Thursday, March 03, 2005

Larry Walters: The Lawn Chair Pilot

In July 1982 truck driver from fabulous Hollywood California hooked 45 weather balloons to a lawn chair and flew 16,000 feet above southern California. He stayed up there for about 2 hours.

He called the chair "Inspiration I".

He brought a bottle of soda, a pellet gun and a CB radio with him after he strapped on a parachute and climbed into the chair.

His impromptu flight startled two airline pilots en route to LAX, both of whom screamed "Oh my god! Some guy stole Wonder Woman's invisible plane!"

As he approached his top altitude (about 3 miles) he began to get very cold. So he used to the pellet gun to pop the helium balloons and eventually crashed into some power lines in Long Beach.

Walters was fined by the FAA and appeared on the Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson) and Late Night with David Letterman. He described his run with the media as "the most fun I've ever had."

Walters then started to lecture on the motivational speaker circuit. Not having giant teeth like Tony Robbins he was forced to motivate people with his story. His speech was called "You Too Can Do Something Incredibly Stupid and Dangerous!" For some reason he was not in much demand as a speaker.

Larry Walters' goal was actually much different than what happened. He wanted to sail MUCH lower across the desert to the Rocky Mountains. The problem was he miscalculated the amount of lift he would get from the balloons.

The balloon sailed so fast that he lost his glasses on take off. He then used the pellet gun to shoot out the balloons, but that fell to the ground, too.

When he landed he gave the chair to some local kids, a decision that he regretted for the rest of his life. The Smithsonian Institute later requested it for their museum.

Many years later, however, the chair did turn up and can be seen in photos on the definitive Larry Walters site.

Walters' story has been turned into a stage play entitled "THE MAN IN THE FLYING LAWN CHAIR".

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