Lawn Chair Larry and the Art of Upward Mobility

One hot July day in 1982, a man named Larry Walters decided he wanted to see his neighborhood from a different perspective. Larry, a truck driver by trade and a dreamer by nature, had spent many a day pondering the question that haunts us all: What would it be like to fly? But Larry didn’t dream of conventional flights. No, Larry wanted to soar like a true pioneer, unbound by the rigid confines of commercial aviation. And so, one fateful morning in San Pedro, California, he embarked on what would become one of the most legendary flights in lawn chair history.

The Helium Dream

Larry Walters was not a man easily deterred by logic or physics. His preparation for the great ascent involved a lawn chair – the kind you’d find at any self-respecting backyard barbecue – and 45 helium-filled weather balloons. He called it “Inspiration I,” but I suspect his neighbors had less complimentary names for it. With a cooler stocked with sandwiches, a CB radio, a camera, and a trusty pellet gun (for shooting out balloons when it was time to descend), Larry settled into his lawn chair and cut the cord that tethered him to Earth.

Larry was born on April 19, 1949, in Los Angeles, California. From a young age, he had a fascination with flight. He spent his childhood gazing up at the sky, dreaming of becoming a pilot. However, poor eyesight dashed those dreams, but Larry’s imaginative spirit couldn’t be so easily grounded. He attended high school, where his friends knew him for his wild ideas and quirky personality. After high school, Larry became a truck driver, a job that kept him firmly on the ground but didn’t stop his skyward daydreams.

On that July morning in 1982, Larry’s lawn chair, surprisingly buoyant under the power of 45 weather balloons, did exactly what it was meant to do: it soared. It soared quickly and without hesitation, leaving Larry’s friends and neighbors gaping at the sky. It turns out Larry hadn’t quite anticipated just how effective helium-filled weather balloons could be. Within minutes, he was climbing past 1,000 feet, then 2,000 feet, eventually leveling off at an astonishing 16,000 feet. For reference, that’s the altitude at which commercial airliners cruise. If anyone questioned Larry’s ambition before, they were now witnessing his wild success – from a safe distance on solid ground.

Up, Up, and Away

Larry’s flight was not without its challenges. For one, there’s the issue of steering a lawn chair equipped with helium balloons. It’s not exactly the Millennium Falcon. Then there was the cold. At 16,000 feet, it’s a bit nippy, even in sunny California. One can only imagine Larry, perched in his lawn chair, clutching his pellet gun, shivering and wondering what on Earth he had been thinking.

Despite these hardships, Larry was prepared. His trusty CB radio allowed him to communicate with those below, including the baffled air traffic controllers at LAX. Imagine being an air traffic controller and receiving a report that there’s a man floating in a lawn chair at 16,000 feet. It’s the sort of thing that could make one question their career choices.

At this altitude, Larry could see the vast expanse of Los Angeles, a sprawling city that now looked like a miniature model from his lofty perch. The initial thrill must have been mixed with an equal measure of fear. He later admitted in interviews that he was scared during his flight, especially as he realized the magnitude of his endeavor and the potential dangers.

Larry’s flight was both spectacular and nerve-wracking. He drifted into the controlled airspace of Los Angeles International Airport, which caused quite a stir among the pilots and air traffic controllers. There were reports of commercial airline pilots spotting him and radioing in, perhaps with a mix of concern and incredulity.

But Larry Walters was nothing if not determined. After enjoying his airborne adventure for a while – which likely involved a lot of introspection about life choices and possibly some frozen sandwiches – he decided it was time to descend. Here’s where the pellet gun came into play. Larry began shooting out balloons, one by one, carefully managing his rate of descent. It’s a delicate balance, really. Shoot too many balloons too quickly, and you plummet. Shoot too few, and you stay a lawn chair astronaut.

The Descent and the Legend

Larry’s descent was as eventful as his ascent. He eventually got tangled in some power lines, causing a blackout in a Long Beach neighborhood. Because, of course, if you’re going to end a flight like this, it has to involve a power outage. Miraculously, he was unharmed. The same couldn’t be said for his dignity, but Larry was a man of vision, not vanity.

Larry landed safely about 90 minutes after taking off, having traveled approximately 15 miles from his original launch site. His landing spot in Long Beach was a mix of relief and confusion, as a crowd quickly gathered to witness the spectacle. The police were there to greet him, along with a barrage of questions from curious onlookers and media reporters.

Larry Walters became an instant folk hero, his flight a testament to the power of human curiosity and the lengths to which some will go to achieve a dream. He was awarded the title of “Lawn Chair Pilot” by the Federal Aviation Administration, which I can only assume was accompanied by some bemused eye-rolling. Larry’s girlfriend, Carol Van Deusen, who had likely spent the entire day oscillating between panic and bemusement, greeted him with a mixture of relief and a thousand questions about his sanity.

Larry’s adventure earned him widespread attention and made him a folk hero of sorts. He appeared on television shows, including “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman,” and received a mix of admiration and disbelief from the public. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fined him $1,500 for his unlicensed flight, but this did not dampen his spirits.

Despite his brief brush with fame, Larry’s life after the flight was marked by ups and downs. He continued to work various jobs, including as a security guard and a motivational speaker. Tragically, Larry Walters’ life ended prematurely when he took his own life in 1993 at the age of 44.

Larry Walters is remembered not only for his audacious flight but also as a symbol of human ingenuity and the pursuit of dreams, no matter how unconventional they may be. His story continues to inspire those who dare to think differently and reach for the skies.

Larry’s flight remains a remarkable story of ambition, creativity, and a certain brand of logic that defies conventional thinking. It’s a story that encourages us to dream big, even if our dreams involve household furniture and a lot of helium. And it reminds us that sometimes, the most extraordinary adventures start with the simplest ideas – and a lawn chair.