SYA: Up, up and away in my beautiful lawn chair

You recently ran a story about a man from Bend who attached 105 big balloons to his lawn chair and tried to fly to Idaho. He didn't make it to his destination. But he did fly for nearly nine hours, traveling 193 miles from his home before landing in a field near Union. The article said the man had flown over much of Oregon at 11,000 feet and higher. I have three questions. Is this type of "flying" legal? How cold does it get that high up in the air? How thin was the oxygen?

— Lynne S, Rogue River

You have three questions, but you didn't ask the obvious one, Lynne. Seriously! How nuts is this guy!!!?

Local pilot and aviation instructor Bill Warren sounds a little fascinated by Bend's Larry Walters-wannabe, Kent Couch.

"You should call this guy," says Warren. "Sounds like this guy might be fun to talk to."

Larry Walters attached balloons to his lawn chair in 1982 and rose three miles above Los Angeles. Walter's flight violated air traffic rules and caused a media frenzy. Walters died at age 44, 11 years after his ascent.

Warren pondered the legalities of Couch's July 7 lawn-chair flight, and said he has serious doubts that 40 helium balloons would pass FAA inspection.

"I would say that this is probably not legal," said Warren. "But if you're cruising over Oregon and Idaho, you're probably not going to excite too many people or get in too many commercial flight paths."

As to Couch's physical comfort at an elevation of two miles, that would depend upon the weather, Warren said. Air cools about 2 degrees centigrade per thousand feet, said Warren. But right now things aren't behaving that way because of the heat wave, the pilot added.

"This morning I climbed out over 5,000, and it got hotter as I went up," said Warren. "I don't know what it was in degrees, but it was warm. If (Couch) picked the right day, he might not have been all that cool."

As far as breathing in Couch's exalted climes, Warren says "there's an old wheeze that says 'Above 10,000, use oxygen.'"

However, a healthy person can survive at altitudes above 10,000 feet for a long time.

"There are people living in the Andes that are at higher elevations than that," said Warren.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to

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