Lawnchair Larry

Larry’s boyhood dream was to fly. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, poor eyesight disqualified him. When he was finally discharged, he had to satisfy himself with watching jets fly over his backyard.

Lawnchair Larry - Cool Aviation

One day, Larry, brightened up. He decided to fly. He went to the local Army-Navy surplus store and purchased 45 weather balloons and several tanks of helium. The weather balloons, when fully inflated, measured more than four feet across. Back home, Larry securely strapped the balloons to his sturdy lawn chair. He anchored the chair to the bumper of his jeep and inflated the balloons with the helium. He climbed on for a test while it was still only a few feet above the ground.

Satisfied that it would work, Larry packed several sandwiches and a six-pack of Miller Lite, loaded his pellet gun – figuring he could pop a few balloons when it came time to descend – and went back to the floating lawn chair where he strapped himself in along with his pellet gun and provisions. Larry’s plan was to lazily float up to a height of about 30 feet above his backyard after severing the anchor and in a few hours come back down.

Lawnchair Larry - Cool Aviation

Things didn’t quite work out for Larry. When he cut the cord anchoring the lawn chair to his jeep, he didn’t float lazily up to 30 or so feet. Instead he streaked into the LA sky as if he was shot from a cannon. He didn’t level off at 30 feet, nor did he level off at 100 feet. After climbing and climbing, he levelled off at 16,000 feet. At that height he couldn’t risk shooting any of the balloons, lest he unbalance the load and find himself in trouble. So he stayed, there, drifting cold and frightened for more than 14 hours when he found himself in the primary approach corridor of LAX.

An airline pilot first spotted Larry. He radioed the tower and described passing a guy in a lawn chair with a gun. Radar confirmed the existence of an object floating 16,000 feet above the airport. LAX emergency procedures swung into full alert and a helicopter was dispatched to investigate.

LAX is right on the ocean. Night was falling and the offshore breeze began to flow. It carried Larry out to sea. Right on Larry’s heels was the helicopter. Several miles out, the helicopter caught up with Larry. Once the crew determined that Larry was not dangerous, they attempted to close in for a rescue but the draft from the blades would push Larry away whenever they neared. Finally, the helicopter ascended to a position several hundred feet above Larry and lowered a rescue line. Larry snagged the line, with which he was hauled back to shore, a difficult maneuver, flawlessly executed by the helicopter crew…

As soon as Larry was hauled to earth, he was arrested by waiting members of the LAPD for violating LAX airspace. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter dispatched to cover the daring rescue, ask him why he had done it. Larry Walters stopped, turned and replied nonchalantly, “A man can’t just sit around.”

Later in his life, Walters did volunteer work for the United States Forest Service. At the age of 44 Larry Walters took his own life. Still, he left a legacy. He dared to dream and to do something about it…


Follow Flight Computer
Twitter Facebook