Did You Know People Flew Under The Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge?
The term is "barnstorming", which is when you fly a plane or helicopter through a structure. In the case of this story, that was the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth. Back in the day, it was a way to show off, kind of like Tom Cruise did in Top Gun when he does a fly-by. The structure looked a lot different and had more space to fly under, and the ship traffic was calmer. Most of the Barnstorming happened before the structure could handle cars going across as they do now.
According to Zenith City, the first man to do this was Tony Jannus in 1913, several others have done it, but our area's most famous pilot did not.
There was a rumor at one time that local World War 2 hero Richard A. Bong barnstormed the bridge. The rumor is that Bong flew his famed P-38 and Barnstormed the Aerial Lift Bridge. According to Zenith City, in 2006, Duluthian John Hoff said when he was 11 in1944 he saw a P-38 fly low and clear the bridge and barnstorming it.
According to the same Zenith City story, Duluthian Roy Mahlberg said he remembers the Duluth News-Tribune’s headlines said Bong had Barnstormed the bridge and even had a picture to prove it. After Zenith City researched a little bit, they could not find a headline or picture with an account of the event. Even Richard A. Bong said it was likely not him.
The second person to Barnstorm was Wilber Larrabee on March 18, 1918, says Zenith City. Larrabee was from Minneapolis and was in town performing as an aerial acrobat. There are no pictures of the feat, only a small written account. Supposedly others have done it, but nothing is in the record books or newspapers.
There is a record of a helicopter passing under the bridge. The Zenith City reports that there is a picture in the Maritime Collection, but no pilot is given credit and there is no year that it happened. The only thing they have is a make of the helicopter and a year approximating its production to guess a time frame when the event may have taken place.
Could someone Barnstorm the Aerial Lift Bridge now? Probably not. With strict laws and less space to fly under it becomes more dangerous to do the stunt, not to mention the strict flying laws and the chance you will get caught because of all the cameras around and how quickly they could catch you after to did it.