By Tom Dare
AN EXHILARATING VIDEO showing a series of death-defying aerial stunts some of which were performed by WW1 veterans and civilian stuntwomen shows that daredevil compilations are not just a recent phenomenon.
The incredible video from the early 1900’s features a man escaping from a straightjacket while hanging upside down from a plane in mid-flight, while in another clip a man in a bathtub can be seen being hoisted hundreds of feet into the sky by a balloon.
Further clips from the film show a plane ploughing full-speed into the side of a barn, while perhaps the most terrifying shot sees a man hanging onto the harness underneath a plane using only his teeth.
In the full film, entitled ‘Breath Takers’, viewers are told to ‘catch their breath’ halfway through the clips, with no indication given as to the safety of those performing.
Following the end of the First World War a select group of very skilled aviators, the majority of whom had been trained to fight above the battlefields of western Europe, found that the public were hungry for the kind of death-defying stunts that would go on to make the pilots famous.
The novelty of flying, a very recent invention, was too much for people to resist, with audiences of the day were fascinated by the technology and its ever-present dangers.
Several men who would go on to perform their stunts in big Hollywood blockbusters, such as Dick Kerwood, Al Wilson, Frank Tomick, Ormer Locklear and Dick Grace, began performing their stunts on the county fair circuit, where crowds would gather in their thousands to watch the men risk their lives in the skies above.
And they were often quite literally risking their lives. Sadly, the breath-taking stunts that shocked live audiences across the USA and the rest of the world also claimed the lives of many stuntmen during the early years of aviation. As such, stuntmen and stunt pilots began to be known as the ‘Squadron of Death’.