Almost every one of us has a love for the sky and the dream to fly buried inside us. Some plan to do it the easy way, while others like LARRY WALTERS intend to fly employing weather balloons!
THE SPORT HE INSPIRED!
Ever heard about the extreme sport named CLUSTER BALLOONING? Larry was a great personality who inspired this whole new level of sports. These people strap themselves in harness and get attached to rubber balloons filled with helium balloons, all ready to take off and explore the lofty infinite.
BIRTH OF HIS DREAM AND HOW HE WENT ABOUT IT
Once upon a time, in 1949, a boy named Larry Walters was born in Los Angeles, California. The story begins when a 13-year-old child walks into an army surplus store rammed with Swiss army knives and heavy-duty flashlights. The child’s eyes stop and gaze towards the massive weather balloon hung on the wall. Just moments later, a realization hits him like a Blitzen, and he thinks like, “If I had enough of these ginormous balloons, I could fly, and one doesn’t need a pilot’s license to fly helium balloons, right?”
To move closer towards his dream, he graduates from high school and enlists in the US Air force. He dreamed of the sky since childhood, but due to his poor eyesight, he was rejected after the medical tests. This determined soul was devastated but did not stop and said to himself, “You know what? I’m not gonna let this petty rejection hold me down.”
Wait, now fast forward to 1982, please!
So, Larry is now a 33-year-old truck-driver and lives a normal life like any other person in San Pedro, LA. Interestingly, the idea of flying is still etched on his mind.
CALCULATIONS AND RESEARCHES ABOUT HIS EPIC FLIGHT
One day while driving his truck, he suddenly hears an airplane approaching, looks up in the sky, and thinks, “That’s gonna be me someday.” And now, 20 years later, the idea of bringing his dreams to life hits his senses, and he begins to prep for his flight. He did numerous calculations and researches to find out the exact number of balloons required to help him reach the heights he ever fantasized about.
Let’s get into science a bit, just like Larry did. Researchers state that the lifting force of helium is 1 gram per liter. Post calculations, he concluded that in order to lift a man weighing 175 pounds, he would need a whopping number of 5700 balloons! Since he already knew about the weather balloons, it made his life easier, and he came down to a 10-foot army surplus balloon available in the stores.
Concluding his calculation, he knew that eight of these gigantic balloons would surely take him into the limitless sky. Larry was very true to his dreams and decided to get this plan working.
GETTING THE PLAN ON-ROAD!
Taking the second step towards this almost impossible dream, he brings his girlfriend, Carol Van Deusen, into the same army surplus store he went to as a 13-year-old kid. He shows her around and tells her about the entire plan. Larry says, “I’m gonna buy numerous of these weather balloons, tie them to a lawn chair, and then I’m gonna soar up high in the sky”.
Carol rejects this stupid idea at first, thinking that it’s too dangerous, but ultimately Larry convinces him, saying that he knows what he’s doing. Larry already knew that questions could be shot at him for purchasing all the kinds of stuff required for his flight. He had already prepared for it and forged a requisition from Filmfare Studios stating that he was an employee and they needed balloons for a TV commercial.
The people at the store bought it, and Carol took out her credit card and spent megabucks on his boyfriend’s dream. They spend over $4,000 on weather balloons, lawn chairs, Helium tanks, CB radio set, and a BB pellet gun.
WHEREABOUTS OF HIS FLIGHT
On returning home, Larry lays out the entire plan and says to Carol, “I’m gonna take off from your house backyard in San Pedro and will be flying over the San Gabriel Mountains. I’ll start shooting the balloons with the pellet gun once I reach an altitude of 7,000 feet which will commence my gradual descend into the Mojave Desert”. He also instructs Carol about notifying the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) once he takes off as he has no plans to get hit by an airplane!
MISSION LAWN CHAIR FLIGHT OPERATED!
The day when all this has to be put to operation arrives. On 2nd July 1982, Larry establishes his ground crew, including Carol and his buddy Ron. They took 42 weather balloons filled with helium, tied them to an aluminum lawn chair, attached two dozen jugs of water for ballast, and boom! INSPIRATION 1 was all set to shoot up in the sky. They also packed various necessary supplies, including some sandwiches, a bottle of soda, a camera, a CB radio, and pellets.
Rock and roll time begins! They proceed and cut the first tether, and Carol states that it’s a big mistake and he’s risking his life. He savagely replies, “a man can’t just sit around”. A gust of wind comes, and the second tether snaps in half, shooting Larry into the sky at a speed of 1,000 feet per minute. Carol freaks out, and Ron reminds her of notifying about Larry to the FAA.
On the other hand, soaring high up in the sky, Larry speaks to himself, “Oh my God! I’m into my childhood dream”. Larry soon gets on the CB radio connecting him to his ground crew to inform about what’s going on. Hooray! Larry is above the clouds in no time. As a matter of fact, oxygen becomes scarce at an altitude of 8,500 feet, and soon he was at 16,000 feet, and that’s three miles above sea level. Poor Larry thought that he would stop and start his descend at 7,000 feet.
HOW IT ALL WENT HOTCHPOTCH!
Larry was moving over Long Beach, crossed the Long Beach Airport corridor, and finally floated into Los Angeles International Airport controlled airspace. Carol, on the other hand, freaks out and reminds Larry about the possible dangers, and Larry decides to get back on the ground.
The wind was blowing extremely fast in Larry’s face, and the speed at which he was flying wasn’t favorable for a safe landing. He became nervous and got in touch with Air Traffic Control (ATC) with the help of the CB radio to inform them of his presence. He is spotted by two commercial airplanes who also informed the ATC and FAA about a strange, unidentified flying object in the sky.
Things now began to go out of control, and Larry’s restlessness grew every second. He was way higher, was moving with way more speed than planned, and was going way further than what he had planned. Larry wished to get down as soon as possible, but the fear of an accident that could follow up once he pops the balloons wrapped him, and he feared that he would lose control. Just after 45 minutes of his beautiful dream-like flight, he took out the BB pellet gun and shot up at the balloons. Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!
THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF THIS MAJESTIC SOAR
He popped a total of 7 out of 42 of those massive weather balloons and set the pellet gun on his lap. The gun falls off his lap, and Whoop! It’s gone. He got more anxious, but luckily 35 weather balloons are the perfect amount of balloons to make a safe and gradual descend to the land. Another 45 minutes passed, and Larry was again on the ground.
There was no damage to the adventurous traveler, but somehow the people in the surroundings felt his presence without any notice of him being arrived. Inspiration 1 lands on the power chords in Long Beach, and as the balloons get tangled on the power lines, it leads to a massive power outage that lasts 20 minutes. At last, Lawn Chair Larry made his childhood dream come true and was filled with excitement.
WELCOME BACK TO THE GROUND MR. WALTERS!
Unfortunately, the welcome party he got back on the ground was not exactly what he thought it to be. Though he made the evening news, the Long Beach authority arrested him for this life-threatening act that he undertook without any permission or official aid. He was soon released and was fined with an amount of $4,000 for violation of the FAA regulations and for operating “a civil aircraft for which there is not currently in effect an airworthiness certificate”.
The second part was somehow dropped later because his “aircraft” was a lawn chair, and it wasn’t mentioned in any legislation. Larry ended up paying a fine of $1,500 and, on top of everything, became somewhat a celebrity.
ENTERING THE WORLD OF FAME AND RECOGNITION
In one of the many interviews that he attended, he mentioned that “the flight was something I had to do, I had this dream for 20 years, and if I hadn’t done it, I would have ended up in the funny farm”. After his magical ride in the pretty clouds, he receives special invitations to appear as a guest on “Late Night with David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show”.
Larry was given the title “At-Risk Survivor” at the 1993 Darwin Awards and the first place award from the Bonehead Club of Dallas. Also, Pinback, the San Diego band, dedicated a song named “Walters” to him. Eggbo, an Austin artist, did the same and named the song “Larry Walters”. A book named “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” dedicated an entire section to Larry’s flight, using it as a fabulous example of living one’s dreams and letting your imagination fly, like literally! To top it all off, there was also an episode of the famous cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants named “The Sponge Who Could Fly” inspired by this great story.
THE PARTIALLY UNSUCCESSFUL MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER!
All of these dedications, name and fame motivated Larry to a point where he decided to quit his job of truck-driving and became a motivational speaker to inspire others to never let their dreams vanish. Regrettably, his lectures weren’t a hit, and he could not earn any money or fame.
Larry Walters might not have been able to become the greatest motivational speaker, but he surely motivated quite a few to chase their dreams. Many followed what he did and undertook this on-chair flights from one place to another.
PARTING WAYS WITH THE LEGENDARY LAWN CHAIR
Maybe it was out of dissatisfaction or out of love for his biggest fan, who was a neighborhood boy named Jerry, that Larry parted with his famous and unmatched chair and gave it to him as a gift. Sometime later, the Smithsonian Institution enquired Larry about his flying apparatus as they wished to make it one of their exhibits. Larry, at this point, regretted giving away the chair, but there was nothing that could be done now.
Jerry, the neighborhood boy, grew up and kept the chair safely in his garage along with some of the tethers and water jugs that were originally attached for stability on the lawn chair. Later, in 2014, Jerry temporarily donated this chair to the San Diego Air and Space Museum to be allowed for anyone to have a look at the chair that made history.
No matter what technique he employed in his time to make his dreams come true, he was one determined soul and did absolute justice to his imaginations. His dreams lived untarnished until he realized them.
People like Larry Walters are all-time motivators!
Hats off to his splendid ideas and his fearless soul!