Wing walking

Wing walking

Seen in airshows and barnstorming during the 1920s, wing walking is the act of moving on the wings of an airplane during flight.

The beginning of air walkers

The first powered flight was in 1903 by Orville Wright, the younger of the Wright brothers. A short decade later the airplane in its many configurations made a sensation at expositions, air races, and "air fairs." World War I erupted and wing walking began to take root.

The first wing walker to perform daring stunts was 26 year old Ormer Locklear. Legend has it that he first climbed out onto the lower wings during his pilot training in the Army Air Service during World War I. Undaunted, Ormer just climbed out of the cockpit onto the wings in flight whenever there was a mechanical issue and fixed the problem. [http://www.silverwingswingwalking.com/resource_zone.html Wingwalking History ] ]

On November 8 1918, Locklear wowed the crowd at Barron Field, Texas with his dare devil wing walking stunts. Wing walking was seen as an extreme form of barnstorming, and wing walkers would constantly take up the challenge of outdoing one another. They themselves admitted (or rather proclaimed proudly) that the point of their trade was to make money on the audience's prospect of possibly watching someone die. [http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Explorers_Record_Setters_and_Daredevils/wingwalkers/EX13.htm CentennialOfFlight.gov] - Wing Walkers]

After this first demonstration, wing walkers continued to play an important part in the Army Air Corps (now the U.S. Air Force) and Navy in the advancement of aviation. They were instrumental in the first air to air refueling as well as long distance flight records. In 1921, Wesley May strapped a fuel tank on his back and performed a plane to plane transfer. Additional tests were undertaken and a hose with aide of a wing walker was the next exploration into aerial refueling.

Ormer Locklear lead the charge with his plane to plane transfer and many followed. His female equivalent, the first woman to switch planes in the air, was Ethal Dare.

Some of the many aerialists to become popular were Tiny Broberick, Gladys Ingles, Eddie Angel, Clyde Pangborn, Lillian Boyer, Jack Shack, Al Wilson, Fronty Nichols, Spider Matlock, Gladys Roy, Ivan Unger, Jessie Woods, Charles Lindbergh, and Mabel Cody (niece of Buffalo Bill Cody).

Eight wing walkers died in a relatively short period during the infancy of wing walking and even the great Ormer Locklear himself perished in 1920 while performing a stunt for a film. Variations on wing walking became common, with such stunts as doing handstands, hanging by one's teeth, and transferring from one plane to another. Eventually wing walkers began making transfers between a ground vehicle, such as a car, a boat, or a train, to the plane. Other variations included free-falls ending with a last-minute parachute opening; Charles Lindbergh, whose career in flight began with wing walking, was well-known for stunts involving parachutes. The first African-American woman granted an international pilot license, Bessie Coleman, also engaged in stunts using parachutes. Another successful woman in this profession was Lillian Boyer who performed hundreds of wing walking exhibitions, automobile-to-plane changes, and parachute jumps. [ [http://www.thehenryford.org/museum/heroes/barnstormers/lillianboyer.asp TheHenryFord.org] - Lillian Boyer, "Empress of the Air"]

Flying circuses and air walkers

Flying circuses formed and they featured a variety of stunt performers. Promoters would herald the way with posters hyping up the danger of air walking and the new celebrities that would perform.

Some famous early flying circuses or troops were The Gates Flying Circus, the Flying Aces Air Circus (Jimmy and Jessie Woods), The 13 Black Cats, The Five Blackbirds (an all African American team), Mabel Cody's Flying Circus, Bugs McGowen's Flying Circus, and a troop run by Douglas Davis.

The Gates Flying Circus is perhaps the organization that made the most impression on the public. In one day alone they gave 980 rides. This was done by pilot Bill Brooks at the Steubenville Air show in Ohio. Their one dollar joy ride was a sensation.

When the stock market crash of 1929 occurred it folded many of the more prominent flying circuses, such as: Gates Flying Circus. Smaller operations, such as: Flying Aces, with Jimmy and Jessie Woods, continued until the 1938 Air Commerce Act required them to wear a parachute.

Air walkers after World War II

In the 1970s the stunt men and women still had some restrictions. They had to be attached to the upper wing center section.

In the mid 1970s, Ron David, a pilot and gifted narrator, became the director of the Flying Circus in Bealeton, Virginia. Under his stewardship he returned the air show back to its barnstorming roots and included a wing walking act. Since the Flying Circus aerodrome was a grass field, he asked the CAA to allow the wing walker out of cockpit during flight and return back into the cockpit, so the wing walker could be strapped in for take off and landing. His concern was taking off or landing with a wing-rider on the top wing and the chance of the plane flipping over if it hit a rut in the grass field. He was granted permission.

His first wing walker was Bill FitzSimons, a jumper with the Flying Circus. Bill left to continue his act around the country with pilot Ron Shelley. Jim Bradley, Bill's understudy, stepped in. Jim was a member of the Saint Michael's Angels there in the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton, Virginia. Jim tested and developed the fundamentals of their act.

When his Army duty called him, he chose Hank Henry to continue wing walking with Ron. Hank wing walked a year and Ron advertised for a new wing walker. Nour Jorgensen responded to the ad. Jim Bradley, Hank Henry, and Nour Jurgenson busted the boundaries of wing walking. The stunt work they pioneered is still state of the art and continues to inspire wing walkers around the world.

On November 14 1981 in an event organized by Martin Caidin, 19 skydivers set an unofficial wing-walking world record by standing on the left wing of a Junkers JU-52 aircraft in flight. [Citation
last = Scott
first = Ed
title = Getting Up There
newspaper = Parachutist
pages = 36-39
date = July 2008
]

External links

* [http://www.silverwingswingwalking.com/resource_zone.html, Silver Wings Wing Walking]
* [http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Explorers_Record_Setters_and_Daredevils/wingwalkers/EX13.htm U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission: Wing Walkers]

References


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