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The saga of the flying lawn chair -- a very tall tale

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Larry Walters, one of the more buoyant pilots in aeronautics history, has been brought as low as a California earthworm by the law. A hostile world - or at least the Federal Aviation Administration - ruled earlier this month that Mr. Walters was an illegal flying object when he took off in his aluminum lawn chair , propelled by 42 weather balloons, on a flight from San Pedro to Long Beach. More or less.

At that time, two very agitated - and possibly jealous - jetliner pilots reported Mr. Walters and his lawn chair, cruising along at 16,000 feet. After several months of investigation, the FAA has informed the chaise-longue Lindbergh that he was in violation of at least four sections of the Federal Aviation Act.

He was operating a ''civil aircraft for which there is not currently in effect an airworthiness certificate.''

He had flown within the bounds of an airport traffic area ''without establishing and maintaining two-way communications with the control tower.''

Floating serendipitously on his balloons, he had created ''a collision hazard.'' Worse, he had operated ''an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life and property of another.''

Go ahead and laugh, but if we don't know what an MX missile will do, how can we estimate the destructive potential of a flying aluminum lawn chair?

The idea is enough to earn those jet pilots combat pay - and maybe cost Mr. Walters $1,000 for each of his violations.

We don't want to take cheap shots against bureaucracy in the process of making Mr. Walters into a folk hero. We appreciate that there are an awful lot of aluminum lawn chairs in the country and the FAA has to do something to keep their owners from running to the nearest Balloons Ahoy franchise and making themselves airborne. But if the FAA will forgive our unstatesmanlike attitude, we'd worry a lot less about those jet pilots and the folks in the control towers than we would about all the aces locked into the reclining position, playing at Red Baron.

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