A Likely Story - “Up, Up, And Away…”

Roger Clark
November 2021

There are dozens of parallels between truckers and pilots. We each have Hours Of Service, Electronic Logging Devices, medical cards, and endorsements. In addition, we share the curse and blessing of dispatchers, managers, Safety Directors, and Compliance departments. 

Both industries are time sensitive, and appointments are taken seriously. In each business, on-time and claim-free performance is the paramount goal. And we all experience equal doses of terrible weather, employee appreciation, heart-stopping road rage, and showing off first-class equipment.

One of the most curious matchups between drivers and pilots is downtime. When I’m delayed at a loading dock, you’ll find me often napping on the bunk, reading Movin’ Out, or banging on a vending machine in the driver’s lounge.

Guess who else has downtime? The air crews of those multi-million-dollar airliners, and they’re often sprawled out on a couch, snoring into a two-year-old issue of Flying Magazine. (Almost certainly pilfered from a vending machine in the pilot’s lounge).

Another interesting parallel between gearjammers and aviators are the memorable encounters along our respective highways. If you’ve been trucking any time at all, you’ve seen Jesus Christ, walking under his cross, Jackalopes, (most commonly at 4:00 AM), and demons or angels hitch-hiking on the shoulder. If you can’t tell the difference, of course, it doesn’t really matter.

Pilots often see things too, because of exceptional eyesight. Maybe too good, some days, seeing Unidentified Flying Objects, atmosphere changes, space junk, and the occasional truck driver floating in a lawn chair 16,000 feet over Los Angeles. Wait—what? Did he say TRUCK DRIVER? Yes, Virginia, I said truck driver.

This is the story of Larry Walters, the California trucker who had all the proper endorsements on his CDL. You know, Daydreamer. Wishful Thinker. Scarecrow. Okay, I’ll confess, they didn’t even have CDL’s back then, and endorsements today are much more serious. I should know, having recently earned my hazmat certificate.

As a postal carrier, of course, the only hazmat we haul are red hot subpoenas for increases in child support, but it’s good to be prepared. After all, you never know when the DOT will start issuing merit badges! But I digress.  

In 1982, Forty-four-year-old Larry Walters of San Pedro, California tied a lawn chair to the bumper of his jeep, then attached 45 government-surplus helium balloons to the chair. He sat down in the chair, armed only with a camera, rifle, CB radio, lunch, and of course, some beer. Moments later, his friends cut the tether to his jeep.

Almost immediately, he soared to the unbelievable height of 16,000 feet, where he was spotted by two different airline pilots approaching Los Angeles. I have no doubt they notified Los Angeles Center and reckon both air crews are st-still st-stuttering t-today. But the fun was just beginning.

 Larry’s plan for landing was to shoot out the balloons one by one. But then he dropped the rifle. Now even forty years later, I can hear someone screaming, “HE DROPPED THE RIFLE!” and realize it’s not Larry, but this writer! Yet we all know God looks out for fools and children, and Larry weren’t no kid, so he drifted into some power lines, which ended his flight, but introduced him to the FAA and numerous court appearances.

They tried to suspend his pilot’s license, but he didn’t have one. Then they tried to charge him with operating a plane without an airworthiness certificate, but it was the wrong class of aircraft. But they did fine him for flying in restricted airspace without permission. So, there you have it. Like his truck driving brothers everywhere, Larry Walters knew it was better to seek forgiveness than ask permission!