||This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2008)|
April 19, 1949|
Los Angeles, California
|Died||October 6, 1993
Angeles National Forest
|Other names||Lawnchair Larry|
|Known for||Flying 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 who took flight on July 2, 1982, in a homemade airship. Dubbed Inspiration I, the "flying machine" consisted of an ordinary patio chair with 45 helium-filled weather balloons attached to it. Walters rose to an altitude of over 15,000 feet (4,600 m) and floated from his point of origin in San Pedro, California, into controlled airspace near Los Angeles International Airport. His flight was widely reported in many newspapers.
Origin of his plan
Walters had always dreamed of flying, but was unable to become a pilot in the United States Air Force because of his poor eyesight. Walters had first thought of using weather balloons to fly at age 13 and 14, after seeing them hanging from the ceiling of a military surplus store. Twenty years later he decided to do so. His intention was to attach a few helium-filled weather balloons to his lawnchair, cut the anchor, and then float above his backyard at a height of about 30 feet (9.1 m) for several hours. He planned to use a pellet gun to burst balloons to float gently to the ground.
Preparation and launch
In mid-1982, Walters and his girlfriend, Carol Van Deusen, purchased 45 eight-foot 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. Walters attached the balloons 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 W. 7th St. in San Pedro. He took his pellet gun, a CB radio, sandwiches, cold beer, and a camera. When his friends cut the cord that tied his lawn chair to his Jeep, Walters' lawn chair rose rapidly to a height of about 15,000 feet (4,600 m). At first, he did not dare shoot any balloons, fearing that he might unbalance the load and cause himself to spill out. He slowly drifted over Long Beach and crossed the primary approach corridor of Long Beach Airport.
- 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.
After 45 minutes in the sky, he shot several balloons, and then accidentally dropped his pellet gun overboard. He descended slowly, until the balloons' dangling cables got caught in a power line, causing a 20-minute blackout in a Long Beach neighborhood. Walters was able to climb to the ground.
Arrest and notoriety
He 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." 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. 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 this class of aircraft.
After his flight, he was in brief demand as a motivational speaker and he quit his job as a truck driver. He was featured in a Timex print ad in the early '90s, but he never made much money from his fame.
The lawn chair used in the flight was reportedly given to an admiring boy named Jerry, though Walters later regretted doing so, since the Smithsonian Institute asked him to donate it to its museum. Twenty years later, Jerry, by then an adult, sent an e-mail to Mark Barry, a pilot who had documented Walters' story and dedicated a Web site to it, and identified himself. The chair was still sitting in his garage, attached to some of the original tethers and water jugs used as ballast.
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.
In popular culture
- A scene in the 1992 musical adaptation of Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten tells of Larry Walters' flight from the inspirational angle that "everything is still possible".
- The one-act musical play "Flight of the Lawnchair Man" by Peter Ullian (music by Robert Lindsey Nassif) is about a fictional balloon pilot inspired by Walters' flight and those of other balloon pilots. It was performed as the final segment of the Hal Prince-directed musical 3hree performed in November 2000.
- The flight and Walters' inability to settle back into normal existence inspired Up (The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair), Bridget Carpenter's 2002 play that traced the discordant aftermath of fictional Walter Griffin's lawn chair adventure. In the summer of 2009 Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre presented a six-week run of the play.
- The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair, an ensemble piece created and directed by Eric Nightengale, was produced at the 78th Street Theatre Lab in New York City in the summer and fall of 2008. In 2009 the production was presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The piece was part of 78th Street Theatre Lab's series "From Page to Stage," which has been "developed in the tradition of the living newspaper, where theatrical inspiration is drawn from people and events pulled from the front pages."
- An episode of the American television show The A-Team "Pros and Cons", first airing on February 8, 1983 featured a prison escape scene in which Murdock and Hannibal tie trash bags to lawn chairs and inflate them with hot air from hair dryers, allowing them to float out of the prison yard.
- In the teaser to an episode of Hill Street Blues someone is attempting to take off in a balloon-suspended lawn chair, but is ordered to stop by Lt. Buntz. When the chair pilot (sarcastically addressed by Buntz as "Captain Kirk") refuses and the balloon starts to rise, Buntz shoots it with his department-issued weapon, causing the pilot to drop to the ground. The US series ran from 1981 to 1987.
- An episode of Malcolm in the Middle ends with older brother Reese floating away from home on a balloon-lifted lawn chair. As he rises away, younger brother Dewey calls out, "I'll miss you, at first!" The US series ran from 2000 to 2009.
- The flight was parodied in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "The Sponge Who Could Fly" (original air date: April 22, 2003).
- His flight was referred to in "Forget-Me-Now" a third season episode of the Fox Comedy Arrested Development which aired on October 3, 2005 in which George Bluth, Sr., inspired by a television program about Walters, attempts to use a deck chair rigged with hydrogen balloons to escape house arrest.
- A March 3, 2008 episode of Men in Trees included a lawn-chair flight.
- The My Name Is Earl episode "Sweet Johnny" (original air date: October 9, 2008) features a local stuntman known as Sweet Johnny who, unbeknownst to himself, has a brain injury that causes him to forget the entire previous day's events every time he goes to sleep. It is revealed that he has been making final preparations for his ultimate stunt, a parachute jump from a lawn chair borne aloft by balloons, every day for the past 10 years of his life.
- Walters' flight was replicated (though tethered) on one of the pilot episodes of the TV show MythBusters, in which Adam Savage was lifted to a height of 75 feet (23 m) and gradually reduced his altitude by shooting balloons with a pellet gun.
It was "CONFIRMED," although it had already been confirmed previously by the FAA.
- In an episode of King of the Hill, Bill, Dale, and Boomhauer construct a flying lawn chair. The takeoff is botched, however, and Bill ends up in a Mexican neighborhood, hanging from a tree, and is set upon by Mexican children who hit him with sticks joking that he is a piñata.
- In an episode of Urban Legends Larry Walters' flight is shown as one of three "possibly true" legends. His was the true story.
- In an HD title screen gag in The Simpsons, Homer flies in a lawn chair full of balloons with a bottle of Duff.
- The story of Walters inspired the 2003 Australian romantic comedy Danny Deckchair.
- Trailers for the 1985 comedy film Real Genius featured Val Kilmer levitating in a lawn chair supported by helium balloons. The scene did not appear in the released film.
- Pixar's highly successful film "UP" revolves around an elderly man's use of helium balloons to move his entire house.
- The film maker Nirvan Mullick has announced plans to make a documentary film about Walters, to be produced by the Hollywood film producer Michael Besman.
- The Lucksmiths "Up" on their 1997 album "A Good Kind of Nervous" is about Walters' flight.
- Larry Walter's feat and later suicide inspired the Candyskins song Death of a Minor TV celebrity from their 1998 album of the same name.
- The 2000 Eggbo album, Flight of an Urban Legend, contains a song entitled "Larry Walters" as well as cover art that suggests Walters' flight.
- His flight is described in Neil Halstead's song "Hi-Lo and in Between" on his solo album "Sleeping on Roads" (2002).
- The 2004 Walken EP, Current Melbourne Temperature, contains a song entitled "Blue Sky" with a film clip inspired by the story of Larry Walters.
- The San Diego band Pinback describes the flight in the song "Walters" from their 2007 album "Autumn of the Seraphs".
- Channel 3, a California hardcore punk band, have a song about Larry Walters.
- Poet Marie Bader published a poem about Walters, titled "Ballooning" in the October 2001 issue of Mobius.
- An Easter egg in SimCity 4, released on January 14, 2003 shows a man in a lawn chair attached to balloons, floating across the city, an obvious reference to Larry Walters.
- Dutch poet Ramsey Nasr published a poem 'Lawn chair Larry' as part of his participation to 'Een stad van letters' ('A City of Letters') during Antwerp Book Capital 2004. A podcast version of Ramsey Nasr reading and performing his highly parlando poem is available[dead link]
- On June 6, 2006, Howard Stern wack packer Eric "the Midget" Lynch agreed to sit in a lawn chair while he was lifted up by balloons. Stern mentions The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as inspiring the idea, although it may also be inspired by Larry's flight. The next day, Lynch backed out due to new bits being played about him which he found insulting.
- Poet Josh S. Tiensivu wrote a poem 'The Flight of Lawn Chair Larry' in the villanelle form in 2011.
- Walters' flight inspired a satirical narrative thread in Berke Breathed's "Bloom County" comic strip, where the wheelchair user Cutter John and Opus the Penguin ride across the ocean on a wheelchair lifted by helium balloons.
- The "L-4 Society" card in the Illuminati card game by Steve Jackson Games features an astronaut orbiting the Earth in a lawn chair suspended by helium balloons. This is both a spoof of Walters' legendary flight and of the L5 Society.
Walters' stunt was inherently dangerous. Nonetheless, there have been imitators. An extreme sport of cluster ballooning was also spawned by his initial stunt.
- Kent Couch, a 47-year-old gas station owner from Bend, Oregon, reportedly flew 240 miles (390 km) in his lawn chair on Saturday, July 7, 2007, landing in a field about 3½ miles NNW of North Powder, Oregon, about 30 miles (48 km) from the Idaho border. Traveling an average of 22 mph, Couch used plastic bags filled with 75 litres (20 US gal) of water as ballast against the 105 large helium balloons tied to his lawn chair. Like Walters, Couch also had a BB gun on hand to shoot the balloons in order to initiate descent. After the flight however, he developed a way to release helium out of the balloons, thus allowing for a more controlled descent. During a second flight on July 5, 2008, Couch realized his goal of interstate travel when he landed his lawn chair safely in western Idaho. The trip totaled 240 miles (390 km) and took 9 hours and 12 minutes.
- On January 13, 2008, the Brazilian Roman Catholic priest and human-rights defender, Adelir Antonio de Carli lifted off from Ampere, Brazil, suspended under 600 helium-filled party balloons, and reached an altitude of 5,300 metres (17,400 ft) before landing safely in Argentina. On April 20, 2008, lifting off from Paranagua, Brazil, in an attempt to fly 725 km (450 mi) inland to Dourados, Brazil, he flew using a chair suspended under 1,000 party balloons, reaching an altitude of Template:20,000. He did not check the weather forecast and got caught in a storm. He had a GPS but did not know how to operate it. He was last heard on the radio eight hours after liftoff approaching the water after flying off the coast, unable to give his position, and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean; his body was found by the Brazilian Navy near an offshore oil platform on July 4, 2008. The act won him a 2008 Darwin Award.
- On May 28, 2010 the American adventurer Jonathan Trappe crossed the English Channel by cluster balloon, departing near Challock, England and crossing over the White Cliffs of Dover at St. Margarets Bay. He made landfall again over Dunkirk, France and then tracked inland, landing in a farmer's cabbage patch in France. Trappe continues to experiment in cluster ballooning flights. In 2011 he replicated the UP house for a National Geographic television program. He has announced his intention to cross the Atlantic Ocean some time in 2013.
- Balloon boy hoax
- Bartolomeu de Gusmão, a priest and naturalist born in the Portuguese colony of Brazil, who was recalled for his first balloon flight in Lisbon in 1720 (the balloon burned).
- Matias Perez, a Portuguese entrepreneur who also attempted balloon flight from Havana (Cuba) on June 28, 1856, and got lost while on it.
- Yoshikazu Suzuki, a Japanese balloonist also lost in the ocean.
- 1982 Honorable Mention: Lawn Chair Larry
- http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/07/10/flying.lawn.chair.ap/index.html. Missing or empty
- Check-Six.com – Scan of Walters' Timex ad
- Barry, Mark. "Lawnchair man's chair found". Official site. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- "Crash Landing: A Daredevil's Despair Ends in his Suicide". People. December 13, 1993.
- Peter Ullian
- "3hree [Cast Recording]". Amazon.com. Amazon.com. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- "Man in the Flying Lawn Chair Soars Once More at 78th Street Theatre Lab, Oct. 12". Playbill.com. Retrieved 2010-09-19.
- "Pros and Cons". The A-Team Episode Guide. theateam.org. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- Nirvan.com, accessed February 10, 2013
- "Bend lawn-chair balloonist soars high on 2nd flight"
- Kent Couch Cluster Balloons
- "Lawn-chair balloonist flies from Oregon to Idaho - CNN.com".[dead link]
- Associated Press, "Balloon Priest's Body Identified Using DNA", August 23, 2008
- Balloon Daredevil Floats Over English Channel , news.sky.com.
- BalloonSport, May-June 2011
- Baker, David (16 November 2012). "Fearless adventurer takes to the air in boat carried by hundreds of BALLOONS as he prepares to cross Atlantic". Daily Mail (UK). Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- The Punk band Channel 3 on Larry Walters;the Song
- Darwin Awards: 1982 Honorable Mentions
- Check-Six.com – The Flight of Larry Walter – "Lawn Chair Pilot"
- The Official Site Of "The Lawn Chair Pilot" (includes photos, detailed research, approximate flight map, and CB radio recording)
- Snopes.com: "Up, Up, and Away!"
- The Straight Dope: "Did somebody once go aloft in a lawn chair tied to a bunch of helium balloons?"
- Lawn Chair Larry
- Larry Walters at Findagrave.com
- Fox News Story on similar occurrence cites Larry
- News video of de Carli taking off and disappearing in April, 2008
- Mention of Larry Walters in the official FAA Historical Events: accessing the pdf is somehow broken, but you can Google for it