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Some young boys dream of playing for the NFL or driving a race car in the Indy 500. Kent Couch wanted to soar among the clouds.
The 48-year-old owner of the Stop and Go gas station in Bent, Ore., has achieved that dream not once, but three times, with the help of a lawn chair and hundreds of balloons.
It was a truck driver who first inspired Couch’s pursuits — in 1982, trucker Larry Walters soared over Los Angeles in a lawn chair attached to 45 weather balloons. Walters, who reached a height more than three miles above land was later fined by the FAA after air traffic controllers at Long Beach airport reported him.
Couch stays closer to the ground by popping balloons with a BB gun when he gets too high. On his first endeavor, in 2006, he popped too many too quickly and had to use a parachute to safely return to the ground. But by his next flight in July 2007, he struck the right balance and successfully traversed 193 miles across Oregon.
On his most recent flight July 5, aided by 150 helium-filled party balloons, Couch specifically aimed to cross state lines. After lift-off at 6:44 a.m., he made it 235 miles to Cambridge, Idaho, near the Snake River. At his fastest, Couch estimates he was traveling 49 miles an hour, and the flight took just over nine hours.
Six vehicles followed closely under Couch, including medical personnel in case of emergency. The ground crew reached Couch shortly after he landed in a field, where he was greeted by excited townspeople, one of whom handed him an ice-cold beer.
“If I had the time and money and people, I’d do this every weekend,” Couch told the Associated Press. “Things just look different from up there.”
Watch video of Couch’s flight at his website, www.couchballoons.com.