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The Power Couple of Pyrotechnics Explains the Perfect "Wall of Fire"

• Clay Dillow via

They learned to handle explosives in the U.S. Army and they met while skydiving in Wisconsin (he was flying, she was jumping). Now, Rich and Dee Gibson travel the country blowing stuff up, creating dazzling pyrotechnic displays for airshows--and even for the occasional film--that are second to none. That’s not just our opinion. The Gibsons hold five world records, and later this month the Experimental Aircraft Association will honor them with the 2011 Bill Barber Award for Showmanship, an annual accolade given to the best in the business of airshow theatrics. Chief among the Gibsons' qualifications: a trademark “Wall of Fire,” which the EAA describes as “the standard by which all others are measured.” So how does a husband-and-wife team become the power couple of pyro? It starts with a vision--and lots and lots of unleaded gasoline.

POPSCI: So how does a married couple fall into the pyrotechnics business?

Rich Gibson: We both had some formal explosives training in the service. But in my case, it started earlier than that. When I was a little kid I was always attracted to anything that went “boom.” On the fourth of July I would crawl up as close as I could to the fireworks, or I would hang out around the edge of a quarry waiting for something to blow up.

Dee Gibson: I was always attracted to fireworks too. I always wanted to sit as close as I could to the guys setting them off. But my formal training came in the U.S. Army through the Corps of Engineers.

POPSCI: What’s your standard incendiary fuel?

R: Unleaded car gas. We just use ordinary unleaded car gas right out of the truck. We’ve been asked to use different things, but you have to keep in mind environmental regulations and the fact that you’re doing this in front of a live audience. You don’t want someone to breathe in something and then say “I don’t feel so good.” So you want to know exactly what you are working with.

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