Larry Walters

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Larry Walters

Born April 19, 1949(1949-04-19)
Los Angeles, California
Died October 6, 1993 (aged 44)
Angeles National Forest
Other names Lawnchair Larry
Known for Flying a lawn chair with weather balloons

Lawrence Richard Walters, nicknamed "Lawnchair Larry" or the "Lawn Chair Pilot", (April 19, 1949October 6, 1993) was an American truckdriver[1] who took flight on July 2, 1982 in a homemade aircraft. Dubbed Inspiration I, the "flying machine" consisted of an ordinary patio chair with 45 helium-filled weather balloons attached to it. Walters rose to an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,900 m) and floated from his point of origin in San Pedro, California into controlled airspace near Long Beach Airport. His flight was widely reported in many newspapers.


[edit] Balloon flight

[edit] Origin of his plan

Walters had always dreamed of flying, but was unable to become a pilot in the United States Air Force because of his poor eyesight. Walters had first thought of using weather balloons to fly at age 13, after seeing them hanging from the ceiling of a military surplus store. Twenty years later he decided to do so. His intention was to attach a few helium-filled weather balloons to his lawnchair, cut the anchor, and then float above his backyard at a height of about 30 feet (9.1 m) for several hours. He planned to use a pellet gun to burst balloons to float gently to the ground.

[edit] Preparation and launch

In the summer of 1982, Walters and his girlfriend, Carol Van Deusen, purchased 45 eight-foot weather balloons and obtained helium tanks from California Toy Time Balloons. They used a forged requisition from his employer, FilmFair Studios, saying the balloons were for a television commercial. Walters attached the balloons to his lawn chair, filled them with helium, put on a parachute, and strapped himself into the chair. He took his pellet gun, a CB radio, sandwiches, cold beer, and a camera. When his friends cut the cord that tied his lawn chair to his Jeep, Walters' lawn chair rose rapidly to a height of about 15,000 feet (4,600 m). He did not dare shoot any balloons, fearing that he might unbalance the load and cause himself to spill out. He slowly drifted over Long Beach and crossed the primary approach corridor of Long Beach Airport.

He was in contact with REACT, a CB monitoring organization, who recorded their conversation:

REACT: What information do you wish me to tell [the airport] at this time as to your location and your difficulty?
Larry: Ah, the difficulty is, ah, this was an unauthorized balloon launch, and, uh, I know I'm in a federal airspace, and, uh, I'm sure my ground crew has alerted the proper authority. But, uh, just call them and tell them I'm okay.

After 45 minutes in the sky, he shot a few balloons. This caused him to descend slowly again, until the balloons' dangling cables got caught in a power line, causing a blackout in a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes. Fortunately, this did allow Walters to climb to the ground again.

[edit] Arrest and notoriety

He was immediately arrested by waiting members of the Long Beach Police Department; when asked by a reporter why he had done it, Walters replied, "A man can't just sit around."

Regional safety inspector Neal Savoy was reported to have said, "We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed. If he had a pilot's license, we'd suspend that. But he doesn't." Walters was initially fined US$4,000 for violations under U. S. Federal Aviation Regulations, including operating an aircraft within an airport traffic area "without establishing and maintaining two-way communications with the control tower." Walters appealed, and the fine was reduced to US$1,500.[2] (A charge of operating a "civil aircraft for which there is not currently in effect an Airworthiness Certificate" was dropped, as it was not applicable to this class of aircraft.) Walters commented, "If the FAA was around when the Wright Brothers were testing their aircraft, they would never have been able to make their first flight at Kitty Hawk."

Walters received the top prize from the Bonehead Club of Dallas for his adventure, as well as invitations from The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman, plus an honorable mention in 1982's Darwin Awards.

Walter's flight was replicated (though tethered) on one of the pilot episodes of the TV show MythBusters, in which one of the show's hosts was lifted to a height just under 30m (100 ft) and gradually reduced his altitude by shooting balloons with a pellet gun.

[edit] Later Years

The lawnchair used in the flight was given to an admiring boy named Jerry, though Walters later regretted doing so, since the Smithsonian Institution asked him to donate it to its museum. Twenty years later, Jerry, by then an adult, sent an e-mail to Mark Barry, a pilot who had documented Walters's story and dedicated a Web site to it, and identified himself. It was still sitting in his garage, attached to some of the original tethers and water jugs used as ballast.[3]

Walters said, "It was something I had to do. I had this dream for twenty years, and if I hadn't done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm. I didn't think that by fulfilling my goal in life — my dream — that I would create such a stir and make people laugh."

After his flight, he was in brief demand as a motivational speaker and he quit his job as a truck driver. He was featured in a Timex print ad in the early 90s,[4] but he never made much money from his fame. Later in his life, Walters hiked the San Gabriel Mountains and did volunteer work for the United States Forest Service.

He committed suicide at the age of 44 by shooting himself in the heart in Angeles National Forest in 1993 .[5]

[edit] Pop culture references

[edit] Theater

  • The musical "Flight of the Lawnchair Man" is based on his flight.
  • The flight and Walter's inability to settle back into normal existence inspired Up (The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair), Bridget Carpenter's 2002 play that traced the discordant aftermath of fictional Walter Griffith's lawn chair adventure.[6]
  • One scene in Robert Fulgham's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten tells of Larry Walter's flight, but from the more inspirational angle of everything is still possible.

[edit] Television

  • Larry Walters' flight was referred to in the third season of the Fox Comedy Arrested Development, when George Bluth Sr., inspired by a television program about Walters, attempts to use a deck chair rigged with hydrogen balloons to escape from house arrest.
  • An episode of the 1980s television show The A-Team featured a prison escape scene in which Murdoch ties trash bags to a lawn chair and inflates them with hot air from hair dryers, allowing him to float out of the prison yard.
  • An episode of Malcolm in the Middle ends with older brother Reese floating away from home on a balloon-lifted lawn chair. As he rises away, younger brother Dewey calls out, "I'll miss you, at first!"
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Bill, Dale, and Boomhauer construct a flying lawnchair. The takeoff is botched, however, and Bill ends up in Mexico, hanging from a tree, and is set upon by Mexican children who think he is a piñata.
  • In the teaser to an episode of Hill Street Blues someone is attempting to take off in a balloon-suspended lawn chair, but is ordered to stop by Lt. Buntz. When the chair pilot (sarcastically addressed by Buntz as "Captain Kirk") refuses and the balloon starts to rise, Buntz shoots it with his department-issued weapon, causing the pilot to drop to the ground.
  • In a episode of Urban Legends Larry Walters flight is shown as one of three, possibly true, legends. His is the true story.

[edit] Film

  • The story of Walters also inspired the romantic comedy Danny Deckchair.
  • A similar story is to be portrayed in Pixar Animation Studios' Up, about a man who lifts his house into the air using helium balloons.

[edit] Music

  • Larry's flight is described in Neil Halstead's song "Hi-Lo and in Between" on his solo album "Sleeping on Roads"
  • Larry's feat and later suicide inspired the Candyskins song Death of a Minor T.V. celebrity from their 1998 album of the same name.
  • Channel 3, a California hardcore punk band have a song about Larry Walters.
  • A song by the San Diego band Pinback, describes the flight in the song "Walters" from their album "Autumn of the Seraphs".
  • The Lucksmiths "Up" on their album "A Good Kind of Nervous" is about Walters' flight.
  • The 2000 Eggbo album, Flight of an Urban Legend, contains a song entitled "Larry Walters" as well as cover art that suggests Walters' flight.

[edit] Other media

  • Walters's flight inspired a satirical narrative thread in Berke Breathed's Bloom County comic strip, where wheelchair-bound Cutter John and Opus the Penguin ride across the ocean on a wheelchair lifted by helium balloons.
  • There is also an easter egg in SimCity 4 that shows a man in a lawn chair attached to balloons, floating across the city, an obvious reference to Larry Walters.
  • The "L-4 Society" card in the Illuminati card game by Steve Jackson Games features an astronaut orbiting the Earth in a lawnchair suspended by helium balloons. This is both a spoof of Walters' legendary flight and of the L5 Society.
  • The final segment of the musical 3hree is called Flight of the Lawn-chair Man and is based on Larry's story.
  • On June 6, 2006, Howard Stern wack packer Eric "the Midget" Lynch agreed to sit in a lawn chair while he was lifted up by balloons. Stern mentions the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as inspiring the idea, although it may also be inspired by Larry's flight. (On the next day, Lynch backed out due to new bits being played about him which he found insulting.)
  • Poet Marie Bader published a poem about Walters, titled "Ballooning". The poem also appeared in the October 2001 issue of Mobius.
  • Dutch Palestinian poet Ramsey Nasr published a Dutch poem 'Lawn chair Larry' as part of his participation to 'Een stad van letters' ('A City of Letters') during Antwerp Book Capital 2004. A podcast version of Ramsey Nasr reading and performing his highly parlando poem is available [7]

[edit] Imitators

Kent Couch, a 47-year-old gas station owner from Bend, Oregon, reportedly flew 240 miles (390 km) in his lawn chair on Saturday, July 7, 2007, landing in a field about 3 1/2 miles NNW of North Powder, Oregon, about 30 miles (48 km) from the Idaho border.[2] Traveling an average of 22 mph, Couch used plastic bags filled with 75 litres (20 gallons) of water as ballast against the 105 large helium balloons tied to his lawn chair. Like Walters, Couch also had a BB gun on hand to shoot the balloons in order to initiate descent on his first attempt. During his flight he developed a way to release helium out of the balloons allowing for a more controlled descent.[2][8] On July 5, 2008, Couch finally realized his goal of interstate travel when he landed his lawnchair safely in western Idaho. The trip totaled 240 miles (390 km) and took 9 hours and 12 minutes.[9][10]

In April 20, 2008 the Brazilian Roman Catholic priest Adelir Antonio de Carli unsuccessfully flew using a chair and 1000 helium balloons. He did not check the weather forecast and got caught in a storm. He had a GPS but did not know how to operate it. He was last heard on the radio approaching the water after flying off the coast, unable to give his position, and crashed at sea: his body was found by the Brazilian navy near an offshore oil platform on July 4, 2008, one day before Couch's interstate lawnchair balloon flight. This act won him the prize of the 2008 Darwin Award.

Numerous imitators since have successfully attempted uncontrolled balloon flight without serious incident, some beating Larry's original 16,000-foot (4,900 m) record.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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