Wing-walking stuntwoman onboard: Her pilot husband at the controls in their daring act

August 20, 2018

Wing-walking stuntwoman onboard: Her pilot husband at the controls in their daring act

CLEVELAND, Ohio. When wing-walker Ashley Shelton said the plane used in her stunts is flying 1,000 feet off the ground, it didn’t seem very high. Until you realize that’s more than the length of three football fields. Yipes!

Shelton is in her fourth air-show season. It all started when her husband, Greg Shelton, who has been flying for more than 30 years and pilots the plane she performs on, was looking to replace a 10-year veteran stuntwoman who had retired.

He really didn’t have to look far. “At first, I didn’t want to do it,” said Shelton in a phone interview.

“I thought it was sort of crazy. After much thought, I committed myself to it. My first move was to attend ground school, which is basically climbing around the outside of the plane on the ground. After some practicing, you go up and test things out.”

The husband-and-wife duo from Tulsa, Oklahoma, will fly their 1943 Boeing 450 Super Stearman for the first time into Burke Lakefront Airport for the Cleveland International Air Show on Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-3.

According to Kelly Luecke of Backstage PR, this is first time in years that the air show has included wing-walking. Ashley Shelton says wing-walking is indescribable. The closest thing might be a roller-coaster ride. When you are performing on a wing of a plane while it’s flying, you must be in touch with all the skills you’ve learned over the years. It’s the only thing that’s going to keep you safe.

The experience is like any flying you might do, she said. Well, except most of us non-wing-walkers are inside the plane with a cocktail.

It appears people who do these stunts are pretty well-protected while the plane is making swift twists and turns. Shelton wears a strap that’s attached to a pole behind her. The pole is part of a rack her husband welded to the upper center section of the wing where she stands. It basically helps to support her back as the plane goes through its maneuvers. There are also two braces on the back that support her body in a standing position. She does not wear a parachute.

The Sheltons both agree that wing-walking has not changed much over the years.

“Outside of a few technological things, the only difference is the planes now are much faster,” said Ashley Shelton.

Outside of regular performers such as U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the Skywriting team, another newbie this year is “Tiger Airshows.”

The flight team features pilots Mark Sorenson and Mark Nowosielski. Their tricks include close-formation aerobatics, while flying through rings of smoke in the sky.

Advance general admission to the air show is $23 for adults; $14 for children ages 6-11 ($2 more at the gate); and free for children 5 and under. For more information, go to clevelandairshow.com or call 216-781-0747.

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