American Folk Figure. He is remembered for tying 45 weather balloons to his lawn chair and going for a ride with his beer and a pellet gun. The winds blew him into restricted airspace over Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and he was arrested when he finally landed, for violating LAX airspace. Nicknamed "Lawn chair Larry" by the press, when asked why he did it, he answered, "a man just can't sit around." Numerous stories about his flight have differing details, including maximum height reached, time aloft, and other details. Born in Los Angeles, California, Walters was a truck driver who had always dreamed of flying, but was rejected for pilot training by the US Air Force because of poor eyesight. He had first thought of using weather balloons to fly at age 13, when he saw them in a military surplus store. Twenty years later, he decided to put his dream to reality, by attaching helium filled weather balloons to his lawn chair, and floating above his backyard about 30 feet above the ground. He planned to use a pellet gun to burst the balloons to float gently back to the ground. On July 2, 1982, he and his girlfriend, Carol Van Deusen, purchased 45 eight-foot diameter weather balloons and obtained helium from California Toy Time Balloons, tying the balloons to his lawn chair in the backyard of his home in San Pedro. Putting on a parachute, he strapped himself into the chair, took a pellet gun, a portable CB Radio, sandwiches, cold beer (reportedly Miller Lite, but some reports state he had no beer, only cola) and a camera. Initially tying the balloons to his Jeep, he went up about 50 feet, and his friends cut him loose. The balloons quickly went up to approximately 11,000 feet (his greatest height is in dispute, with some estimates as high as 16,000 feet). He was so enthralled by the view that he forgot he had a camera, and did not take any pictures during the flight. Using his CB Radio, he notified REACT, a CB emergency monitoring organization, when he realized he started to drift towards LAX, to let them know that he had little control over his balloon flight. When he began to drift towards the ocean, LAX sent a rescue helicopter, which dangled a line to Larry; Larry clipped it to his chair and was pulled by the helicopter back over land. (This rescue helicopter story is also in dispute). After 14 hours aloft, he began to shoot some of the balloons, and had a controlled descent back to the ground. When he landed, he caught a power line, which caused a blackout in Long Beach for 20 minutes. Long Beach Police quickly arrested him. As he had no pilot's license, the FAA fined Larry $4,000 (soon negotiated down to $1,500) for "operating an aircraft within an airport controlled area without having two-way communications with the control tower," and for "operating a civil aircraft without an Airworthiness Certificate" (this charge was later dropped, as balloon craft were not required at that time to have such a certificate). Following his flight, he was in demand as a motivational speaker for a brief time, and quit his truck driver job. In 1990, he made a newspaper ad for Timex watches, but he never made much money from the fame. In his later life, he would hike into the San Gabriel Mountains and do volunteer work for the US Forest Service. After breaking up with his girlfriend and failing to find steady work, in 1993 at the age of 44, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart, while in the Angeles National Forest, California. Since 1982, his flight has been copied in a number of movies and television shows, and celebrated in songs. While a number of imitators around the world have successfully copied his uncontrolled balloon flight without serious accidents, authorities do not recommend attempting it due to the inherent dangers. At least one person (Adelir de Carli, April 20, 2008) has died while trying to recreate this balloon flight.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson