David Smith Jr. has earned the moniker The Bullet.
Smith, 35, gets blasted out of a cannon more than 300 days a year and each time hopes he finds his way into the net.
During a typical shot, his body withstands 10 times the force of gravity on takeoff and 12 negative G's upon landing, while traveling 0 to 50 mph in one-fifth of a second.
“I’ve been doing this for 16 years now,” said Smith, who will fly through the region sky on Saturday at the U.S. Steel Yard before the Gary South Shore RailCats game against the Newark Bears.
In fact, this is a family business for Smith.
“It’s not your everyday profession, but it’s something my dad did, something I started doing when I was in my teens and something others in my family does.”
Three of Smith’s sisters — Jennifer, Rebecca and Stephanie — also have been human cannonballs, though only Jennifer continues to perform.
Smith still remembers his first time in the cannon.
“Dad had hurt his back and needed some recovery time. So he called and said, ‘Son, I need you in Madison, Wis., two days from now, we’ll give you a practice shot in the morning and your first live shot that evening,'" he said. “It was not really an option to say no. I was terrified, nervous and very excited.”
Since then, Smith has been shot over Ferris wheels at state fairs, flown over 40 concert stages while on the Van’s Warped Tour, been blasted over part of the Grand Canyon, and was shot over a circus tent while stunt-doubling for actor Ewan McGregor in Tim Burton's movie “Big Fish.”
Smith also has been seen on television — “World’s Wildest Daredevils,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and “The Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards” hosted by Ben Stiller. Last year, he performed as a stunt double on “Glee.” And he also was seen in a Samsung commercial during this year's Super Bowl.
“You don’t just climb into the cannon and shoot into the sky,” said Smith, likening prepping for a human cannonball shot to that of a sniper preparing for a kill shot. “There are a lot of variables to consider every time you do this. You have to adjust each shot for wind, distance, heights, your weight, cold/heat, and you need to keep recalculating things right up until the moment of the shot because those things constantly change.”
Smith's father once was shot down Main Street USA daily at Disneyland in California.
“Dad set a lot of records in his career,” Smith said. And the two have been in a friendly rivalry for Guinness World’s Record for “longest distance traveled by a human cannonball.”
The younger Smith set the record first with 181 feet, 4 inches, only to be outdistanced by the elder's jump of 184 feet, 10 inches. Last year the son stole the record back on Italian national television when he flew 193 feet, 8 inches.
Smith admits he still gets nervous before a launch.
“I’m in there, hoping we figured everything correctly and that I’ll be hitting the net safely. But it’s been a very exciting career that has taken me all around the world and I’ve gotten very good at it. My dad — David Smith Sr. — only stopped being shot out of a cannon about a year ago at age 69, so I expect I’ll be doing this for a good while longer.”