Wing walker, airshow pilot killed during Ohio performance

June 22, 2013

Wing walker Jane Wicker and airshow pilot Charlie Schwenker were killed June 22 during their performance at the Vectren Dayton Airshow near Dayton, Ohio. According to media reports, the airshow was canceled for the remainder of the day.

Shortly after the accident, Jane Wicker Airshows updated its Facebook page with the news, adding, “We ask for your prayers for the families and privacy of all involved and allow them time to grieve and work through these events.”

Wicker, also an accomplished competition aerobatic pilot, was the owner-operator of Jane Wicker Airshows. She began wing walking in 1990 for the Flying Circus in Virginia but temporarily stopped wing walking after 2002. She re-entered the airshow circuit in 2010. Wicker’s love of aviation and wing walking was captured in the November 2011 AOPA Pilot feature, “Walking back on.”

According to the Jane Wicker Airshows website, Schwenker started flying gliders in the mid-1970s and began competing in aerobatics in 1990. He performed aerobatics in the Pitts S-1T and Extra 300, according to the website. The Associated Press reported that both Wicker, 44, and Schwenker, 64, had spotless safety records.

Schwenker was at the controls of Wicker's modified Stearman dubbed "Aurora" when the accident occured. Horrified spectators filmed the aircraft as it suddenly plunged to the ground during a low, inverted pass in front of the crowd, with Wicker perched on the bottom of the left wing. The biplane, powered by a 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-985, was fully restored in 2010, with custom features including its distinctive paint scheme.

Wicker was engaged to marry fellow pilot Rock Skowbo, and the two planned a unique wedding in 2014: exchanging vows atop Aurora's wing in flight, according to a website developed by the couple.

Schwenker was to celebrate on June 25 nine years of marriage to Susan Gantz, who told The Associated Press her husband was an exacting pilot who took no unmeasured risks.

“When you see these guys it seems really risky, but they are the most careful, cautious, safety-conscious people you’ll ever meet,” Gantz told AP. “If the plane didn’t sound right, if something was off, he wouldn’t fly.