My Other Life: Jana Leigh McWhorter, wing walker

Jana Leigh McWhorter, nail tech and instructor. In her other life: wing walker.

“Nothing can prepare you and there’s no room for error.”

Jana Leigh McWhorter was a pilot in training when, in 2004, she paid a visit to Bealeton,Va.’s Flying Circus Air Show. The aerobatics was her favorite part of the show — that is until she saw the wing walking. At an elevation of about 500 feet, the wing walker climbed along the upper and lower wings of a vintage biplane, performing stunts without the benefit of a tether line or parachute. At the top of the plane, he donned a waist belt as the pilot launched the plane into loops and rolls.

After the show, McWhorter — a nail tech and instructor at Tranquility Day Spa and Academy in Manassas,Va.— discovered the flying circus was looking for another wing walker, and she jumped at the chance. Her audition consisted of pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups off the wing of a plane to prove she had the upper-body strength required for the job.

She commuted weekly from Pennsylvania, where she lived at the time, to Virginia to train. (Little did she know the pilot who had volunteered to shuttle her back and forth would become her husband in the not-too-distant future.) McWhorter completed a few months of ground training before attempting her first mid-air walk. “I was nervous, of course,” she says. “Nothing can prepare you and there’s no room for error.” But she successfully maneuvered from the cockpit, out along the wing, and to the outer strut, where she waved to the cheering pilots and ground crew below. She’s now a regular Sunday afternoon performer and one of only seven female wing walkers in the world today.





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