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Joseph William Kittinger, Jr.

Kittinger, Jr., Joseph William

Fighter Pilot
Enshrined 1997 1928-present


Joseph William Kittinger, Jr. was born on July 27, 1928.  He briefly attended the University of Florida before being accepted into the U.S.A.F. aviation school at Goodfellow AFB in 1949.

His first flying assignment was as a fighter pilot in Germany where he served until 1953.  He was then assigned to the Air Force Missile Development Center at Holloman AFB.  Later, Joe became a test pilot for Project Man High where a high altitude balloon was used with a pressurized gondola and partial pressure suit.  In 1957, Joe piloted the balloon, Man High One, to an altitude of 96,000 feet.

In 1958, Joe moved on to Project Excelsior with the goal to put a man into space and to test a person’s ability to survive extremely high altitude bailouts.  In 1959, Joe made a parachute jump from Excelsior I from an altitude of 76,000 feet.  By far, Joe’s greatest feat was accomplished in Excelsior III in 1960.  He piloted the gondola to an altitude of 102,800 feet, setting a world record for the highest balloon ascent and another for the longest parachute freefall.  The jump established that it was possible to put a man into space.  In 1960, President Eisenhower awarded Joe the Harmon Trophy for outstanding accomplishments in aeronautics.  Joe piloted his final high altitude balloon flight during Project Stargazer in 1962.

Joe then volunteered for three tours of duty in Vietnam.  He shot down a Mig and was shot down himself and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war.  After his release, Joe was Vice Wing Commander of an F-4 fighter wing in England.  He retired in 1979 as a Colonel.

Joe spent the next fourteen years as Vice President of Flight Operations for Rosie O’Grady’s Flying Circus.  In 1983, Joe again set a record for the longest distance flown in a 1,000 cubic meter helium balloon.  In 1984, Joe became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in a helium balloon.

For the past four years, Joe has been barnstorming in a 1929 New Standard bi-plane, which was built for the Gates Flying Circus.  He also serves as an aviation and aerospace consultant and is still test flying airplanes and flying balloons.  Most recently Colonel Joe Kittinger is using his knowledge to help address the challenges of Red Bull Stratus in their attempt to break his more than 50-year-old record by freefalling 36,576 metres (120,000 feet) from a balloon in the stratosphere.