Local record breaker Colonel Joe Kittinger, who made history in 1960 when he rode a balloon into space and then jumped and fell 19 miles to earth, falling for four minutes and 36 seconds, has taken a balloon to heaven at the age of 94 after a battle against lung cancer.
Kittinger was best known for his record-breaking space jumps, which had him falling near the speed of sound before he opened his parachute, handed him the world record for Fastest Free Fall, Highest Parachute Jump, and the cover of Life Magazine. He was also a decorated officer and pilot having been awarded the Legion of Merit for distinguished flying, a Purple Heart for Meritorious Service, an Air Force Commendation Medal, a Prisoner of War Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal, and a USAF Marksmanship Ribbon.
Kittinger worked his way up to that record-breaking jump by running experimental Air Force programs in New Mexico in the late 50s and early 60s, simulating conditions that astronauts could face in space. He was even a prisoner of war in Northern Vietnam after volunteering to fight overseas. When he inevitably returned to America, he took up hot air ballooning with local developer Bob Snow and became the Vice President of Flight Operations for Rosie O’Grady’s Flying Circus. You can read more about his adventures HERE in a previous column on Bungalower.com, which included flying a balloon from Caribou, Maine, to a distant hilltop in northern Italy in 1984.
In 2012, Kittinger helped to train Felix Baumgartner to break his own 53-year record with a 24-mile freefall from the planet’s stratosphere, as part of the Red Bull Stratos project. Baumgartner’s record was broken two years later by Alan Eustace.
The City of Orlando named a park after Kittinger in September 1992 on a section of land overseen by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority by the Orlando Executive Airport, which was crowned by the installation of a restored USAF F-4 Phantom II aircraft in 2014, which had actually been flown by Kittinger in Thailand during the Vietnam War.