Navy fighter pilot turns harrowing life experiences into new book

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- They say the pen is a powerful weapon. But to Bay Area resident Paco Chierici, it was the plane.

Chierici spent two decades in the Navy, where he flew the F-14A Tomcat, the iconic plane made famous by Tom Cruise in "Top Gun."

He flew combat air patrols during the conflicts with Iraq and Somalia and was nearly killed when his plane blew a tire and overturned as he landed an F-5.

After accumulating 3,000 tactical hours, 400 carrier landings, multiple medals and a life-time of memories, Chierici retired from the Navy. But he found a new love... telling the story of Navy fighter pilots.

He's authored a new fiction out Friday, Lions of the Sky. The name is inspired by Chierici's own unit, the Blacklions.

It features courageous characters, action, danger, international conflict... stuff drawn from Chierici's naval career.

The main character, Sam Richardson, whose call sign is Slammer, is haunted by the death of a squadron mate. A woman.

That's a loss Chierici experienced in his own life. His squadron mate Kara Hultgreen, one of the first ever female Navy combat pilots, died in a tragic accident landing on an aircraft carrier. The book's female protagonist, the carefree and talented Keely Silvers, is partly inspired by Hultgreen.

Chierici says though sexism existed in the Navy, it was also a place where women had opportunities to chase their dreams.
Chierici has also produced a documentary, Speed and Angels, exploring what drives someone to become a naval aviators, to love the thrill of the chase and the inherent danger in the feats they must master.

Although the Bay Area dad is now flying a much tamer Boeing 737 as a commercial pilot, he can often be found dogfighting in the skies over the South Bay with his fellow G-hounds.
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