Introduction

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“Marie Meyer standing on the wings of a bi-plane,” 1924. Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum via the Missouri Hub.

During the early 1920s, the barnstorming air show featuring stunt pilots and aerialists was a very popular form of entertainment, though federal safety regulations put a damper on it by banning dangerously low-altitude flight in 1927.

Pilots such as Marie Meyer found they could earn a living through traveling air shows. Meyer started The Marie Meyer Flying Circus, and, as was the custom in barnstorming, her pilots would “buzz” a town or city (flying in low through it) to drum up attention for upcoming shows.

Some of the aerial stunts Marie performed included anchoring herself to the wing while the plane did loop-the-loops, dangling from her feet so she could wave to the crowd, and performing parachute jumps from the wing of the plane.

Marie was not alone in her daring air tricks. Women pilots often showed off their skills in air-races, or by setting and breaking speed, endurance, distance, and altitude records. One pilot, Elinor Smith, once flew under all four New York City bridges on a dare in 1928.