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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stunt flying refers to any stunts performed in an aircraft. It encompasses aerobatics, wing walking, and transferring from one airplane to another or to a moving vehicle on the ground, such as an automobile or train, and vice versa.


From the Wright brothers to World War I

The Wright brothers showed that motor-powered flight was possible, with their first sustained flight on 17 December 1903. Aerobatics followed within a decade. Frenchman Adolphe Pégoud was the first to fly inverted, on 1 September 1913. On 9 September, Russian Pyotr Nesterov flew the first loop. World War I (1914–1918) was a major impetus to the development of aerobatics.[1] Those who mastered it were more likely to survive dogfights.

The 1920s: era of the barnstormer

After the war ended, some of these pilots used the skills they had mastered by barnstorming to earn a living, traveling across the country performing stunts and providing rides.[2] It was helpful that the US government was selling plentiful, now-surplus Curtiss JN-4 Jenny trainer biplanes for as little as $200;[2] 90% of American World War I pilots had been trained using the Jenny.[3] It was a two-seater, so paying passengers could get their first taste of flying and wing walkers had a place to wait to perform. Barnstormers would often land in a local farmer's field and negotiate to put on a show there, hence the "barn" in barnstorming.

Barnstormers worked individually or in groups called "flying circuses".[2] Probably the most successful of these was the Gates Flying Circus, founded by Ivan R. Gates[4][5] or Gates and Clyde Pangborn[6] in 1921.

Employment was also available in movies. The public's fascination with aviation translated into a demand for films involving flying, with their attendant stunts.[7]

Inevitably, barnstormers attempted more and more dangerous stunts to outdo their competitors, resulting in numerous fatalities and injuries. Eventually, the federal government stepped in to regulate aviation, bringing about the end of barnstorming.[3]


Aerobatic teams

The first military aerobatics team was the Patrouille de France, formed in 1931. Other nations' militaries and a few civilian organizations followed suit: see List of air display teams.


Two biplanes flying, with Ormer Locklear standing on the top wing of the lower airplane
On 1 June 1919 in Atlantic City, Ormer Locklear of Locklear's Flying Circus waited on the top wing of one biplane for a second one trailing a rope ladder.

Ormer Locklear was a pioneer of stunt flying. He joined the United States Army Air Service in October 1917 after the American entry into World War I. Pilot Cadet Locklear was flying with his instructor. He had to interpret a message being flashed to him from the ground to pass a test, but the wing and engine housing blocked his view. So he left the airplane in the hands of his instructor and climbed out onto the wing to read the message, possibly becoming the first wing walker.[8] (He passed the test.) Locklear also perfected such stunts as handstands on the wing. He may have been the first to transfer from one airplane to another in mid-air, in 1919,[7] and from a speeding car to an airplane.[8] He helped develop another standard flying stunt: hanging onto a trapeze or rope ladder with just his teeth.[8] He starred in the 1919 film The Great Air Robbery, in which he performed a mid-air transfer, as well as climbing down into a car.[7] Locklear also headlined the 1920 film The Skywayman, but did not live to see it released. A nighttime stunt went fatally awry. On 2 August 1920, he and co-pilot Milton "Skeets" Elliot were to spiral down perilously close to the ground. The scene was illuminated by searchlights, which were supposed to be turned off when they got as low as was safe to let the pilots know when to pull up. However, the lights were not extinguished, and both men were killed in the ensuing crash.[7]

Other noted stunt pilots include:



  1. ^ "Aerobatics". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (World Air Sports Federation).
  2. ^ a b c "Barnstormers". U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.
  3. ^ a b Correll, John T. (25 January 2021). "Romance of the Air". Air Force Magazine.
  4. ^ "Gates, Stunt Flyer, Ends Life by Leap". The New York Times. 25 November 1932.
  5. ^ "Barnstormers". PBS.
  6. ^ "Pangborn, Clyde Edward". National Aviation Hall of Fame.
  7. ^ a b c d Schiller, Gerald A. (March 2005). "Flying and Dying for Hollywood in the 1920s". Aviation History.
  8. ^ a b c d Onkst, David H. "Wing Walkers". U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.
This page was last edited on 8 April 2024, at 08:23
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