| . . . The aerial
lunacy reached its peak late in 1926 when 20-year-old Roy Ahearn celebrated his wedding by planning a
cookout at Cocoa Beach, Fla.with himself as the main course. Ahearn ran ignition wires into
gunpowder sacks tied to the sides of his plane, doused the aircraft with 35 gallons of gasoline and
crude oil and took off with the intention of igniting the gunpowder just before bailing out.
Viewed by an army of thrill seekers, Ahearn guided his flying tinderbox to 1,200 feet, where he set it ablaze.
But he had difficulty pulling the entrée off the grill, because his parachute lines were wrapped around
the plane's controls. Coolly freeing each strand, he leaped through the flames to safety as the plane began
its fiery descent toward a crash in the ocean. Upon landing, he found that his horror-stricken bride had
fainted on the beach. Ahearn, with a true daredevil's incomprehension of his own mortality, shrugged
his shoulders and strolled off to retrieve his chute.
Although Ahearn's act was a surefire crowd pleaser, the novelty of pure theatrics began to wear thin.
Commercial aviation was blossoming with the development of fixed-base operations. New federal
regulations limited stunt flying, and many planes, as tired as old circus animals, had to be scrapped.
By 1928, after a decade of stunting and passenger carrying, the gypsy pilots had no customers left.
Everybody, it seems, had been taken for a ride. "When we buzz over now, even the cows don't look up,"
said Whitall after his final crosscountry foray. "Guess people are ready for something different. Thanks to
us, they already know how to fly."