The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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June 24, 2013

Ohio air crash shows risks, thrill of wing walking

(Continued)

“It’s like running a marathon in a hurricane,” Stokes said. “When you’re watching from the ground it looks pretty graceful, but up there, it’s happening very fast and it’s high energy and I’m really moving fast against hurricane-force winds.”

Stokes, an aerobatic pilot before becoming a wing walker, said she was attracted to performing stunts because of the thrill.

“It is the craziest fun ride you’ve ever been on,” she said. “You’re like Superman flying around, going upside-down doing rolls and loops, and I’m just screaming and laughing.”

John King, pilot and president of the Flying Circus Airshow, where Wicker trained, said the most important qualities of wing walkers are “strong nerves, a sense of adventure and a level head.”

He said they tell people who are interested that it’ll take a year of training before they’ll be allowed to walk on the wing of an airplane in flight.

“We give them an opportunity to walk on a wing down on the ground without the engine running,” he said. “Then we start up the engine. And if that doesn’t spook them, OK, we taxi around the field and that’s when it gets bumpy. If they do that successfully, the next time they do it is in the air.”

He described Wicker, of Bristow, Va., and Schwenker, of Oakton, Va., as “ultimate professionals.”

“I don’t know of anyone who could have done any better than what they were doing,” he said.

In one post on Wicker’s website, the stuntwoman explains what she loved most about her job.

“There is nothing that feels more exhilarating or freer to me than the wind and sky rushing by me as the earth rolls around my head,” says the post. “I’m alive up there. To soar like a bird and touch the sky puts me in a place where I feel I totally belong. It’s the only thing I’ve done that I’ve never questioned, never hesitated about and always felt was my destiny.”

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