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Pattaya Daily News

04 July 2008 :: 14:07:30 pm 29081

Man To Attempt Flight In Balloon Chair

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (July 3) - Like many Americans, Kent Couch plans to settle into a lawn chair during the U.S. Fourth of July holiday weekend. Unlike everyone else, his feet will dangle high above the lawn.
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Chances are you’ll be spending the Fourth of July holiday weekend in a much different way than Ken Couch. The Oregon man plans to once again try flying to Idaho in a lawn chair with 150 helium-filled balloons attached to it. Here, Couch is seen near Bend, Ore., during an attempt last year.

Couch is set to launch himself skyward on Saturday aboard his lawn chair, which will be attached to 150 giant latex party balloons filled with helium. His goal: to fly more than 300 miles from his gas station in central Oregon to somewhere in the neighboring state of Idaho.

It will be his third attempt to fly by the seat of his pants to Idaho – he doesn’t wear a seat belt.

“The first time, nobody wanted to be involved at all,” Couch told The Associated Press in a phone interview Wednesday. “They were thinking I was a lunatic, I mean a balloon-atic. My friends shunned me. But this time it’s different. ”

Couch is following in the footsteps of Larry Walters, who accomplished a similar feat in a famous 1982 flight. Walters and his chair, rigged with 45 helium-filled weather balloons, soared to an altitude of 16,000 feet before he began shooting some of the balloons with a BB gun.
 Walters landed safely, but not before drawing the ire of pilots from two jetliners and the Federal Aviation Administration. He paid a $1,500 penalty for violating air traffic rules.
Twenty years later, a TV documentary crew marked the anniversary of Walters’ flight by tethering Adam Savage to a lawn chair with helium balloons.
Couch’s undertaking is not without its risks, as evidenced by an incident in April. A Roman Catholic priest in Brazil disappeared after floating up in the air while sitting in a similar contraption. Here, the balloons from the priest’s chair are seen April 22 in the ocean off the country’s coast.

He now has a corporate sponsor, a team of volunteers and his wife Susan’s blessing.

Couch, 48, was inspired to go up, up and away by the 1982 lawn-chair flight over Los Angeles by truck driver Larry Walters, whose adventure brought him a measure of fame, but also a US$1,500 fine for violating air traffic rules.

Couch made his first ascent in 2006, floating for six hours before shooting out a few balloons with his pellet gun to descend. He apparently shot out too many balloons because he had to use his parachute to land. He never found the lawn chair.

Last year, he flew 193 miles before running low on helium and landing in a patch of sagebrush.

Couch has appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” He has enjoyed his time in the limelight, but said he isn’t flying a lawn chair for fame and fortune.

Cluster ballooning is inherently risky, but the ride is generally carefree, he said.

“When you’re up there, there’s not much stress,” he said. “There’s a little stress on the way down. A few navigational issues you’ve got to deal with. But there’s nothing, really, I can do but enjoy it.”

He figures the rig costs about US$6,000, mostly for helium. The balloons are tied to a framework attached to a reclining lawn chair. He is using 15-gallon barrels as a water ballast, which he can drain to gain altitude.

“If I get up around 15,000 feet, I’ll pop a couple balloons,” Couch said. “If I get too low, I’ll release some water. All the way you go it’s like a seesaw, up and down, up and down.”

Couch will have a finger clip to monitor the oxygen level in his blood and a tank of oxygen should he venture too high. He’ll have a GPS tracking device attached to his chair and another in his pocket, allowing his location to be monitored on his Web site.

He’ll bring duct tape and zip ties for emergency repairs, extra clothes and a blanket to ward off the cold at higher altitudes. He’ll munch on beef jerky, boiled eggs and chocolate.

“You don’t want to eat much,” he said. “There’s no bathrooms up.”

If all goes well this year, the lawn-chair pilot says he’d like to fly across the English Channel and even Australia.

“I don’t mind them thinking I’m nuts,” Couch said. “I’ve done my research and I feel plenty confident.”

Source: AP

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : World News

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