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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Larry Walters- still a hero!

Thanks to the Discover Channel's Myth Busters show(they examine and recreate "Urban Legends"- and that defines Larry better than anything I have ever heard!) the spirit and the legend that is Larry lives on:Larry Walters!
Pilot 3: Larry's Lawn-Chair Balloon, Goldfinger, Poppy-Seed Drug Test
So, this guy named Larry Walters attached something like 45 weather balloons to this lawn chair. One of the tethers broke on the unemployed truck driver's little invention, shooting him straight up into the air. Apparently he sailed to 16,000 feet, where he was spotted by airline pilots, eventually closing LAX airport. He was finally rescued by a helicopter after he floated out to sea. Is this popular Internet legend full of hot air? Will Jamie and Adam close LAX?

The more I read about ol' Larry, the more I admire him- Vietnam Vet, aspirant pilot and while he can seem as dumb as a box of hammers- he was a dreamer- and folks we always need dreamers of Larry's calibre.
A few things I learned about Larry:
  • He did shoot a few balloons- I thought he had been too scared to do so, but I now think he wanted to go as high as he did...
  • He had 45 balloons in stacks of 12 or so. I though it was a single bunch- but Larry's design is much better.
  • He was cool and calm throughout the "flight". I'd always thought he'd been frightened half to death. Check Mark Barry's transcript of the radio communications and you'll see how cool Larry is!

There are precious few interviews of Larry and in the ones I have seen he comes across as a well spoken, articulate, eccentric truck driver. It's not that he is weird, he just says things like :
"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,"

...and when asked if he would do it again he says only if the FAA sanction his flight, coz if they would agree to do so, he'd be up there in a microsecond. He says this after his flight- after the fines, the media making fun of him and so on.
Terrific stuff!

I wonder why 20+ years after he flew above his friends house in the lawn chair people (like me!) still find Larry's story so interesting (and in my case inspirational). Initially I think people find it funny, stupid, insane and Larry a figure to make fun of. But read Mark Barry's full story and buy the DVD of Myth Busters and I think a new opinion of Larry will emerge: he is a legend and a pioneer. Sure, people had flown in balloons many times before- but Larry was not Sir Richard Branson or any of the other billionaire balloonists going around the world - no - he was an ordinary guy with big dreams that he fulfilled. How many of us can say that we lived out our dream?:
"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."

And while no one can truly understand the reason for Larry commiting suicide on that day in 1993, I hope he didn't die thinking he had lived a wasted life.
Larry you are one for the ages and I salute you!!!

Larry! pics from Mark Barry's excellent site!


Myth Busters
Mark Barry's webpage about Larry
posted by thr at 10:55 am

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