Joe Barbera, a 60-year-old semiretired engineer in Washington, attempted to fulfill a lifelong dream to fly as well as to set a record by taking flight in a lawn chair using helium-filled balloons. Joe was inspired by the 1982 voyage of “Lawnchair Larry” Walters, a Californian who ascended to more than 15,000 feet in a lawn chair lifted by 45 helium-filled balloons.
However, Joe’s balloon flight did not go exactly as planned because Joe had intended to use an oxygen tank, but he was forced to leave it behind along with his camera, shoes, all of his food and some of the computer controlled ballast due to defective balloons.
Joe took off early last Saturday morning with about 80 balloons outside his home hoping to travel 268 miles in order to set a record by landing somewhere in Oregon. He rose to about 21,000 feet (much higher than he intended). So he popped some of his balloons which caused his GPS equipped contraption to land in a tree 24 miles away. Joe was unhurt, but he was able to radio that he sitting in his chair stuck high off the ground in the middle of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
An entire group of self-described “redneck engineers” had been working on the lawn chair contraption for a little over a month and even managed to clear the project with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, the crew lost track of an unmanned test balloon earlier this month, and one member of the crew admitted they were “making this up as we went along….”