In July 1982, a truck driver named Larry Walters decided to follow his dream. That dream was flying, something Walters knew precious little about. Today, on what would have been his 65th birthday, we bring you the story of his amazing flight.
In July 1982, a truck driver named Larry Walters decided to follow his dream. That dream was flying, something Walters knew precious little about. However, his passion, determination and willingness to risk his own safety more than made up for his lack of aeronautical expertise, and for one brief moment, Larry Walters of North Hollywood, California, flew. Today, on what would have been his 65th birthday, we bring you the story of Larry Walter’s amazing flight.
At 13, inspiration came to Walters when he saw weather balloons for sale at his local Army-Navy surplus store, according to Larry Walters historian Mark Berry. Twenty years later, Walters filled 42 giant balloons with helium, tied them to a lawn chair, and prepared for flight. He brought along a camera, a parachute, one bottle of soda, a life vest, a citizens band radio, a sandwich and a BB pistol to shoot the balloons when he was ready to descend. Gallon jugs of water served as ballast. The entire investment for his flight came to around $4,000.
At 11 a.m., Walters took off. Slowly at first, tethered to the ground by three lines, he began to rise. Reports of Walters’ flight plan vary. According to NBC News at the time, Walters hoped to simply float for a few hours above his house. Later investigation by MarkBarry.com revealed Walters planned to fly for several days, hoping to reach the Rocky Mountains. Regardless of his intentions, Walters was sent aloft in an uncontrolled ascent as soon as the first rope tether was cut. The remaining tethers immediately snapped and Walters shot into the open air, reaching 16,000 feet. He sent an emergency message out over his CB as his chair began to float through Long Beach Airport’s airspace, and was spotted by TWA and Delta pilots who, understandably, were not expecting to see a man in a lawn chair in their flight path.
Miraculously, Walters was able to land safely after spending two hours in freezing temperatures 3 miles above the Earth’s surface. He shot out the balloons and poured out ballast, trying to control his descent. He ended up landing in a residential neighborhood, although his ropes became tangled on a power line, blacking out a neighborhood for 20 minutes.
Walters was cited for violating air traffic rules and eventually paid a $1,500 fine, according to news reports.
For his part, Walters said he was done with aerial adventures, but that he had no regrets.
Walters made appearances on The Tonight Show and Late Night With David Letterman and worked for a time as a motivational speaker. In later years, the Vietnam veteran also volunteered for the U.S. Forest Service and spent time hiking the San Gabriel Mountains, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sadly, Walters died by suicide in 1993. His story has become something of an urban legend, one that was even verified in a segment on Mythbusters.
Written by Seth Joseph