CARIBOU, Maine -- Kittinger is hoping to touch down in France, the same country where the Double Eagle II landed in 1978. That balloon trip, accomplished by a team of three led by the late Maxie Anderson, was the only successful Atlantic balloon trip.
At 5 p.m. EDT, the helium-filled balloon was traveling at 56 mph - a significant improvement over 20 mph clocked Friday night.
'We got him up to higher altitudes and we're quite happy with his current speed,' meteorologist Jim Serna said from the Rosie O'Grady Balloon of Peace trans-Atlantic operations center in Bedford, Mass.
'The last contact with Joe was he's in good spirits and everything's going fine. It's a good flight so far. Everything's on schedule,' Serna said.
The balloon gained altitude and speed after Kittinger dropped ballast early Saturday morning and again at about 3:30 p.m. 'He had been at 9,000 feet and we recommended that he go to 11,000 feet,' Serna said.
'It's going to be a great adventure. The next glass of champagne will be in Europe,' Kittinger said Friday night as he kissed his girlfriend goodbye and was sent off by a crowd of nearly 1,000 people singing 'God Bless America' in Caribou.
Kittinger lost contact with Canadian air traffic control officials after crossing Newfoundland and moving beyond their radar range. For most of the trip, the flight center plans to stay in touch with him through commercial aircraft and amateur band radio.
'Several airlines are alerted to this and are prepared to communicate with him,' Serna said.
A former Air Force test pilot and Vietnam POW, Kittinger, 56, of Orlando, Fla., had been waiting more than a month for the weather and wind patterns to be favorable for his departure.
'Wonderful winds and a wonderful track is ahead of him,' Kirkham said. The weather pattern and profile across the Atlantic at 20,000 feet is excellent -- superb.'
Kittinger is able to take numerous short catnaps while aloft but hoped to remain awake for nearly the whole flight, said flight officials. Planners said they expected the trip would take between three and six days.
'Joe is the world's greatest balloon dozer -- he has a clock in his head. If he tells himself he wants to take a 10-minute rest, he can lie down and do just that,' Kirkham said. 'He calls them balloon naps.'
Kittinger is hoping to touch down in France, the same country where the Dougle Eagle II landed in 1978. That balloon trip, accomplished by a team of three led by the late Maxie Anderson, was the only successful Atlantic balloon trip.