Wing walking, a daredevil stunt that first appeared in aerial displays in the 1920s, involved moving along a biplane’s wings while it was in flight.
It began in the 1920s at aerial barnstorming events as a showcase of the balance and stability of the planes, progressed to in-flight mechanical adjustments and fixes, and finally developed into stunts.
These wing performers of the sky would try more challenging stunts as they became more complex, including handstands, hanging by the teeth, and switching from one aircraft to another.
In the past, Wing Walkers would openly (and occasionally with pride) confess that the purpose of their performances was to capitalize on the possibility of the audience witnessing a fatality.
It was truly a terrifying experience for the wing-walker. It was enticing to remain still and just freeze. If you were going to move, you had to grasp onto something strong enough to support your weight in the face of the wind blowing at a speed of almost 100 miles per hour.
According to observers and historians, the “first rule” of wing-walking was to hang on to what you have until you can get a hold of something better.
Richard Schindler practices a stunt. 1919.
Ormer Locklear, a 26-year-old American, was one of the first wing walkers who pulled off risky stunts. During training, he would climb onto the wings of his plane to repair mechanical problems without having to land.
Later, as part of the aerial show movement of the 1920s, he would become one of the pioneering daredevils to perform feats in front of the public. Sadly, he would ultimately lose his life while performing a wing-walking stunt.
Tiny Broderick, Gladys Ingle, Eddie Angel, Virginia Angel, Mayme Carson, Clyde Pangborn, Lillian Boyer, Jack Shack, Al Wilson, Fronty Nichols, Spider Matlock, Gladys Roy, Ivan Unger, Jessie Woods, Bonnie Rowe, Charles Lindbergh, and Mabel Cody were a few of the numerous aerialists who gained popularity. In the early days of wing walking, eight people perished in a relatively short amount of time.
Wing walking launched Charles Lindbergh’s career in aviation, and he was famous for his parachuting exploits. Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to receive a license to fly internationally, also performed feats involving parachutes.
A wing walker stands on one leg on the wing of a Curtiss ‘Flying Jenny’ biplane in the air New Jersey. 1920.
Lillian Boyer, who did countless wing-walking exhibitions, car-to-plane transitions, and parachute jumps, was another accomplished woman in this field.
Elrey Borge Jeppesen, now famous for creating air navigation manuals and charts, joined Tex Rankin’s Flying Circus around 1925; one of his duties involved wing walking. He was only eighteen years old at the time.
Naturally, there were a few accidents. While making a movie, Ormer himself went awry. Without parachutes or safety wires connecting them to the aircraft, these wing-walk pioneers were working without a safety net. Our courageous performer or performer was on the high dive after a slip of the foot.
American authorities determined that parachutes must be worn in 1938. The 1940s marked the end of the wing-walking heyday, but skilled pilots continue to pull off tricks in rebuilt vintage biplanes even today.
Wing walkers show off above and below a biplane. 1920.
Famous wing walker Lillian Boyer dangles from the wing of a biplane. 1922.
Lillian Boyer, 1922.
Lillian Boyer hanging from right-wing boom using her right hand, circa the 1920s.
Gladys Engle balances atop a biplane. 1926.
Gladys Roy walks the wings of a Curtiss JN-4 ‘Jenny’ biplane over Los Angeles while blindfolded. 1924.
Gladys Ingle, a female wing walker.
Richard Schindler practices a trick on a Klemp plane piloted by Richard Perlia. 1927.
Billy Bomar and Uva Kimmey of the Howard Flying Circus wing-walk on a biplane over New York State. 1930.
Juanita Jover takes a ride strapped to the wings of her boyfriend, stunt pilot Lewis Benjamin’s Tiger Moth biplane. 1962.
Jacqui Cheesman rides the wing of a Tiger Moth biplane at Wycombe Air Park, Buckinghamshire, England. 1968.
Moira Boyd strapped onto the wing of a Tiger Moth biplane at Wycombe Air Park. 1968.
John Kazian mounts the wing of a Stearman Trainer plane flying over Niagara Falls. 1971.
Carol Lynne rides atop a biplane piloted by her husband over Toronto. 1982.
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