Orlando, Florida is home to one of America’s greatest aviation heroes: former Air Force pilot and prisoner of war, Colonel Joe Kittinger. During his military career, Joe Kittinger was recruited to help the Air Force with their dawning research in space based aviation. Kittinger took a series of balloon rides into our upper atmosphere while working on Projects Manhigh and Excelsior and is credited as the first human to observe the curvature of our planet. While working on Project Excelsior, Joe made a series of three high altitude parachute jumps from a helium balloon, setting several records with each jump. His final and highest jump in 1960 was from an altitude of 102,800 feet. These records stood for 52 years until broken by Felix Baumgartner in 2012. Kittinger later went on to serve in Vietnam as a fighter pilot flying a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom.
During his tour of duty, he shot down a North Vietnamese Mig 21 and was later shot down and captured himself, subsequently serving 11 months as a prisoner of war. During his civilian career, Joe made the first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a gas balloon in 1983. Later he went on as a technical advisor and capsule communicator for Felix Baumgartner’s record breaking parachute jump from an estimated 24 miles.
When Winter Park Blue learned of the effort to restore one of Joe’s F-4 Phantoms for display as a local monument, we jumped at the opportunity. The aircraft had been on display at a Texas university, and was in need of a daunting amount of preparation before reaching its final destination, elevated 12 feet above ground at Joe Kittinger Park.
The plane was disassembled and brought to Orlando on a flatbed trailer for restoration. Upon arrival, the plane was reassembled and stored in a local hanger at the Orlando Executive Airport where our efforts began. The aircraft was measured and a custom template was created prior to the design process. This is the first F-4 Phantom to ever be wrapped, according to our military advisors. Design templates were obviously not available, and all information about camouflage colors and paint and lettering schemes were buried deep inside Air Force technical orders. After pattern and letter scheme for the Phantom was finalized, we went about the process of obtaining a warranty for the wrap from 3M. (Subsequently, we obtained our 3M MCS for the HP Latex 3000.)
The entire wrap is produced on 3M 180 CV3 and laminated with a special non yellowing laminate that is resistant to chemicals, mold, mildew and acid rain. WPB contracted a local MCS certified installer to cover the Phantom with over 400 lbs of vinyl and laminate. The plane was unveiled at a special fund raiser on October 5th to help raise funds for the long term maintenance of the monument. All those in attendance were absolutely blown away with the results.