Larry Walters Goes For A Flight
Dear Tom and Ray,
I listen to your show every Monday at work. I love your show. My husbandgets Flying Magazine, and showed me this story.
Thought you both would get a boost from this.
Saint Marks, Florida
You've heard of Rickenbacker and Lindbergh and Doolittle. You've heard ofYeager. But have you heard of Larry Walters? Probably not. Yet Walters--like another relatively unsung hero, the legendary D.B. Cooper-- was madeof that special stuff that separates aviation legends from the common runof folk.
In 1982 Walters, a truck driver by trade, bought a bunch of weatherballoons at a surplus store. He filled them with helium and tied them to alawn chair. He provided himself with a two-way radio, a parachute, somejugs of water, and an air rifle, and then cut his conveyance loose from thebumper of his car, which was anchoring it to the ground.
Take a moment to imagine the thrill and terror of that ascent, transforminga man surrounded by the normal appurtenances of life- garden, house,sport-ute-- into a speck floating in an infinite space. Had he rigged upsome sort of seat belt? Did the chair tip and wobble? Did he call out tothe ant-like figures below? We don't know.
It is clear, however, that he violated FARs by passing through Los AngelesTCA without a transponder or a clearance. Two passing jetliners reportedto controllers that they had seen a man with a gun seated in a deck chairat 11,000 feet. A helicopter went up to take a look.
Walters had planned to descend by shooting out the balloons with hispellet gun, one at a time. He had deflated 10 of them this way, when heaccidentally dropped the gun. Evidently 10 was enough. After being carriedout to sea and back on the vagrant coastal breezes, he was snagged by powerlines in Long Beach, and led away in handcuffs. He is reported to havesaid, by way of explanation of his exploit, "man can't just sit around."
Walters subsequently fell on hard times, became bankrupt, and died by hisown hand in 1993. But his memory survives as a model of those qualities ofindependence, vision, and disregard for common caution without whichaviation would never have come into being.