Wing Walking Is the Fine Art of Strapping Yourself to a Biplane

If deep sea diving, high-stakes casino gambling, and eating off the late-night Taco Bell menu just aren’t dangerous enough for you, it’s time to think bigger. Thankfully, there’s no end to the insane, Jackass-level experiences that human beings can think up. Enter: wing walking.

wing walking 1930s
Wingwalkers Gladys Roy and Ivan Unger playing a casual game of tennis thousands of feet above the ground in 1925.

The premise of wing walking is simple. Flyers are tethered to the top wing of an authentic vintage biplane, like the 1930s Boeing Stearman. It’s an expensive, well-built, and damn-near-bulletproof military craft designed for high-g aerobatics training. With the flyer secured, a highly skilled pilot takes the plane up as high as 1,000 feet. Still tethered to the wing, the flyer is subjected to insane aerial maneuvers including barrel rolls and low-level ground fly-bys before typically ending with a pulse-pounding 140-mph dive of several hundred feet straight down. The entire experience lasts around 10-15 minutes.

The “sport” (if you can call it that) is rooted in the pioneering days of early aviation. Like in the air shows of today, post-World War daredevil pilots performed reckless, death-defying stunts in an attempt to one-up each other. These would often culminate in pilots kicking control over to their co-pilot while the lead man stepped out onto the wing of his own plane mid-flight. It’s no surprise that deaths were common.

breitling wingwalkers
Breitling Wingwalkers

Suffice to say that, with today’s stricter and more sensible laws and insurance requirements, modern day wing walking is a far safer experience. Almost anyone in reasonably good health can do it, as there are few requirements. Flyers typically need only be over 18 years old and not be too overweight (exact weight restrictions vary by provider). Every passenger is provided an hour or so of ground school training before taking to the sky. As there is no way for flyers to communicate with their respective pilots, the only sign worth knowing is two thumbs down. Translation: “Get me the hell back on the ground!: Other than that, there isn’t much to know or do; just enjoy the ride.

From Washington state to the United Kingdom, adrenaline-addicted travelers can find wing walking experiences throughout the world. However, the U.K. seems to have a lock on the sport. Expect to pay north of  $700 for the experience. Of course, you could find cheaper options, but this probably isn’t the sort of thing you want to cheap out on, is it?

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