Larry Walters doesn’t care much if he never flies again, despite--or possibly because of--the momentary fame that enveloped him more than six years ago when he flew from San Pedro to Long Beach.
Walters was in an aluminum lawn chair at the time, startled to find himself being hoisted to an altitude of 16,000 feet by a clutch of helium-filled weather balloons while his terrified fiancee pleaded with him to come back down that instant.
Disbelieving pilots of two airliners saw him cruising along in the near-stratosphere and radioed air controllers for information. Other pilots, presumably, kept their mouths shut.
Walters, who meant only to ride the onshore winds out to the desert at a reasonable height, finally managed a crash-landing by popping the balloons one by one with a pellet pistol. He struck some power lines and caused a neighborhood blackout, but he was unhurt.
“That was a one-time deal with me,” the 39-year-old Walters says now. “A lifelong dream of flight. I could care less about ballooning or getting a pilot’s license.” But he does admit that he might like to give hang-gliding a try some day.
After his Sept. 10, 1982, climb into the wackier pages of the history of flight, he was offered a chance to repeat the feat in the San Diego area. But nothing came of it. He’s glad.
These days, Walters is more interested in hiking around in the San Gabriel Mountains by himself. “I love the peace and quiet,” he says. “Nature and I get along real well.”
He long ago left his job as a driver with a firm that produces TV commercials. He says he supports himself by giving lectures on his remarkable flight. “It’s amazing,” he observes, “there are people out there who do want to hear about it.” He is a hit at motivational seminars, telling folks, “You can achieve anything if you just put your mind to it.”
As for another steady job: “It may come to that--9 to 5--but time will tell. I amaze myself at times, how simple my tastes have become, especially the last three or four years since I’ve discovered the great outdoors.”
Walters has lived in the same low-rent North Hollywood apartment for 17 years. “I don’t have any big bills to speak of,” he says, “and it doesn’t take much to keep me going. Very little, as a matter of fact.”
So what about Carol Van Deusen, the young San Pedro woman who helped Walters launch himself only to see him become a speck in the sky over the Vincent Thomas Bridge?
“Still good friends,” he says.
Whenever he lectures, Walters plays for his audience the song the group Gemini recorded about his flight. “Sixteen helium balloons and one lawn chair,” goes the chorus. The lyrics conclude with his observation that “flying is for the birds.”