Living loudly - without hearing protection
Life has always been an adventure for Kittinger – and it’s been a noisy one. At the peak of his career he flew fighter jets for more than 20 hours a week, all without ear protection.
“I spent 29 years on the flight line with jets and that really is what did my hearing in,” he says. “It was a very high-noise area and we didn’t have earphones or ear protection.”
At age 45, Kittinger noticed that he couldn’t hear the higher sounds that he used to. For many years it was easy to ignore. The loss became worse over the next two decades, but he continued to suffer in silence. It wasn’t until he was 70 that he received his first pair of hearing aids.
Keeping his momentum
Kittinger’s hearing aids have allowed him to continue working well into his 80s. In 2008 Kittinger signed on to Red Bull Stratos, a project to test the performance of high-altitude parachutes and pressure suits that could be used for emergency evacuation from the stratosphere. There he worked as a mentor for Felix Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian skydiver who had been chosen to make the jump.
“I was the only one Felix could talk to who had experience because I was the only one who had ever done it,” he says.
On October 14, 2012, Felix sat in a capsule tied to a giant helium balloon and began his ascent toward the stratosphere. In the center of mission control sat Kittinger, who sent up a steady stream of instructions and encouragement. It was a role that required Kittinger to be alert and fast-thinking. Most of all, it was important that he heard everything.
“Without my hearing aids I wouldn’t have been able to function,” he said. “With them I had no problem communicating.”
Now that the Red Bull Stratos project is over, one would think that at 84, Kittinger is ready to slack off. But he isn’t done yet.
“I’m looking for another adventure. I enjoy challenges and working on research programs,” he says. “I haven’t found my next adventure yet, but I’m still looking.”