Larry Walters, Lawn Chair Pilot
Larry Walters is among the relatively few who have actually turned their dreams into reality. His story is true, though you may find it hard to believe.
Larry was a truck driver, but his lifelong dream was to fly. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, poor eyesight disqualified him. So when he finally left the service, he had to satisfy himself with watching others fly the fighter jets that crisscrossed the skies over his backyard. As he sat there in his lawn chair, he dreamed about the magic of flying.
Then one day, Larry Walters got an idea. He went down to the local army-navy surplus store and bought a tank of helium and forty-five weather balloons. These were not your brightly colored party balloons, these were heave-duty spheres measuring more than four feet across when fully inflated.
Back in his yard, Larry used straps to attach the balloons to his lawn chair, the kind you might have in your own back yard. He anchored the chair to the bumper of his jeep and inflated the balloons with helium. Then he packed some sandwiches and drinks and loaded a BB gun, figuring he could pop a few of those balloons when it was time to return to earth.
His preparations complete, Larry Walters put on a parachute, strapped himself into his lawn chair and cut the anchoring cord. His plan was to lazily float around the area, then back down to terra firma in a few hours.
But things didn't quite work out that way. When Larry cut the cord, he didn't float lazily up; he shot up as if fired from a cannon! Nor did he go up a couple hundred feet. He climbed and climbed until he finally leveled off at 16,000 feet!
After several hours, Larry eventually drifted into the approach corridor for Los Angeles International Airport. A TWA pilot radioed the tower about passing a guy in a lawn chair at 16,000 feet... with a gun in his lap. (Now there's a conversation I'd have given anything to have heard!)
Larry started getting numb in the cold atmosphere at 16,000 feet and decided to descend -- which he accomplished by popping some of the balloons with the BB gun. As he neared the ground he saw power lines. "That's when I got scared," he said. "Those things can fry you." He didn't get fried, the balloons draped themselves across the wires, leaving Larry dangling in his chair a few feet from the ground. The landing knocked out power in a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes.
Larry was eventually fined by the FAA for four violations of the Federal Aviation Act, including operating a "civil aircraft for which there is not currently in effect an airworthiness certificate". If his flight had been officially licensed and sanctioned, it would have earned him the altitude record for gas-filled clustered balloons.
When asked why he did it, Larry simply replied, "A man can't just sit around."
More information is available at http://www.markbarry.com/amazing/lawnchairman.html
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