Man Gained International Fame By Attaching Weather Balloons To A Lawnchair & Winding Up In LAX Airspace
There have been reports of a man flying around Los Angeles Airport on a jetpack. He’s as mysterious as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, as unidentified as D.B. Cooper. The media has dubbed him the “Jetpack Man.”
Well, some 40 years earlier, there was another person flying around LAX in an unusual aircraft, but he was identified the same day as his one and only flight. He gained brief international fame and earned the nickname of “Lawnchair Larry.”
The story goes like this: Larry Walters was a truck driver with a crazy idea. On Fourth of July Weekend in 1982, he wanted to impress/frighten/play a trick on his girlfriend (who quickly became his ex-girlfriend) by “hovering” over the lawn of a friend’s house in San Pedro during a 4th party.
So, using the excuse he needed weather balloons for a commercial shoot with his employer FilmFair Studio, he went to a store and purchased 43 of them and filled them with helium. With the help of friends, he attached the balloons to a lawn chair.
Yes, an ordinary lawn chair!
He also had with him a camera, a sandwich and – of course – beer.
The plan was for him to be up in the air above the yard, snap a few pictures of his angry girlfriend, eat a sandwich and drink a few beers. But one of the homemade tethers broke and suddenly he was launched in the air. Way up in the air.
He shot up to 15,000 feet and, due to wind currents, suddenly found himself in LAX airspace. Now, can you imagine being a passenger flying into LA for the first time, convinced the city was filled with nut cases, and look out the window to see a guy floating by on a lawn chair!? I laugh out loud every time I picture this scenario.
Walters did, fortunate for him, have the foresight to realize that something might go awry in his plan (gee, ya think!?) and had a pellet gun with him. As he shot up in the air, he started shooting holes in the balloons to bring him back to Earth.
The party gods must have been looking out for him that day because he managed to make a slow descent (he also – wisely – was wearing a parachute). He did crash into power lines, knocking out power to half of San Pedro, but didn’t get electrocuted and landed without injury.
By this time, authorities and the media were waiting for him on the ground. But Walters simply waved to them, tucked the chair under an arm and walked back to the party. A stunned journalist looked at the sheriff’s deputy and asked “aren’t you going to arrest him?”
A shocked deputy could only mutter: “I can’t; there’s nothing on the books to cover something this bizarre.”
And so Lawnchair Larry gained a bit of fame – he was featured on the CBS Evening News, in the New York Times, New York Magazine, was on the Tonight Show and game shows and became a brief 4th of July hero of sorts in L.A. – but he did lose his girlfriend. She left him shortly after he returned to the house.
Wonder if the “Jetpack Man” has – or had – a girlfriend?
The lawn chair is now in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.