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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Original Balloon Boy

Do you think the Balloon Boy story was a hoax this week?

It all happened before in California in 1982.

Meet 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 aircraft. Dubbed Inspiration I, the "flying machine" consisted of an ordinary patio chair with 45 helium-filled 8 foot weather balloons attached to it. Walters rose to an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,400 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.

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, 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.

In the summer of 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, CA. 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. 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. - Wikipedia

Walters said, "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. I didn't think that by fulfilling my goal in life — my dream — that I would create such a stir and make people laugh."

When I was a earth and space science teacher in Pennsylvania - Larry was one of my lesson plans. Like Larry - I enlisted in the Air Force in 1970 but was rejected for my poor hearing and eyesight. In 1983 - I attended flight school under a science teacher program at Loch Haven State College and passed the FAA written test. I always wanted to try Larry's flight - but never had the guts.

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