Tag Archives: Highest Parachute Jump

16 August 1960

Captain Kittinger steps out of the Excelsior III gondola, 102,800 feet (31,333 meters) above the Earth, 7:12 a.m., 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

16 August 1960: At 7:12 a.m., Captain Joseph William (“Red”) Kittinger II, U.S. Air Force, stepped out of a balloon gondola, 102,800 feet (31,333 meters, 19.47 miles) above the Tularosa Valley, New Mexico. This was his third balloon ascent and high altitude parachute jump during Project Excelsior, a series of experiments to investigate the effects of high altitude bailouts.

For protection at the extreme high altitude—above 99% of the atmosphere—Joe Kittinger wore a modified David Clark Co. MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit and MA-3 helmet. Over this was a coverall garment to keep the pressure suit’s lacings and capstans from catching on anything as he jumped from the balloon gondola. He breathed a combination of 60% oxygen, 20% nitrogen and 20% helium. During the 1 hour, 31 minute ascent, the pressure seal of Kittinger’s right glove failed, allowing his hand to painfully swell with the decreasing atmospheric pressure.

In temperatures as low as -94 °F. (-70 °C.) Captain Kittinger free-fell for 4 minutes, 36 seconds, and reached a speed of 614 miles per hour (988 kilometers per hour). During the free fall descent, he trailed a small drogue parachute for stabilization. His 28-foot (8.5 meter) diameter main parachute opened at 17,500 feet (5,334 meters) and he touched the ground 9 minutes, 9 seconds later. The total duration of Kittinger’s descent was 13 minutes, 45 seconds. For this accomplishment, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second) and the Harmon Trophy.

Joseph Kittinger had previously worked on Project Man High, and would go on to a third high altitude balloon project, Stargazer.

A recovery team assists Captain Kittinger after his 102,800-foot free fall, 16 August 1960. The helicopter in the background is a Piasecki H-21. (U.S. Air Force)

After returning to operations, Kittinger flew 483 combat missions in three tours during the Vietnam War. After two tours flying the Douglas B-26K Invader, he transitioned to the McDonnell F-4D Phantom II and returned to Southeast Asia for a voluntary third tour with the famed 555th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (“The Triple Nickel”). He is credited with shooting down a MiG 21 fighter.

Almost to the end of his third combat tour, Lieutenant Colonel Kittinger was himself shot down and and he and his Weapons System Officer were captured. They spent 11 months at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Captain Joseph W. Kitinger, United States Air Force. Captain Kittinger is wearing the wings of an Air Force Senior Pilot and an Air Force Basic Parachutist Badge. The red, white and blue striped ribbon represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force. Captain Kittinger is wearing the wings of an Air Force Senior Pilot and an Air Force Basic Parachutist Badge. The red, white and blue striped ribbon represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 June 1943

Lieutenant Colonel William.R. Lovelace II, M.D., U.S. Army Medical Corps, receives the Distinguished Flying Cross from General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, U.S. Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel William R. Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, receives the Distinguished Flying Cross from General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, U.S. Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

24 June 1943: At 12:33 p.m., Lieutenant Colonel William Randolph Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, made a record-setting parachute jump from a Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress over Ephrata, Washington, while testing high-altitude oxygen equipment. The altitude was 40,200 feet (12,253 meters). This was his first parachute jump.

Dr. Lovelace returned to Earth after a 23 minute, 51 second descent. This was the highest altitude parachute jump made up to that time.

Lovelace used a Type T-5 back-pack parachute which was opened by a static line attached to the bomber. The shock of the sudden opening of the 28 foot (8.5 meters) diameter parachute caused Lovelace to lose consciousness. He came to at about 30,000 feet (9,144 meters).

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, wearing a pressure mask, oxygen bottle an parachute, prior to teh high-altitude jump, 24 June 1943. (Lovelace Respiratory Research Insititute)
Lieutenant Colonel William R. Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, wearing a re-breathing pressure mask, Type H-2 oxygen bottle and Type T-5 parachute, prior to the high-altitude jump, 24 June 1943. (Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute)

“On active duty with the Army Air Corps as a colonel during World War II, Lovelace used himself as a test subject in further experiments on the problems of high-altitude escape and parachuting. On June 24, 1943, he made his first parachute jump, bailing out of an aircraft 40,200 feet [12,253 meters] above Washington State. Although he was knocked unconscious by the opening shock of the parachute at the high altitude, and his hand was frostbitten when one of his gloves was torn away, valuable data was gained from his ordeal and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the experiment. He returned to private practice after the war, and in 1947, founded the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

—International Space Hall of Fame at the New Mexico Museum of Space History

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, lying on the ground after a parachute jump from a B-17 at 40,200 feet, 24 June 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 June 1920

(Aerial Age Weekly, Volume 11, No. 16, June 28, 1920, at Page 551, Columns 2 and 3.)
2nd. Lt. John H. Wilson, Air Service, United States Army, 1920. (Popular Science)

17 June 1920: At approximately 4:00 p.m., a De Havilland DH-4B piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Delmar H. Denton, engineering officer of the 1st Day Bombardment Group, took off from Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. Also on board was 2nd Lieutenant John H. (“Dynamite”) Wilson of the group’s 96th Aero Squadron. Lieutenant Wilson was wearing two parachutes.

For the next hour, the two men circled while climbing higher into the sky. When the airplane’s altimeter indicated 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), Lieutenant Wilson stood on his seat, then jumped out of what seemed to be a perfectly good airplane.

Wilson pulled the “rip cord” of his primary parachute, and after what he thought was a very long time, the ‘chute opened, subjecting our intrepid airman to a significant shock.

From that point, Wilson reported that it felt as if he was motionless in the sky. He had no sense of motion. He then fell through an area of severe turbulence. He was thrown in every direction, and, at one point, he and the parachute rolled up and over through a full “loop.” Lt. Wilson was quite nauseous as a result.

“The wind tossed him and his frail chute hither and yon, thither and thence, not to mention between and therabouts. He was over, under and parallel with his canvas life saver at various periods.”

AIR SERVICE NEWS LETTER, Vol. IV. No. 26., 10 July 1920, Page 1

Wilson began steering his parachute toward an open area. At approximately 300 feet (91 meters) above the ground, he opened his second parachute in an effort to reduce his rate of descent further before landing. He is reported to have “landed gracefully in a turnip patch.”

The duration of Wilson’s descent was about 17 minutes, and he was blown approximately 18 miles (29 kilometers) away from Kelly Field.

Lieutenant Denton followed Wilson’s parachute in the DH-4B, then landed to pick him up. The pair took off and returned to Kelly Field.

The sealed barographs carried on board the airplane indicated that the actual altitude at which Dynamite Wilson had jumped was 19,861 feet (6,053.6 meters), more than a mile higher than the previous highest parachute jump.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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