Originally created 04/02/00

Stunt duo wows fans at Skyfest



They can't walk on water, but they perform a feat that's nearly as impressive.

At 6,000 feet in the air, Kyle Franklin walks on the wings of a jet-powered biplane, flown by his father, Jim.

The Franklins, of Neosho, Mo., are the only father-son wing-walk team in the United States. They were part of Skyfest 2000 Saturday, performing before an estimated crowd of 40,000 at Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field.

From shaking hands with his father as he walked atop the wings of the red, 2000-horse-powered aircraft, to leaning forward as if he were a hood ornament, Kyle brought out "wows" and "oohs" from most of the spectators.

His job, though, is one father Jim does not envy.

"I like control," the elder Mr. Franklin said. "I like control sticks and seat belts and throttles. Kyle can have that wing-walking."

Kyle, 20, has performed in nearly 100 shows with his father. Mr. Franklin wouldn't give his age, but he has performed in professional air shows for 33 years.

Kyle became hooked on wing-walking at 14, when he talked his father into letting him try it after another wing-walker quit the show.

"I didn't just jump right into it," Mr. Franklin said of letting his son try the aerobatics. "It was something we had to talk about."

"But, I think he always knew I would do it," his son added. "When I was little, I was always hanging on the airplane even when he would just taxi it around on the ground, I would get out on the wing and act like a wing-walker."

Even so, his father wasn't prepared when the teen wanted to try it for the first time.

"I figured he'd probably want to get out and take a ride, but I never dreamed of him doing it professionally," Mr. Franklin said.

The closest thing Kyle said he can compare his act to is riding a giant roller-coaster in a hurricane -- with no parachutes or safety devices.

Lack of safety devices makes him a high insurance risk.

"(Insurance agents) usually kick me right out of the door," he said laughing. But he doesn't worry much about the risk, and when he's in the air, Kyle said his mind is focused on what he's doing.

Mr. Franklin said he's thinking about something else when his son is walking on the wings: "I think he's crazy," he said, jovially.

Like he did with his son, Mr. Franklin's father taught him to fly when he was 8 years old.

"When I was 12, I snuck out and flew solo," Mr. Franklin said. "Then I went to my first air-show in Hobbs, N.M., and I fell in love with it."

Kyle's mother, Audean, also is a pilot. She watched him perform Saturday.

"It scares a mama, but I think it's wonderful and exciting," Mrs. Franklin said of her son's act. . "I'm also a pilot so I understand. Each time he performs, my heart swells up with pride."

As far as preparing for the show, Kyle said that's something you really can't do.

"You just have to know exactly what you're doing."

Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.