“Lawn chair” balloonist to set sail from Oregon, seeks record

BEND, Oregon | Sat Jul 14, 2012 9:56am EDT

BEND, Oregon (Reuters) – A balloonist who once flew 235 miles in a lawn chair tied to a bouquet of helium-filled party balloons will fly again on Saturday, this time with a co-pilot, seeking to set a Guinness World Record for the longest two-man cluster balloon flight.

Gas station owner Kent Couch, dubbed the “lawn chair balloonist,” will set off from his Stop & Go station in Bend, Oregon, carried by 350 multi-colored balloons and guided only by the wind. With him will be with Iraqi national Fareed Lafta, with whom he is preparing to partner in a similar flight from Baghdad in October.

The pair will have parachutes in case of emergency.

Previous flights have taken Couch as far as Cambridge, Idaho, in 2008 – his personal best.

“It’s a preflight for our trip to Iraq to bring more awareness to the orphans,” Couch said. He said Lafta contacted him a year ago and asked to join him on a cluster balloon flight to raise funds for children orphaned by the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Couch, who hopes to make it to Montana this time, invited Lafta to pick out a comfortable lawn chair and join him.

“A lot of people have contacted me over the years about flying, but Fareed was by far the most sincere,” Couch said. “I went to the orphanages with him and saw the children there. And Fareed also has lots of sky-diving experience. Now I’ll have someone to share my inflight experiences with.”

Couch lays informal claim to most of the world’s records for cluster balloon flight, including highest altitude achieved and furthest distance traveled. This time, he wants to set a new distance record.

But to Couch, the real appeal of cluster balloon flight is the sensation of being in the open air at 15,000 feet.

“There is perfect peace up there,” he said. “Even though the breeze is carrying you, you feel no wind at all.”

Does he ever contemplate meaning-of-life issues as the balloon rises above the earth?

“I am a God-fearing man, a believer in Jesus Christ,” he said. “But I don’t consider cluster balloon flight death-defying. When people say that it kind of just eggs me on.”

“Balloon flight is really quite simple. You have 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms) of lift in the balloons, and 1,350 pounds (612 kg) of weight and ballast. What goes up must come down.”

The only question this year, as in the past, is exactly where Kent Couch will come down.

(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Vicki Allen)

Reuters: Oddly Enough

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