Kent Couch takes Cluster Balloons Ride from Bend, Oregon
Kent Couch fulfilled his childhood dream of flying by cluster balloon Saturday, July 7, 2007. For Kent, the intrigue of flying by balloons never faded with adulthood. While watching a show on the Discovery Channel years ago about Larry Walter’s lawn chair helium balloon ride in 1982, Kent became moved. Armed with his insatiable curiosity, Kent Couch began preparing to fly by cluster balloon. On September 18, 2006, Kent made his first attempt launching his custom-made cluster balloon lawn chair from Bend, Oregon. He was in the air for six hours before resorting to a parachute landing into Brothers, Oregon. Although Kent Couch’s first flight experience had many triumphs, there were many glitches and hiccups. Before long, Kent began planning another cluster balloons flight, this time equipped with the experience of his first trip.
On his maiden voyage, Kent carried a BB gun to shoot down balloons when he wished todecrease his altitude because the balloons were placed out of reach. On his most recent cluster balloon flight, Kent Couch reconfigured his balloon pattern, placing balloons within arms reach, enabling him to reach up and release small amounts of helium. This alteration allowed Kent to descend at a more gradual pace. Kent and his team also created an ingenious method of ballasting. By placing four large bags of water on the corners of his cluster balloon craft, Kent was able to keep himself anchored at an appropriate altitude and also kept the base of his lawn chair level to the ground. These and many other small improvements made Kent Couch’s July 7th flight a true success.
With the support of his wife, five children, his Chihuahua, Isabelle, and his friends, Kent Couch launched at 6:06 AM Saturday morning from his Stop and Go Shell Gas Station, located on U.S. Highway 20 and Northeast 27th Street in Bend, Oregon. Equipped with 105 party balloons attached to a reinforced lawn chair, his video camera, cell phone, GPS, a knife, and on board snacks, Kent was ready to have a pleasant cluster balloon ride.
Meanwhile on the ground, Kent Couch had his very own three-vehicle road team (including his wife, sister, and cohorts) following his flight with the intention of arriving at the landing site prior to him to assist with controlling the chair. When Kent began to approach the La Grande, Oregon area, he only had one gallon of water (eight pounds of ballast left). He also knew that what lay ahead included Hells Canyon and other terrain that he was not prepared to take on.
Considering his options, Kent decided continuing on to Idaho was too risky. Kent made two landing attempts before expiring his water/ballista reserve. Having no more water meant that Kent had no more up power. Skimming the ground at around 20 mph, Kent tucked and rolled into a wheat field in North Powder, Oregon. There was a rope attached to the chair for the ground crew to assist Kent in bringing the cluster balloon craft in but the ground crew was not there yet. So Kent grabbed ahold of the rope before the chair took off. Without the weight of Kent and his parachute, the cluster balloons now had a 200 pound lift differintiation. This meant Kent, without gloves, was attempting to keep 200 pounds on the ground with a tiny rope. Before long, Kent could not hold on and the chair shot into the air with his cell phone, video camera and GPS. But he had survived and at the end of the day that is really what mattered to him and his family.
Kent Couch started his journey with the simple childhood fantasy of floating through the clouds with a helium balloon. Who could have imagined that a Bend, Oregon family man and owner of the local Stop and Go Shell Gas Station would achieve his dream and in the process inspire the nation.