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
3 September 1954: At the Dayton Air Show, being held for the first time at the James M. Cox Municipal Airport, Major John L. (“Jack”) Armstrong, U.S. Air Force, flew his North American Aviation F-86H-1-NH Sabre, 52-1998, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers Without Payload, averaging 1,045.206 kilometers per hour (649.461 miles per hour).¹
The F-86H was a fighter-bomber variant of the famous Sabre Jet day fighter. It was equipped with a much more powerful General Electric J73-GE-3 turbojet engine. The engine was larger that the J47 used in previous F-86 models, and this required a much larger air intake and airframe modifications. The fuselage was 6 inches deeper and two feet longer than the F-86F. This accommodated the new engine and an increase in fuel load. The tail surfaces were changed with an increase in the height of the vertical fin and the elevators were changed to an “all-flying” horizontal stabilizer. The first F-86Hs built retained the six Browning AN-M3 .50 caliber machine guns of the F-86F, but this was quickly changed to four Pontiac M39 20 millimeter revolver cannon.
The North American Aviation F-86H Sabre was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 11 inches (4.547 meters). Empty weight was 13,836 pounds (6,276 kilograms) and gross weight was 24,296 pounds (11,021 kilograms).
The F-86H was powered by a General Electric J73-GE-3D or -3E engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, turbojet engine, which used a 12-stage compressor section with variable inlet vanes, 10 combustion chambers and 2-stage turbine section. It produced 8,920 pounds of thrust (39.68 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. The J73 was 16 feet, 8 inches (5.08 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.5 inches (1.03 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,650 pounds (1,656 kilograms).
The F-86H had a maximum speed of 692 miles per hour (1,114 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 617 miles per hour (993 kilometers) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The fighter bomber had an initial rate of climb of 12,900 feet per minute (65.53 meters per second) and it could reach 30,000 feet in 5.7 minutes. The service ceiling was 50,800 feet (15,484 meters). With bombs, the F-86H had a combat radius of 403 miles (649 kilometers) at 552 miles per hour (888 kilometers per hour). The maximum ferry range was 1,810 miles (2,913 kilometers).
F-86H Sabres (after the first ten production airplanes) were armed with four Pontiac M39 20 mm autocannon with 600 rounds of ammunition. In ground attack configuration, they could carry rockets and bombs or “Special Store” that would be delivered by “toss bombing.” 473 F-86H Sabres were built before production ended.
The F-86H Sabre became operational in 1954, but by 1958 all that remained in the U.S. Air Force Inventory were reassigned to the Air National Guard. The last one was retired in 1972.
John L. Armstrong was born in Orange County, California, 19 July 1922. He was the fourth child of Milton Williams Armstrong, an engineer, and Olive M. Meyer Armstrong. As a child, he was called “Jake.”
Major Armstrong had been a fighter pilot during World War II, flying Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, initially with the 554 Fighter Training Squadron, 496th Fighter Training Group.
On 13 March 1944, Armstrong made a forced landing at North Killingholme when his fighter ran out of fuel.
2nd Lieutenant Armstrong was assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group based at RAF Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, England, 26 March 1944. He flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning.
The 79th transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. Armstrong was promoted to first lieutenant 26 June 1944. He was officially credited with having destroyed one enemy Focke-Wulf Fw 190. On 28 August 1944, while flying his 30th combat mission, his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13791, Guardian Angel, was shot down by anti-aircraft gunfire while he was attacking a railway roundhouse at Bad Greuznach, Germany. Armstrong bailed out but was captured and held at Stalag Luft I at Barth, Western Pomerania. He was returned to U.S. military control in June 1945.
Major Armstrong had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters (six awards), the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
Two days after setting the speed record, Jack Armstrong was attempting to increase it. His Sabre broke up in flight and Major Armstrong was killed. His remains were buried at the Loma Vista Memorial Park, Fullerton, California, 11 September 1954.
Colonel George Everette Day, United States Air Force
MEDAL OF HONOR
Rank and organization: Colonel (then Major), U.S. Air Force, Forward Air Controller Pilot of an F-100 aircraft. Place and date: North Vietnam, August 26, 1967. Entered service at: Sioux City, Iowa. Born: February 24, 1925, Sioux City, Iowa.
Citation: On 26 August 1967, Col. Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire. His right arm was broken in 3 places, and his left knee was badly sprained. He was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp where he was interrogated and severely tortured. After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col. Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam. Despite injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs. He successfully evaded enemy patrols and reached the Ben Hai River, where he encountered U.S. artillery barrages. With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across the river and entered the demilitarized zone. Due to delirium, he lost his sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days. After several unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and thigh. He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put before him. Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable to perform even the simplest task for himself. Despite his many injuries, he continued to offer maximum resistance. His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy. Col. Day’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.
George Everette Day was born at Sioux City, Iowa, 24 February 1925. He was the second child of John Edward Day, a laborer, and Christina Marie Larson Day, an immigrant from Denmark.
George Day attended Central High School in Sioux City. During his senior class year, he dropped out of school immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. On 10 December 1941, Day enlisted as a private in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. After training, he was assigned to the Seacoast Artillery Group, 16th Defense Battalion, Fleet Marine Force. Day was deployed to the Pacific 23 May 1943. He then was sent to Johnston Island as a member of the Marine Defense Force. Johnston Island was one of four small islands of an atoll, approximately 860 miles southwest of the island of Hawaii. It was an important refueling point for airplanes and submarines. Corporal Day remained there throughout the war. He returned to the United States 9 November 1945 and was released from service 24 November 1945.
George Day enlisted in the United States Army Reserve, 11 December 1946. He served with the Iowa National Guard for three years while attending college. He studied at Morningside College, a private liberal arts college in Sioux City, earning a bachelor of science degree, and then the University of South Dakota School of Law, at Vermillion, South Dakota, graduating with the degree of Juris Doctor. He was admitted to the State Bar of South Dakota in 1949.
Also in 1949, Day married Miss Doris Merline Sørensen, also from Sioux City, and the daughter of Norwegian immigrants. They would later adopt four children.
On 17 May 1950, Day was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Iowa Air National Guard. Ten months later, Lieutenant Day was placed on active duty and entered pilot training with the U.S. Air Force. He began his flight training at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and then moved on to Hondo and Big Springs Air Force Bases. Training was conducted in the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star.
During the Korean War, Lieutenant Day flew the Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter-bomber with the 559th Fighter-Escort Squadron (redesignated the 559th Strategic Fighter Squadron in 1953) based at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas. The squadron’s mission was to provide fighter escort for the Strategic Air Command’s Convair B-36 intercontinental bombers. Day was promoted to Captain in February 1953, and was temporarily assigned to Chitose Air Base, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
While stationed with the 55th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 20th Fighter-Bomber Wing, at RAF Weathersfield, England, on 11 June 1957 Captain Day was flying a training mission in a Republic F-84F-45-RE Thunderstreak, serial number 52-6724. The fighter’s Wright J65 turbojet engine exploded at about 500 feet (152 meters). He ejected but as his parachute failed to open. Day survived by penetrating a pine forest, and decelerating through a 30 foot (9 meters) tree. The wing transitioned to the North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre shortly after this incident.
Major Day was assigned commander of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C) unit at St. Louis University and was an assistant professor of aerospace science. While there, in 1964, Major Day earned a master of arts degree.
Volunteering for duty in Southeast Asia, in April 1967, Major Day was assigned to the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, at Tuy-Hoa Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam.
Major Day was then assigned as the first commander of an experimental forward air controller unit (“Commando Sabre”): Detachment 1, 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Phù Cát Air Base. The new forward air controller unit had four aircraft and 16 pilots. The pilots flew using the call sign, “Misty.” (According to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Major Day was a fan of Johnny Mathis’ 1959 record, “Misty.”)
On his 26th Commando Sabre mission, Easter Sunday, 26 August 1967, Major Day was flying as the Forward Air Controller (“FAC”) in the back seat of a North American Aviation F-100F Super Sabre, serial number 56-3954. The pilot was Captain Corwin M. Kippenhan.
Day and Kippenhan were supporting Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers on an attack against an enemy surface-to-air missile battery near Thon Cam Son, north of the Demilitarized Zone (“the DMZ”) in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Their Super Sabre was hit by 37 millimeter antiaircraft fire, and the two men were forced to eject.
Captain Kippenham was rescued by “Jolly Green 28,” a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, serial number 66-13281, from the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron based at Da Nang, South Vietnam. The rescue helicopter was damaged and driven off by enemy 57 millimeter gunfire. The pilot, Captain Charles Raymond Dunn, was awarded the Silver Star (his second). The copilot, Captain Walter R. Blackwell, flight engineer, Frederic M. Halbert, and pararescueman (“PJ”) Joseph M. Duffy, were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. An AP press photographer, Johnny Griffith, was also aboard the HH-3E during the rescue.
Jolly Green 28 could not make contact with Major Day. Day was seriously injured following the ejection. His right arm was broken and his left knee was dislocated. He was captured by the enemy. Five days later, he escaped. Over a 10 day period he made his way, bare-footed, more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) across the DMZ into South Vietnam. He was discovered by Viet Cong guerillas and was shot, with wounds to his left thigh and left hand.
Major Day suffered the most brutal conditions while he was held as a Prisoner of War. He was imprisoned for 2,028 days, before being released 14 March 1973. During his imprisonment, the Air Force promoted him to lieutenant colonel, and then colonel.
Explaining how he was able to withstand the years of torture, isolation, poor nutrition and lack of medical care, Colonel Day said,
“I am, and have been all my life, a loyal American. I have faith in my country, and am secure in the knowledge that my country is a good nation, responsible to the people of the United States and responsible to the world community of nations. I believed in my wife and children and rested secure in the knowledge that they backed both me and my country. I believe in God and that he will guide me and my country in paths of honorable conduct. I believe in the Code of Conduct of the U.S. fighting man. I believe the most important thing in my life was to return from North Vietnam with honor, not just to return. If I could not return with my honor, I did not care to return at all. I believe that in being loyal to my country that my country will be loyal to me. My support of our noble objectives will make the world a better place in which to live.”
—Colonel George Everette Day, United States Air Force, quoted by The Super Sabre Society.
After his return to the United States, Colonel Day spent a year trying to recover from his injuries and poor health. He then returned to flight status, transitioned to the McDonnell F-4E Phantom II at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, and was appointed vice commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
In a presentation at the White House, 4 March 1976, Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States, presented the Medal of Honor to Rear Admiral James B. Stockdale, United States Navy, who had been to most senior American officer held by North Vietnam, and to Colonel Day.
Colonel Day retired from the United States Air Force in February 1977. He then practiced law in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He is the author of two books, Return With Honor and Duty, Honor, Country.
Colonel Day was rated a Command Pilot with over 8,000 flight hours.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, during his military career, Colonel Day was awarded the Air Force Cross; the Distinguished Service Medal; the Silver Star; the Legion of Merit; the Bronze Star with “V” device and three oak leaf clusters (three awards for valor); the Purple Heart with three oak leaf clusters (four awards); the Defense Meritorious Service Medal; the Air Medal with one silver and four bronze oak leaf clusters (nine awards); Presidential Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with “V” device and three oak leaf clusters (three awards for valor); Prisoner of War Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal with bronze star (Korean War and Vietnam War); Korean Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal with two silver and three bronze campaign stars (all 18 campaigns); Air Force Longevity Awards with four oak leaf clusters (20 years); Armed Forces Reserve Medal; Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; National Order of Vietnam, Knight; United Nations Service Medal; Anh Dũng Bội Tinh (Vietnam Gallantry Cross) with palm (the highest of four levels); Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation; Chiến Dịch Bội Tinh (Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal); and the Vietnam Master Parachutist Badge.
According to the Air Mobility Command Museum, Colonel Day “is the second-most decorated military member in American history, General Douglas MacArthur being first.”
Colonel George Everette Day, United States Air Force (Retired), died at his home in Shalimar, Florida, 27 July 2013, at the age of 88 years. He is buried at the Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola, Florida.
In the Defense Authorization Act of 2017, Colonel Day was advanced to the rank of Brigadier General, United States Air Force (Retired).
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.
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.
7 August 1919: Captain Ernest Charles Hoy, DFC, a World War I fighter pilot credited with 13 aerial victories, became the first pilot to fly across the Canadian Rockies when he flew from Richmond, British Columbia, to Calgary, Alberta, carrying the mail for the Post Office Department.
Foy’s airplane was a single-engine Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd.-built JN-4 “Canuck” two-bay biplane, an independent derivative of the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company JN-3 “Jenny,” to the specifications of the Royal Flying Corps. The Canuck had ailerons on upper and lower wings, giving it better roll response than the original Curtiss JN-4. The Canuck was 27 feet, 2½ inches (8.293 meters) long, with an upper wingspan of 43 feet, 7-3/8 inches (13.294 meters) and lower span of 34 feet, 8 inches ( meters). The height was 9 feet, 11 inches (3.023 meters). The empty weight was 1,390 pounds (630 kilograms) and gross weight was 1,930 pounds (875 kilograms).
The Canuck was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 502.655-cubic-inch-displacement (8.237 liters) Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company OX-5 90° V-8 engine with a compression ratio of 4.9:1. This was a direct-drive engine which produced 90 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. and turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller. The OX-5 was 4 feet, 8.75 inches (1.442 meters) long, 2 feet, 5.75 inches (0.756 meters) wide and 3 feet, 0.75 inches (0.932 meters) high. It weighed 390 pounds (177 kilograms).
The Canuck had a cruise speed of 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 74 miles per hour (119 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). The standard airplane had a range of 155 miles (249 kilometers). Captain Hoy had an additional 12 gallon (45 liters) fuel tank installed in the airplane’s forward cockpit.
Two Canadian newspapers had agreed to offer a cash prize to the first person to make this flight. Captain Hoy was sponsored by the Aerial League of Canada, which purchased the airplane. Supposedly, Hoy was selected to make the flight by winning a coin toss with another pilot.
Captain Hoy took off from Minoru Park in Richmond at 4:13 a.m., carrying 45 specially marked letters and several special editions of the Vancouver Daily World. He made several fuel stops enroute, flew through several mountain passes and finally landed at Bowness Park in Calgary at 8:55 p.m. His flight took 16 hours, 42 minutes.
Ernest Charles Hoy was born at Dauphin, Manitoba, 6 May 1895, the son of Charles and Eliza Lavinia Kitchener Hoy.
Ernest Charles Hoy was 5 feet, 9½ inches (1.765 meters) tall, and weighed 165 pounds (75 kilograms). He had black hair and brown eyes. Hoy enlisted as a private in the 102nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 3 March 1915. The unit arrived in France, 12 August 1916, and fought as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division. He was transferred to the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, Canadian Engineers. After contracting a serious illness, Private Hoy was sent back to England to recuperate. While there, he volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps. He was trained as a pilot and assigned to No. 29 Squadron.
Between 12 August and 27 September 1918, Lieutenant Hoy shot down 13 enemy aircraft (including two balloons) with his Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a fighter. After his fourth, Hoy was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation in The London Gazette reads,
Lieut. (A/Capt.) Ernest Charles Hoy. (FRANCE) A bold and skillful airman who has accounted for four enemy machines and shot down a balloon in flames, displaying at all times a fine fighting spirit, disregarding adverse odds.
—The London Gazette, 3 December 1918, Supplement 31046, Page 14322 at Column 2.
On 26 September 1918, Captain Hoy was shot down by an enemy pilot. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war until the Armistice.
On 12 July 1922, Captain Hoy married Miss Marjorie Day at Vancouver, British Columbia. They emigrated to the United States in 1924 and resided in Newark, New Jersey. They had two children, Ross Kitchener Hoy, born in 1926, and Jane Elizabeth Hoy, born in 1930.
Captain Hoy became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America on 6 July 1939. He worked as a branch manager for an insurance company.
Captain Ernest Charles Hoy died at Toccoa, Georgia, 22 April 1982, just short of his 87th birthday.