If you think it's nerve-wracking on the wing, try being the one in the cockpit.
- By Debbie Gary
- Air & Space magazine, May 2008
(Page 2 of 5)
At the other extreme, when friends suggested Margi Stivers get up on Hartley Folstad's Stearman wing, she first said "Absolutely not." But with her background as a pilot, dancer, and gymnast, she was a natural, and in 1991 she joined the Silver Wings Wingwalking team.
Stivers is the one who gave Pilon a chance to see if she liked wingwalking. In February 2000, Stivers coached her for a day and Folstad took her flying.
"What was it like?" I asked Pilon when we met.
"The first thing that happens is you stick your arm out to reach for the handhold on top of the airplane and your arm almost gets ripped out of its socket," she said. "Then you stand up and scrunch down into the wind blast, kind of like moving through rushing water. You never forget that first blast of air."
She made it onto the top wing, rode a while, then climbed back down. The following summer she hooked up with Jim Franklin, and the summer after that she and Kyle trained me.
Jim flew with me in his Super Cub—the piston Waco has only one cockpit with flying controls. He was not sure a woman would be strong enough to manhandle the Waco and counteract the drag of a wingwalker. It's a big lumbering elephant of an airplane, and it does take muscle to push and pull it through aerobatic maneuvers, but I loved the feeling of using all the strength I had to get an airplane to respond. I flew it solo for a while, then I was ready for my first flight with a wingwalker.
Wingwalking is a circus act. The high wire, the flying trapeze, the act with no net: You produce all these by flying. But first you must master the airplane. I could do that. Then you put a performer on the wing. That person, lightweight and streamlined in a leotard while standing next to you, is in the air transformed to a sack of concrete on a see-saw.
You must deal with this surprise on your first flight. I could do that too. What I was not sure about was the idea of someone's life loose on my wing. I'd seen The Great Waldo Pepper; I'd seen the wingwalker fall off. Never mind that it was just a movie stunt.