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Walters Lawnchair Balloon / Lawnchair Larry
 
 LarryLawnchair-01
 
In 1982, Larry Walters decided to try his flying idea in a homemade airship made of an ordinary patio chair and 45 helium-filled weather balloons. 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.
 
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.
 
 LarryLawnchair-02
Lawnchair similar to that used for the Lawnchair Larry flight.
 
On July 2, 1982 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 West 7th Street in San Pedro. For stability, the chair was weighted with water bottles and tilted backwards about 40 degrees. He took his pellet gun, a CB radio, sandwiches, beer, and a camera. When his friends cut the cord that tied his lawn chair to his Jeep, Walters's lawn chair rose rapidly to a height of about 16,000 feet (4,900 m) and was spotted from two commercial airliners. 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.
 
After 45 minutes in the sky, Walters shot several balloons, taking care to not 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 432 45th Street in Long Beach. The power line broke, causing a 20-minute electricity blackout. He landed unharmed on the ground.
 
 LarryLawnchair-03
 
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." 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 his class of aircraft.
 
Just after landing, Walters spoke to the press, saying:
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.
After his flight, Walters 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, but 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 regretted doing so when the Smithsonian Institution asked him to donate it to its museum. Twenty years later, Jerry sent an email to Mark Barry, a pilot who had documented Walters' story and dedicated a website 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. The chair was on loan to the San Diego Air and Space Museum, on exhibition through 2014.
 
The flight attracted worldwide media attention and inspired a later movie and imitators.
 
 
 
 


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