Via CNN, I learn today that Kent Couch of Bend, Oregon managed to fly 200 miles from Oregon to Idaho in a lawn chair ‘powered’ by helium balloons.
Such stories have long been ‘urban legend’ fodder, ever since the first lawn chair enthusiast, Larry Walters, took off in 1982 in the Los Angeles area. Walters ended up drifting some 16,000 feet above Long Beach, flew into the flight path of the Long Beach Municipal Airport, and ended up landing in some high-voltage power lines. The FAA fined him heavily for the feat, but that didn’t stop other enthusiasts from taking up the chair. The full details, including Walters’ tragic suicide later in life, can be found at Snopes.
Couch, who had obviously been inspired to do his flight by Walters’ feat, had made two previous balloon trips. He had declared previously that he wouldn’t stop until he met his goal of getting out of state.
What sort of equipment does one take for an interstate lawn chair ride? According to CNN,
…he carried a Red Ryder BB gun and a blow gun equipped with steel darts. He also had a pole with a hook for pulling in balloons, a parachute in case anything went wrong, a handheld Global Positioning System device with altimeter, a satellite phone, and two GPS tracking devices. One was one for him, the other for the chair, which got away in the wind as he landed last year.
For food he carried some boiled eggs, jerky and chocolate.
The final part of the story that didn’t surprise me comes at the end:
Couch flew hang gliders and skydived before taking up lawn-chair flights. He estimated the rig cost about $6,000, mostly for helium. Costs were defrayed by corporate sponsors.
Emphasis mine. We skydivers are known for figuring out new ways to risk injury or death.
At least Couch planned for the legal logistics better than he predecessor. Not only did he not get fined for his trip, he actually had corporate sponsorship!