The Wrights” Deadly Circus
Many pilots in aviation’s rollicking early years earned fame by flying on an air circus circuit organized by the Wrights. The famous inventors took to the road in 1910 with a stable of young pilots who were eager to perform and earn the top-dollar salary that the Wrights paid them. Wilbur and Orville paid their air circus pilots $20 per week in base pay, and another $50 for every day they actually flew. That could amount to $7,000 per season for some pilots, and that was enough incentive to convince performers to fly some hair-raising stunts.
One of the pilots who Hew with the Wright Exhibition Company was Arch Hoxsey. Hoxsey was a daredevil who tried to outperform his fellow pilots by pushing his speed a little higher than theirs or by zooming lower to the ground than they did. He was a bit too reckless for the Wrights, who once grounded him in hopes of cooling
his love for danger. But the brothers trusted Hoxsey’s skill enough to assign him to pilot a flight with ex-President Teddy Roosevelt as his passenger.
Hoxsey’s specialty was performing in a kind of aerial battle with fellow pilot Ralph Johnstone. The two created the myth in the local papers that they disliked each other and were actually trying to hurt each other in the air. In reality, the pair were friends, but their act never failed to thrill spectators.
Hoxsey didn’t reserve his hazardous flying to his air circus performances, however. He liked to attempt to fly to higher and higher altitudes, and during one of those attempts at a California show, he either lost control of his airplane or something broke. Whatever the cause, Hoxsey’s plane spun thousands of feet from the sky and crashed, killing him.