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The Christen Eagles Aerobatic Team pertorms at an airshow

Barnstorming was daring, romantic, and showy (and a lot safer than flying the mail routes), but hardly an economic success. And even under a dew-covered wing, the ground gets hard after a while. Many of these gypsy pilots simply decided to settle down and set up shop in one spot, providing air service for a single community-which is where the term FBO came from, for Fixed-Base Operator. An independent few persevered, still looking for an easy way to make a hard living flying airplanes.

Flying circuses were the answer. Even in the beginning, barnstorming had been mostly a team occupation, simply because it was nearly impossible for one person to do the flying, work the crowd, and collect the money simultaneously. The flying simply began banding together in even larger groups, as gypsies traditionally have done, and the first traveling air shows appeared, complete with front men, tickets, and other dodges borrowed from another uniquely American institution: the roadshow carnival.

With these new shows, rides and lessons were no longer the main attraction. The public proved willing to pay for the scary and thrilling experience of flight, but as spectators, not participants. The call was for spectacular deering-do, and the more nearly impossible and deadly a stunt appeared, the better. A new era of "display aerobatics" was at hand.

Wing-walking, air-to-air transfers, and parachutists were the window dressing, but aerobatics were the stock-in-trade of these early air shows. New maneuvers began appearing almost weekly, as pilots competed for reputations and a bigger share of the public wallet. Point or Hesitation Rolls were first; big, fat fuselages gave even the underpowered biplanes of the day good knife-edge performance. Compound maneuvers, such as the Avalanche, followed rapidly.

Right: US Aerobatic Champion Patty Wagstaff's Extra 260.

Below: Germany's
B u c k e r-
Jungmeister; one of the finest aerobatic biplanes ever designed, and a favorite of Gerhard Fieseler.


The quest for reputations, bigger paydays, and the "can you top this?" atmosphere led quickly to the establishment of actual aerobatic competitions, and many private cups and trophies for aerobatics were established by the middle of the 1920s.

By the mid-1920s, the debris of war had given way to a measure of prosperity in Europe, and along with air racing, aerobatics was again becoming a popular aeronautical diversion.

American-style airshows were well-attended, but the European talent for structure and bureaucratic order soon asserted itself, and an elaborate competition framework was established including formal maneuver schedules, methods of scoring, and judging standards-leading to the first effort at an aerobatic World Championships, held in Paris in 1934.

America was still the land of the creatively free, and the rigorous European approach was -slow to catch on. In 1932, the famous Freddie Lund Trophy was established in the United States as the premier invitational aerobatic event for air show pilots. It consisted of all freestyle flying.

By the late '20s, aircraft designers were at last catching up, and aerobatic pilots could once again stretch the limits. More power up front and lower-drag airframe designs led to aircraft that could sustain a vertical line. In 1927, an RAF fellow named Allen Wheeler produced the first full vertical roll.

Jimmy Doolittle flew the first complete Outside Loop in 1927—basically a continuation of the Bunt, which was an outside half-loop from the top first done by some English pilots in the early Twenties. The Brits lacked the horsepower for the second half of the maneuver, and so they just stopped, rolled out, and named it; an "I meant to do that" sort of thing. But by 1927, the Twenties were Roaring, and Doolittle had all the ponies needed to finish the loop—435 of them in his Curtis P-lB.


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