A wing and a prayer -- that's all you need to work for the Flying Circus near Bealeton, Virginia, about 50 miles outside Washington. The circus is looking for someone to walk on the wing of an airplane, and auditions are this Saturday. No experience is necessary: All you have to do is wing it.
Wing-walking is no way to get rich quick -- all you make is $50 a stroll, and there's usually only one wing walk a weekend. On the other hand, if you want to look at it on an hourly-wage basis, the picture is a little brighter: Since you're out on the wing for only 10 minutes, it works out to the equivalent of $300 an hour.
Job security is mainly a matter of not falling off, and Flying Circus pilot Tony Anger says that no one has done that in the 13 years the circus has been operating.
So if you don't mind being 500 feet above the ground going 90 miles an hour without a parachute (it would create too much drag and wouldn't work in time from that height), this job may be for you.
You just climb out on the lower wing of the soaring biplane, using the standard three-point-procedure employed in mountain climbing -- that's two feet down and one hand on the wing, or two hands and a foot -- since you always want three connections with the airplane. Once you get out there, you strap a belt around your waist and hook it to the strut of the plane. You wrap your feet around the strut and hang upside down.
After that, you unhook yourself, climb back into the plane and then go up on the top wing, where you get out near the tip, put your feet on a platform, and strap yourself to a bar. That's it.
What kind of people are wing-walkers? Anger says you have to be in very good shape. The Flying Circus is looking for people who have done gymnastics or are involved in strength sports. Anger says past wing-walkers have included military people, mountain climbers and skydivers. Anger tried it a couple of times but he and his wife decided it's not something he should do for a living; besides, being safer, piloting pays more.
He adds that most wing-walkers are adventurers, not air heads: "They're very intelligent people most of the time. They have that crazy, childlike tendency of wanting to take a risk every once in a while."
The circus' old wing-walker was a computer programmer who left to do the act full-time with a pilot. Hence the vacancy.
Now, about insurance: You can't just go up to some machine and buy flight coverage before your audition. Anger says anybody trying out for the job will have to sign a release freeing the circus of any liability if there's an accident. "As far as I know," says Anger, "the only people who'll insure you are Lloyd's of London. Nowadays, if you look at most insurance policies they've got a hang-gliding clause. It says if you're killed in a hang glider you're not covered at all . . . wing-walking is right up there in that category."
However, should you get the job, all members of the circus are covered by a standard air policy.
Be sure to dress for the occasion: a sweat suit or jogging suit. Even if it's sunny, it can get kind of cool when you're moving at 90 miles per hour. You'll want to wear very soft-soled tennis shoes or track shoes, something with a good grip. A helmet and goggles will be supplied. You probably won't want to wear gloves -- you'll want to have as much sensation with your bare hands as possible.
You have to be 21 or older to apply; proof of age is required. You can't weigh much more than 170 pounds and you have to be there by noon.
By the way, the last time the Flying Circus needed a wing-walker was six years ago. Anger says several hundred people showed up for the audition but only one would get on the plane. She got the job. GROUND CONTROL -- To get to the Flying Circus from the Beltway: Take I-95 south, then a right onto Route 17 west and go 22 miles; or take I-66 West, go south on Route 29-211 through Warrenton, turn left onto Route 17 and go about six miles. For more information, call 703/439-8661.