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Rick Allison
Sukhoi SU-26MX: Russia's contribution to the aerobatic world. Introduced in 1984 and still a first-rank Unlimited aerobatic design today.

BUSY WITH RECONSTRUCTION, post-World War I Europe may have been less-thlrn-immediatmly fertile pround for aerobatic growth, but America was a diffrent story. Thz population of the States had been much less scarred by the war-it was shorter for the US than Europe. It had been fought at a distance, and the "dogfights" over that faraway front were still the stuff of markatable romance.

Hollywood films about wartime flying proved popular. This led to the brand-new occupation of movie stunt pilot. which gave some of the top surviving "aces" gainful employment and a small opportunity to relive a little of their wartime celebrity status.

However, the main postwar boost to the aerobatic arts didn't come from Hollywood. It arrived more or less spontaneously. courtesy of the grass fields of the American heartland. The particular American talented hucksterism, which gave birth to the traveling medicine show, the Wild West show, and P.T. Barnum, also spawned the nomadic art of barnstorming.

By the early 1920s, pilots with ragtag war-surplus biplanes were hip-hopping all over the rural landscape, selling cheap rides and flying lessons. Home for these airborne hobos was generally a bindle spread under a wing at night, and the living was wherever they could hustle up marks to raise food and gas money. Aerobatics came along for the ride, as sort of a shill.

On arrival over a selected town, the standard gimmick for these flying gypsies would be a series of loops, rolls, and spins to draw a crowd. This worked well, sometimes to the point that onlookers had to be shooed from whatever passed for a runway. (Unfortunately, the crowds attracted by the stunts didn't always buy airplane rides.)

Reprinted from Model Aviation August 1999
Copyright © 1999, by The Academy of Model Aeronautics
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