Balloonist Baghdad – Balloonist Kent Couch is about to take part in an exciting expedition at a youth center in Baghdad. Couch boarded a plane Thursday for the start of a journey that he hopes will end in Iraq with a safe launch from its capital city.
Couch made headlines worldwide in 2008 when he flew a specially rigged lawn chair supported by more than 150 helium-filled party balloons from the parking lot of the gas station he owns in Bend, Ore., to an Idaho field. The trip spanned 235 miles.
Couch says Iraqi daredevil Fareed Lafta invited him to Baghdad for a Nov. 15 balloonist expedition at a youth conference in the Green Zone. Couch said he was “pretty sure I had hung up my hat on this” before Lafta called. But the timing for another airborne adventure was right.
“Now that Saddam Hussein is gone, and the U.S. is pulling out, it is time Iraq really steps up and begins to dream about putting the country back together,” Couch told The Associated Press from the airport in Redmond, Ore. “I think between having a U.S. 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.”
Couch plans to rig 300 balloons to lift the two men sitting in a pair of lawn chairs for an overnight flight of 400 miles at 25,000 feet, which will require oxygen masks. The flight was first reported by KTVZ in Bend. He has shipped a pair of lawn chairs, the framework to support them, and hundreds of party balloons to Dubai, where Lafta lives. Lafta has gotten the visas and permissions they will need for their flight.
Couch’s original lawn chair from the July 5, 2008, flight is in a museum. He tried to make an even longer flight to Montana last year, but the winds were too strong. He failed to reach Idaho in a 2007 attempt.
The balloonist said he did not try to ship a BB gun to shoot out balloons for landings, because he figured it would not get past baggage inspectors. “Lafta said, `If you need guns, we’ve got lots of them here,'” Couch said. “I said, `OK, we’ll figure something out.'”