14–18 September 1984: Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force (Retired), lifted of from Caribou, Maine, at the extreme northeast corner of the United States, aboard Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace, a 3,000-cubic-meter Yost GB55 helium-filled balloon, registered N53NY. 86 hours later, he came rest at Montenotte, Italy, having completed the very first solo transatlantic balloon flight.
Kittinger established four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance, having travelled 5,703.03 kilometers (3,543.70 miles).¹ These records still stand.
This was not the first time Joe Kittinger had ascended in a balloon. The previous year he had set two FAI distance records, covering 3,221.23 kilometers (2,001.58 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada to Farmersville, New York.² But he is best known for his historic high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, Joe Kittinger rode the Project MAN-HIGH I balloon to an altitude of 97,760 feet (29,490 meters). One 16 August 1960, aboard Excelsior III, Kittinger reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). He then stepped out of the gondola and began the longest free-fall parachute descent attempted.
During the Vietnam War, Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions during three tours. He shot down one enemy MiG-21 fighter, and was later himself shot down. He was captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for 11 months.
¹ FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047 and 1048
19–20 August 1957: At 9:22 a.m., CDT (1422 UTC), 19 August 1957, Major David G. Simons, M.D., United States Air Force, lifted off aboard a helium-filled balloon at an open pit mine near Crosby, New Hampshire. This was the second flight of Project MANHIGH, MANHIGH II. This was a series of experiments to investigate the physiological effects of extreme high altitude flight. The balloon and its 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) gondola were deployed from the bottom of Portland Mine as protection from wind while it inflated.
After 2 hours, 18 minutes, Major Simon had reached 100,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. The peak altitude was a record-setting 101,516 feet (30,942 meters). While at altitude, Dr. Simon performed 25 aeromedical experiments.
32 hours, 10 minutes after lift off, at 5:32 p.m., CDT (2232 UTC), 20 August, the MANHIGH II gondola touched down 10 miles northwest of Frederick, South Dakota. Major Simons was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. David G. Simons, M.D., Ph.D., Hon., was a world leading authority on chronic and myofascial pain. He died in 2010.
18 August 1932: At 5:04 a.m., Professor Auguste Antoine Piccard and his assistant, Max Cosyns, used a hydrogen-filled balloon to lift their pressurized gondola from Dübendorf Airfield, Zürich, Switzerland, into the stratosphere on an expedition to investigate the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere and to study cosmic radiation. During the 12 hour flight, Piccard and Cosyns reached an altitude of 16,201 meters (53,153 feet), setting a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude.¹
The expedition was funded by Belgium’s Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS).
Piccard’s balloon was made of rubberized cotton fabric. It had a maximum volume of 500,000 cubic feet (14,158 cubic meters) and weighed, by itself, approximately 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms). When it expanded to its maximum size in the upper atmosphere, the diameter was 99 feet (30.2 meters). The gondola was constructed of aluminum and was 7 feet (2.14 meters) in diameter. There were to hatches for entry and exit, and seven port holes.
The outer surface of the spherical gondola was painted half white and half black. This was intended to control interior heat by turning the lighter side toward or away from the sun by means of a small propeller mounted to a horizontal stanchion. Unfortunately for the two aeronauts, this did not work. The hermetically sealed hatches allowed the gondola to maintain the surface atmospheric pressure as it rose into the stratosphere. The air contained inside the aluminum sphere was recycled through a Draeger system of the type used in submarines. This added oxygen to replace that consumed and extracted the carbon dioxide that was exhaled.
The balloon reached the peak altitude at 12:12 p.m. During the ascent, the temperature inside the gondola dropped to 5 °F. (-15 °C.). It landed near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, a little after 3:15 p.m.
This was Piccard’s second ascent into the stratosphere. On 27 May 1931 he and Paul Kipfer lifted off from Augsburg, Germany and rose to a record altitude of 15,781 meters (51,775 feet). (FAI Record File Number 10634) They landed at the Großer Gurgler Ferner galcier near Obergurgl in the Tyrolian Alps.
Professor Piccard was made Commandeur de l’Ordre de Léopold and Max Cosyns, Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold by Albert I, King of the Belgians. Professor made nearly 30 ascents into the upper atmosphere before turning to the exploration of the very deep oceans with his bathyscaphe, Trieste.
2 June 1957: At 6:23 a.m, Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., United States Air Force, lifted off from Fleming Field, South Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the gondola of a helium balloon designed and built by Winzen Research Inc. Captain Kittinger ascended to an altitude of 97,784 feet (29,805 meters).
Project MAN-HIGH I was intended to test various equipment and human physiology in a near-space condition. This was the first of many high-altitude research balloon flights that Kittinger would make.
“… A Winzen crew conducted the launching, as provided by the Man-High contract, in collaboration with members of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory and other units at Holloman. The 475th Air Base Squadron, Minneapolis, provided additional helicopter support. The vehicle was a two-million-cubic-foot plastic balloon, 172.6 feet in diameter, which quickly reached the planned ceiling altitude of 95,000 feet, setting a new record for manned balloons. Test specifications called for a twelve-hour flight. However, because of an oxygen leak (due to an improperly connected valve) and also certain communications difficulties, Colonel Stapp and Mr. Winzen decided that Captain Kittinger should come down after not quite two hours at altitude. The balloon pilot was not happy with the decision, replying by radio, “Come and get me.” But he did come down, and landed successfully at 1257 hours none the worse for his experience.“
— History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics, Part II, Chapter 3, NASA History Office, December 1958.
Kittinger landed next to a stream approximately 7 miles (11.3 kilometers) south-southwest of Alma, Minnesota. The total duration of his flight was 6 hours, 36 minutes. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
A fighter pilot, Joe Kittinger flew three combat tours during the Vietnam War for a total of 483 combat missions. On 11 May 1972, while flying a McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II, 66-0230, in pursuit of a MiG-21 Fishbed fighter, Kittinger was shot down by an Atoll air-to-air missile fired by another MiG-21. He and his Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant William J. Reich, were captured and spent 11 months at the Hanoi Hilton.
Joe Kittenger holds six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for distance set with balloons. Three are still current.¹ In 2012, he was technical advisor for Felix Baumgartner as he set a new world record for the highest parachute jump from the Red Bull Stratos balloon and gondola.
29 May–1 June 1862: Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe, commanding the civilian Union Army Balloon Corps, relayed observations of enemy troop movements, both vocally and by telegraph, from the gondola of a hydrogen balloon which was moored on the north side of the Chickahominy River of eastern Virginia during the Battle of Seven Pines, which took place during the American Civil War (1861–1865).
Having been appointed Chief Aeronaut by President Lincoln, Lowe had previously performed aerial reconnaissance at the First Battle of Bull Run, 21 July 1861. He was also present at Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg.