Cluster ballooning was inspired by Larry Walters's experience, although his was not the first.[1]

On July 2, 1982, Larry Walters (April 19, 1949 – October 6, 1993) made a 45-minute flight in a homemade aerostat made of an ordinary patio chair and 45 helium-filled weather balloons. The aircraft rose to an altitude of about 16,000 feet (4,900 m), drifted from the point of liftoff in San Pedro, California, and entered controlled airspace near Long Beach Airport. During the landing, the aircraft became entangled in power lines, but Walters was able to climb down safely. The flight attracted worldwide media attention and inspired a movie and numerous imitators.

Background

Lawrence Richard "Larry" Walters had often dreamed of flying, but was unable to become a pilot in the United States Air Force because of his poor eyesight. Instead, he became a truck driver.[2] He first thought of using weather balloons to fly at age 13, after seeing them hanging from the ceiling of a military surplus store.

In 1982, he decided to try his flying idea. His intention was to float over the Mojave Desert and then use a pellet gun to burst some of the balloons in order to land.[3]

Preparation and flight

In mid-1982, Walters and his girlfriend at the time, Carol Van Deusen, purchased 45 eight-foot (2.4 m) 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.

On July 2, 1982, Walters attached 43 of the balloons[3] to his lawn chair, filled them with helium, put on a parachute, and strapped himself into the chair in the backyard of a home at 1633 West 7th Street in San Pedro. He took his pellet gun, a CB radio, sandwiches, beer, and a camera.[4] When the cord that tied his lawn chair to his Jeep broke prematurely, before a planned delay to notify authorities, Walters's lawn chair rose rapidly to a height of about 16,000 feet (4,900 m) and was spotted from two commercial airliners.[3] He slowly drifted over Long Beach and crossed the primary approach corridor of Long Beach Airport.

He was in contact with REACT, a citizens band radio 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.
REACT: Well, ah, stay safe and try not to chud it up.

After 45 minutes in the sky, Walters shot several balloons, taking care not to unbalance the load. He then accidentally dropped his pellet gun overboard. He descended slowly, until the balloons' dangling cables got caught in a power line at 423 E 44th Way in Long Beach. The power line broke, causing a 20-minute electricity blackout. He landed unharmed on the ground.[5]

Aftermath

Walters was immediately arrested by waiting members of the Long Beach Police Department. 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."[6] Walters initially was fined $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 $1,500.[7] 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 his class of aircraft.

Just after landing, Walters spoke to the press, saying:[8][9]

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.

The aircraft was dubbed Inspiration I. Lawn Chair Larry was awarded the title of "At-Risk Survivor" in the 1993 Darwin Awards.

Ten days after his flight, Walters appeared on Late Night with David Letterman.[3] He was briefly in demand as a motivational speaker, and quit his job as a truck driver. He was featured in a Timex print ad in the early 1990s,[10] but never made much money from his fame.[11]

The lawn chair used in the flight was reportedly given to an admiring boy named Jerry, though Walters regretted doing so when the Smithsonian Institution asked him to donate it to its museum.[12] Twenty years later, Jerry sent an email to Mark Barry, a pilot who had documented Walters's story and dedicated a website to it, and identified himself.[13] The chair was still sitting in his garage, attached to some of the original tethers and water jugs used as ballast.[12] The chair was placed on loan to the San Diego Air and Space Museum, where it was exhibited in 2014.[14] It was later donated to the Smithsonian and is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.[15]

The song "Walters" by the American band Pinback from their 2007 album Autumn of the Seraphs is about the event and his life after it.

Later life and death

Later in his life, Walters hiked the San Gabriel Mountains and did volunteer work for the United States Forest Service. He later broke up with his girlfriend of 15 years and could only find work sporadically as a security guard.[16] On October 6, 1993, at the age of 44, Walters died by suicide after shooting himself in the heart in Angeles National Forest.[16]

Other cluster ballooning events

In 1937, Al Mingalone, an American photographer for Paramount News previously used 32 weather balloons for a feature photography assignment at Old Orchard Beach in Maine. While he hung suspended from the balloons by a parachute harness in order to take aerial film footage, Mingalone's mooring rope broke and he was lifted approximately 700 feet (210 m) into the air. A clergyman, Father James J. Mullen, spotted the incident, and after a chase of some 13 miles (21 km), used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot out two of the balloons, thus allowing the photographer to return safely to the ground.[1]

Walters's flight spawned imitators, and allegedly inspired the extreme sport of cluster ballooning.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Faber, John (1960). Great News Photos. New York: Dover (re-publication - 1978). p. 76. ISBN 0486236676. Retrieved December 22, 2020.
  2. ^ "1982 Honorable Mention: Lawn Chair Larry". Darwinawards.com. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Late Night with David Letterman. YouTube. July 12, 1982. Event occurs at 11:00–21:00.
  4. ^ Mikkelson, David (December 21, 2000). "Did Larry Walters Fly in a Lawn Chair Attached to Helium Balloons?". Snopes. Retrieved February 17, 2023.
  5. ^ True Story of Larry Walters via Yahoo!
  6. ^ "Truck Driver Takes to Skies in a Lawn Chair". The New York Times. July 3, 1982. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "Man flies 193 miles in lawn chair". CNN.com. Bend, OR: CNN. Associated Press. July 10, 2007. Archived from the original on July 10, 2007.
  8. ^ Rose, Ron (May 29, 2013). "Keep dreaming". Arlington Today. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Did a Man Fly in a Lawn Chair Attached to Helium Balloons?". Snopes.com. December 21, 2000. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
  10. ^ "Scan of Walters' Timex ad". Check-six.com. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  11. ^ "The Balloon Boy Hoax—Solved!". September 27, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  12. ^ a b Barry, Mark. "Lawnchair man's chair found". Mark Barry official site. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  13. ^ "The Official Site Of "The Lawn Chair Pilot"". Mark Barry.
  14. ^ "New Additions to Ripley's Believe It or Not! Exhibition". San Diego Air and Space Museum. Archived from the original on March 6, 2017. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  15. ^ Maksel, Rebecca (September 2019). "How the Balloon-Borne "Flying Lawn Chair" Got Into the Smithsonian". Air & Space. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Crash Landing: A Daredevil's Despair Ends in his Suicide". People. December 13, 1993. Archived from the original on July 2, 2018.
  17. ^ "History and Technical Notes". Archived from the original on October 28, 2020. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  18. ^ "Bend lawn-chair balloonist soars high on 2nd flight" Archived July 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Kent Couch Cluster Balloons". Couchballoons.com. July 14, 2012. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  20. ^ "Lawn-chair balloonist flies from Oregon to Idaho — CNN.com". Archived from the original on July 8, 2008.
  21. ^ "Balloon Priest's Body Identified Using DNA". Cbsnews.com. Associated Press. August 23, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  22. ^ Balloon Daredevil Floats Over English Channel , news.sky.com. Archived August 22, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ BalloonSport, May–June 2011
  24. ^ Calgary's balloon man describes soaring over city in lawn chair - Calgary - CBC News
  25. ^ Canadian flew over Calgary in chair carried by balloons – BBC News
  26. ^ Man in 100-balloons camping chair flight - BBC News
  27. ^ British thrill-seeker flies across South Africa with 100 balloons - SWNS TV (YouTube)
  28. ^ "David Blaine Flies over Arizona". nemileatatime.com. September 2, 2020. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  29. ^ "David Blaine straps himself of a bunch of balloons, parachutes from 25,000 feet". Flightradar24 Blog. September 2, 2020. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
External image
image icon Undated photo of Larry's lawnchair.

33°44′17″N 118°18′47″W / 33.7380°N 118.3130°W / 33.7380; -118.3130