Joe Kittinger is just not a family title. However in the event you point out him to aviation- and astronaut-types, they know who he’s. In 1960, as analysis for NASA’s then-fledgling house program, he rode a helium balloon to 102,800 toes above the Earth, then jumped out, eclipsing 600 mph throughout his free-fall. His parachute opened at 14,000 toes, and he gently glided to the floor of the New Mexico desert.
Kittinger had simply been the best man on the earth, on the fringe of house, and, when he returned to Earth, he was nearly as excessive. A telegram awaited him from seven Mercury astronauts, together with the late John Glenn, congratulating him for his daring experiment. Kittinger had proved that check pilots and astronauts may eject at excessive altitudes, and survive.
Think about my nervousness simply earlier than I used to be about to take him for a 170-mph thrill trip across the Daytona Worldwide Speedway, courtesy of the NASCAR Racing Expertise. I had given comparable rides to a whole lot of different NRE clients, together with two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and NHRA drag-racing famous person Antron Brown.
However Kittinger? He’s a nationwide treasure. There’s a park close to Orlando, Florida, named after him, which options an F-4 fighter jet he had flown on fight missions through the Vietnam Battle. Joe had been shot down in an identical F-4, and spent a number of months being tortured within the POW camp generally known as “The Hanoi Hilton.” Joe had ejected from his crippled plane at supersonic velocity, and was fortunate to be alive.
In full disclosure, I do know Joe from a decade again. Once I had initially interviewed him for Forbes, he had inspired me to strive a parachute soar. Whereas proudly sporting his sneakers (I had large footwear to fill, pun supposed!), I did my first tandem from 13,500 toes over SkyDive Deland, not removed from Joe’s dwelling in Altamonte Springs. We stored in contact through the years by way of The Explorers Membership, through which we’re each members.
As they strapped Joe into the passenger aspect of my 600-plus-horsepower inventory automobile with 5 belts, a helmet and Hans system, I questioned what was going by way of his thoughts. Actually, this trip could be small potatoes in comparison with the opposite issues he had finished throughout his lifetime of 93 years. We’d pull about 3 G’s on the 31-degree-banked, 2.5-mile-long Daytona oval. However Joe as soon as instructed me he had pulled 15 G’s (15 occasions one’s physique weight!) in a centrifuge for NASA experiments within the Nineteen Sixties. 15 G’s? I couldn’t even think about that type of drive. I as soon as pulled 6 G’s in an F-15, and that was sufficient for me.
As I gunned the engine in pit lane, Joe gave me a fist bump, then I roared by way of the gears and blended onto the monitor simply earlier than Flip 1. Due to the engine noise and the main target I had on the highway forward of me, I couldn’t hear or see Joe, apart from the occasional “thumbs up” in my proper peripheral imaginative and prescient, and the time he reached over for a fast handshake on the back-straight. Actually? This man was fearless.
After seven sizzling laps, we returned to pit lane and I shut down the engine. I used to be apprehensive. Would this expertise measure as much as Joe’s expectations?
“Holy cow, that was actually one thing,” he exclaimed. “I used to be Grand Marshall on the July Fourth Daytona race in 1973, and I received a ride-along then, however solely at 100 mph. It was like kissing your sister. Driving with you was an actual journey. I cherished it. You’re an excellent driver.” I really suppose he meant it.
Proper after, I took Joe’s son, Mark, out. Mark’s remark: “A redneck’s dream come true!” Now I’m not a redneck, and neither is Mark nor Joe. However I understood what he meant. Hey, we had been down south in NASCAR nation. What the heck!
All of us had an excellent snort. Then Joe and Mark made their method again to the car parking zone. I stayed within the automobile giving rides for the remainder of the day with an enormous grin on my face. How usually do you get to offer a real American hero one thing enjoyable to recollect in alternate for all he’s finished for America?