Barnstorming was a popular form of entertainment in the United States in the 1920s that also shaped the country’s wider aviation history.
The original term barnstorming comes from an earlier American tradition of rural political campaigning.
The so-called barnstormers were stunt pilots who either individually or in groups performed particularly skillful or daring feats with their aircraft in the form of today’s aerobatics. They were also flying showmen. The events were usually held on farmland for a day or two. Barnstormers also sold aircraft to farmers on the occasion and offered flight instruction. The Barnstorming season ran from spring until after the harvest and fair season in the fall.
After World War I, the barnstorming movement emerged in the United States in combination with the lack of laws regulating general aviation (Federal Aviation Regulations) and the fact that the United States government sold a significant number of military aircraft, such as the Curtiss JN-4 (so-called Jennys) and also other models for a fraction of their original initial value. This allowed many military pilots who were already familiar with the aircraft to buy their own.
Most barnstorming shows began with one pilot, or even in formations of several machines, circling over a small rural town the day before to get the attention of the residents. Then the pilots negotiated with a local farm owner to be allowed to land on his property. Thus the fields became a temporary airstrip from which the air show took place. Leaflets were then distributed in the villages. After the show, the pilots were rewarded for their daring feats with a fee. On the day of the display, often all village life was shut down and people flocked out of town to attend the show. One formation still known today, which originated during the Barnstormer period, is the Wingwalker stunts.
Barnstormers offered more and more spectacular stunts, such as changing from one plane to another. Fatalities occurred so frequently during these stunts that the American Civil Aviation Authority finally felt compelled to restrict barnstorming shows in 1936. After that, shows only took place at approved airfields with appropriate rules.
- Caidin, Martin – Barnstorming, Bantam Books, New York 1991
- Cleveland, Carl M. – Upside – Down, Pangborn: King of Barnstormers, Aviation Book Company, Glendale, Cal 1978
- Photo, two Barnstormers playing tennis on the upper wing (Web Archive)