CARIBOU — Balloonist Jonathan Trappe lifted off around 6 a.m. Thursday from a Caribou field under a colorful umbrella of hundreds of cluster balloons to begin his trans-Atlantic flight.
An army of volunteers spent close to nine hours inflating the balloons in Sincock Field in preparation for Trappe’s record-breaking attempt.
“Two years of work comes down to tonight, and then this flight,” Trappe wrote on his website this week. “Two years of work, and years more of dreams.”
The last manned trans-Atlantic balloon flight was piloted by balloonist Col. Joe Kittinger in 1984, who also took off from Aroostook County.
Kittinger was in Caribou this week as an on-site advisor for Trappe’s epic adventure, in which he is attempting to cross the Atlantic as no balloonist has before — with a massive collection of smaller balloons, instead of one, giant inflated air bladder.
Trappe is a “cluster balloonist” — think the Disney movie “Up,” in which the hero used thousands of small balloons to lift his house and float away to South America.
“I will use 365 individual balloons and I anticipate an inflation time of roughly 12 hours with 50 volunteers,” Trappe said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News last February. “The balloons are commercially available and are typically used for events such as open houses or for promotional purposes [and] it is fair to say that their manufacturers never intended them to be used for manned flight [because] they are toy balloons.”
Trappe estimates it will take between three and six days to cross the ocean, depending on altitude and wind currents, and he could end up anywhere from north Africa to Portugal or all the to Norway.