How does the idea of wing walking an airplane which is flying at 80 mph at an altitude of 3500 ft while performing aerobatics with only a cable attached to your harness sound? Crazy right? I surely did find it extra-crazy and being an adrenaline junkie, it was hard to resist giving a try. I push my limits once in a while and this wing walking experience definitely took me far. When I first stumbled upon this few months back, I was dumbfounded at the idea of it and eagerly waited for summer to try this. I showed the video to my colleague, Nikos and he was interested too. On 07/15/2017, even though the forecast was only perfect for half of the day, we chose to visit Sequim. The location was only 2.5 hours drive from Seattle, so the close proximity really helped us to be flexible and we booked for the spots only the day before. Also, I think there are only 2 places in entire world where they actually train for wing walking for public.
We started at 7.15 AM and we drove in Nikos’s car to reach Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula. The drive was scenic with canals, bridges, mountains and weather was with us too. When we neared the location, we could see houses with huge yards surrounding them and the fun part was the houses had planes in their backyards. Our stop was at Mason Wing Walking Academy where we spent the rest of the day. We had reached early and the owners were still not quite ready so their friend Al showed us around. I loved the feel of the place – I could see Olympics mountains at one end and the waters in strait of Juan de Fuca in the other with a private airstrip in the midst of the open land. We went into the hangar which housed 2 Stearmans – Red and Black and 1 other small plane. We met the owners, Mike and Marilyn Mason – and one other lady who I will refer as Wonder Woman. This 50 year old lady had come with the Wonder Woman costume for the wing walking and it looked awesome.
Marilyn took charge of the instructions and one of the first things she asked was if we knew what we had signed up for. She started explaining everything she could about the flight, walk, safety, gear, etc. She also got snacks and water for us which was quite handy. We would fly on the Black Stearman that day and all the training happened in the hangar. The Stearman biplane is a 2 seater, 2 winged plane with room to get on both of the wings. The propeller in front is powered by 9 cylinders. The Red Stearman – the one shown on the website was under maintenance. The basic idea of training was to understand structure of the plane and repeatedly perform the movements so that the muscles themselves can memorize the moves. The training drill was in the following sequence. We didn’t have Mike while training, so we just imagined him to be there –
- Attach the cable to the harness, get into the plane and secure the seat belt
- Mike, the pilot wing wags the plane to signal to look at him
- He directs to trek to the upper wing rack
- We reach the upper wing rack, place our legs in foothold and get ourselves strapped to the belt
- We signal him for aerobatics by showing thumps up
- Mike performs the aerobatics – Hammer head, drum rolls and loops
- Mike wing wags and then signals to come back to the seat
- Mike wing wags again and then signals you to walk on the wing to Javelin
- We walk on the side wing and lie on the javelin
- Mike performs the aerobatics again
- Mike wing wags to signal to come back to the seat
*Mike would reduce the speed to about 50 mph and level the plane whenever we are moving around.
Wing walking is different from wing riding where in the latter you are strapped in a specific location from the start to end. Marilyn also showed us signs that we could use to let Mike know what we were comfortable with and how much aerobatics we would want. We tried segments of above drill multiple times so that the body could get used to it. It was quite scary imagining the experience from the wing rack and the fear started to rise in me. Marilyn was very sweet and explained all the questions we had. Also, this academy is family owned, so the hangar was right beside their house. Mike and Marilyn have 7 kids. 4 year old girl Sophie and a 7 year old boy Sammy were with us for most of the day which lightened the mood. They were extremely cute kids and I totally loved their presence. We cracked many jokes too and it was a nice jovial experience. Marilyn reminded us to look at the cameras and showed us various poses which we could take. I slowly got the hang of the drill, made myself aware of all the handholds/footholds and stuck to my version of specific moves. I thought the trek up-to the upper wing rack was the most difficult part, especially due to the narrow holds to reach there. I started getting slight back pain and worried if it would affect me. I had numerous other doubts too. We went to have lunch in the town and en-route Nikos sped the car to 50 mph and put his hands out to just feel what the force felt like. I don’t like empty stomach, so I ate up-to my comfort and actually felt better after the lunch. After returning, we performed the entire drill 3 times and were ready for the action. The clouds as mentioned in the forecast started appearing but a good video and photo was least concerning thing I had in mind.
Wonder Woman volunteered to go first and Nikos and I decided that we would sort out our order by playing Rock, Scissors and Paper after her flight. Mike got the airplane from the hangar onto the field and started prepping up for the flight. He mounted the gopros to the wings and tail. Wonder Woman got ready and started her adventure. Nikos and I kept our eyes fixed on the plane and watched the maneuvers from the ground. It took around 25 mins for her to return and then we played Rock, Scissors and Paper. I had made up my moves before hand. At first I would do Paper – denoting that I float like a paper during the flight, if tied then the next would be Rock – denoting that I would stand as rock solid and not fall from the flight. The first one tied and I won the second. I had decided to wear my favorite Cornell Sweatshirt and got ready with goggles, ear plugs, gloves, harness and duct tapes for harness. I was very scared but was determined to do it. I got into the plane and we got started. I kept looking down and I think that helped since I was was getting used to the altitude. I kept checking the meters on the plane and my GPS watch for speed and altitude numbers. I put my hands out to gauge the force. The cliffs, waters and surroundings looked amazing and we reached an altitude of around 4000 ft almost into the clouds. Mike wing wagged and I started my trek to upper wing walk. I was focused and got on to the top and secured myself without much fuss. I checked the belt multiple times before signaling to Mike. Then Mike started with the aerobatics – loop, hammer head and barrel rolls. The loop added lot of force and I think I experienced 2-3Gs there. My cheeks were reduced to papers and almost flew off from me. I didn’t feel much cold. But it felt super awesome hanging on the top of the plane above the waters and going upside down. I knew when I would experience 0G during Hammer Head, so I kinda expected it. From the Terror Dactyl ride, I had found that laughing keeps me sane, so I just laughed loudly and throughly enjoyed the experience. According to my watch, we were moving at 100 mph during the aerobatics. I loved the loops and barrel rolls a lot. Mike then signaled to pose for camera and I did the best I could. Then it was time to get down and going down was straightforward too. I just followed the steps from the training and realized how important was it to do it multiple times. Also, I cannot stress how important were goggles and ear plugs. I had a bad experience while sky diving but here it was just perfect. I hardly got a drop in my eye and ears didn’t pain at all.
Then it was time for side wing walking. People had warned about the wind pushing you back and I experienced it after stepping on the wing. Here is where I was most scared. I had to leave a hand and then go to front of the wing and I found quite challenging to make that move with only 1 hand to support me. I took a leap of faith and reached out to the rod on the other side and then started walking on the narrow hard surface on the wing. Wind was pushing hard, but I just focused and reached the Javelin and criss-crossed myself on it. Mike started the aerobatics again and it was fun. I did some superman and other poses and enjoyed the view from there. I could see mountains in the distance and ship. Mike signaled and then it was time to go back. Once I was in the plane I was so glad that I had made it alive. That was the coolest thing I have done in my life yet. Just wow!!!! We landed and I gave some tips for Nikos for this flight. Not once I thought about my neck/back pain and I was completely focused on having a safe and fun adventure. I realized that the scariest part of the day was before getting into the flight. Once in the flight, with the favorable conditions the body somehow manages to take care of yourself. I hardly moved when I was in both positions, while standing I understand the frontal force stuck me the pole but I did not understand how was I so secure on the Javelin. Also, the Dungeness Spit makes an awesome background. Since wing walking happens late afternoon, you would be between Sun and the Spit (Mike makes sure of that) so that you are lit for awesome video and photos. When I told my dad that I did this, he was like “Why had you left undone for so many days?” I was surprised and happy at the same time with his response.
*Best viewed in 480p and above
Though it was an action packed evening, I was delighted with the overall experience with the family. It was so nice to see the husband-wife duo managing the whole thing. Also the presence of the kids and the beautiful surroundings changed the atmosphere. Usually, it feels very commercial during most of the adventures but here it was just like home. We collected our videos and pictures. It was a special moment later to receive the Mason Wing Walking coins from the 4 year old, Sophie. I highly recommend these guys if you want to try wing walking.
- Maximum G Force experienced: 2-3 Gs
- Maximum speed reached: 120 mph
- Maximum altitude: 3900 feet
- Cost for the adventure (videos included): 850$ (Discounts for the group. We paid 750$ each)
- Website: http://masonwingwalking.com/