25 April 2016
St. John´s River with Sherry and Joe Kittinger
On my short trip to Orlando, I had the best tour guides you can imagine - Sherry and Joe Kittinger invited me to an airboat trip along the St. John´s river, Florida´s longest river! It is always a joy for me to meet them. Joe hasn´t only helped Felix Baumgartner to beat his own record of the highest skydive jump ever, which Joe had already set in the 60ies - but Joe had also flown almost every wing that exists during his time at the airforce!
Aerophile as I am, I keep bugging him about stories of his time as a pilot, and he patiently never gets tired to tell me more. And this time he didn´t only tell some stories - they got me speechless when they showed me an original F4 jet, actually one that Joe had flown himself! It´s set up in Joe´s memorial park. Sure it was for very serious reasons when Joe flew that jet, but I had to ask him what it was like to fly that wing. He smiled and said that it was one of the finest planes that he ever flew.
Of course Sherry and Joe know how curious I am about local wild life, so they thought it´s a good idea to take me out and see some alligators. And we saw plenty of those amazing creatures, any size! Our very knowledgeable guide Joe blasted with us to the top spots for seeing all different types of birds and gators.
I had no idea that you can actually cross soil as well as water in such a boat, it was almost like a hovercraft. Really fun! The guys in Florida never get snow to skid and spin their cars around, so instead they do it in airboats on the water! Quite exciting with lots of hungry eyes sitting in the water expecting a snack ;)
I was also introduced to the original orange tree that was still one complete tree, before they had started grafting them. Thankfully Sherry and Joe warned me that it is a very sour and bitter orange. And so it was - but as I don´t like wasting food, I finished the whole sour orange, pulling funny faces much to the delight of Joe and Sherry. Oh Joe would get along very well with Bill Moyes, pulling jokes on "tourists" :)
Hard to believe I had barely 24 hours in Orlando - it was filled with an amazing trip, great stories and the best company you can possibly ask for! If you want to know more about Joe´s life, I can recommend his autobiography to you: "Come up and get me" - he has an extraordinary humor, and if you like flying, well - to me Joe left an important footstep in aviation history, in a very modest way.