My Wingwalker

If you think it’s nerve-wracking on the wing, try being the one in the cockpit.

Peggy Krainz and pilot David Potuznik go for a spin over Gmunden, Austria. Krainz is also a general aviation flight instructor and plans to train wingwalkers. (Cornelius Braun)
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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.

In 1975, Joe Hughes, who had one of the most spectacular wing acts of the decade, did get too close to the ground. Right before doing his act at Reno, where the high desert air is thin and quirky, a World War II T-6 trainer slammed into the ground during an air race. The show manager launched Hughes to keep the action going. All was well until he rolled over for an inverted ribbon cut. Then a fierce downdraft pushed the Stearman down. The wingwalker, gymnast Gordon McCollom, was killed when his body scraped the ground. The Stearman's rudder ripped off before Hughes could climb again, roll upright, and land the airplane.

Pilon and I flew only two shows. The first was at Joplin, Missouri, in June 2001, right after she and Jim Franklin got married; the second was at the Harley-Davidson rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, in 2002, shortly before they split up. Now she has her own act, Third Strike Wingwalking, with her own Stearman and three pilots she trains herself.

I haven't seen the Human Fly lately, but when I do, I owe him an apology.

About Debbie Gary

Freelance writer Debbie Gary is a former Bede Jet Team pilot who still gets a thrill out of airshows.

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