three video cameras – cockpit camera from behind looking forward; gun sight camera; and the ‘hero’ camera, which looked back at the pilots and was always on.  If your breakfast came up again, the hero camera would record the ballistics of every disgusting barf.

    

IMG_20160427_143043-003

LOOK GOOD AT ALL COSTS   

 

Then there was the cryptic “IYAC YAT” on the whiteboard.  “If You Ain’t Cheating, You Ain’t Trying.”  So the playbook allowed shady tactics?  These would be covered in the airplane after take off, we were told.

    

IMG_20160427_143043-004

IYAC YAT    

 

I went into the ladies room by mistake and the wisecracks were predictable. 

“The trophy for the alternates is down in the ladies room!”  Yeah, cracked me up.

We slipped into our parachute harnesses, then swaggered out on deck.  We hammed TOP GUN poses beside the airplanes.  We shamelessly pretended to shake hands.  The trash talk was personal and unforgiving.  ‘TOPGUN’ dialogue lines were abused again and again.

    

13267730_10153722217817857_2410539795597971467_n

13263950_10153722223842857_2629947605482513661_n

The trash talk was personal and unforgiving.    

 

My engine wouldn’t start.  Paolo taxied out ahead, chortling.  My IP, an ex-Marine F-18 pilot, call sign ‘Mac,’ cycled our boost pump and the Lycoming O-540 fired.  After a formation take off we tested our guns on the way to the range.  When you triggered the Marchetti’s guns, a laser beam fired at the target airplane.  If you hit him, his laser sensors would ignite a smoke trail.  There would be no arguments about who won.

Watch the video of our aerial battle.  The barrel roll attack tutorial is interesting.  Paolo and I shot each other down in the first two practice dogfights, then we went at it tooth and nail.  Dogfights #3 and #4 were easy kills for me, since Paolo was focused on keeping his breakfast down.

    

Well if you were directly above him, how could you see him?  Because I was inverted.       “Well if you were directly above him, how could you see him?”

Because I was inverted.”

     

Then we squared off for dogfight #5. 

The video is worth watching just for this one dogfight.  We flashed past each other head on, left-to-left, then Paolo daringly went vertical, pulling straight up into the sky.  He rounded the top of the shuddering loop and dove.  I pulled a 4.5G split-S, my body weighed four and a half times normal and my Marchetti nibbled at the stall buffet as I tried to pull my targeting reticle onto him and light him up with my guns.  

    

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-004

“You can run, kid, but you can’t hide.”

    

Paolo kicked off a miraculous recovery by wrenching his Marchetti into another high-G vertical egg, squeezing every bit of performance from his airplane. 

     

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-006

“He’s still coming, he’s still back there.  C’mon Mav, do some of that pilot sh*t!”

    

After three mind-blackening vertical turns it was clear that Paolo had gained the edge, pulling tighter and flirting more daringly with the stall buffet.  He was almost on my tail.  ‘Mac’ suggested I reverse my turn, and I made it worse by hesitating in level flight for two seconds.  I realized my mistake and desperately rolled 90 degrees more to the right, but Paolo was already there.

     

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-005

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-007”Goose, I WANT Viper”

     

Clearly, he was quite motivated to kill me.

He slashed in almost at right angles to me, a tough 90-degree deflection shot, where the target airplane was flashing perpendicularly across his nose.   He was also in a high closure rate, but his timing was exquisite as he held the trigger down. 

    

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-002

The Defense Department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.

  

‘Mac’ and I were toast.  Eject, eject, eject.

   

Blood in his eyes, Paolo wanted one more.  ‘Spartan’ and ‘Mac’ set us up head on again, and then Paolo and I took over our respective controls.  Dogfight #6.

As we neared each other, nearly head on, I slammed the stick left, even before ‘Spartan’ announced, “Fight’s on.”  IYAC YAT!  My Marchetti instantly rolled wings vertical.  As Paolo predictably went vertical again, I slipped across his loop, and it was my turn to rake him as he crossed my nose.  Guns, guns, guns, and it was over.

    

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-008

 “Say hello to my little friend!”

       

“Say hello to my little friend!”  Mac rubbed it in with the Al Pacino’s line from ‘Scarface.’  Fighter pilots are suckers for movie lines.

     

We flew home in tight formation, pumped up and basking in the smug realization that for the rest of the day our shit would smell good.  Heroes.

 

IMG_20160428_224855-001

"We’re going home, Viper has the lead."

    

Los Alamitos Army Airfield, on our route home, made our day when they requested a low flyby.  Goose, it’s time to buzz the tower. 

“Marchetti Ball!”  We recovered with overhead breaks just like they do at aircraft carriers.  On the ramp they thought I had to be helped out of the cockpit.  I just sat there not wanting it to end.

At the debrief we watched both SD cards unreel in perfect synchronization.  Shirl, Paolo’s Mom and Dad, and my cousins Rico (United B777 Captain) and Jeepy (retired B747 Captain) snickered at our self-awe.‘

13256490_10153723575542857_8528318652359547966_n-00113220928_10153723574417857_7545210701070121694_n“Gutsiest move I ever saw, Mav.”

 

It was worth every cent.  Today, two years later, Air Combat USA is transitioning to new ownership, and I really hope they sort things out quickly, because I want to do this again.  And again.  And again.  Heck, Paolo even bid for the airline equipment that will get him into the LAX area for layovers.  Layovers my ass. 

    

    

Posted from Manila

April 27, 2018

Two years later

Time to Write, Time to Fly

 

Something changed this year.  After 37 years of working, the planets aligned on a perfect opportunity to choose when to work and what to work on. 

Planetary alignments don’t happen often.  I seized the opportunity. 

Stress has been my constant companion in the recent years.  Being the Chief Supply Chain Officer of a $4 Billion global company is truly a 24×7 job.  There is always a region in the world that is awake, and our non-stop worldwide operations kept me heavily engaged 18-20 hours a day.

That ended this year.  I am now financially independent.  More importantly, I now have the time to fly, and to write.

 

 

It’s been a wild year!  On top of redirecting my passions from management to retirement, I was gifted with the golden aviation nuggets.  There are so many stories to tell.  Now there is time to tell them all.

Our beloved airplane, a 1978 Cessna 152, had its engine overhauled in the UK. 

  

Our Lycoming is back from MOH at Norvic, England.

  

Our Lycoming came back from major overhaul in Norvic, England, with new cylinder sets, crank bearings, ring gear and idler gear sets, Slicks, ignition harness, carburettor, Warp Drive with flux capacitor, new wallet with smaller compartments for money… .  Beam me up, Scotty, there is no cash left down here!  Two months of excellent craftsmanship and 3 months of assembly and paperwork later, our engine is installed, fully checked out and nearly brand new.  The airplane is performing solidly according to book values, if not better.

 

In the San Francisco Bay area, I chanced upon another flying display by the Collings Foundation World War II Warbirds.  They had a B-17, B-24, P-51 and a B-25 on the ramp at Moffet Field.  They were offering rides, and a chance to fly right seat in the B-25, a twin-engine medium bomber made famous by the Doolittle Raid.

I seized the day.

  

B-25 "Tondelayo

   

Then, just a week later, a visit to the Commemorative Air Force museum and ramp in Phoenix AZ gave me my first close-up look at an F-4 Phantom, which I actually kissed and tried to hug. 

  

18700008_10207254562160923_4457833163386072966_n

 

They let me climb all over their famous B-17, ‘Sentimental Journey.’  The B-17 has been a piece of the True Cross for me since childhood.  I spent an hour alone inside it.  They were doing some maintenance on it on the ramp, and nobody even glanced at me as I personally shot down hordes of Messerschmitts and flew it home on three engines.  I seized that day, too.

  

18670925_10207254562400929_3548665621136436342_n

  

But probably the best story of the year is my visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, both to the Washington DC museum and in the Udvar-Hazy Center.  There, beside the F-14 Tomcat, I finally met a Facebook friend, David ‘Bio’ Baranek, former TOP GUN instructor, squadron commander and now author of two outstanding books about flying in the Tomcat.

     

18951042_10207309611617125_105507094470234687_n

Those of you who don’t recognize him might remember him as one of the stars in the 1986 iconic movie, TOPGUN.  No, he wasn’t ‘Viper’ or ‘Jester’ or even ‘Maverick.’  David was the RIO, the Bear, the Guy in the Back Seat, in the ‘MiG-28.’  With a red star on his black helmet, David was in the F-5 that terrorized ‘Cougar’ until Maverick flew inverted on top of his canopy.

18835723_10207309609537073_8131867465226047173_n 

  

Doesn’t get better than that – an F-14 RIO and TOP GUN instructor, who was in the movie TOPGUN, who helped write the script, and who went on to command an F-14 Fleet squadron on an aircraft carrier.  David and his wonderful wife Laura joined us for dinner that evening in Washington DC.  I would have had dinner with him in Timbuktu.  I didn’t just seize that day – I hugged it tight.

I am still hoping to invite ‘Bio’ Baranek to my country to meet some of our military pilots and maybe give us a talk.  I really treasure our friendship. 

  

Santa_Refueling

  

 

There are scores of stories for this year.  I promise to write them all.  Now it’s time to go to Christmas Eve mass.  To all our readers and friends, please have a truly Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy New Year!

  

   IMG_20171224_132936IMG_20171224_133225

IMG_20171224_133726

  

     

Posted by Tonet from Manila

24 December 2017

Santa Cat

  

In December 2000, The aircraft carrier USS George Washington transited the Mediterranean, bound for Norfolk, her home port.  It had been a long cruise in the Arabian Sea for Operation Southern Watch, responding to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, and joining the search and recovery of a missing Gulf Air airliner.  She also cruised the Adriatic for NATO exercise Destined Glory and covered the first free elections in Serbia.  After port calls in Corfu, Naples, Trieste and Palma de Majorca, the GW and her air wing sailed for Christmas at home.  

  

To celebrate, Fighter Squadron VF-103 painted one of their F-14B Tomcats in Christmas colours, decorating their famous “Jolly Rogers” livery with a Santa hat and crossed candy canes.  It became known in Tomcat lore as the ‘Santa Cat.’

 

11-IMG_20160715_100915

  

Fourteen years later, Century Wings released a 1/72 scale die-cast model of the ‘Santa Cat.  It was a collectors’ item, with only 1,200 made.  I had to get one, even if the e-Bay price had gone supersonic since release.

  

10-IMG_20161106_214611

     

Like every kid who loves airplanes, I slapped plastic scale models together before puberty.  Decades later, I decided to get serious about the hobby, and eked out a slow build of an aircraft carrier deck diorama for the Santa Cat.

  

09-IMG_20161111_095038

1-IMG_20161126_154357

04-IMG_20161126_002649

1-IMG_20161115_104601

1-IMG_20161126_184102

  

I dressed up my tiny “Village People” deck crew — camo pants, bare torsos and all, and inhaled copious vapours of air brush paint.  I used up an eye shadow compact before discovering Tamiya’s weathering pastels.  After taking over the dining table for several weeks, I finally finished the damn thing.

    1-IMG_20161207_141923

1-IMG_20161209_130514

  

That night, when all through the deck, not a creature was stirring, I spotted a stowaway on my aircraft carrier.  There, behind the catapult ‘shooter’, was an extra crew member.  My hair stood on end.  Who the heck was that?!

  

1-IMG_20161207_193618

5-IMG_20161207_195809

  

The mysterious fellow was soon surrounded by the cat crew and squadron safety officers.  Up in Pri-Fly, the Air Boss tore at his hair.  But CAG had authorized the evolution.  A new aircraft was to be switched onto the catapult.

  

2-IMG_20161207_205532

  

The Santa Cat made way for a new strike package.  The deck operators had their hands full with fresh paperwork for the new launch.  They were stupefied by the weight boards.  The vehicles’ payloads maxed out the catapult’s rating. 

  

1-IMG_20161207_194336

4-IMG_20161207_195354

    

Eventually we sorted it all out.  The Madagascar Penguins ensured discipline, the deck crew preserved operational efficiency and, er, everyone pitched in with the Christmas Spirit. 

  

   

   

  

Another year has gone by, an extremely busy year.  Looking back, i was lucky to have found the time for the diorama, and to fly again at Air Combat USA, six dogfights against a fellow pilot and ACM enthusiast. 

We wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas! 

  

6-IMG_20161210_165930

5-IMG_20161210_170045

  

  

  

  

Postscript:  A friend on Facebook alerted me to a new photo from the USS George Washington.  Life is imitating art!  US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Wyatt L. Anthony,, a week ago.

  

15442193_10154880777240719_1975852992081260682_n

  

  

Posted from Manila, Philippines

24 December, 2016

  

.

Anytime, Baby

  

  

    tom-lib

  

Fighter pilots make movies.  Bomber pilots make history.

— Stephen Coonts, Flight of the Intruder

  

  

  

  

On August 19, 1981, 35 years ago today, two fighter pilots and an iconic airplane did make history.  US Navy pilots Commander Henry ‘Hank’ Kleemann and Lt. Lawrence ‘Music’ Muczynski catapulted their F-14A jets off the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, for a dawn combat air patrol, much like ‘Maverick’ and ‘Cougar’ did in the opening scenes of the movie TOP GUN five years later.

Libya’s strongman Muammar Gaddafi had drawn a ‘Line of Death’ across a piece of the Mediterranean Ocean and claimed the Gulf of Sidra as Libyan waters.  Two aircraft carriers of the US Sixth Fleet, the USS Forrestal and the USS Nimitz, steamed to enforce international freedom of navigation.

  

The Nimitz had two squadrons of the new Grumman F-14 Tomcats.  The Tomcat went into service just five years earlier.  It had never been in combat.

Kleemann was the Commanding Officer of fighter squadron VF-41, the ‘Black Aces’.  He and his Radar Intercept Officer, Lt. David ‘DJ’ Venlet, had the call sign ‘Fast Eagle 102.’  After launching from the Nimitz at 0600, Kleemann and Venlet topped up on fuel at an air-refuelling tanker and were told to join up with Muczynski and his RIO, Lt jg James ‘Luca’ Anderson, who were flying in ‘Fast Eagle 107.’   Kleemann took overall command and flew a racetrack pattern at a patrol station inside the Gulf of Sidra. 

  

f-14a-tomcat-vf-41-black-aces-tc-09

F-14A Tomcat VF-41 Black Aces ‘Fast Eagle 107.’  Before the engagement, one of its Sidewinder weapons pylons went down, rendering the heat-seeking missile useless.  During the engagement, its AWG-9 radar went down, rendering all its radar-guided missiles useless.  ‘Fast Eagle 102’ was left with one heat-seeking Sidewinder and its 20mm internal cannon.  (Image credit aviationgraphic.com)

  

  

Their radios chattered.  F-14s from the Nimitz and older F-4 Phantoms from the Forrestal were intercepting Libyan fighter jets probing around the Gulf.  The mission was intimidation, intercept and escort, not shoot.  “We can target your ships any time,” the Libyan actions suggested.  “We can shoot you down long before you do,” the US reactions signalled.

  

F-4J_of_VF-74_with_Libyan_MiG-23_over_Gulf_of_Sidra_1981

A U.S. Navy F-4J Phantom II of Fighter Squadron VF-74 Be-Devilers escorting a Libyan MiG-23 over Gulf of Sidra in August 1981.  (U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation)

  

Kleemann and Muczynski flew on opposite sides of their north-south racetrack, so that one airplane’s radar always pointed at Libya.  After 45 minutes, they were down to their minimum combat fuel load.  They were light and agile, but would need to refuel soon.

Then Venlet, the RIO back seater in ‘Fast Eagle 102’, broke out a target on radar.  Directly south, 190 degrees, 60 miles away.  Climbing fast.

The unknown aircraft, or ‘bogey,’ was taking off from Ghurdabiyah air base in Libya.  Muczynski in ‘Fast Eagle 107’ formed on Kleemann’s right wing, 2 miles out, both of them level at 20,000 feet.  The bogey was headed straight at them at 540 knots, just below Mach 1. 

Venlet, who had radar contact in the back seat of ‘Fast Eagle 102,’  commanded a turn 20 degrees to the right, then 40 degrees left, trying to offset themselves and turn in behind the bogey.  The bogey turned to face them each time. 

Ten miles.  Kleemann decided to head directly at the bogey.  He accelerated to 550 knots, going to minimum afterburner to burn off tell-tale smoke trails from their jet engines.  Muczynski went to ‘combat spread,’ climbing 8,000 feet above Kleemann’s jet, 2 miles to the right.  Total closure speed was 1,100 knots, 1 mile every 3 seconds. 

Eight miles.  Kleemann in ‘Fast Eagle 102’ now picked up the targets visually.  There were two bogies, not one, in a ‘loose deuce,’ formation.  They were Soviet Sukhoi Su-22’s, also swing-wing airplanes, designed for ground attack, not dogfighting.  But they were armed with two AA-2 Atoll air-to-air missiles. 

 

Su-22M2K

Libyan Su-22M2K, the aircraft that patrolled the Gulf of Sidra in August 1981

  

As briefed, the first one to spot the bogey, Kleemann, was now the ‘eyeball.’  Muczynski was the ‘shooter’.  Muczynski hooked high and right (remember ‘Cougar’s’ line in the movie TOP GUN?) wanting to have an acute angle off the bandits’ tails, but found himself sucked behind the geometry of the merge, even as he went to Zone 5 afterburner. 

The two Su-22s, slightly low, merged head-on with Kleemann.  Kleemann rolled his left wing down, so that he could keep the Su-22s in sight as he passed over them.  They were still on ‘Weapons hold.’  Muczynski, 8,000 feet up and 2 miles to the right, began a hard left turn to get behind the Libyans… .

  

  

  

  

Five years later, Lt Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise) rolled his F-14 inverted directly over a bogey in the movie TOP GUN and gave the opposing pilot ‘the finger’, which his RIO ‘Goose’ (Anthony Edwards) later explained to TOP GUN instructor ‘Charlie’ (Kelly McGillis) as “Keeping up with foreign relations.”  I like the shirt I was wearing as I wrote this article in a Boeing 777 32,000 feet over the Australian outback. 

  

IMG_20160819_130128

Writing this article on board SQ238, 32,000 feet, 520 knots.

  

Three things made the Grumman F-14 Tomcat a fighter pilot’s dream – the swing wings, the radar, and the Phoenix missile. 

The swing wings achieved a perfect balance of speed and manoeuvrability.  Extended forward, the wings gave maximum lift for slow flight, carrier landings or hard air combat manoeuvring.  Wings swept back, the F-14 was a Mach 2.5 supersonic jet.  The wings swung automatically.  The airplane constantly re-designed itself to the demands of the pilot.

The Hughes AWG-9 radar had two spectacular features.  It could see out to 200 nautical miles, farther and clearer than any fighter radar then.  It could track 24 targets at a time, even as it continued to scan for more.  And it could guide six missiles simultaneously to six different targets.

 

Gotcha%20Baby's%20cockpit-001A view of a tactical information display (TID) in the cockpit of an F-14A Tomcat aircraft.

F-14A cockpit, with detail of AWG-9 Tactical Information Display.  Image by Nose Art Guy.

  

Imagine a pistol with a tactical flashlight, a laser sight and six bullets.  Your laser sight can keep red dots on six supersonic moving targets at the same time.  You can fire six bullets one after the other.  Your bullets will hit six different targets.  All while your flashlight continues to look for more bad guys.  This was Star Wars stuff.

The targeting computer could also read data from another radar on another airplane or a ship.  The Tomcat’s own radar could stay turned off, and the crew could still engage the remotely-designated targets.

The ‘bullets’ were the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles.  They could reach targets out 120 nautical miles, over 10 times the norm then.  Each missile had its own radar — it could home on its target even as the Tomcat broke away.  Fire and forget.

 

bf38f485b05f5207529eef8081fa8cce

F-14 firing an AIM-54 Phoenix missile.  (Suburban Men)

   

Kleemann and Muczynski had Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles.  Nobody expected to fire.  US President Ronald Reagan had personally crafted the ROE, Rules of Engagement, for the Gulf of Sidra manoeuvres – “Do not fire unless fired upon.”  Another line copied by the TOP GUN scriptwriters. 

The previous President, Jimmy Carter, had prohibited shooting at enemy airplanes even after they had fired and were heading home.  Reagan changed that.  If an enemy airplane shot at you, “Follow them all the way into their hangar,” Reagan decreed.

  

  

  

  

Now Kleemann and Muczynski, merging with two Libyan Su-22s, saw a bright flash and a trail of smoke erupt from the left side of the lead Sukhoi.  Missile shot at ‘Fast Eagle 102’!  The ‘bogeys’ were now ‘bandits,’ enemy aircraft.

The missile was not a factor.  The Libyan pilot had fired less than 300 meters from Kleemann, way too close for the missile to acquire a target.  Above, Muczynski saw the missile “do a banana” towards his own airplane, but already it was curving far behind the Tomcat.

The lead Su-22, the shooter, went into a climbing left turn, heading northwest away from Libya.  The second Su-22 reversed course to the right, bugging out.

Both Muczynski and Kleemann turned left for the first Su-22.  Kleemann asked Muczynski where he was going.  Muczynski said he was going after the lead Su-22.  Kleemann reversed his turn to the right to go after the second Su-22.

  

Fullscreen capture 2082016 123800 AM

After the Libyan missile missed, the Su-22s split, the lead Sukhoi climbed left while his wingman reversed to the right.  Both F-14s made hard left turns to go after the lead Su-22.  Fast Eagle 102 then rolled right onto the wingman Su-22, waited until the target cleared the sun.  Fast Eagle 107, coming down on a hard left turn from above the merge, rolled in behind the lead Su-22, which had begun to turn right, possibly to re-engage with the other F-14.  (Combat Cartography)

  

Kleemann selected a heat-seeking Sidewinder missile.  His target arc across the disc of the rising sun.  He held fire for 10 seconds until the Su-22 was completely clear of the sun.  At an angle of 40 degrees off the bandit’s tail, three-quarters of a mile behind, Kleemann launched a Sidewinder off his left glove weapon pylon.  The missile pulled lead on the bandit, then turned 90 degrees, hit the Su-22 in the engine and detonated.  Debris blew out as the Libyan’s engine shredded.  The Su-22’s drogue parachute streamed and the pilot ejected.  Kleemann saw the pilot’s parachute open. 

  

first_blood__vf_41_black_aces__gulf_of_sidra_by_greywolferun-d7hwmqk

Fox 2 kill by Fast Eagle 102.  Image by GreyWolfeRun.

  

Muczynski drove to a firing position on his target’s tail.  He was thinking, this guy is fleeing, not a threat, probably never saw his F-14.

“Hank, want me to shoot my guy down?”

“That’s affirm, shoot him!! Shoot him down!”

Muczynski fired a Sidewinder from half a mile behind the bandit.  The heat-seeking missile went straight up the Sukhoi’s tailpipe and blew the entire back half of the airplane into debris.  Muczynski was convinced that he had shot himself down, that debris would enter his own F-14’s engine intakes.  He instantaneously pulled 10.2 Gs to put his F-14 into a hard vertical climb,  Above the debris cloud, Muczynski rolled upside down to watch the Libyan pilot eject.  Nobody saw a parachute open.

“Fox 2 kill for Music,” Muczynski said on the radio.

The entire dogfight, from merge to the shoot down, took 60 seconds.

  

images (87)

Fast Eagle 107 destroys an Su-22.  Image by John Clark.

  

The F-14 pilots jabbered over the radio net as they flew back to the Nimitz.  In ‘Fast Eagle 102,’ Venlet said to Kleemann, “Hey Skipper, I bet the President gets woke up on this one.”  Muczynski, shaking uncontrollably, put his F-14 on autopilot until he calmed down.  The Captain of the Nimitz announced to the entire ship that their F-14s had just downed two enemy fighters. 

Kleemann and Muczynski went straight for the landing pattern, where Kleemann missed the first approach with a bolter.  Muczynski landed on this first try, and Kleemann boltered again.  He finally caught a three-wire on the third try.  By the time the pilots shut down and egressed the airplanes the cheering deck crew had spray painted a “Kill Marking,” a silhouette of an Su-22, on each Tomcat. 

  

Fast_Eagle_102

Fast Eagle 102 on the USS Nimitz right after the shoot down in 1981.  

  

Admiral James Service, commanding the carrier task force, flashed the news up the NATO and US chains of command, all the way to Caspar Weinberger, US SecDef, and Alexander Haig, US Secretary of State.  As Venlet predicted, President Reagan was awoken in California.  He was due to visit the USS Constellation, an aircraft carrier of the US Pacific Fleet, off the coast of San Diego the next day.

All in all, US Navy F-14 Tomcats shot down five enemy airplanes in 30 years of operation, including two again in the Gulf of Sidra eight years later.  In Operation Desert Storm an F-14 shot down an Iraqi helicopter.  Despite (or because of) the F-14’s capabilities and movie stardom, very few enemy airplanes chose to do battle with the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

 

f14-history-combat-vf41art

   Artwork by Jon Morrison, signed by all the pilots.

  

  

  

  

  

  

Postscript

The Gulf of Sidra incident in 1981 was the combat debut of the F-14, where it scored its first kills.  F-14 crews designed a patch that announced they were ready “Anytime, Baby.”  The patch is iconic and a great souvenir item. 

 

IMG_20160711_012550-001

Anytime, Baby…!  Tonet Rivera collection.

  

Just four years later Cmdr Henry Kleemann landed an F-18 at Naval Air Station Miramar, home of the TOPGUN Fighter Weapons School, after a thunderstorm.  The landing gear squat switches suffered a fault, and the airplane hydroplaned on the wet runway and spun in a 180-degree ground loop.  The jet dug a wingtip into the ground and flipped over.  Kleemann’s canopy separated from the airplane during the crash sequence, and he was trapped in the upside down jet with his head driven into the ground by an armed ejection seat ready to fire.  It took 45 minutes to free him, and he died of his injuries before reaching the hospital.

 

IMG_20160820_131314

From the book, Fall From Glory, by George Vistica, 1997.

  

In January 1989 two F-14 Tomcats from US Navy squadron VF-32 shot down two Libyan MiG-23s over the Gulf of Sidra.  The MiG-23, also a swing wing airplane, was then one of the most advanced Soviet fighters.  VF-41 and VF-32 now shared combat honours in the F-14.  Two months later, on March 11, 1989, James Anderson, RIO of ‘Fast Eagle 107,’ died in a skiing accident.

 

IMG_20160711_012550-003

Something in common, VF-41 and VF-32 patches.  Tonet Rivera collection.

  

In 1991 an F-14 Tomcat shot down an Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter during Operation Desert Storm.  US Navy F-14s never shot down an enemy airplane again, likely because opposing pilots always chose to avoid combat with the Tomcat.  (Iranian F-14s sold by the US to the former Shah of Iran shot down several Iraqi aircraft during the Iran-Iraq war.)

In October 1994 the US Navy’s first carrier-based female fighter pilot, Lt Kara ‘Revlon’ Hultgreen, was flying an approach to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the F-14 that used to be known as ‘Fast Eagle 107.’  As she lined up on short final she suffered a compressor stall in her left engine and the airplane rolled to the left.  Her RIO ejected both of them but Hultgreen’s seat fired after the airplane had rolled past the vertical, and she impacted the sea.  Her remains and the wrecked F-14, veteran of the Gulf of Sidra, were recovered weeks later.

 

IMG_20160716_185428

The wreck of Fast Eagle 107.  From the book, Fall From Glory, by George Vistica, 1997.

  

Lt David Venlet became an admiral and the executive officer of the F-35 project team.  Lt Lawrence Muczynski left the Navy to become an airline pilot. 

 

images (86)(1)

 

In 2006 the F-14 was retired after 25 years of service.  Grumman built a total of 712 F-14As, F-14Bs and F-14Ds.  The Tomcat was an even more potent fighter, with more powerful engines, upgraded radar and fire-control.  It amassed significant combat achievements as a strike fighter in Operations Deliberate Force in Bosnia, Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom.  At the height of its upgraded capabilities, The F-14 Tomcat was retired by Dick Cheney.  Cheney favoured McDonnell Douglas, builders of the F-18 Hornet.  Grumman disappeared.  Eventually, so did McDonnell Douglas, acquired by Boeing.

In order to prevent Iran from acquiring spare parts, every surviving F-14 was shredded into scrap aluminium, except for a few destined for museums.

On August 19, 2012, exactly 31 years to the day after the dogfight that inspired the movie ‘TOP GUN,’ director Tony Scott committed suicide.

Cmdr Kleemann’s Fast Eagle 102 Tomcat is in storage in Midland, Texas.  The Confederate Air Force began restoring it last month.

 

F-14-pic5-1

Fast Eagle 102 in storage at Midland, Texas. Warbirdnews.com.

  

Iran continues to operate its surviving F-14A Tomcats. 

 

 

 

 

Posted from on board SQ238

19 August 2016

IMG_20160819_173312

 

Resources

Actual audio recording and transcripts of US Navy radio calls during the shoot down, August 19, 1981.  The intercept controller, “Bare Ace,” is actually an E-2C Hawkeye from Electronic Early Warning Squadron VAW-124, ‘Bear Aces.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1y5Tf0E136k

 

Diagram of the air combat manoeuvres, from Combat Cartography.

http://www.combatcartography.co.uk/combat-maps.html

 

Preserving and restoring ‘Fast Eagle 102’

http://www.warbirdsnews.com/warbird-restorations/preserving-fast-eagle-102.html

http://highskywing.org/?page_id=4241

http://navalaviationnews.navylive.dodlive.mil/2011/08/26/vintage-shootdown/

http://alert5.com/2016/07/27/restoring-fast-eagle-102/

 

Patches

http://airwingspotter.com/tomcats/

Jon Morrison artwork

http://www.anft.net/f-14/f14-history-combat-vf41art.jpg

Best F-14 site on the worldwide web

http://www.anft.net/f-14/f14-history-combat.htm

 

New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/1981/08/20/world/us-reports-shooting-down-2-libya-jets-that-attacked-f-14-s-over-mediterrane.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/16/obituaries/james-p-anderson-navy-flier-37.html

 

GreyWolfeRun Art

http://greywolferun.deviantart.com/art/First-Blood-VF-41-Black-Aces-Gulf-of-Sidra-453339164

Aviation Graphic

http://www.aviationgraphic.com/airplanes/318-f-14a-tomcat-vf-41-black-aces-tc-09.html

 

Aviation Camouflage of Libyan Su-22M2K

http://wp.scn.ru/en/ww3/a/42/40/0

 

My books

Martin and Walcott have a detailed account of the shoot down.  It’s a dated but excellent book that reflects the times – Desert One, the TWA hijack, the Dozier kidnapping, the seizure of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, the Beirut Marine barracks, Red Brigades, Baader-Meinhof, Black September, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the good old peaceful days.

Vistica wrote about the tribulations of the Navy leadership throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  Eye-opening.

Spears is the mother of Hultgreen, and so could have written a very one-sided account about her daughter.  Her book, Revlon, is surprisingly unbiased and a deeply insightful account of her daughter’s experience in the US Navy as one of the first female pilots in the fighter community.  Hultgreen’s journal and personal papers are extensively quoted, resulting in a candid and revealing account of the biases and harassment she faced in the Navy.

Kinzey included an extensive audio-taped interview of ‘Music’ Muczynski, the pilot of ‘Fast Eagle 107.’  His Detail & Scale volume is loaded with illustrations of both F-14A Tomcats from the Gulf of Sidra incident.

IMG_20160820_145705

Tonet Rivera collection.

The Story of This Year’s Christmas Card

 

 

Every year, Shirl designs our Christmas cards around our best aviation story of the year.  Last year’s card had a Spitfire, and we have cards marking horrendous air traffic, a migration to a magical grass airfield, a year of endless, er … maintenance, a year of aerobatic training.  It was a close call this year, because I had to choose between flying in an actual dogfight vs. celebrating another kind of aerial victory.  Given the Season, it was an easy choice.

   IMG_20151224_162153IMG_20151224_162025

  

  

     

IMG_20150929_100426

     

  

  

  

In 1948, just 3 years after the World War against Germany ended, the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin to force its former allies out of the city.  Deep inside East Germany, West Berlin was a democratic island in the middle of a Communist sea.

    

110124-D-7991K-001

  

Allied pilots flew over two million of tons of food, coal and other critical supplies to Berlin in 1948-49.  It was one of the coldest winters in Germany.  During his final approaches in a heavily-laden C-54 cargo airplane, American pilot Gail Halvorsen dropped parachutes with gum and chocolate bars to German kids who waited all day at the end of the runways.  He had met the German kids at the perimeter fence, and he realized that they had never tasted chocolate bars or chewing gum before. 

  

IMG_20151003_171655

    

The Airlift defeated the Soviet blockade, won the hearts and minds of a former enemy, turned around an impossible election for an American President, preserved democracy in West Berlin, and left an indelible mark in the hearts of German kids who today run Germany.

  

IMG_20151016_021646

  

I’m a supply chain professional, and a pilot.  I always wanted to fly, since I was a very young child.  I love candy and chocolate.  The story of the Berlin Airlift captivated me.  This is a heart-warming tale of pilots, kids, chewing gum, an incredible supply chain case study, fabulous feats of flying, and an aerial victory without any shots fired, neither at a former enemy or at a former ally.

This year I went to Tempelhof, toured the Allied Museum, walked the runways I had read about decades ago, and stood on the ramp beside a C-54 on that had actually flown in the Airlift, nearly 70 years ago. 

 

IMG_20151016_010835

IMG_20151016_010655

IMG_20151016_133229

IMG_20151003_203426

10400630_10204025354392747_7213051755213795497_n

3802_10204025354992762_3579506488587163763_n

  

I tried to give everyone a card until I ran out. And a few illustrated books about the Candy Bomber, which were really written for children. To all of you, especially those whose cards are lost in the post office supply chain, …

       

… Merry Christmas!  Frohe Weinachten!

  

12359949_10204025354592752_148792973075544558_n

5918_10204025354272744_7685175092996920339_n

 

                           

  

  

Posted from Manila

24 December, 2015

  

  

.

%d bloggers like this: