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  LARRY WALTERS  |  THE LAWNCHAIR PILOT 

The Official Site Of
"The Lawn Chair Pilot"
(dedicated to the family, friends, and fans of Larry Walters)

INTRODUCTION:
I first heard about Larry Walters' historic balloon flight around 1995. After doing some research to confirm it was true, I then published what I knew about it on my aviation web site in 1999. After doing so, I received many emails from all over the world concerning this amazing story. But simply put, most of my readers did not believe this story was true. Therefore, to set the record straight, I went right to the source who was there when it happened -- Larry's family. For the past several years, I have interviewed Larry's girlfriend Carol and his mother and sisters. I also spoke with REACT, the CB radio monitoring organization, and was given permission by them to publish the audio file of the actual flight from 1982. I believe I have the most accurate information concerning Larry's flight (not all of which is published on this web site at this time).

This page was put together to give my visitors 100% accurate information about Larry's flight. Most other web sites that have information on this story are not totally correct. But that's what happens on the Internet and is why you should use this site as your first resource.

What you are about to read and listen to is a by-product of many years of research and interviews. And the audiotape that you will listen to is so rare that not even Larry's mother knew it existed until I told her about it.

This is probably the most complete and accurate web page about Larry Walters' incredible flight currently on the Internet. A lot of time and effort went into the research and the building of this page and I hope you will enjoy it. I am also the first to publish this audio file on the Internet.


HISTORY OF THE FLIGHT:
When Larry Walters was 13 years old, he went to a local Army-Navy surplus store and saw the weather balloons hanging from the ceiling. It was then he knew that some day he would be carried aloft by such balloons. This obsession would be with him for the next 20 years. On July 2nd, 1982, Larry tied 42 helium-filled balloons to a Sears lawn chair in the backyard of his girlfriend's house in San Pedro, California. With the help of his ground crew, Larry then secured himself into the lawn chair which was anchored to the bumper of a friend's car by two nylon tethers. He took with him many supplies, including a BB gun to shoot out the balloons when he was ready to descend. His goal was to sail across the desert and hopefully make it to the Rocky Mountains in a few days. But things didn't quite work out for Larry. After his crew purposely cut the first tether, the second one also snapped which shot Larry into the LA sky at over 1,000 feet per minute. So fast was his ascent that he lost his glasses. He then climbed to over 16,000 feet. For several hours he drifted in the cold air near the LA and Long Beach airports. A TWA pilot first spotted Larry and radioed the tower that he was passing a guy in a lawn chair at 16,000! Larry started shooting out a few balloons to start his descent but had accidentally dropped the gun. He eventually landed in a Long Beach neighborhood. Although he was entangled in some power lines, he was uninjured.

THE LAWN CHAIR HAS BEEN FOUND:
Anyone who knows the this story has read that Larry gave away his lawn chair to a "neighborhood kid" shortly after he landed. For the past 20 years, Larry and his family assumed this kid didn't know what he had and the chair was probably destroyed by now. For years, Larry regretted giving away that chair, especially after the Smithsonian Institute requested to preserve it in their museum. However, Larry would never see his chair again.

Then a miracle occurred on March 12th. I received an email from Jerry (last name protected) who lives in southern California. He saw my web site and had told me that he was the "neighborhood kid" that Larry gave his chair to! My mouth dropped when I read this. It was as if I had found the Ark of the Covenant! Immediately I called Carol and Hazel to let them the know Larry's chair had finally been found and was in the same condition as when he last used it. Needless to say, both of them were somewhat emotional when I told them the good news. Jerry told me he had kept it in his garage for the past 20 years and has never revealed it to the public. But on March 21st, he was going to unveil it his friends and coworkers at a restaurant in Long Beach. The media was invited but did not attend. He asked if I would present Larry's story to the 30-member audience and I did. At the end, Jerry pulled the cover off the chair for everyone to see and touch.

Here are some photos that I took of the lawn chair in Jerry's backyard after he took it out of his garage. It still has 13 of the 35 water jugs still on it, along with the tethering cables.

Jerry and Larry's lawn chair
Me and Larry's lawn chair
Larry's lawn chair

MY INTERVIEWS WITH LARRY'S FAMILY:
I spent several years interviewing Larry's family through emails and phone calls. But between March 19th and the 21st, I was able to finally meet them in person at their homes near Los Angeles.

On Tuesday evening, March 19th, I met Larry's former girlfriend Carol. She still lives in the same house in San Pedro where Larry launched from. The first thing I noticed was how small her backyard was. I could not believe they were able to set up all their equipment from this tiny space. Carol and her mother ate Taco Bell while I went through the many photos of Larry's flight -- most of which has never been seen by the public. I was fortunate enough to be given permission to scan them on my laptop to keep for my records. If they give me their permission, I will publish a few of them on this web site. However, I will keep the rest of them private and will only show them during my public presentations (which you can read about on this page).

Backyard of Carol's house

On Wednesday evening, March 20th, I met Larry's mother, Hazel, and his two sisters, Kathy and Vera, at Hazel's home in Simi Valley. They offered me some pizza and a Coke as we sat down to talk about Larry. As I began to leave, Hazel gave me a T-shirt that her and Larry had made with a screen print of Larry's flight on the front. I'll wear it proudly.

On Thursday evening, march 21st, I met with Jerry. He is the one who Larry gave the lawn chair to 20 years ago. We unveiled the chair to an audience of about 30 people at a restaurant in Long Beach. He plans on taking the chair to Larry's mother soon.


THE CRASH SITE:
On Thursday, March 21st, Jerry took me over to the crash site located at 432 45th Street in Long Beach. Jerry and I found the site based on photos taken when Larry landed in the backyard of the house. We had to knock on quite a few doors before finally locating the crash site. Here is how it looks today.

Backyard of the crash site
Frontyard of the crash site

MY SHORT STORY:
I am finishing up a short story of Larry's flight for publishing this summer. However, I am still trying to determine who would be the best publisher for this incredible human drama story. My first choice is Reader's Digest. But if you are a publisher, or know of one that would be interested in publishing my very detailed story of Larry's flight, please email me.

NEWS ARTICLES:
Truck Driver Takes to Skies in Lawn Chair
From The New York Times 3 July 1982

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 injured.

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 tower."


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 funny farm."

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 I."

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.


OTHER SOURCES:
Davies, John. "Flight Via Lawn Chair Gains Trucker a Watch Ad."
Journal of Commerce. 3 January 1992 (p. 1A).

Oliver, Myrna. "Larry Walters; Sailed to Fame on Lawn Chair."
Los Angeles Times. 24 November 1993 (p. 16).

Associated Press. "Balloonist Faces 4 FAA Charges."
The San-Diego Union Tribune. 19 July 1984 (p. 22).

People. "A Daredevil's Despair Ends in His Suicide."
13 December 1993 (p. 54).

United Press International. "Lawn-Chair Pilot Faces $4,000 in Fines."
The New York Times. 19 December 1982 (p. 22).

United Press International. "FAA Drops One Charge Against Lawn Chair Pilot."
6 April 1983.

United Press International. "Dinner Defense Fund for Lawn-Chair Balloonist."
5 May 1983.

Life Magazine. Anniversary special.
Jan 1983 vol 6 #1.

Appearances on:
The Tonight Show, David Letterman, Timex magazine ad, various game shows, various radio shows.


HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE TRANSCRIPT:
There are some very funny moments on this tape! Below are a few funny examples that took place during his flight.
Carol: You're going to be directly over us, so, in a few, about a minute or two. So look down and see if you can see us. Over.
Larry: Ok, I'll be looking for ya'.
Carol: We can already see your balloons. Maybe when you get over...you're going to go into, you're going to go into some blue stuff. Can you see us down now? Can you see us? Over.
Larry: Carol, I'm, I'm almost 6,000 feet over. I can't see much of anything (laugh) except for a lot of houses. Over.

REACT: What information do you wish me to tell them [LAX] at this time as to your location and your difficulty?
Larry: Ah, the difficulty is, ah, this was an unauthorized balloon launch, and, uh, I know I'm in a federal airspace, and, uh, I'm sure my ground crew has alerted the proper authority. But, uh, just call them and tell them I'm okay.

REACT: What color is the balloon?
Larry: The balloons are beige in color. 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.

THE AUDIO FILE:
Before you listen to the audio of the flight, let me set the stage for you so you'll know what's going on. And keep in mind that this recording is from 1982 and was taken from conversations over a CB radio. Therefore, the quality is not very good, especially towards the end of the tape.

There are several different people you will be listening to.
1. Larry Walters (KLW-91602 - "The Lawn Chair Pilot")
2. Carol (Larry's girlfriend)
3. The ground crew (Ron Richlin KRR-91405) based at the launching point (Carol's house)
4. REACT

The tape begins with Carol begging Larry to come down. Larry remains incredibly calm during the whole ordeal, and Carol seems to be somewhat excited over his premature launch. Larry does mention that he lost his glasses on the launch which confirms the extent of how fast he soared into the air after breaking loose. REACT was able to contact him over his portable hand-held CB radio and most of the conversations deal with them trying to completely understand what Larry is doing up there and what he's flying. At first, REACT believes he is in a normal balloon but soon realize that there is nothing "normal" at all about his craft, which he named "Inspiration." We never hear the final moments when he lands because the CB signal was too weak. But Larry was over the Long Beach airport when the recording ends. He took off from San Pedro, CA.


You will need the RealAudio plug-in to listen

"The Lawn Chair Pilot" Audio File (18:25)
Note: portions of this audio tape were edited for time purposes.

Unauthorized reproduction of this audio file is strictly prohibited without the permission of myself or REACT! Please contact us if you wish to use this file.

PHOTOS:




This map estimates Larry's approximate flight path according to the audio tape. If you feel you can estimate a better flight path, please send it to us and we will publish it. I am the only one who has tried to replicate his course.