Several years ago, I heard the story of Larry Walters, a 33-year-old man who decided he
wanted to see his neighborhood from a new perspective. He went down to the local army
surplus store one morning and bought forty-five used weather balloons. That afternoon he
strapped himself into a lawn chair, to which several of his friends tied the now
helium-filled balloons. He took along a six-pack of beer, a peanut-butter-and-jelly
sandwich, and a BB gun, figuring he could shoot the balloons one at a time when he was
ready to land.
Walters, who assumed the balloons would lift him about 100 feet in the air, was caught
off guard when the chair soared more than 11,000 feet into the sky -- smack into the
middle of the air traffic pattern at Los Angeles International Airport. Too frightened to
shoot any of the balloons, he stayed airborne for more than two hours, forcing the airport
to shut down its runways for much of the afternoon, causing long delays in flights from
across the country.
Soon after he was safely grounded and cited by the police, reporters asked him three
"Where you scared?" "Yes."
"Would you do it again?" "No."
"Why did you do it?" "Because," he said, "you can't just
Leadership, Summer 1993, pp. 35.
A web user saw the above illustration and noted that it was not accurate. Here are the
accounts as taken from several newspapers:
Truck Driver Takes to Skies in Lawn Chair >From The New York Times, 3
LONG BEACH, Calif, July 2 (AP) A truck driver with 45 weather balloons rigged to a lawn
chair took a 45-minute ride aloft to 16,000 feet today before he got cold, shot some
balloons out and crashed into a power line, the police said. "I know it sounds
strange, but it's true," Lieut. Rod Mickelson said after he stopped laughing.
"The guy just filled up the balloons with helium, strapped on a parachute, grabbed a
BB gun and took off."
The man was identified as Larry Walters, 33 years old, of North Hollywood. He was not
The Federal Aviation Administration was not amused. Spotted by Airline Pilots, a
regional safety inspector, Neal Savoy, said the flying lawn chair was spotted by Trans
World Airlines and Delta Airlines jetliner pilots at 16,000 feet above sea level.
"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," Mr. Savoy said. "If he had
a pilot's license, we'd suspend that. But he doesn't."
The police said Mr. Walters went to a friend's house in San Pedro Thursday night,
inflated 45 six-foot weather balloons and attached them to an aluminum lawn chair tethered
to the ground. This morning, with half a dozen friends holding the tethers, he donned a
parachute, strapped himself into the chair and had his friends let him up slowly.
Minutes later, he was calling for help over his citizens band radio. "This
guy broke into our channel with a mayday," said Doug Dixon, a member of an Orange
County citizens band radio club. "He said he had shot up like an elevator to 16,000
feet and was getting numb before he started shooting out some of the balloons."
Mr. Walters then lost his pistol overboard, and the chair drifted downward, controlled
only by the gallon jugs of water attached to the sides as ballast. The ropes became
entangled in a power line, briefly blacking out a small area in Long Beach. The chair
dangled five feet above the ground, and Mr. Walters was able to get down safely.
"Since I was 13 years old, I've dreamed of going up into the clear blue sky in a
weather balloon," he said. "By the grace of God, I fulfilled my dream. But I
wouldn't do this again for anything."
Lawn-Chair Pilot Faces $4,000 in Fines
>From The New York Times, 19 December 1982
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 18 (UPI) Larry Walters, the lawn-chair pilot who catapulted to fame
when balloons lifted his contraption 16,000 feet into the sky, faces $4,000 in fines for
violations cited by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"If the F.A.A. was around when the Wright Brothers were testing their aircraft,
they would never have been able to make their first flight at Kitty Hawk," said Mr.
Walters, who plans to challenge the fines.
Mr. Walters, a 33-year old truck driver from North Hollywood, surprised himself and
several airline pilots July 2 with his aluminum lawn chair tied to 42 weather balloons. He
had to pop some with a pellet gun to land.
The F.A.A. has cited him for four violations of the Federal Aviation Act, including
operating a "civil aircraft for which there is not currently in effect an
airworthiness certificate" and operating an aircraft within an airport traffic area
"without establishing and maintaining two-way communications with the control
Larry Walters; Soared to Fame on Lawn Chair
>From The Los Angeles Times, 24 November 1993 (by Myrna Oliver, Times Staff Writer)
Larry Walters, who achieved dubious fame in 1982 when he piloted a lawn chair attached
to helium balloons 16,000 feet above Long Beach, has committed suicide at the age of 44.
Walters died Oct. 6 after hiking to a remote spot in Angeles National Forest and
shooting himself in the heart, his mother, Hazel Dunham, revealed Monday. She said
relatives knew of no motive for the suicide. "It was something I had to do,"
Walters told The Times after his flight from San Pedro to Long Beach on July 2, 1982.
"I had this dream for 20 years, and if I hadn't done it, I would have ended up in the
Walters rigged 42 weather balloons to an aluminum lawn chair, pumped them full of
helium and had two friends untether the craft, which he had dubbed "Inspiration
He took along a large bottle of soda, a parachute and a portable CB radio to alert air
traffic to his presence. He also took a camera but later admitted, "I was so amazed
by the view I didn't even take one picture."
Walters, a North Hollywood truck driver with no pilot or balloon training, spent about
two hours aloft and soared up to 16,000 feet -- three miles -- startling at least two
airline pilots and causing one to radio the Federal Aviation Administration.
Shivering in the high altitude, he used a pellet gun to pop balloons to come back to
earth. On the way down, his balloons draped over power lines, blacking out a Long Beach
neighborhood for 20 minutes.
The stunt earned Walters a $1,500 fine from the FAA, the top prize from the Bonehead
Club of Dallas, the altitude record for gas-filled clustered balloons (which could not be
officially recorded because he was unlicensed and unsanctioned) and international
admiration. He appeared on "The Tonight Show" and was flown to New York to be on
"Late Night With David Letterman," which he later described as "the most
fun I've ever had."
"I didn't think that by fulfilling my goal in life -- my dream -- that would
create such a stir," he later told The Times, "and make people laugh."
Walters abandoned his truck-driving job and went on the lecture circuit, remaining
sporadically in demand at motivational seminars. But he said he never made much money from
his innovative flight and was glad to keep his simple lifestyle.
He gave his "aircraft" -- the aluminum lawn chair -- to admiring neighborhood
children after he landed, later regretting it.
In recent years, Walters hiked the San Gabriel Mountains and did volunteer work for the
U.S. Forest Service.
"I love the peace and quiet," he told The Times in 1988. "Nature and I
get along real well."
An Army veteran who served in Vietnam, Walters never married and had no children. He is
survived by his mother and two sisters.