The First Family of Human Cannonballing
David and Jeannie Smith gave up their day jobs for a life of daredevil stunts —with six children in tow. Five decades, thousands of cannon shots and multiple Guinness World Records later, this stupendous family business is still defying gravity and all
Staring up through the barrel of his steel cocoon, all David Smith Jr. sees is a small circle of cornflower-blue sky. The angle of the 35-foot cannon is such that he is almost standing, every muscle in his body pulled taut. As the electrifying opening riff of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” kicks in, the announcer starts the countdown: “Five…four…three…” For a split second, everything is eerily still. Then, with a loud boom and a burst of fiery sparks, David Jr. hurtles from the cannon, soaring 80 feet in the air. Like a missile, he goes from zero to 74 miles an hour in less than half a second. But he maintains pinpoint focus. At this height, there’s no room for mistakes. He hears the crowd take a collective breath. He notices a little girl sitting on her dad’s shoulders. And he sees the red landing net hovering in the distance. But to reach it, he must first fly through a hoop that is 90-feet high, about the height of a 10-story building. Oh, and the hoop is on fire.
David Smith Jr. shoots into the air during one of his world record-setting stunts.
After doing this job for more than 25 years, David Jr.’s movements are instinctive. He straightens and stabilizes his body, checking whether he’s rotated too much or too little. These movements are as natural to him as walking. As he approaches the flaming hoop, he windmills his arms once, twice, and sails cleanly through the center before bouncing into the net with a backward somersault and landing on his feet. As the audience roars with applause, he punches the air. This daredevil act is business as usual for David Smith Jr., a second-generation human cannonball. His father, David Smith Sr., is a former junior high school math teacher who ran away to join a traveling circus in the 1960s. As children, David Jr. and his five siblings were raised on the road, watching their father get blasted out of a cannon almost every weekend. “I pretty much grew up in the circus,” says David Jr. “My backyard was different every day, always a new coliseum or fairground or state park somewhere. Now I’m carrying on my father’s flight path, so to speak.”
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