Baghdad flight for chair balloonist
Lawn-chair balloonist Kent Couch has boarded a plane for a journey he hopes will end in Iraq with a safe launch and landing beneath a huge cluster of party balloons.
Mr Couch made headlines worldwide in 2008 when he flew a specially rigged garden chair supported by more than 150 helium-filled party balloons from the car park of the petrol station he owns in Oregon to an Idaho field. The trip spanned 235 miles.
Mr Couch said Iraqi daredevil Fareed Lafta invited him to Baghdad for a November 15 flight at a youth conference in the Green Zone. Mr Couch plans to rig 300 balloons to lift the two men sitting in a pair of garden chairs for an overnight flight of 400 miles at 25,000 feet, which will require oxygen masks.
"Now that Saddam Hussein is gone, and the US is pulling out, it is time Iraq really steps up and begins to dream about putting the country back together," Mr Couch said.
"I think between having a US citizen and an Iraqi citizen launch together, where we are saying we are fulfilling our dream, it will encourage them to dream, knowing the sky is the limit if they just reach out and try," he said.
He has sent a pair of garden chairs, the framework to support them, and hundreds of party balloons to Dubai, where Mr Lafta lives.
"I said, 'Do you have any lawn chairs?'" Mr Couch said of his contacts with Mr Lafta. "He says, 'What?' I emailed a picture of one, and he said, 'I've never seen one of those. Better send a couple.' So I sent over a couple."
Mr Couch said he did not try to sent a BB gun to shoot out balloons for landings, because he thought it would not get past baggage inspectors.
"(Mr Lafta) said, 'If you need guns, we've got lots of them here,'" Mr Couch said. "I said, 'OK, we'll figure something out'."
Mr Couch said his biggest fear is floating into neighbouring Iran, but he hopes to have favourable winds. "I'm pretty confident we can make 25,000 feet," he said.