Saturday, July 5, 2008

Kent Couch: Oregon Man Pilots Lawn-Chair to Idaho

9 Hours, 235 Miles, 150 Balloons

Kent Couch is no couch potato.

Couch, a 48-year-old gas station owner from Grants Pass, OR, attached 150 giant party balloons to a lawn chair, filled them with helium and sailed away into the wild blue yonder.

Well, into Idaho over the Fourth of July weekend.

Reports said that Couch's goal was to fly 300 miles or more from "his gas station in central Oregon to somewhere in Idaho, preferably Boise."

If at first you don't succeed, fly, fly again. This was Couch's third attempt at lawn-chair flying.

“The first time, nobody wanted to be involved at all,” Mr. 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 part of a small, but dedicated group of flying lawn-chair enthusiasts.

* Priest Tethered to Helium Balloons Still Missing off Coast of Brazil, details the exploits of these brave, some say crazy, souls, including Couch's earlier attempts.

Mr. 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. A gust of wind blew away that chair. It was found in May by a ranchers checking the fence line on their eastern Oregon property.

Couch said that while flying in a lawn chair tied to ballooons is "inherently risky, the ride is generally carefree".

Couch's flying machine may be somewhat primitive, but his flying technique is also low-tech.

“If I get up around 15,000 feet, I'll pop a couple balloons,” Mr. 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. You can't feel yourself going up and down. You have to look at the altimeter.”

So how did Kent Couch do? Did he make it, or will there be a fourth attempt?

The Aerodynamics of Flying a Lawn Chair Powered by Helium Balloons

* LIFT: Each giant helium-filled balloon gives about four pounds of lift. Couch's lawn-chair getup weighs about 400 pounds; Couch and his parachute, about 200. About 150 balloons are needed to lift the total of 600 pounds into the air.

* MEASUREMENTS: Couch uses an altimeter, a device which shows how high off the ground he is. Parachutists use an watch-like altimeter strapped to their wrists--Couch probably used one of these. Some reports also said he carried a Global Positioning System device.

* CONTROLS: To descend, Kent Couch uses a BB-gun pistol to pop a few balloons. A blow gun with steel darts was also used, according to some reports.

"I'd go to 30,000 feet if I didn't shoot a balloon down periodically," Mr. Couch said.

To gain altitude, he dumps some of the 45 gallons of Kool-Aid he brings along.

* COMMUNICATION: Couch's communication system consisted of a satellite phone.

Kent Couch created a sensation in the tiny farming community of Cambridge, Idaho, where he touched down safely in a pasture and was soon greeted by dozens of people who gave him drinks of water, local plumber Mark Hetz said.

"My wife works at the City Market," Mr. Hetz said. "She called and said, 'The balloon guy in the lawn chair just flew by the market, and if you look out the door you can see him.'"

"We go outside to look, and lo and behold, there he is. He's flying by probably 100 to 200 feet off the ground.

"He takes his BB gun and shoots some balloons to lower himself to the ground. When he hit the ground he released all the little tiny balloons. People were racing down the road with cameras. They were all talking and laughing."

The 235-mile journey by helium-balloon-in-lawn-chair took about nine hours.

Couch was encouraged by his trusty spouse, Susan.

"He's crazy."

What's does the future hold for Kent Couch?

One report said that "if all goes well this year, the lawn-chair pilot says he'd like to fly across the English Channel and even Australia."

The world is your oyster--once you've flown to another state in your lawn-chair.

* Man flying to Idaho in chair
* The Flying Lawn Chair Open Registration Thread - Closed
* Lawn-chair pilot lands safely in Idaho

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