Human cannonballer makes debut at PNG Field

Family restaurants guard secret recipes and pass them down from generation to generation. Oftentimes, that recipe makes the business successful.

David Smith Jr.’s dad passed down a recipe to him – the secret to how the cannon works that propels him more than three stories high and more than 140 feet across the infield.

Judging by the way the crowd cheered at Peoples Natural Gas Field – or the mere fact that Smith walked away alive – he’s pretty successful too.

Smith, whose nickname is The Bullet, bills his act as the Human Cannonball, and he dazzled a crowd of 3,386 fans and players on both the Curve and Bowie on Wednesday as he launched himself from a cannon behind second base to a net at home plate after the Curve’s 2-0 win.

“That’s all secret,” Smith, 36, said of how the cannon works.

Smith followed in the footsteps of his father, David Smith Sr., who was a human cannonball himself. The elder Smith also spent time the circus with his mother. While in the circus, Smith’s mother was pregnant with the younger Smith and still performing on the trapeze.

The younger Smith, who now has four kids, first got into a cannon when he was 19, filling in for his dad in a performance in Madison, Wis.

“It was a God-awful, pathetic short cannon shot,” Smith said. “It was a start, and I never really put it down since that day.”

Smith’s act goes not only all over the country, but the world, propelling him across the skies of places like Milan, Italy and over parts of the Grand Canyon.

In the past three weeks, Smith has been to Los Angeles, Anaheim, the Czech Republic, Chicago and Denver, among other places. He said his kids join him on the road, and after the show in Altoona, he was going to see his oldest daughter.

Smith has been shot out of the cannon more than 5,000 times – and he’s had some close calls. He recalled one time when he remembered launching out of the cannon and waking up eight minutes later on the stretcher.

The rush that he gets from successful launches – and unsuccessful launches – is what keeps bringing him back.

“It’s one of the most intense environments you can imagine,” he said, “being inside of a cannon that’s 35-feet long and pointed up in the air at the sky.

“All I can see is a little ring of the sky, and I know that in five seconds later my fate will be determined. It’s either a good show or not. There are some shades of gray between success and death on this, but not much.”

Through the air, Smith said he pulls 10Gs, meaning that his body weighs 10 times his normal weight.

“It’s very nerve-racking when you hear that countdown start,” he said. “At two, I’m at tense and flex as I can be, head on straight and ready to fly. The cannon fires, I go about 60 miles an hour in one-fifth of a second.”

For Smith, along with the faces of joy he sees when he finally stops bouncing around in the safety net that catches him, he keeps getting launched from a cannon because he enjoys the job and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“It’s been such a challenge for me in every way,” Smith said. “It’s been the most exciting career I can imagine. It’s something that I’m really suited for.”