You might not know who Larry Walters was, but once in his life, he fulfilled one of his two lifelong dreams: be a pilot in the United States Air Force or fly using weather balloons while sitting on his lawn chair. Guess which one he was able to fulfill?
Larry Walter wanted to join the US Air Force, so he tried. However, his terrible eyesight made him unqualified as the Air Force required 20/20 vision without correction to fly aircraft. What else is there to do but to construct his flying machine. To Larry, perhaps, it’s fly or be grounded forever.
The Los Angeles truck driver had an idea when he was just 13: he would build and fly his machine and call it Inspiration I. What inspired him were the weather balloons hanging from the ceiling of a local military surplus store. For twenty years, the idea slept somewhere in the occipital-temporal sensory regions of his brain until the Air Force rejection awakened it.
In July of 1982, Limitless Larry spared no time and started working his plan out. He attached 42 Helium-filled weather balloons to his trusty Sears lawn chair. He also brought with him his pellet gun so he could shoot some of his balloons to lower his altitude later on. According to Check-six.com, “Walters was equipped with an altimeter, parachute, life jacket (in the event of a “water landing”), a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, a sandwich, and Citizen’s Band (CB) walkie-talkie… and took a camera but would later admit to interviewers, ‘I was so amazed by the view, I didn’t even take one picture.'”
He was planning to go to the Southern California desert and into the Rocky Mountains. All set, and he was ready to be the Carl Fredricksen from the movie “Up!“
Things didn’t go according to his plan, as Larry found himself rising at 1,000 feet per minute until he reached a whopping altitude of 16,000 feet, where you need oxygen. He lost his glasses. So Larry and his lawn chair were just there flying aimlessly, afraid to pop any of his balloons in the fear that it would return him to Earth as fast as he had left it. He drifted from his point of lift-off in San Pedro and found himself above Long Beach Airport, which was a restricted area. Larry used his CB to radio the Radio Emergency Associated Communication Team (REACT) about his situation. Understandably, the REACT crew was baffled when he heard what was going on, so he asked:
REACT (a CB radio monitoring organization): What color is the balloon?
Larry: The balloons are beige. I’m in a bright blue sky which would be very highly visible. Over.
REACT: [Balloon] size?
Larry: Size approximately, uh, seven feet in diameter each. And I probably have about 35 left. Over.
REACT: You’re saying you have a cluster of 35 balloons??
Larry: These are 35 weather balloons. Not one single balloon, sir. It is 35 weather balloons.
REACT: Roger, stand by this frequency.
He started popping some of his balloons with the pellet gun but then dropped it. Larry tried to control his descent by dumping the gallon jugs of water that he tied to his lawn chair. As luck would have it, Larry’s descent brought him right down on some power lines and certain death by electrocution, then as if by a miracle, the power line snapped and Larry landed safely. Of course, he was arrested by Long Beach Police immediately, He ended up paying a fine of $1,500 to the FAA and the cost of repair to the power line.
“By the grace of God, I fulfilled my dream. But I wouldn’t do this again for anything.”
When asked why he did it, Larry answered, “a man can’t just sit around.” Unless you are sitting in a lawn chair at 16,000 feet, I guess?
The lawn chair Larry used is on display at the Smithsonian’s Air Space Museum annex at Dulles Airport in Virginia.