Career Remembrances
Feb 07, 2019
Col. Joe Kittinger
Career Remembrances

After attending the University of Florida, Joe joined the US Force in 1949. Upon graduation he was assigned to a Fighter Squadron in Germany flying the P-47, the F-84 and the F-86 all in a 3 year period. His next assignment was to the Fighter Test Section at Holloman AFB, NM. While there he became involved with several projects in preparation for the coming Space Age. Led by Dr John Paul Stapp, Kittinger did the first human research of weightlessness in a T-33 jet trainer, followed by the F-94,F-89.F-100 and F 104. In June 1957 he made the first flight of the Project Man High- flying a stratospheric balloon solo to 97,000 ft. He was then assigned to the AeroMed Lab in Dayton Ohio where he made 3 research stratospheric parachute jumps from 67,000, 67,500 feet and 102, 800 feet-a record that stood for 52 years. For the jump from 102,800 ft he was presented the Harmon Trophy by President Eisenhower. Following another stratospheric balloon flight to 86,000 feet, with Bill White, an astronomer, Kittinger was assigned to the Air Commandos where he flew combat in Vietnam in 1963 64 in B-26's, followed by a combat tour in 1966-67 in A-26's, followed by a combat tour in 1971-72 where he was the Squadron Commander of the Triple Nickel Squadron flying the Phantom F-4 aircraft. In March 1972, he shot down a Mig 21 and in May 1972 he was shot down by a Mig 21 and ended up as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton until released in March 1973. He had a total of 1000 hours combat with 483.5 combat missions.

Upon retiring from the USAF in 1978 he stayed connected to aviation barnstorming in a 1929 New Standard aircraft, skywriting, banner towing and flying gas and hot air balloons around the world. He won the prestigious Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race four times. In 1981 he made a flight in a Cessna 180 from Orlando Florida to Salzburg Rhodesia, for a total flight time of 96 hours. In 1984, he made the first solo gas balloon flight across the Atlantic Ocean; launching from Caribou Maine and landing some 86 hours later in Northern Italy, setting several World's records. Joe was the Capsule Communicator in Oct 2012 on Project Stratos where Felix Baumgartner jumped from a stratospheric balloon from 128,000 feet, excelling Kittinger's record set in 1960. He is a Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and a Fellow in The Royal Aeronautical Society of the UK. He is a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, The Living Legends of Aviation, The Parachutist Hall of Fame, The Balloon Hall of Fame, the Florida Aviation Hall of Fame and a Medalist in The Explorers Club. In 2008 he was awarded the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Lifetime Achievement award for his aeronautical achievements and contribution to aviation. In addition, he received the National Aeronautical Association Elder Statesman Award for his contributions of significant value to aeronautics. In 2003 he was selected as one of the most famous aviators in the past 100 years during the celebration of the 100 anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight from Kitty Hawy, NC.

His military awards include the Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross with 6 oak leaf clusters, The Air Medal with 24 oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters and the Purple Heart with one Oak leaf cluster,etc. He has 16,800 hours of flight time in 93 different aircraft and 2000 hours in gas and hot air balloons. In addition, Joe has 101 parachute jumps and two emergency ejections from jet aircraft. Currently Joe is an Aviation and Aerospace Consultant and is a speaker for the Aviation Speakers Bureau. He lives in Altamonte Springs Florida with his wife Sherry and still flys aircraft and balloons. His book, "Come Up and Get Me" describes his interesting career.