|Lawn Chair Pilot|
Larry Walters always wanted to fly. When he graduated high school, he joined the service with the distant hope that somehow he might someday end up piloting a military plane. However, his dreams were cut down when an eye exam he took as a new enlistee revealed that, even though his eyesight wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t quite good enough to qualify him for pilot training. So, after a minimum stay in the service and a brief stint in Vietnam, Larry turned to a more down-to-earth career–truck driving–and had to content himself with watching others steer planes across the sky in his hometown of Long Beach, California.
But Larry never forgot about flying. And finally, one day in 1982, he decided to do something about his dream. He went on a little shopping excursion that day. His first stop was the local Sears store, where he bought a sturdy aluminum lawn chair. He then rode over to his local Army-Navy surplus store and bought a heavy-duty 50-foot cable and forty-five heavy-duty weather balloons. (Each of those balloons would measure six feet across when inflated.) Finally, he bought several tanks of helium.
With the help of several friends, Larry planned his “flight.” The next morning, one week before Christmas, after tethering his lawn chair securely to the ground and to his Jeep, he and his friends inflated the 45 balloons with helium and attached them to the lawn chair with the 50-foot cable. Then Larry gathered together some unusual “supplies”–a parachute, a large bottle of soda, a camera, a pellet gun, several gallon jugs filled with water, and a portable CB radio–and climbed aboard the lawn chair which he had now named “Inspiration One.”
You see, Larry’s plan was for the helium balloons to carry him slowly up into the Long Beach sky, to an altitude of a couple hundred feet, where he would drift around for awhile and enjoy the cool, crisp December air, take some photographs, and fulfill his dream. The gallon jugs of water were for ballast, to keep the craft steady; and Larry figured that, when he was ready to end his flight, he would use the pellet gun to pop the balloons, one at a time, until he started to drift down again. So, after securing himself in his Sears lawn chair, Larry signaled to his friends to release the tethers.
Minutes later, he was calling for help over his CB radio.
You see, instead of drifting up lazily into the air, Larry Walters streaked into the Los Angeles sky as if shot from a cannon. Instead of leveling out at a couple hundred feet, he continued to climb until he 16,000 feet–more than three miles–above the ground. Oh, he tried to do what he originally planned–shooting out some of the balloons with his pellet gun–but he only got through a couple of them before he lost his gun overboard. So there he was, scared and cold (even though December is mild in Los Angeles on the ground, it tends to be a little chilly three miles up in the air)–and, to make matters worse, he soon drifted into the approach corridor of Los Angeles International Airport. He was spotted first by a Delta pilot, and soon thereafter by a Trans World Airlines pilot; these pilots had the “interesting” task of radioing LAX and informing the tower of what they had seen. (The FAA would later try to bring charges against Larry for violating the Federal Aviation Act, but they weren’t really successful because they could never decide exactly which part of the Federal Aviation Act he’d broken.)
Well, anyway, after a couple of hours the helium in the balloons began to dissipate, and Larry’s contraption slowly floated down to earth–where his adventure continued, as he drifted right into a set of power lines, knocking out all the power in Long Beach for half an hour. The chair dangled some six feet above the ground, and Larry jumped down, and of course was promptly led off by law officers.
A reporter stepped in and asked Larry Walters, “Why did you do it?” His answer was a classic: “Well, you can’t just sit there, can you?”