Larry Walters

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Larry Walters
Born(1949-04-19)April 19, 1949
DiedOctober 6, 1993(1993-10-06) (aged 44)
Cause of deathSuicide
Other namesLawnchair Larry
Known forFlying a lawn chair with weather balloons

Lawrence Richard Walters, nicknamed "Lawnchair Larry" or the "Lawn Chair Pilot", (April 19, 1949 – October 6, 1993) was an American truck driver.[1] On 2 July 1982 he flew very high in the sky in a homemade aircraft. He called his flying machine Inspiration I. It was made of an ordinary outdoor chair and 43 large balloons full of helium. Walters went up more than 15,000 feet. He went from San Pedro, California into an area near Los Angeles International Airport that was only for airplanes. Many newspapers reported his flight and he became famous.

A sailor with weather balloon similar to ones used by Larry Walters

Balloon flight[change | change source]

Origin of his plan[change | change source]

Walters had always dreamed of flying. He was unable to become a pilot in the United States Air Force because he could not see well enough. Walters had first thought of using weather balloons to fly at age 13. He got the idea when he saw the balloons hanging from the ceiling of a military surplus store. Twenty years later he decided to try it. He planned to attach a few large balloons filled with helium to his lawnchair and then float above his backyard. He planned to stay about 30 feet up in the air for several hours. He had a pellet gun to break some balloons and move back to the ground softly.

Preparation and launch[change | change source]

In 1982, Walters and his girlfriend, Carol Van Deusen, bought 45 eight-foot weather balloons. They got helium tanks from California Toy Time Balloons. They used a fake letter from his employer, FilmFair Studios. It said the balloons were for a television commercial.

They went to the backyard of a home at 1633 W. 7th St. in San Pedro[2] Walters attached the balloons to his lawnchair, filled them with helium. He put on a parachute and used belts to hold himself in the chair. He took his pellet gun, a CB radio, sandwiches, cold beer, and a camera. His friends cut the rope that tied his lawn chair to his Jeep and Walters' lawnchair went up very quickly. Soon, he was 15,000 feet up in the air.

During the flight[change | change source]

At first, he was afraid to shoot any balloons. He thought he might change the way the chair pointed and fall out. He could not control which way he moved. He slowly passed over Long Beach and moved into the space where airplanes came into Long Beach Airport.

He used his CB radio to contact people on the ground. Some people made a recording of the conversation. Walters asked them to tell the airport what was happening. He also asked them to tell people he was OK.

After 45 minutes in the sky, he shot several balloons. Then he accidentally dropped his pellet gun. He went down slowly until cables hanging from the balloon got caught in an electrical power line. This caused a blackout in a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes. Walters was able to climb to the ground.

After the flight[change | change source]

Arrest[change | change source]

The Long Beach Police Department was waiting for him. They arrested him immediately. A reporter asked Larry why he had done it. Walters said, "A man can't just sit around."

At first, Walters was fined US$4,000 for breaking U. S. Federal Aviation Regulations. Walters tried to have the fine cancelled. It was reduced to US$1,500.

Fame[change | change source]

Walters received the top prize from the Bonehead Club of Dallas for his adventure. He was on television programs such as The Tonight Show and Late Show with David Letterman. He got a special prize in 1993 at the Darwin Awards.

The TV show MythBusters made a flight like Walters had done. But they used a rope to keep the chair from going too high. One of the show's hosts went up about 30m. He went back down slowly by shooting balloons with a pellet gun.

Later years[change | change source]

Larry gave the lawnchair from the flight to a boy named Jerry because the boy liked him. Later, Walters realized that was a mistake when the Smithsonian Institute asked him to donate it to its museum. Twenty years later, Jerry contacted Mark Barry. Barry is a pilot who wrote about Walters and made a website about his flight. The chair was still sitting in Jerry's garage and had some of the original ropes and water jugs.[3]

Walters said that he had dreamed about flying this way for twenty years. And, that if he had not tried it, he would have become crazy. He did not think that reaching his goal in life would cause so much excitement or make so many people laugh.

After his flight, he quit his job as a truck driver. He was in a Timex print advertisement in the early '90s,[4] He also gave speeches to help people get more confidence. But, he never made much money from being famous. Walters hiked in the San Gabriel Mountains and did volunteer work for the United States Forest Service. He broke up with his girlfriend after 15 years. He worked as a security guard sometimes.

In 1993, Walters shot himself in the heart in Angeles National Forest and died. He was 44 years old.[5]

Other lawnchair balloonists[change | change source]

Kent Couch is a gas station owner from Bend, Oregon. He flew 240 miles in his lawn chair on Saturday, 7 July 2007. He landed in a field about 3½ miles NNW of North Powder, Oregon near Idaho. He travelled an average of 22 miles per hour. He tied 105 large helium balloons to his lawn chair. Couch used plastic bags filled with 75 liters water as weight to balance the balloons. Couch had a BB gun to shoot the balloons and start going down on that first flight. He tried again and learned how to let helium out of the balloons and go down more carefully.[6] On 5 July 2008, Couch finally reached his goal. He travelled to another state and landed his lawnchair in western Idaho. The trip was 240 miles and took 9 hours and 12 minutes.[7]

On 20 April 2008 a Brazilian Roman Catholic priest Adelir Antonio de Carli 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 use it. He crashed into the sea. The Brazilian navy found his body near an offshore oil platform on 4 July 2008. This unsuccessful flight won him a 2008 Darwin Award.

Many other people have tried flying with balloons the same way. Some may even have gone higher than Larry did.

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1982 Honorable Mention: Lawn Chair Larry
  4. - Scan of Walters' Timex ad
  5. "Crash Landing: A Daredevil's Despair Ends in his Suicide". People. 13 December 1993. Archived from the original on 10 January 2011. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  6. "Bend lawn-chair balloonist soars high on 2nd flight"
  7. Kent Couch Cluster Balloons

Other websites[change | change source]