Naval Air Station San Diego, Cal

Naval Air Station San Diego, Cal

Steve Gozzo

LCdr. Steve Gozzo sent this letter to Approach. His great uncle, RAdm. John J. Lynch, wrote it while a NAVCAD at North Island. RAdm. Lynch later flew SDBs in World War II and received the Navy Cross for his actions in the Battle of Midway. LCdr. Gozzo adds, “The letters sort of epitomizes the saying, `Fly what you brief, brief what you fly.’ Thank God for second chances.”–Ed.

Naval Air Station San Diego, Cal.

8 Feb 1937

Dear Ma and Pa:

Despite the rain and floods they have had in California, I am still safe. From the papers one would imagine that conditions are pretty bad out here but outside of a few puddles around the streets I haven’t noticed anything different. Of course Coronado and North Island wouldn’t be affected by floods though good old San Diego was pretty wet last week. Some of the boys who went to San Diego on Saturday evening were stranded over there all night. Luckily I had gone to a cocktail party here in Coronado and was able to get back for a good nights sleep.

To get back to my career since last I wrote to you. I have quite a bit to tell. When I first got into aviation I said I would send back word of anything that happened to me and that is why I am telling you this story. Enclosed you will find a clipping that will give you a general outline of what happened but to go into detail the story is somewhat as follows:

“Thursday morning I was out on a homing drill. This consists of making believe you are lost and trying to get back to your ship or station. To stimulate this they have a truck go off into the hills someplace and send out radio signals. The purpose is to follow these signals and find where the truck is located. I did this without any trouble and having a little time to waste, I started to put the plane through its paces. I had a great time for myself, doing all the stunts and get into some funny positions and finally when trying to do two rolls at the top of a loop, the plane went into an outside spin. This had happened to me before but I always managed to get it out before it got wound up. This time it started spinning and despite all my efforts it wouldn’t come out so when the ground loomed up pretty close, I released my safety belt and was catapulted out of the plane. In an inverted spin the plane is on its back and keeps twisting around with the wings horizontal to the ground so that when I opened the belt the force of gravity dropped me from the plane.

“There was a quiet, peaceful sensation for a few seconds after I was pitched out it was such a relief to be out of that twisting plane. Instead of having a sensation of falling, the impression I gained was that I was floating around in the air. This lasted until the jerk of my opening parachute took me out of my reverie. Dimly I remember reaching for the ripcord and throwing it far away. The ride in the chute was very nice though my only complaint was that just as I reached the stage where I was daring enough to start looking around to get my bearings, the ground rose up to meet me. I made an unusually gentle landing for a person of my size in a wild patch of sagebrush on the top of huge knoll.

“One of the fellows in my squadron who had seen me jump, circled around where I landed and directed me to the nearest habitation. I never did see the plane again until the wrecking crew brought it back to the station. It was completely demolished. I gathered up my parachute and in my heavy furlined flying suit, I tramped about a mile and a half through the brush and some ploughed fields before I met a farmer who was coming out to investigate the accident. He had seen the jump and telephoned North Island before coming out. He informed me that there was an ambulance on the way out to pick me up for they didn’t know whether or not I was hurt. By the time we reached his house, there was an ambulance waiting for me so I rode home in style.

The accident happened about 15 miles North of the Air Station. Of course there was quite a bit of excitement connected with the affair and the big question around the station was to the effect. “Why should a pilot have to bail out while on a homing drill.” I had to pay a visit to Captain Towers, chief of the Aircraft Battle Force, and explain all about it but outside of a few words of caution nothing else was mentioned.

Now I am a member of a famous Caterpillar Club composed of those pilots whose lives have been saved by jumping in a parachute. They have an insignia which they give to all members. I expect to get mine in another month or so. It is a small gold caterpillar with a ruby for an eye. I’ll wear mine with pride.

Now after telling all this I expect you to take the viewpoint that as long as I am willing to tell of what happens don’t have any undue fears and let your imagination run wild.

Outside of that little adventure life has been quiet. I went to a cocktail party at a Captain Calhoun’s house on Saturday evening and from there we went to the usual dance at the Coronado Hotel. I enjoyed myself very much so much that I think I’ll start my social life anew.

This week we go out on the Saratoga. Because of the shortage of ships I won’t be flying aboard but I ought to get in a couple of hops. We will be in Coronado Roads over the weekend, go to the sea again on Sunday night. Come in again on Friday and go out again late in the following week.

Well that’s about all there is to say. I am still alive and kicking and getting plenty to eat. Don’t do any worrying for I’ll take it mighty [Text unreadable in original source.] in my plane after this and take no chances on getting into a spot like that again. Figure it was all for the best.

Your loving son


LCdr. Gozzo currently is assigned to the Naval Academy.

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Naval Safety Center

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