In 1942, when he was just 12 years old, Arkady Kamanin begged his dad, a commander and decorated war hero in the USSR Air Force, to pull some strings and let him enlist. Most people would've just given their kids a G.I. Joe and some model airplanes or something, but you don't get to be a commander in the Soviet air force by not being a drunken maniac. So, Arkady's father let him join up as a mechanic. And that eventually led to this:
One person in this photograph still believes in Santa Claus.
How? Well, after mastering the ins and outs of Soviet planes, Arkady got promoted to flight mechanic and navigating officer. That's the guy who's just supposed to sit in the back seat of the plane and fix anything that goes haywire or gets shot up, kind of like a Bolshevik R2-D2.
But while on a mission in 1944, Arkady's pilot was hit by a bullet and blinded. Arkady mustered up all the courage of his 14 sexless years on the planet and kept his cool, and with some guidance from the crew on the ground, he landed the plane perfectly. This understandably impressed Arkady's dad, who then allowed his son to go into flight training. Two months later (at age 14, we remind you), Arkady became the youngest fighter pilot in World War II.
The "recklessly young pilot" gap was closed by American Captain Bucky O'Baby (1951-1952) during the Korean War.
He didn't just guard airfields or take cushy deployments, either -- Arkady was just as badass as his father, and proved it on several occasions. Once, while returning from a patrol flight, Arkady spotted the smoking wreck of a Soviet U-2 plane, just like the one he flew. Arkady landed his own craft while enduring heavy German fire and rescued the pilot, along with the sensitive information he was carrying. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star, the Soviet version of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Another time, when his headquarters were under attack by the Nazis, Arkady climbed into his plane and took off under heavy fire, throwing goddamned hand grenades at the enemy while he called for reinforcements, because for whatever reason, the guns on his aircraft weren't an option.
"Well, bullets don't explode, you see."
By war's end, Arkady had racked up a list of commendations so impressive that it almost seems like other soldiers just started giving him their medals to hold on to. Seriously. He received "two combat Orders of the Red Star, the Order of the Red Banner, the Medal for the Victory Over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945, the Medal for the Capture of Budapest and the Medal for the Capture of Vienna." That's two medals for capturing a city and one medal for defeating the entire country of Germany. All this at an age when he wouldn't have been allowed to drive a car.
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For more kickass kids, check out 5 Shockingly Powerful Kids Who Make You Look Like a Coward. Or learn about The 6 Worst Jobs Ever (Were Done by Children).