Utterly Alone

Meet Joseph Kittinger.

Video from Sonic Bomb

Joseph W. Kittinger II
Born July 27, 1928 (1928-07-27)

Colonel Joseph Kittinger

Interview from Elchinero Concepts:

Joe Kittinger’s 100,000-foot 1960 balloon jump

Joe Kittinger is not a household aviation name like Neil Armstrong or Chuck Yeager, but what he did for the U.S. space program is comparable. On August 16, 1960, as research for the then-fledgling U.S. space program, Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger rode a helium balloon to the edge of space, 102,800 feet above the earth, a feat in itself. Then, wearing just a thin pressure suit and breathing supplemental oxygen, he leaned over the cramped confines of his gondola and jumped — into the 110-degree-below-zero, near vacuum of space. Within (22) seconds his body accelerated to 714 mph in the thin air, breaking the sound barrier.

1. a, ft/sec/sec = g (32.17 ft/sec/sec)

2. v, ft/sec = g*t + C1

3. s, ft = (�)*g*t^2 + C1*t + C2

4. t = 714 ft/sec/g = 22 seconds (C1 & C1 = 0.0)

5. s = 16.1*22*22 = 7,931 feet = 1.5-mile free-fall

After free-falling for more than four and a half minutes, slowed finally by friction from the heavier air below, he felt his parachute open at 14,000 feet, and he coasted gently down to the New Mexico desert floor.

Relative density of air @ 100,000 ft = 0.01365

Relative density of air @ 14,000 ft = 0.650 � 50 times

Kittinger’s feat showed scientists that astronauts could survive the harshness of space with just a pressure suit and that man could eject from aircraft at extreme altitudes and survive. Upon Kittinger’s return to base, a congratulatory telegram was waiting from the Mercury Seven astronauts — including Alan Shepard and John Glenn. More than four decades later Kittinger’s two world records — the highest parachute jump, and the only man to break the sound barrier without a craft and live — still stand.

We decided to visit the retired colonel and Aviation Hall of Famer, now 75, at his home in Altamonte Springs, Florida, to recall his historic jump.

Take us back to New Mexico and August 16, 1960.

Joe Kittinger: We got up at 2 a.m. to start filling the helium balloon. At sea level, it was 35 to 40 feet wide and 200 feet high; at altitude, due to the low air pressure, it expanded to twenty-five stories in width, and still was twenty stories high! At 4 a.m., I began breathing pure oxygen for two hours. That’s how long it takes to remove all the nitrogen from your blood so you don’t get the bends going so high so fast. Then it was a lengthy dress procedure layering warm clothing under my pressure suit. They kept me in air-conditioning until it was time to launch because we were in the desert and I wasn’t supposed to sweat. If I did, my clothes would freeze on the way up.

How was your ascent?

It took an hour and a half to get to altitude. It was cold. At 40,000 feet, the glove on my right hand hadn’t inflated. I knew that if I radioed my doctor, he would abort the flight. If that happened, I knew I might never get another chance because there were lots of people who didn’t want this test to happen. I took a calculated risk that I might lose use of my right hand. It quickly swelled up, and I did lose use for the duration of the flight. But the rest of the pressure suit worked. When I reached 102,800 feet, maximum altitude, I wasn’t quite over the target. So I drifted for eleven minutes. The winds were out of the east.

What’s it look like from so high up?

You can see about 400 miles in every direction. The most fascinating thing is that it’s just black overhead-the transition from normal blue to black is very stark. You can’t see stars because there’s a lot of glare from the sun, so your pupils are too small. I was struck with the beauty of it. But I was also struck by how hostile it is: more than 100 degrees below zero, no air. If my protection suit failed, I would be dead in a few seconds. Blood actually boils above 62,000 feet. I went through my 46-step checklist, disconnected from the balloon’s power supply, and lost all communication with the ground.

I was totally under power from the kit on my back. When everything was done, I stood up, turned around to the door, took one final look out and said a silent prayer: “Lord, take care of me now.” Then I just jumped over the side.

What were you thinking as you took that step?

It’s the beginning of a test. I had gone through simulations many times-more than a 100. I rolled over and looked up, and there was the balloon just roaring into space. I realized that the balloon wasn’t roaring into space; I was going down at a fantastic rate! At about 90,000 feet, I reached 714 mph. The altimeter on my wrist was unwinding very rapidly. But there was no sense of speed. Where you determine speed is visual — if you see something go flashing by. But nothing flashes by 20 miles up — there are no signposts there, and you are way above any clouds. When the chute opened, the rest of the jump was anticlimactic because everything had worked perfectly. I landed 12 or 13 minutes later, and there was my crew waiting. We were elated.

How about your right hand?

It hurt — there was quite a bit of swelling and the blood pressure in my arm was high. But that went away in a few days, and I regained full use of my hand.

What about attempts to break your record?

We did it for aircrews and astronauts–for the learning, not to set a record. They will be going up as skydivers. Somebody will beat it someday. Records are made to be busted. And I’ll be elated. But I’ll also be concerned that they’re properly trained. If they’re not, they’re taking a hell of a risk.


From Wikipedia:

Joseph William Kittinger II (born July 27, 1928) is a former pilot and career military officer in the United States Air Force. He is most famous for his participation in Project Man High and Project Excelsior and also, as being the first man to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a gas balloon.

Captain Kittinger was then 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 bailout, he made a series of three parachute jumps wearing a pressurized suit, from a helium balloon with an open gondola.

The first, from 76,400 feet (23,287 m) in November, 1959 was a near tragedy when an equipment malfunction caused him to lose consciousness, but the automatic parachute saved him (he went into a flat spin at a rotational velocity of 120 rpm; the g-force at his extremities was calculated to be over 22 times that of gravity, setting another record). Three weeks later he jumped again from 74,700 feet (22,769 m). For that return jump Kittinger was awarded the Leo Stevens parachute medal.

On August 16, 1960 he made the final jump from the Excelsior III at 102,800 feet (31,330 m). Towing a small drogue chute for stabilization, he fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds reaching a maximum speed of 614 mph (989 km/h) before opening his parachute at 18,000 feet (5,500 m). Pressurization for his right glove malfunctioned during the ascent, causing his hand to swell. He set records for highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, longest drogue-fall (14 min) and fastest speed by a man through the atmosphere.[1]

The jumps were made in a “rocking-chair” position, descending on his back, rather than the usual arch familiar to skydivers, because he was wearing a 60-lb “kit” on his behind and his pressure suit naturally formed that shape when inflated, a shape appropriate for sitting in an airplane cockpit.

For the series of jumps, Kittinger was decorated with an oak leaf cluster to his D.F.C. and awarded the Harmon Trophy by President Dwight Eisenhower.

Back at Holloman AFB he also took part in Project Stargazer on December 1314, 1962. He and William C. White, an astronomer, took a balloon of equipment to a height of 82,200 feet (25,055 m) and spent over eighteen hours at that height performing observations.

Kittinger later served three combat tours during the Vietnam War, flying a total of 483 missions, the first two tours as an aircraft commander in A-26 Invaders. On a voluntary third tour in 1971-72, he commanded the F-4 Phantom 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron and then became vice commander of the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. On March 1, 1972, he shot down a MIG-21 in air-to-air combat, and was later downed himself on May 11, 1972, just before the end of his tour. He spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” prison. Kittinger was senior officer among the newer POWs (those captured after 1969) and in John D. Sherwood’s Fast Movers is described as having been in serious conflict with his fellow prisoners over his leadership.

He retired as a colonel in 1978 and went to work for Martin Marietta. Still interested in ballooning, he participated in the Gordon Bennett Cup in ballooning in 1989 (ranked 3rd) and 1994 (ranked 12th)and completed the first solo Atlantic crossing in the 106,000 cubic foot (3,000 m³) Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace from September 14 to September 18, 1984.[2]

Update:  Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner will be attempting this feat again, for science and Redbull.  Read more here.


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