Wing Walking in the Sky - United Hub

Wing walking in the sky

By The Hub team

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By Frankfurt-based Flight Attendant Sabrina Swenson

My first take to the skies on the outside of an aircraft was eight years ago. In 2010, the idea to go wing walking came into my head as I was visiting my mother in the United States. We stopped at a small airport cafe for breakfast. While looking over the menu, certain dishes had nicknames like "the pilot," "the flight attendant," and there it was..."the wing walker!" I thought, "Hmm, that would be fun!" After a lot of research, I proceeded to the outskirts of London, where there was a wing walking operation. At the time, it was the only place in the world to do any type of wing walking, unless you were a professional wing walker. One type of wing walking includes being strapped into a standing position on top of an old Boeing Stearman biplane and from there you take off, riding on top for the entire flight. It was a fantastic experience that I enjoyed immensely. Eight years had past when I heard about a place in Washington state that teaches wing walking, where you can walk out on the wing during the flight. I knew I had to do it, and what better occasion than to celebrate my 50th birthday?

I flew to Seattle and rented a car for the two-hour drive to the small town of Sequim. This beautiful town is surrounded by fields of lavender and is home to lovely people. When I arrived at Mason Wing Walking Academy bright and early the following morning, I found two Boeing Stearman planes in the hangar. The wing walker greeted me and, since I was the only person who had signed up that day, we immediately began training. The entire morning was spent reviewing and practicing the wing walking moves I would make. Over and over, I practiced learning what to do and not to do in flight.

After training all morning and into the early afternoon, the pilot arrived, flying in with his own plane. I learned his other job was as a UPS 747 cargo pilot out of Anchorage, Alaska. That put my mind at ease about his flying abilities. Once he had the biplane ready to go, I climbed in the front seat (as the pilot flies from the back). We took off quickly from the short grass strip, and it wasn't long before we were enjoying the views. The Olympic Peninsula and the gorgeous Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates Canada and the United States is stunning. The water was a beautiful shade of blue.

Upon reaching the appropriate altitude and slowing down to just above a stall speed, the pilot wagged the wings, letting me know it was time to get out. I looked back to see him giving me the thumbs up. With that encouragement, I left my seat and grabbed the two hand holds above me, fighting the wind the entire time. I carefully made my way up between the cables above me to the pole on top of the plane. I leaned against it and buckled into the four-point harness. After giving the thumbs up, the pilot proceeded to do aerobatics, including loops, barrel rolls and hammerheads. I hung on to the pole for the first loop, but after the first one was completed successfully, I threw caution to the wind and held out both arms! After enjoying the weightlessness of aerobatics, he eventually returned to straight flight so I could enjoy the view. He wagged the wings again, letting me know it was time to come back in. After slowly retreating to my seat, making sure I had three points of contact with the plane at all times, I buckled in once more.

You wouldn't think wing walking is exhausting, but it is. I was given time to recuperate and, once ready, headed out again, this time to the lower wing. This exit was much more challenging as once outside and on the left wing, the prop blast was fierce. I eventually made it to the javelin, which was located between the cables in the middle of the wing, and wedged myself in. This position didn't have a harness; however, I was so wedged between all the cables, I wasn't going anywhere. Once I gave the thumbs up, we were doing aerobatics once more. My favorite was the hammerhead, which is flying straight up for some time, a rotation and then straight down. After much flying around, the pilot once again wagged the wings, indicating that it was time for me to come back to my seat.

I could have spent all day in the sky, but soon enough my time was finished. I slowly climbed back into the plane, making sure to step where I was instructed. The wing of a Boeing Stearman is partially canvas so one step in the wrong place and your foot would make a hole in the structure. I made it back to my seat without incident and strapped myself in one last time. The pilot brought us back to the grass strip and the hangar as I smiled from ear to ear. The professional wing walker congratulated me upon our arrival.

People often ask if I was tethered to the plane. Yes, I was. I had a long cable attached to me and the strut of the plane at all times. However, it's imperative that you take the training seriously and are careful while moving around in the air.

My time wing walking in beautiful Sequim will live on in my memory until my last day. You simply don't forget one of the best days of your life!

United cargo-only flights transport critical goods

By The Hub team

When the pandemic began, United Cargo knew it would be critical to utilize its fleet, network and industry-leading pharmaceutical handling processes to transport a COVID-19 vaccine when the time came.

Connecting vaccines to the world: United responds to mass distribution effort

December 22, 2020

On November 27, United Airlines became the first commercial airline to safely deliver the first batch of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine into the U.S. thanks to a coordinated effort between United's cargo, safety, technical operations, flight operations, regulatory and legal teams.

Now as the entire shipping and logistics industry bands together to widely distribute vaccines, United is leveraging all of its flights, including cargo-only and those carrying passengers, to transport millions of vaccines to destinations throughout our network, including Honolulu, Guam and Saipan – the first of any carrier to do so.

United Raises Miles for Dozens of Non-Profits that Rely on Travel

Airline and its customers use crowdsourcing platform - Miles on a Mission - to donate more than 11 million miles for charities like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, College to Congress and Compass to Care
By United Newsroom, December 01, 2020

CHICAGO, Dec. 1, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- United is inviting MileagePlus members to give back on Giving Tuesday and throughout the holiday season by donating miles to nearly 40 non-profits through United Airlines' crowdsourcing platform, Miles on a Mission. Non-profits like Thurgood Marshall College Fund, College to Congress and Compass to Care are attempting to raise a total of more than 11 million miles to be used for travel for life-saving health care, continued education, humanitarian aid and more. United will match the first 125,000 miles raised for each of these organizations to help ensure they meet their goals.

United Raises Miles for Dozens of Non-Profits that Rely on Travel

Why we fly

By The Hub team, November 27, 2020

In October 2019, we launched a first-of-its-kind airline miles donation platform, Miles on a Mission. In the inaugural year, MileagePlus members donated over 70 million miles, with United matching over 20 million miles, to 51 organizations. These miles have allowed for these organizations to do important, life-changing, life-saving work in the communities we serve around the globe.

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