“The Navy doesn’t give medals for that.”
— Harvey Kitaoka, remarking about the time he almost dropped a bomb on himself.
February, 1953, off the Korean peninsula, over the Sea of Japan.
There was a loud pop, and Harvey knew instantly it was an electrical short. The sound originated somewhere near the floor of the cockpit. He checked his instrument panel. Everything fine. He tried to read his fuel gauge when he noticed a small wisp of black smoke seeping out from the hole where the cannon cable exited the floor between his feet. There were no visible flames, but the trail of smoke soon thickened into an inky black billowing mass that filled the cockpit and blotted out the blue sky. It was impossible to see anything now. He tried to use his radio to communicate his situation to his flight leader. Nothing, not even static. Suppressing panic, he used his left hand to search for the canopy latch overhead, found it, and opened it just a crack, hoping that the smoke would dissipate. That worked! Accompanied by the high pitched whistle of wind passing over the canopy opening, the black smoke emptied from the cockpit. Harvey was relieved to see the familiar blue in front of him. He checked his altimeter. It read 8,500 feet and falling, fast. Harvey looked up again and realized: That wasn’t the blue sky, that was the ocean – and he was heading straight for it at 550 miles per hour!