August 16 is National Airborne Day and paratroopers all over the country are remembering their own experiences and sharing some of them via social media. 

President George Bush created National Airborne Day in 2002. It was designated by Congress to honor America’s paratroopers. 

Airborne combat continues to be driven by the bravery and daring spirit of sky soldiers. Often called into action with little notice, these forces have earned an enduring reputation for dedication, excellence, and honor. As we face the challenges of a new era, I encourage all people to recognize the contributions of these courageous soldiers to our Nation and the world,” President Bush had said. 

National Airborne Day falls on the day of the Army’s first parachute jumps. On August 16, 1940, Lt. William Ryder was credited with being the first Army paratrooper to “jump from a perfectly good airplane.” He was the first commander of the Parachute Test Platoon in 1940.

Also on 16 August, 20 years later, Colonel Joe Kittinger, participating in the high altitude balloon Project Excelsior III, would set several world records for the time: the highest skydive from a height greater than 19 miles (31 km, 102,800 ft), highest balloon ascent, longest-duration drogue-fall (four minutes), and the highest speed achieved by a human through the atmosphere. Besides the Excelsior projects, Colonel Kittinger also participated in Project Manhigh.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union were interested in these ultra-high balloon flights on the edge of space. That was just the beginning of the “space race” and at that point, the Soviets were ahead. 

In the mid-1950s, the U.S. Air Force had a piloted high-altitude balloon project — Project Manhigh. The project would not only test the effects of cosmic radiation on the human body by placing a pilot above 100,000 feet, but would also serve as a prototype for future spacecraft. Between June 1957 and October 1958, there were three piloted Manhigh flights. Kittinger piloted Manhigh-1, which reached 97,000 feet on June 2, 1957. After he conducted the second Manhigh flight the following August, Kittinger was posted to the Aero Medical Laboratory where the Air Force tested parachuting from extreme altitudes.

Project Excelsior followed Manhigh. (The name Excelsior was selected because it means “ever upward” in Latin.)