April 19: “Lawnchair” Larry Walters

Lawnchair LarrySince the dawn of time humanity has looked towards the sky and dreamt of flying. Although many of us have traveled the friendly skies in planes and other common aircraft, one man dared to fly in his own unique way and today we celebrate him. It was on this day in 1949, that that man, Larry Walters was born. Who was Larry Walters? Well, in 1982 “Lawnchair Larry”, as he became known, went flying in a lawn chair.

Walters had always wanted to be a pilot. He tried to join the Air Force, but his eyesight was too poor. In 1982 Walters and his girlfriend bought helium tanks and 45 eight-foot weather balloons. The plan was fairly simple: They’d tie the balloons to a lawn chair in Walters’ backyard and cut the anchor attached to the chair, allowing him to float about 30 feet above his backyard. He’d then return to Earth by shooting the balloons with a pellet gun.

On July 2, 1982, Walters invited a bunch of friends over to his house in San Pedro, California and then set off on his flight. He carried with him a pellet gun, a camera, a CB radio, sandwiches and beer. After the cord attaching the chair to his jeep was cut he quickly soared far higher than the planned 30 feet; at his highest elevation Walters was 15,000 feet off the ground. Walters became concerned that if he shot down the balloons too soon, he might fall out of the chair, so he continued drifting away from his home and began flying in the direction of Long Beach Airport, which proved to be a little troublesome. After all, as he explained over the CB radio, “…the difficulty is, ah, this was an unauthorized balloon launch, and, uh, I know I’m in a federal airspace.”

After 45 minutes he began to shoot down some of the balloons. He started to descend, but then dropped his pellet gun and was forced to just let the balloons lose helium. Walters’ flight came to an end when his cables got caught in a power line which led to a 20 minute blackout in some Long Beach neighborhoods. Thankfully, he made it out unharmed and was able to climb down a telephone pole. He was arrested immediately by waiting Long Beach police and eventually charged with “operating an aircraft within an airport traffic area without establishing and maintaining two-way communications with the control tower” and “operating a civil aircraft for which there is not currently in effect an airworthiness certificate”. In the end, Walters only paid a $1,500 fine, and said he regretted nothing. “It was something I had to do. I had this dream for twenty years, and if I hadn’t done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm.”

Let’s pay tribute to that magnificent man and his flying machine with a Silver Balloon. This cocktail is a little bit fruity and a little bit nutty and will leave you feeling lighter than air.

Silver Balloon

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice
  • 1 ounce Amaretto
  • 1 ounce Williams Pear Liqueur

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: We puff, puff and pass.

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