This is a special edition of our weekly newsletter dedicated to my dear friend, Bob Baranaskas, who was killed while practicing in his P-40 Warhawk on Sunday, April 5. Bob was a successful business man, a loving husband and father, a friend to all who knew him, and a positive influence on all the lives he touched.
We are not listing air show information in this newsletter and we have stripped away all our ads so the reader can stay focused on what's important here. This is all about Bob and his oldest son, Chris. They are the backbone of Warbirds Over Long Island based at Brookhaven Airport, Long Island, NY.
The word 'hero' means different things to different people. To a basketball player in the ghetto, a hero is someone like Michael Jordan or LeBron James. The media is quick to annoint anyone as a hero who wins the big game. True American heroes are those who put their lives on the line like those serving in the military. Bob Baranaskas honored our military every day of his life. My personal heroes are those who inspire me, those I look up to, a true role model. Someone like Bob Baranaskas.
Bob was my mentor in the air show business. He and Chris had a hard time breaking into the air show world and he wanted to spare me that hardship. Bob introduced me to Gary Lewi of American Airpower and the three of them became the best friends and biggest supporters of Airshow Traveler. I became an adopted member of the Long Island aviation community and I am proud of that honor.
Being a shy introvert for so many years, I never told those I loved how I felt about them. Nowadays, I probably go too far the other way, slobbering all over those I love, but to me it's better than having your brother and sister die of cancer and never telling them you loved them. I love Bob Baranaskas and I made sure Bob always knew it. He will always be my hero.
Father and Son Extraordinaire
Condensed from our August 2007 Issue
There are not enough superlatives in Webster's to express how we feel about Bob and Chris Baranaskas. We have spoken to many pilots on the air show circuit and not one of them has a bad word to say about these two great guys, so our opinion is shared by many others. Bob and Chris understand, first and foremost, that air shows are put on for the benefit of the fans. As we've said many times...they get it.
Though we had seen them at many shows, we never got a real chance to talk to Bob and Chris until last October's Dover AFB show. It's not that we didn't want to; they were always swamped with spectators, like ants on a lollipop. At Dover, Horace Sagnor and I started talking to Chris and we just kept talking and talking. Horace and I were impressed by how gracious Chris was. He wasn't cocky at all. Cool, but confident.
Bob's love of aviation came from his father, a World War II fighter pilot and B-17 instructor. His father would later attain a commercial pilot's license and fly DC-3, DC-6, and DC-7 airliners for American Airlines, so Bob has been around aircraft all his life and the passion was always there.
When Bob was seventeen he took flying lessons and fell in love with the sky. At age twenty, with a two-year college degree under his belt, he wanted badly to fly in the Navy. But Naval aviation entrance requirements had changed. A four-year degree was now needed to enter the program.
After six months of waiting and pondering his options, he got a job and entered the business world. Bob now owns a successful construction business on Long Island that affords him the opportunity to fly his own fighter aircraft. All of Bob's four children have worked the chain gang for the business, so humility was instilled in their children during their impressionable years.
Bob's first warbird purchase was an AT-6 which he later sold to their good friend, Buzz Cortez. This sale helped him buy a P-51 Mustang, and later the P-40 Warhawk that Chris and Bob now fly respectively. He also recently purchased a Stearman and the three aircraft form the foundation for Warbirds Over Long Island.
Chris started flying when he was nineteen, sharing the passion of the skies with his father and grandfather. He earned a degree in Business Management and wants to stay with the construction business his father owns, but on weekends it's all about flying with Dad. It's not about money or prestige, but about bonding between father and son. However, Chris has individual aspirations in the air, mainly to be a USAF Heritage Flight pilot. How qualified is he? Well, there is a school in Kissimmee, FL, called Stallion 51 that teaches prospective P-51 Mustang pilots how to really fly this amazing machine. It is not the kind of school where you plunk down money and they hand you a sheepskin. You work hard to stay in this school and even harder to graduate. Chris is only the 88th graduate of the P-51 Checkout Program. Yep, he's qualified.
On a personal level, this publisher trusts Chris with his life. I have ridden in the back seat of 'Glamorous Gal', and I mention this, not to brag, but to show the confidence I have in this young man. As we did barrel rolls over the Finger Lakes in New York, I had complete faith in Chris.
When the Baranaskas duo performs at air shows, they do not do it for money. They do it for the fans. They do it for each other. They do it for the fun of it. And at the end of the day, after the show is over and the aircraft are tucked away, Bob and Chris have even more fun. In a private room, with other pilots, ground crew, and air bosses, they assemble for dinner where a food fight will probably break out. Someone is bound to catch a loaf of bread smack between the eyes, or sit down in a heaping pile of mashed potatoes...with gravy! There's a story about ice and coconuts that we cannot repeat as there are youngsters who read our magazine, so make up your own story, and we are sure the circumstances will fit.
We close our article on Bob and Chris with a true story as told in an email that Bob sent to his friends. It says a lot about the character of these two men and their support of the military. If you don't believe in a higher authority, just imagine how the events at Dover AFB would have played out differently if they were on time for their air show appearance in June 2007.
"Just a little story. Many of us are asked to do things that we just do not have time for, but we do it any way with out knowing the significance of what we do.
Last Saturday, Chris and I were on our way to an Airshow in Maryland. Traffic control knew we were a flight of two World War II fighters in formation. Just as we're getting into Delaware they asked us to switch to Dover Tower. Dover tower asked us to divert for a flyby over Dover AFB. While we were a little late for our show, we never say no to our Armed Forces. The tower directed our flight to a spot on the field. We did our flyby and went on our way.
I received the following this morning:
Dear Fellow Warriors,
I would like to pass along a heartfelt "Thank You" to whoever flew across Dover around noon on June 23rd. All I could get was the callsign of N1RB and that it was a P-51 and P-40. We had dispatched a KC-135 from Ohio to come pick up the remains of our lost friend Lt Col Kevin "Sonny" Sonnenberg. He lost his life while piloting an F-16 over Iraq. The timing of your impromptu flyby just as they got his casket in the jet was perfect and Sonny would have been proud. On behalf of the men & women of the 180th Fighter Wing as well as Sonny's family and wife Lorin, I'd like to say thanks and wish you continued success with your fantastic organization.
Keith A. Newell, Col, OHANG Operations Group Commander Toledo F-16's 180th Fighter Wing It brought tears to my eyes. I guess that's why you should never say no." Robert C Baranaskas
A Few Anecdotes
When you hang out with someone like Bob, you realize just how much of a character he was. Here are a few snippets of my time spent with my bud.
At the 2007 Geneseo air show, I was waiting on customers at our booth. I turned around and Bob is sitting in my chair. "Bob, are you okay?" "Yeah, I just got out of the pilot's meeting and I needed a peaceful place to sit."
At the 2007 Labor Day Flight of Aces program at American Airpower, Bob saw me standing with all my photo gear and said, "You look tired." "I am, I'm beat." Bob comes back in five minutes with a chair for me. Turns out he swiped it from the Collings Foundation B-17 crew.
American Airpower's Jim Vocell and Bob were always playing practical jokes on one another. Every time I was around, Bob got the worst of it. While dining at Appleby's, Jim went into the men's room and came back with a roll of toilet paper. As we were leaving the restaurant, Jim tucked one end of the roll in Bob's pants and out Bob went into the parking lot with a trail of toilet paper behind him.
At the 2007 ICAS convention in Vegas, a group of us had dinner at the Rio hotel's steakhouse. To accomodate the size of our party, the restaurant staff put a bunch of single tables together. At the end of the meal, Bob was engaged in a conversation with his son. Jim Vocell manipulated all the single tables so that Bob was pinned in. Did Bob move the tables to get out. No, he climbed over them and left behind a wake of clanking dishes.
Here are are some of my favorite photos of Bob. I usually give credit to the photographer, but this is not about the photographer. It's about the subject matter - Bob.
Photos are a high speed pass at Geneseo, Bob on his Indian motorcycle at Brookhaven Airport, wingman to his son Chris at Martinsburg, and his favorite spot at airshows - in his red chair.
Thank you for reading my personal tribute to my dear friend.