Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Wing Walkers and Stunt Pilots Inspire Us

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Wing Walkers and Stunt Pilots Inspire Us

Article excerpt

I thought of my parents when I heard the news about the wing walker and stunt pilot killed in a crash Saturday at the Vectren Air Show in Dayton, Ohio.

They flew a Waco 9 open-cockpit biplane out of farmers' fields in Wisconsin in the 1930s, sometimes giving rides to the usually- earthbound.

They weren't stunt pilots or wing walkers by any means, although my father did tell a story about having to crawl out on the wing in flight to dislodge a chicken stuck on the landing gear during takeoff.

But in the old, black-and-white photos I have, they do look a lot like Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. I have my father's soft leather helmet, although the fur-lined goggles were lost in some move.

(In another story, my father told of meeting Ms. Earhart once - literally running into her as a teenager as he dashed around a corner at a model aircraft show where she was the featured attraction.)

Such flying back during the Great Depression helped lift spirits. For a few dollars - an enormous sum to spend on entertainment in those days - a farmer or his kids could spend a few minutes seeing their countryside from the air. For many, it was likely the only time they ever flew in an airplane.

For my parents, their piloting days ended when the friend who owned the Waco 9 crashed into a lake with a student and was killed. But those days always seemed to indicate something about their character and sense of adventure. It may have influenced me to become a US Navy aircraft carrier pilot between college and a career in journalism.

Anyone who's done much flying at the controls of an aircraft is familiar with John Gillespie Magee's line about having "slipped the surly bonds of Earth" from his poem "High Flight." (Magee was a 19 year-old American flying Spitfires with the Royal Canadian Air Force when he was killed in a training accident four days after Pearl Harbor. …

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