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 4 of 5)
I began to fly a longer, more complete routine. After takeoff, Pilon stayed on the javelin while I did a series of maneuvers, careful to keep the G forces positive, as negative Gs would fling her off her perch. I saved the hesitation rolls, inverted flight, and snap rolls for when she was up top.
The point is to showcase your wingwalker, like a ballet dancer showcases his ballerina. Put her first. Fly the airplane so spectators can see her move across the wing. Fly at an angle to silhouette her as she moves from javelin to cockpit. Get low and slow when the aerobatics are finished and she is hanging behind the wing rack like a hood ornament.
I did only a few wingwalking performances over two summers, so my show remained fairly simple. But Jim Franklin, who did not know the meaning of restraint, did some extraordinary maneuvers. His wingwalkers had to be tough.
"He put us through the wringer," Kyle says. "He was the first to do a torque roll and a tailslide with a wingwalker and even did a lomcevak and inverted three-ribbon cut with Kazian for 'That's Incredible.' "
In a tailslide, the airplane starts out pointed straight up, then slides backward until it whipstalls forward or back and then falls. In the torque roll, the aircraft does the same thing, but rolling as it descends tail-first. Kyle describes it from on the wing: "Once you get to the top of the torque roll, you don't realize you are moving. The engine is going full blast, but you are not moving anymore. The wind dies down and you could strike a match. Then you don't realize you are falling backwards until you start going back through the smoke, and then, as soon as you fall out of it, you have that sudden jolt of it falling over on its back, or forwards. Then Dad normally pulled around for a snap roll, which was like being a ball on the end of a string."
Pilon says, "With the snap roll you get swung out, then you get stuck in this negative-G kind of area where you are almost floating, then all of a sudden you get snapped back into the rack again and you are going the other way, like a zigzag carnival ride."
During the lomcevak, which is a wild series of twists with an end-over-end tumble, Kazian wore a parachute, though normally a wingwalker never would. Kyle says, "If the parachute ever got snagged and opened accidentally, all the flying wires become giant razor blades, the whole airplane becomes a shredder as it pulls you through, and you are going to destroy the airplane as you go."
In the early 1950s, Marion Cole and his brothers Duane and Lester did a three-airplane, three-wingwalker act in which Marion rolled inverted and cut a ribbon with his wingwalker on board while his brothers stayed upright, flying formation on his wings. Cole says all the wingwalkers used to fight for the chance to do it with him, even though flying with your head that close to the ground sounds outrageously scary.