How did you get started wing walking?
In 1990 I answered an advertisement in the Washington Post. The Flying Circus was looking for a new wing walker.
This ad was also seen in Jay Leno's book "Headlines IV"
I spent a month learning the routine on the ground and after numerous times practicing, was prepared to take a try in the air after one of the shows. Time did not permit that and it turned out that my very first time walking on the wing while airborne was my very first airshow.
What did your first wing walk feel like?
It was the most incredible combination of adrenaline, excitement, apprehension and fear. I liken it to riding a roller coaster for the first time. You have no idea what it will feel like and no way to prepare. As the wheels click on the rails climbing up that first hill, your heart sinks to your stomach. You become hesitant, but after that initial drop, the worst is over and you are prepared for the rest. The remainder of the ride is still scary, but now you know what to expect and you never hesitate to climb aboard and ride again. This is, of course, if you like roller coasters. It's not a job for the faint of heart.
Did you ever have a close call?
No, and we never plan to. We take what we do seriously. We take every safety precaution imaginable from the impeccably maintained airplane to our current skill levels. We make sure that we are top notch physically and emotionally and never take chances. Every fine detail of the act is thoroughly planned, intensely rehearsed and we never deviate from our plan. What you see us do out there is after an enormous amount of practice and fine tuning, not to mention the airplane goes through microscopic care. It is a managed risk and that is what keeps us alive.
What kind of person does it take to do what you do? (aka Are you Crazy?)
It takes someone in good physical condition of course, but also someone of solid mental capacity as well. Believe it or not, the last person you want on the wing of the airplane is someone who is wild and unabandoned. You need to have a good head on your shoulders and be completely focused.
What type of safety measures do you take?
While transitioning around the airplane I am not attached to it in any way. I follow the 3:1 rule. While transitioning from one point to another I always make sure that at least three points of contact are made at all times with the aircraft. (i.e. two hands & one foot, one hand & two feet). The only other rule that I follow is when I or the airplane are upside down, I am attached. I do attach myself to the airplane during any aerobatic maneuver and while hanging from the N strut. It does not assist me in any way, but is there as a safety precaution.
Do you wear a parachute?
I do not wear a parachute, nor do most other wing walkers. There are two big reasons. One, we are at too low of an altitude. We remain low so the crowd can see, and never gain enough altitude to deploy the chute in time. Two, there is too great of a risk that the chute could accidentally deploy by getting caught in the wires. That would be fatal for both the wing walker and the pilot. Not to mention, it is much easier to maneuver around the airplane without it.
How do you train?
Living in the Northeast, there was no way to keep walking through the winter months, so I make sure that I stay fit both in cardio and strength by adhering to a strict workout including weight training and aerobics. I keep this rigorous routine throughout the year to ensure that I remain at peak performance.
Is there somewhere I can learn to wing walk (i.e. training camp)?
Believe it or not, I get this request a lot. Unlike sky diving or bungee jumping, wing walking is very expensive and a rare opportunity. The airplane I walk on cost in excess of $250 per hour to run, that does not include insurance, maintenance, hangar fees, etc. It would not be cost effective to let others walk along the wings of an unprotected $100,000+ airplane. Not to mention, the liability involved in someone risking their life. A person usually learns to wing walk when there is a job opening and a need for a wing walker. Otherwise, there usually is no need. There are very few pilots who will let a skilled wing walker on their wing, much less an inexperienced one and even fewer who are trained as a wing walking pilot. The risks of damage to the airplane are too great and even what seems like simple damage such as a cracked rib is very expensive and time consuming to repair. One broken rib, which can be broken from simply placing your foot on the wrong spot, requires the wing fabric to be cut open and then repaired extensively. It can be thousands of dollars to fix just one rib. Not to mention the airplane would be out of service causing loss in revenue. So you will probably never see someone using their airplane for "joy rides" on the wing. Also, if someone decided to charge money for it, most could not afford just one ride.
These are Stearman Wings uncovered (they actually belong to Aurora).
Notice the very delicate rib structures that can easily be broken.
Also, notice the spar along front of the wing.
Where the ribs cross the spar is the only place you can step.
What airspeeds do you fly?
During the straight and level portions of the routine we are cruising around 80-90 MPH. During the diving portions of aerobatic flight we reach speeds up to 140 MPH.
What do you tell your kids when they want to do something risky, like ride on their handlebars?
Although what I do is very dangerous, I am also an adult. My children were raised at airshows and they have seen me wing walking since they were born. They have also been around during all the training, meticulous preflights, practices and shows. I have always tried to teach them that what we do is dangerous and it should never be done, like so many other things in life, without proper instruction and training.
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