From Flying Circus to FBO, Wing Walking Is A True Talent
Originating as a daredevil stunt in the aerial barnstorming shows of the 1920s, wing walking was the act of moving along the wings of a biplane during flight. As the art became more common, these circus performers of the sky would attempt more difficult stunts: handstands, hanging by one's teeth and transferring from one aircraft to another. The Wing Walkers of old would admit (or rather proclaim proudly) that the point of their trade was to make money on the audience's prospect of possibly watching someone die.
Wing Walkers of old
The idea of risk and safety is all relative, but from the view of today’s FBOs, Wing Walkers are fundamental to help reduce the risk of putting an aircraft wing in the wrong place while towing, potentially causing damage to the aircraft. While this act is not fatal to the modern day Wing Walker per se, it can still be a hair-raising experience if a wing or any other part of the aircraft comes too close to a hangar door, wall or another aircraft. The skill that is required when hangar stacking means Wing Walkers will always play an important role in the life of an airplane’s significant feature: the wing. This is why TAC Air Wing Walkers follow proper safety procedures.
At all 15 TAC Air FBOs, towing aircraft safely is one of the most critical operations Line Service Team Members learn; it requires close concentration and must be approached with precision.
Steven Ryberg, General Manager, TAC Air-SHV demonstrates Wing Walking hand signals.
A typical towing operation only lasts a few minutes. However, if there is a need to empty an entire hangar and restack it, this process could take several hours, depending on the number of aircraft involved.
When moving an aircraft in/out of a hangar, TAC Air safety requirements necessitate three Line Service Technicians to participate in the process. One person operates the tow vehicle with two or more people serving as Wing Walkers on the ground placed at each wing tip.
It is important for Wing Walkers to maintain close visual communication with the tug operator at all times during aircraft repositioning. In addition, they use hand signals to communicate clearances between the aircraft under tow and nearby obstacles.
"The use of hand signals during a towing operation should be used as guidance to provide the tug operator a visual reference of appropriate clearances by displaying hands apart to represent the area of clearance,” explains Bob Schick, TAC Air Director of Safety and Risk Management.
“When an aircraft is nearing the three foot safety window, the Wing Walker must use their whistle to signal to terminate the tow operation. If, at any time, the Wing Walker is uncomfortable with the position or speed of the aircraft, the operation should be stopped with the blow of a whistle.”
Over time, wing walking has evolved from a daredevil stunt performance to a necessary act of safety to ensure aircraft are not damaged.