(Last updated on: 30/10/2020)
When I told people that I bought my husband a wing walking experience for his birthday they thought I was crazy. But I knew that he would absolutely love it! Wing Walking is cool, it’s unusual and most importantly (for my husband), it provides an incredible thrill!
Are you considering wing walking? Here’s everything you should know…
- What is wing walking?
- Where did it actually come from?
- Some famous wing walkers from the 20th century
- Wing walking in the 21st century
- Is wing walking safe?
- Are there any restrictions?
- Where can you go wing walking in the UK?
- How much does it cost to go wing walking?
- Is there anywhere else you can experience this thrill?
- Is there another type of wing walking?
- Wing walking: Are you brave enough?
What is wing walking?
Originating in the 1920s, wing walking is the act of moving along the wings of a plane during flight.
Wing walking is usually undertaken on a biplane. That is a fixed-wing aircraft with two wings that are stacked one on top of the other.
Wing walking is still done today! It isn’t as popular as it used to be, and there is only a small number of people and places who do so – but if it is something you’re interested in, then you can definitely experience this exciting extreme sport for yourself. It is definitely an interesting aspect of aviation.
Where did it actually come from?
As mentioned, wing walking as we know it originates from around the 1920s.
However, the first known wing walking instance was actually back in 1911. This was before it became more ‘common’ – Colonel Samuel Franklin Cody built a biplane in England, and took his two stepsons for a flight from Laffan’s Plain. The two boys stood on the lower wing of the plane.
But as mentioned, commercial and public wing walking typically dates back to the 1920s. It was a daredevil stunt during aerial barnstorming shows at this time, and was also seen in plenty of Hollywood movies.
Barnstorming was popular in the United States during the 20s; it was a show during which stunt pilots performed tricks, either alone or in groups which were called ‘flying circuses’. These shows existed to “impress people with the skill of pilots and the sturdiness of planes”.
During the 20s, quite a few people died while doing this, including Ormer Locklear, who you can read about below. This was when it was a new phenomenon, with little to no safety measures in place…But this didn’t stop wing walkers from getting more and more daring with their stunts. Some did handstands while others hung from the wings by their teeth; many learned to transfer from one plane to another.
As time went on, wing walkers began to transfer not only from plane to plane but also from ground vehicles onto planes, such as cars, trains and even boats.
Wing walking was also used by the U.S Air Corps for mid-air refuelling. This allowed for more long distance flights, and was a practical use of the wing walk phenomenon.
Some famous wing walkers from the 20th century
There were plenty of wing walkers who took part in the activity in the 20th century. Some of the more famous ones include:
- 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
- Mabel Cody
As well as the above, Commandant Felix was another famous early wing walker. He was flying his biplane Nieuport-Dunne over France in August 1913, and locked the controls while he climbed out onto the wing – leave the plane to fly itself!
A few years later, in November 1918, Ormer Locklear gave the first public performance involving wing walking stunts. This was at Barron Field in Texas. Some say this instance was what really made wing walking take off as a form of stunt performance – pardon the pun…
Locklear was a stunt pilot and film actor, featuring in The Great Air Robbery (1919) and The Skywayman (1920). It was during the filming of this second film that his plane crashed into the ground due to a lighting issue. He died instantly alongside co-pilot Milton Elliot. The scene was actually included in the film itself.
Wing walking in the 21st century
There are now various companies that will allow you to have a go at wing walking yourself.
This is definitely something for adrenaline-lovers, and many do so for charity.
There are proper safety measures for wing walking now, including proper straps and more.
Pilots are highly experienced and you can even invite your friends and family to watch you prancing about on the wings of a biplane!
For thrill-seekers, it really is one of the best activities you can do! Some call it the ultimate extreme sport, and they just might be right…
Is wing walking safe?
There are strict CAA guidelines in place that all wing walking experience operators (in the UK) must adhere to. This means that it really is a safe activity.
You don’t need any specialist training to take part in a one-off wing walk experience, but professionals do undertake a lot of training as they do so many tricks.
You’ll be already strapped onto the wing before the plane leaves the ground, so there’s no need to be climbing out of the plane – this makes the experience even safer!
Understandably, you need a fair bit of strength for wing walking. Despite being strapped in, the winds are often very strong while you’re up there and you need to be able to keep yourself upright while in the air.
You also need to have a good level of concentration and level-headedness. So while this is definitely something for thrill-seekers, it’s important to be a sensible kind of person if you are planning to partake in an activity like this.
Are there any restrictions?
When it comes to wing walking, there are some restrictions in place. You must be over the age of 18, and generally no older than 75.
You need to be in good health and fitness too.
Different aviation companies have different weight limits for customers – you must generally weigh no more than around 12-13 stone.
Where can you go wing walking in the UK?
The UK is home to a few different locations where you can try this activity. They are as follows:
- Damyns Hall Aerodrome, Essex
- Membury Airfield, Berkshire
- Breighton Aerodrome, Yorkshire
- Wickenby Aerodrome, Lincolnshire
- Compton Abbas Aerodrome, Shaftesbury
- Headcorn Aerodrome, Kent
- Chiltern Park Aerodrome, Berkshire/Oxfordshire border
- Dukeswell Aerodrome, Devon
- Rendcomb Airfield, Cirencester
How much does it cost to go wing walking?
There are different companies that you can book a wing walking experience with.
The whole experience will probably last around one hour and you can purchase a DVD or your experience and other memorabilia too.
Is there anywhere else you can experience this thrill?
The UK is the only place to offer wing walking experiences.
In the United States there are a couple of wing walking schools where you can train to become a professional wing walker, stunts included, either for just a day or as a long term thing.
Is there another type of wing walking?
When flying on a commercial aircraft, you may see people walking on the wing while the plan is taxiing – especially in a small space. They are there to ensure the plane is guided away from any obstacles. This isn’t really the same as the wing walking being discussed in this blog post, but it is something that exists!
Wing walking: Are you brave enough?
My husband had an amazing time wing walking in Berkshire, UK. And we had a great time watching him too! Would you do it? Are you brave enough to wing walk?