Fw: SF Gate: Up, up and away/A man and his lawn chair take flight

Mark Conner <n9xtn@...>

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This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SF Gate.
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
Wednesday, July 3, 2002 (SF Chronicle)
Up, up and away/A man and his lawn chair take flight
Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle Staff Writer

San Francisco -- Something important was proved Tuesday in San
Francisco when a young man strapped himself into a lawn chair
tied to a strand of flimsy balloons and floated 50 feet above
Potrero Hill.
It was not a stunt, said the man in the chair. It was a
scientific experiment.
No one knew exactly what was proved, however. Perhaps it was
that latex can burst under pressure, a concept already well known
in San Francisco.
The idea, if there was one, was to recreate the 1982 flight of
"Lawn Chair Larry" Walters, the Los Angeles truck driver who flew
a similar rig 16,000
feet into the sky above Southern California and lived to tell
about it. An Australian TV company had commissioned the joyride
for an upcoming special
on urban legends.
"Nothing can go wrong," said stuntman Adam Savage, preparing
to go aloft, while a large number of things that could not go
wrong kept going wrong.
The latex balloons, purchased for $10 apiece from a surplus
store, had an unsettling knack of bursting during inflation. At
least six of them popped
before Savage had even taken his place in the chair.
Then the balloons turned out to need twice as much helium to
fill as Savage originally calculated, and extra gas cylinders had
to be scrounged.
Then, with only minutes before lift-off, the batteries on the
emergency walkie-talkies went out.
"I need some triple-A batteries!" the balloonist yelled.
"Somebody go check the deli! Maybe they have some!"
Meanwhile, more balloons popped.
"It's not making me nervous," Savage said, nervously, as the
latex shards drifted to earth. "I suppose these balloons have
outlived their shelf
life. That's why they were only $10 each."
After a quick review of the flight plan with the TV producer
("You go up, then you come down"), Savage climbed into the lawn
chair ($29 from Sears),
strapped on his safety harness (borrowed from a Mission District
climbing gym) and gazed up at his towering string of balloons,
which resembled a
strand of giant Vidalia onions glistening in the morning sun.
Shortly before 9 a.m., helpers began removing sandbags and
releasing their hold on three ropes tethering the chair to parked
cars. Savage, not quite sure how to control the proceedings,
began to rise slowly into the sky and drift gently over Missouri
Street, like the Wizard of Oz making his
The TV crew said Savage had soared to a height of 100 feet,
but less partial observers placed the altitude at about half
that. The walkie-talkie failure was never a factor, as
air-to-ground communication was conducted largely by shouting.
The greatest humiliation occurred midway into the flight, when
Savage downed a beer and, after warning observers below to stand
clear, dropped the bottle over the side. The bottle failed to
break on impact, clearly indicating to all the
less-than-life-threatening height of Savage's lawn chair.
"Better have another beer!" someone yelled.
Meanwhile, a modest crowd of gawkers gathered on Missouri
Street to take in the spectacle, such as it was. Dogs barked,
drivers honked and
passers-by giggled.
After 12 minutes aloft, the TV cameraman had recorded
sufficient footage, and there was no good reason for the flight
to continue. One by one,
Savage fired a BB gun at the balloons and the chair descended, as
Sir Isaac predicted it would.
Back on the ground, Savage reached for a celebratory cigar and
basked in what accolades there were. He said it had been eerie to
ride his lawn
chair on the same day that balloonist Steve Fosset completed his
round-the-world solo flight, although that comparison seemed more
of a
stretch than anything that happened to the latex.
"I'm just glad it turned out OK," said Ed Wallace, manager of
the electrical warehouse next door whose airspace Savage had
drifted into. "It
didn't make any sense at all. He said he had the whole thing
worked out perfectly, but it didn't look that way. The potential
for him getting hurt
was pretty good."

E-mail Steve Rubenstein at srubenstein@sfchronicle.com.
Copyright 2002 SF Chronicle

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