"That's 35 *weather balloons*" "Uh" *Weather balloons!*" "Uhh, roger!"
December 23, 2006 2:24 PM   Subscribe

In 1982 "Lawnchair" Larry Walters tied about 40-45 4' helium-filled weather balloons to a Sears lawnchair and launched himself from San Pedro, California to rise to over 16,000 feet. Here is the audio recording of the CB communications of that flight, available with much more information from this page via markbarry.com.
(Warnings: Audio is Real Audio - use Real Alternative. First half of audio may contain recordings of extremely panicked and strident girlfriend.)
posted by loquacious (31 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Backup link for the audio file.
posted by loquacious at 2:26 PM on December 23, 2006

I'm dumb. Can someone explain Mark Barry's introduction? Is he saying that this is a reenactment?
posted by roll truck roll at 2:33 PM on December 23, 2006

Forget my last comment. I was confusing REACT with REENACT.

Move along.

This is great, incidentally.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:35 PM on December 23, 2006

Apologies for the overly clever formatting in which I use the wikipedia link in the main link - the meat of the post is indeed in the audio file.

If you don't have Real Alternative yet, it's more than well worth the effort if only to listen in on this rather unique moment in human history.

Not only did I never imagine that such a recording existed, I'd never imagined the the pathos of panicked girlfriend on the radio in the ground crew, the fairly deadpan and mundane, workaday way Larry deals with Air Traffic Controllers, or even how anticlimactic it all seems towards the end of the recording.

Good stuff.
posted by loquacious at 2:36 PM on December 23, 2006

A little more here...
posted by bigschmoove at 2:46 PM on December 23, 2006

Holy crap, thanks for posting this. I can't stop laughing!
posted by knave at 3:04 PM on December 23, 2006

Danny Deckchair?
posted by yoga at 3:06 PM on December 23, 2006

I mistook his groundcrew/wife for him on the radio. First thought was: dude, the helium goes IN the balloon. She can talk FAST!
posted by hal9k at 3:26 PM on December 23, 2006

Hilarious and fabulous!
posted by LoriFLA at 3:28 PM on December 23, 2006

"get down now ... everybody wants you to come down now"

"it's not safe"

posted by pyramid termite at 3:41 PM on December 23, 2006

"Did someone notify LAX?" (3:15)
posted by joe lisboa at 3:42 PM on December 23, 2006

This brought my family and I some laughs over dinner.
posted by smackwich at 3:44 PM on December 23, 2006

Awesome! Especially 'cause we live in San Pedro. Thanks!
posted by FuzzyVerde at 3:53 PM on December 23, 2006

Discovery Channel's Mythbusters did a nice episode on this event...
posted by fairmettle at 4:21 PM on December 23, 2006

Damn, his girlfriend is annoying. Stop babbling and nagging him to keep talking, and let the poor man enjoy his long-awaited lawnchair flight!
posted by Asparagirl at 4:24 PM on December 23, 2006

MP3 form for the realaudio-challenged.
posted by dmd at 5:11 PM on December 23, 2006

Good post.

At the time this happened, I was 11 and very much into planes and aviation. I remember it on the national news, and I went to the library to see if there were more articles in the big city papers. I also remember standing in the library thinking, "Why isn't this guy on the cover of Time magazine or something?" He was as big as Neil Armstong, as far as I was concerned.
posted by glycolized at 5:14 PM on December 23, 2006

Yes, as fairmettle points out, Metafilter's own Adam Savage tested this myth in Pilot 3 and only managed to get a few feet off the ground.
posted by Brittanie at 5:34 PM on December 23, 2006

I'm impressed with how calm he sounds. I think I would have been crying.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:54 PM on December 23, 2006

Huh, and then he shot himself in the heart.
posted by xmutex at 6:16 PM on December 23, 2006

Ground control: "What color is the balloon?"

It would be awful if they found the wrong guy floating around the sky in a lawn chair, wouldn't it? ("No, no, not him--he's got red balloons, and our guy distinctly said beige!")
posted by leftcoastbob at 6:27 PM on December 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

My god. I am experiencing some real cognitive dissonance here; I believed this was real for about a week once, and then 'saw through' it. Oh well, at least the timing is good-- maybe I was also too quick about the whole Santa and his reindeer thing.

Great post.
posted by jamjam at 6:53 PM on December 23, 2006

Brittanie writes "Yes, as fairmettle points out, Metafilter's own Adam Savage tested this myth in Pilot 3 and only managed to get a few feet off the ground."

And yet it does seem to have actually happened. I don't wish to impugn our friends over at MB (hell, for this alone, they get a free pass on pretty much anything), but they do kinda seem to ignore that freak shit does osmetimes happen. (That does make sense, of course, given their premise. But you know what I mean.)

Also, Adam? Can I pretty pretty pretty please come and be on the show and help blow shit up? I'll be really quiet and stand in the back, I promise!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:16 PM on December 23, 2006

Someone please animate this for me. With monkeys and squirrels. Thank you.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 7:36 PM on December 23, 2006

Kind of sad what happens to this guy later in life though.. he tries to make it as an inspirational speaker but isn't that successful. Never marries, never has kids.. and then in 93 he shoots himself.
posted by kindle at 7:41 PM on December 23, 2006

Great, great post. Thanks, loquacious.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:43 PM on December 23, 2006

A few feet off the ground? Adam was at least 30 feet off the ground while tied down with ropes. He undoubtedly would have gone higher if they had cut the ropes and they certified the myth as "real". Where did you get the "few feet" from?
posted by null terminated at 9:14 PM on December 23, 2006

"We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed"

Reading his vague plan and imperfect preparation it just seems incredible that he survived. I mean, his plan was to flly into the Mojave desert, but given everything else it seems unlikely he would have been properly prepared for the experience (water jugs for ballast aside; what if he'd had to jettison them?). Why a pellet gun instead of, say, a knife on a wrist chain? He had a spare pair of glasses, but why weren't they strapped onto him? Why didn't he "dare" shooting balloons when he was at a dangerously high altitude?

And what if he had drifted out to sea by a freak counter-prevailing wind? Whoops.

Funny he couldn't make money off of his notoriety, though. I bet he could today.
posted by dhartung at 9:24 PM on December 23, 2006

Null, Larry Walters claimed to have reached 3 miles. Maybe "few" was the wrong word, but 30 feet is nothing compared to 3 miles.
posted by Brittanie at 9:31 PM on December 23, 2006

I was part of a theatre group here in NYC that did a play with music about Larry ("The Ballad of Larry the Flyer"), inspired by George Plimpton's story from The New Yorker. There have been plenty of other plays as well. It's a feel good story about chasing your dreams and living an unconventional life -- until you realize that he was just trying to do something to shake up the pieces of his unhappy life. The flight seemed to push him further into loneliness. He did do some motivational speaking, but barely made any money off of it -- he apparently was not a great speaker. Not too long after the flight, his girlfriend left him and Larry spent more and more time by himself in the mountains (he said he'd always wanted to be a Park Ranger), which is where he shot himself in the heart -- after organizing his campsite neatly and tying up his trash in a tree so the bears wouldn't get it. (The trash was probably McDonald's burgers and empty liters of Coke -- what he ate almost exclusively).

My favorite quote from Larry (which is misquoted on the Wikipedia page) is this: when asked why he did it he replied "A man can't just sit around."

Also, apparently the "About Schmidt" guy is making a movie about Larry, too.
posted by papercake at 6:18 AM on December 24, 2006

which is misquoted on the Wikipedia page

Well, you know, you can fix it.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:50 PM on December 25, 2006

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