Daredevils of the Sky
Evel Knievel wasn’t the first daredevil to do crazy life-threatening stunts. The “Jenny” was instrumental to the popularity of barnstorming. This hair-raising form of entertainment featured stunt pilots who would perform tricks such as playing tennis on the plane’s wing, hanging from the plane by their feet or even dancing the Charleston.
Barnstormers were also known as “gypsy flyers” and, quite appropriately, “flyin’ fools”. Famous barnstormers include both men and women such as Bessie Coleman (first woman of African-American and Native-American descent to hold a pilot’s license), Clyde “Upside Down” Pangborn, Katherine Stinson (first woman to complete the ‘loop-the-loop’), and Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh was a ‘wing walker’ early in his career. Barnstorming had no age restrictions, either. Mildred Unger, a 10-year-old girl, did the Charleston 2000 feet in the air.
The era of barnstorming was cut short in 1925 when the Contract Air Mail Act was signed into effect by President Calvin Coolidge and the government began regulating aviation. After the Air Commerce Act was signed into law, all management responsibilities of air routes moved over to the Department of Commerce which was also responsible for plane and pilot licenses as well as establishing safety regulations. That, in addition to political pressure from local pilots who claimed barnstormers were taking their business as well as the increase in deaths and accidents, put an end to the barnstorming era.