Joseph William Kittinger II (born July 27, 1928) is a retired Colonel in the United States Air Force and a USAF Command Pilot. Following his initial operational assignment in fighter aircraft, he participated in Project Manhigh and Project Excelsior in 1960, setting a world record for the longest skydive from a height greater than 31 kilometres (19 mi). He was also the first man to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a gas balloon and the first human to observe the curvature of the Earth.
Serving as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, he achieved an aerial kill of a North Vietnamese MiG-21 jet fighter and was later shot down himself, spending 11 months as a prisoner of war in a North Vietnamese prison.
In 2012, at the age of 84, he participated in the Red Bull Stratos project as capsule communicator, directing Felix Baumgartner on his record-breaking 39-kilometer (24 mi) freefall from Earth’s stratosphere, exceeding Kittinger’s earlier freefall in 1960.