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Colonel Joseph William Kittinger II (born July 27, 1928 in Tampa , Florida , United States ) is a former command pilot , career military officer and retired Colonel in the United States Air Force . He is most famous for his participation in Project Manhigh and Project Excelsior , in 1960 setting the record longest skydive , from a height greater than 31 kilometres (19 mi). [ 1 ] He was also the first man to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a gas balloon.