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

The First Family of Human Cannonballing

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2023-01-25 05:00:07

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 other expectations.

S taring 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.   

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.   

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