May 28, 2018
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Human cannonball performs at state fair

By Dylan Riley, Special to the BDN

BANGOR, Maine — David “The Bullet” Smith Jr. spends his time getting shot out of a cannon, and this summer his performance has landed him at the Bangor State Fair.

“I’m outside of the cannon before I even know it’s fired. It’s like being in two places at one time,” Smith said. “I feel extremely heavy for a split second, and then I’m free-falling. I’m 20 feet out of the barrel before I know it and headed up to the head of the grandstands, and it’s a wild ride for me every time.”

Smith has been a professional “human cannonball” for 14 years and has performed as many as 5,000 shows in nine countries and all over the United States and Canada. This is his first series of performances in Bangor.

Smith’s first performance at the fair was Monday, and he will do five more shows this week at 5:15 and 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and at 5:15 p.m. Friday. He was shot about 150 feet out of a 35-foot cannon on Tuesday with sparks and a thunderous boom, landing in a blue 22-by-44-foot net. He said it’s a rush every time.

“I watched my daddy do it since I was just a little kid,” Smith said, “I picked up and fell in love with it and it kind of became a passion for me.”

The 33-year-old Smith started as a human cannonball at age 19 when his father, known as David “Cannonball” Smith Sr., asked his son to fill in for him. Now Smith Jr., his sisters, father and brothers all are in the business, which makes cannonball shows family occasions for Smith.

“My dad was a crazy mix of physics and engineering,” Smith said. “He’s kind of an Einsteiny kind of guy; he even had the hairdo.”

Smith’s father joined the circus as a trapeze artist after working as a schoolteacher. After about five years in the circus he built his first cannon and is still going strong as a human cannonball at 67 years old.

Smith, his father and brother built the cannon Smith used on Tuesday after his father’s own design. It propels him from zero to 50 mph in about one-fifth of a second, according to Smith. Tuesday’s shot took him about 80 feet off the ground.

The human cannonball business can be rough and has a dangerous learning curve, Smith said. He has suffered injuries over the years, everything from broken fingers to cracked ribs.

Smith recalled one show where the net was weakened and he crashed through it, ending up with a concussion and numerous broken ribs. But not being one to miss a show, Smith went back the next day and got shot out of the cannon anyway, which “hurt like hell,” he recalled.

Smith wears a helmet, but he said it’s mostly for looks. He actually would prefer not to wear it because it sometimes gets caught in the net. As for the cannon itself, Smith scrunches up tight when he’s inside to prepare himself for the blast and minimize the damage to his body.

“When I’m in there, all I can see out the end of it is a little piece of sky,” Smith said. “But when it fires, it’s very, very quick.”

Smith is a father of three girls and one boy ranging in age from 4 to 11. He lives in Englewood, Fla., but performs in various places during the summer. He and his family have performed in Dubai, South Africa, Oman and Australia.

Smith recalled one performance where his father got shot from Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego, Calif.

“He had to carry his passport. There were 24 government agencies involved in that cannon shot,” Smith said. “And not one of them would give the official OK, but nobody said no.”

Tuesday’s shot involved less bureaucracy and ended with Smith landing flawlessly in the net and raising his arms to cheers from the fair crowd.

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