Larry's Lawn Chair Ride

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Larry Walters' boyhood dream was not an unusual one: He wanted to fly. What was unusual, though, was the way he fulfilled it. After finishing school, Larry joined the U.S. Air Force, but was rejected from pilot-training school because of poor eyesight. However, his dream remained.

Larry, aged 33, was not a pilot, but a truck driver in Los Angeles. One day, while sitting outside in his lawn chair, Larry had his eureka moment. As he watched jets fly overhead, an idea came to him to use weather balloons to fly.

A few weeks later, Larry bought 42 one-meter diameter weather balloons. He tied them to a lawn chair and filled them with helium. Then he sat down in the chair with some beer, sandwiches, and a BB gun. Larry's plan was to float about 10 meters above his backyard, enjoy a few hours in the air, and then pop some balloons with his gun to get back down. But things did not go according to Larry's plan.

When his friends cut the anchor lines, Larry, lifted by the 42 balloons, shot skyward at an astonishing speed. He finally settled at an altitude of 4,000 meters. Afraid to pop any of the balloons, in case he should upset the balance of his "craft", Larry sat, cold and frightened, in the sky with his beer and sandwiches for 14 hours.

Airline pilots heading toward Los Angeles' busy international airport radioed in reports of the strange sight. Larry's presence in the skies caused numerous planes to be rerouted. Eventually, Larry worked up the nerve to shoot a few balloons and slowly descended, landing in power lines. Uninjured, he climbed down to safety and was arrested by waiting police.

When asked by a reporter why he had done it, Larry responded, "A man just can't sit around." Larry fulfilled his dream, and set a record for a gas-filled balloon flight. But it cost him: He was later fined $1,500 for violating air safety regulations.

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