Joseph Kittinger

Joseph Kittinger bigraphy, stories - American military pilot

Joseph Kittinger : biography

27 July 1928 –

Colonel Joseph William Kittinger II (born July 27, 1928 in Tampa, Florida, United States) is a former USAF Command Pilot, career military officer and retired Colonel in the United States Air Force. He is most famous for his participation in Project Manhigh and Project Excelsior in 1960, setting the record longest skydive from a height greater than . He was also the first man to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a gas balloon.

Serving as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, he achieved an aerial kill of a North Vietnamese jet fighter and was later shot down himself, spending 11 months as a prisoner of war in a North Vietnamese prison. In 2012, at the age of 84, he participated in the Red Bull Stratos project as capsule communicator, directing Felix Baumgartner on his record-breaking freefall from Earth’s stratosphere.

Project Excelsior

Captain Kittinger was next assigned to the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. For Project Excelsior (meaning "ever upward"), a name given to the project by Colonel Stapp as part of research into high altitude bailouts, he made a series of three extreme altitude parachute jumps from an open gondola carried aloft by large helium balloons. These jumps were made in a "rocking-chair" position, descending on his back, rather than in the usual face-down position familiar to skydivers. This was because he was wearing a "kit" on his behind, and his pressure suit naturally formed a sitting shape when it was inflated, a shape appropriate for sitting in an airplane cockpit.

Kittinger’s first high-altitude jump, from about on November 16, 1959, was a near-disaster when an equipment malfunction caused him to lose consciousness. The automatic parachute opener in his equipment saved his life. He went into a flat spin at a rotational velocity of about 120 rpm. The g-forces at his extremities have been calculated to be over 22 times the force of gravity, setting another record.

Excelsior II : On December 11, 1959, he jumped again from about . For that leap, Kittinger was awarded the A. Leo Stevens Parachute Medal.

On August 16, 1960, he made the final jump, from the Excelsior III, at . Towing a small drogue parachute for initial stabilization, he fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds, reaching a maximum speed of before opening his parachute at . Pressurization for his right glove malfunctioned during the ascent, and his right hand swelled to twice its normal size. Ignoring the pain, he rode the balloon up to 102,800 feet and said a short prayer — "Lord, take care of me now" — before stepping off.

Of the jumps from Excelsior, Kittinger said, "There’s no way you can visualize the speed. There’s nothing you can see to see how fast you’re going. You have no depth perception. If you’re in a car driving down the road and you close your eyes, you have no idea what your speed is. It’s the same thing if you’re free falling from space. There are no signposts. You know you are going very fast, but you don’t feel it. You don’t have a 614-mph wind blowing on you. I could only hear myself breathing in the helmet."

Kittinger set historical numbers for highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, longest drogue-fall (four minutes), and fastest speed by a human being through the atmosphere. These were the USAF records, but were not submitted for aerospace world records to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Kittinger’s records for the highest ascent, highest parachute jump, and fastest velocity stood for 52 years, until they were broken in 2012 by Felix Baumgartner.

For this series of jumps, Kittinger was decorated with a second Distinguished Flying Cross, and he was awarded the Harmon Trophy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.