His job is to fly more than 100 feet through the air feeling 9 Gs of force wrench his body. This is double the amount of force experienced on The Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. David “the Bullet” Smith Jr. is a human cannonball from Missouri. That’s right, a human cannonball.
He gets paid to be launched out of a cannon for the enjoyment of a crowd.
As a part of the State Fair of Texas and its “The Sky’s the Limit!” theme, the Bullet is bringing his act to Dallas.
Fair officials first contacted Smith Jr. last November when fair president, Errol McKoy, saw his show.
Sue Gooding, the director of public relations and marketing for the fair, said Smith Jr. is an obvious choice for this year’s fair.
“His show is a natural tie-in to our theme,” Gooding said in an e-mail. “It is an unusual and entertaining performance that will thrill fairgoers.”
And in keeping with the fair’s theme, The Bullet is among several additions designed to keep fairgoers eyes pointing skyward.
Along with the human cannonball, the fair features a new gondola ride that runs through the park and the person who hold’s the world record for constructing the tallest playing card tower.
Like Father, Like Son
Smith Jr’s. career started with his family.
The Bullet’s father, David Smith Sr., was a school teacher when he decided to become a human cannonball.
Smith Sr. was soon a world leader in the cannonball field, setting records for flight distance and shocking crowds far and wide.
Keeping the act in the family, Smith Sr. passed down the art of human cannonballing to his son, Smith Jr., two of his daughters and a niece.
“My mom had seven kids,” The Bullet said. “Every one of them has been shot out of a cannon a few times. It’s something that you’ve got to do at least a few times.”
The Bullet is a former world record holder for distance shot from a cannon, a record he took from his father. Smith Sr. later recaptured the record from him with a launch of more than 200 feet.
“He and I are the only two in the world that can do that,” Smith Jr. said. “He told me, ‘Son, I want to break 200 feet before my body can’t handle it anymore.'”
Don’t ask the Bullet or his human cannonball performing family how their cannons work, because it is a closely guarded family secret.
“My dad designed and created our cannons,” Smith Jr. said. “The way they work is kind of a family secret.”
No Pain, No Gain
The Bullet said the real skill involved with cannonballing is being able to fly.
“The acrobatic part is knowing how to fly,” he said/ “You’ve got to be able to resist at least 9 G’s of pressure when that cannon fires.”
The average cannon sends the Bullet 75 feet in the air, an experience he compared to launching oneself 150 feet out of a seven story building.
If during any launch he exited sideways even a little bit, Smith Jr. has to know how to straighten his body mid-air, locate his target and land perfectly on his back.
The cannonball business is one where mistakes can be painful. The Bullet has hurt his back, broken bones, suffered concussions and pulled countless muscles.
“I’ve pulled muscles that I didn’t know I had,” Smith Jr. said. “That landing is absolutely unforgiving. There’s one way to land and there’s no other. Anything else is broken bones at least.”
Audrey Smith, his wife, said injury is always a very big concern and an everyday battle. In one instance last year, Smith Jr.’s back was so hurt his father had to be flown in to finish the rest of the act.
“His back got to the point where it was uncertain if he was going to be ready for the cannon shot or if he was going to retire to the Caymans forever,” Audrey Smith said.
Performing through the pain is common for the Bullet, who knows there are few replacements if he goes down.
“I can’t call in sick to work,” the Bullet said. “What do you do? Who do you call? They’ve invested so much time and effort and publicity for me to go over there and say ‘No I can’t do a show my back hurts.’ I couldn’t do that.”
Up, Up and Away
Smith Jr. tours the world with his act, performing in front of millions of fans. He is launched out of a cannon as often as 60 to 80 times a month and claims more than 600 launches in 2006.
Audrey Smith and their children travel with Smith Jr., seeing the world as they go.
There are benefits and drawbacks of being married to the human cannonball, Audrey Smith said.
With constant movement and bookings, Audrey Smith said 24 hours does not always seem like enough time in a day.
With their combined years of experience in the circus and as traveling entertainers they somehow get through it all, Audrey Smith said.
The Next Generation
The Bullet met his wife in a circus where the two of them worked together.
The relationship evolved quickly. Smith Jr. and Audrey Smith were engaged, married and expecting a child all within six months after their first date.
As for whether the family tradition of human cannonballs will continue, Smith Jr. said only time will tell for his four young children.
“I’ve got a 3-year-old daughter Chloe, who is my biggest fan,” the Bullet said. “She is going to be a cannonball, is what she says.”
Audrey Smith said, for Christmas, Chloe Smith asked for her first cannon, which she has yet to receive.
“A little early to tell, but if anyone wants to be one it’s her,” the Bullet said.
Audrey Smith agreed it was still too early to tell if any of their children would ever become human cannonballs, but the prospect of it is both frightening and exciting.
“As a mother, you sure can’t hope that your child ever gets shot out of a cannon,” Audrey Smith said. “On the other hand, if they have the mental and physical mobility to become a human cannonball it wouldn’t be that bad.”
With the best human cannonball teachers available, Audrey Smith said having children as human cannonballs is definitely a possibility.
“I can tell you right now that out of four children we probably have two of them that are very possible candidates,” Audrey Smith said.
For all of those who have not seen a human cannonball before, the Bullet said that it is something that should be experienced firsthand.
“When your friends go and see and come back and tell you ‘You’ve got to go and see the human cannonball,’ I don’t think you understand just how crazy it is,” he said. “It’s something that is a live stunt. It’s not something you watch on TV.”
The Bullet has experienced every response imaginable from people watching his show, and now Texans will be able to throw in their opinions as well.
“I’ve had every reaction,” the Bullet said. “If people say it’s crazy, you know what, maybe it is. I’ve watched my dad do this, and I’ve said, ‘Oh, my God I can’t believe I do that.’ I hope that everybody thinks it’s crazy at the end of it.”
This will be the Bullet’s first trip to the Texas State Fair, which he said he is looking forward to.
“I hear it’s the biggest and the best,” he said. “Everything’s bigger in Texas. I look forward to spending almost a month with them.”
The Bullet will be blasting across Gateway Plaza twice a day, with an added show Saturday and Sunday at the State Fair of Texas .