October 3, 2013
Joe Barbera didn’t “imagine” himself stuck in a tree. Yet that is just what happened hours after the Washington state man sat back in his lawn chair contraption, attached to 80 helium balloons, and lifted off.
The Columbian reported in late June that Barbera flew as high as 15,000 feet in his lawn chair aircraft he called “Imagine” before landing in a tree, perched about 40 feet in the air.
"I couldn't have asked for a better tree," Barbera told The Columbian. "The craft was suspended upright in an amazingly stable posture," he said. However, the height was "too far to jump and too far to fall."
A Skamania County sheriff's deputy and the Volcano Rescue Team scaled the tree and brought Barbera back to the ground.
It's been a lifelong dream for the half retired, half unemployed engineer to make such a trip, KATU.com reported. Barbera and his friends made the “aircraft” in his driveway in one month, and they used no plans and no models.
The “aircraft” included sand ballast, a BB gun so he could shoot out the balloons once he was ready to land, a mobile radio so he could stay in touch with his crew on the ground, and oxygen for when he was above 12,000 feet high.
While Barbera hoped to fly at least 268 miles, which would have broken the world record, he only flew about 25 miles in four hours.
Is he crazy?
"Crazy, but not stupid," he told KATU-TV. "This is reasonably well engineered."
Yet the cluster-balloon flight was likely his last, Barbera told The Columbian. "I would do it again in a minute. And I would do it better.
"Will I? Highly unlikely,” Barbera said. “I can't imagine mustering that much manpower again.”
The flight cost about $5,000 for helium alone.
Barbera isn’t the first to take a lawn chair to the sky. Larry Walters took a flight in 1982 that saw him go over LAX and got him arrested when he landed. More recently, Kent Couch, from Bend, Oregon, made multiple flights from 2006-12, but in July he told The Commercial Appeal in Memphis that his flying days were likely over, at least in the U.S., because of the high price of helium and a $4,500 fine from the Federal Aviation Administration for his 2012 flight with Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta.
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