A rare combination of events after the first world war created the short lived (in all senses of the term) phenomenon of aerial ‘barnstorming’.
Individual pilots/performers and groups of such people would fly around the United States, giving impromptu air shows featuring various death defying stunts to crowds of amazed onlookers below.
The availability of relatively inexpensive surplus planes from the US Army at the end of World War 1, plus many former army pilots now looking for work (and excitement), the unregulated nature of aviation in the US, and the fascination the general public had with the new concept of air travel all combined to make barnstorming a very popular entertainment.
After many deaths and a growing appreciation of and importance of aviation, the US government introduced the first aviation related regulations in 1926. This, combined with a growing scarcity of remaining flyable surplus planes from WW1, and the death of many of barnstorming’s greatest performers, all lead to a decline in the phenomenon, accelerated by the Great Depression.
Thanks to reader Geoff for sending in this clip of a classic barnstorming act.
While the events are exactly as you see them in the historic footage, the overall act was prepared and staged (as is indicated by the multiple cameras and chase planes for filming the sequence).
The woman performing the stunt is Gladys Ingle, the only female member of one of the most notable barnstorming groups, the ‘13 Black Cats’. She performed 300 times without a parachute, and was famous for riding on the wing of one plane while shooting arrows at a target attached to another. She even pretended to play tennis while wing-surfing.