While everyone else is taking the time to high-five Felix Baumgartner, I would like to take the contrarian road and thank Joe Kittinger, Jr. for today’s achievement. It takes a very special man to help the new kid break all the records that man set fifty-two years ago — including highest parachute jump, longest free fall, and fastest velocity through the atmosphere by a human outside of the confines of an aircraft.
But that is the kind of man Joe Kittinger is.
I met Colonel Kittinger back in 1976. I was a freshly minted air traffic controller just months out of technical training at my first real assignment. That assignment was the control tower at RAF Lakenheath in East Anglia, about 70 miles northeast of London. Colonel Kittinger was the Vice Wing Commander for Lakenheath’s 48th Tactical Fighter Wing toward the end of the Wing’s F-4D era just before the transition to the F-111F. Colonel Kittinger made the trek up all those stairs to the tower cab just to visit with us after the Wing had completed flying for the day. I was quite in awe of the man then. I’m still in awe of him to this day.
So, while I may be congratulating Felix Baumgartner, it’s Joe Kittinger whom I choose to thank this day for making today’s achievement possible.
Way to go, Joe . . . er, Sir.