Larry Walters is among the relatively few who have actually turned their dreams into reality. His story is true as hard as you may find it to believe… Walters was a truck driver, but his lifelong dream was to fly. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in the hope of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately poor eyesight disqualified him, so when he finally left the service, he had to satisfy himself with watching others fly the fighter jets that criss-crossed the skies over his backyard. As he sat there in his lawn chair, he dreamed about the magic of flying.

Then one day, Walters had an idea. He went down to the local Army and Navy surplus store and bought forty-five weather balloons and several tanks of helium. These were not your brightly coloured party balloons: these were heavy-duty spheres measuring more than four feet across when fully inflated. Back in his yard, Walters used straps to attached the balloons to his lawn chair. He anchored the chair to the bumper of his jeep, and inflated the balloons with helium. Then he packed a few sandwiches and drinks, and a loaded air rifle, figuring he could pop a few balloons when it was time to return to Earth. His preparations complete, Walters sat in his chair and cut the anchoring cord. His plan was to lazily float into the sky, and eventually back to terra firma. But things didn’t work out that way.

When Walters cut the cord, he didn’t float lazily up; he shot up as if fired from a cannon. He didn’t stop at thirty feet, and nor did he ease off once he reached fifty, or even one hundred. He climbed swiftly to one thousand feet, but still kept on going. Finally, he levelled off at eleven thousand feet. At that height, he couldn’t risk deflating any of the balloons, lest he unbalanced the load and really experience flying. So he stayed up there, sailing around for fourteen hours, totally at a loss about how to get down.

Eventually, Mr Walters drifted into the approach corridor for Los Angeles International Airport. A Pan Am pilot radioed the tower about passing a guy in a lawn chair at eleven thousand feet, with a gun in his lap. LAX is right on the ocean, and come nightfall, the winds on the coast begin to change. So, as dusk fell, Mr Walters began drifting out to sea. At that point, the Navy dispatched a helicopter to rescue him, but the rescue team had a hard time getting to him because the draught from the propeller kept pushing his home made contraption farther and farther away.

Eventually, they were able to hover above him and drop a rescue line, with which they gradually hauled him back to safety. As soon as Mr Walters hit the ground, he was arrested. But as he was led away in handcuffs, a television reporter called out, ‘Sir, why’d you do it?’

Mr Walters stopped, eyed the man, then replied nonchalantly, ‘A man can’t just sit around.’

The fun cost Mr Walters a total of US$1,000 in an out-of-court settlement with the aviation administration which said he operated too close to the airport, flew in a reckless manner and failed to maintain contact with the control tower. When asked, he said, ‘I only did it because it was my lifelong dream to fly.

What is your lifelong dream? And what lengths are you willing to go to to achieve it?

Extract from Destiny by Matt Bird (Hodder, 2000)