Pride before the fall
I was once told by a proponent of tetherless wing walking that the foremost reason for not using safety cables was to authentically reproduce the genuine wing walking techniques of the barnstorming era. I kind of rolled my eyes into the back of my head upon hearing this response. If authenticity was such a valued asset, I wondered how the use of metal stanchions and supped up 450hp Stearmans was excused but then again, who was I to judge?
I thought that I might go and try to educate myself further on the matter and this is what Charlie had to say about it:
“The day I stood on top of an airplane while it looped, I was tied on as safely as thought I had been strapped in my cockpit. Dangerous as that stunt seemed to the man on the ground, there was really little danger involved. I had rigged up my own harness with several times the safety factors needed. I made metal heel cups. Like those on roller skates, with straps to hold my feet in place. I wore a heavy leather belt around my waist, and attached it to four strong cables which ran to the wing-hinge pins. I might fall down (I did as we came out of the loop), but I could never fall off”
Charles A Lindbergh – The Spirit of St-Louis
I’m no expert and would never claim to be but my friend Slim here, claims that wing walkers of the original barnstorming era did, for the most part, indeed wear tethers and safety harnesses. I’m inclined to believe him as he was actually there and as no one else has come up with a better explanation of how a full grown man can hang from an aircraft in flight, by his teeth, in a non fluoride age.
I have spoken with several tetherless wing walkers about their choice and when confronted with proof that authenticity has nothing to do with it, they revert to “personal choice” as a valid reason for not wearing safety cables. Even when faced with one of their brothers impacting the ground, at center stage and bouncing back 15 feet, they still refuse to even consider wearing a safety cable. Wow! It must be really hard to work with a safety cable and that might explain why those of us working with safety cables seem to always charge a couple of thousand more per show than our unbound counterparts. Hmmm! I wonder what that’s about. *Insert sarcasm, she said*
I have spent over a decade “respecting” these personal choices but that respect has not been reciprocated. There is no mutual respect shown when their failings negatively affect their colleagues on a business level or when they adversely affect the whole of the industry; my industry. Sponsors run away from us, almost screaming, some event producers still view us as amateurish meat bags with nothing better to offer than a scare and the military still refuses to even recognize their own heritage…the wing walking world. Who can blame them when faced with such selfish, narcissistic and vainglorious behaviour?
I have persistently sought to encourage growth and change within the tetherless community but my efforts have been useless in converting even one single wing walker over to a saner world.
Air show producers are being called upon more and more to make responsible selections when recruiting performers. I think that a simple place to start would be to ask if a chosen wing walker wears a tether and then to act accordingly.
The truth of the matter can not be escaped. The only motivating factors in choosing to not use a tether are pride and vanity, neither of which is a good companion on a wing. The only thing served by not wearing a cable is ones own ego and individual egos do not serve the event, the spectator or the industry. Being a wing walker is not about ones self, it’s about being responsible…responsible for yourself, for your pilots, for the spectators well being and also for the next generation, the generation that will be forced to live with the consequences of our mistakes. Personally, I think it would be better if they could benefit from our forethought instead.