Human Cannonballs

Enter the bizarre world of daredevil performers who blast themselves out of giant cannons for a living.

Produced by NHNZ

Human cannonballs are a unique breed of daredevil performer. They blast themselves out of monstrous cannons and soar through the air for incredible distances before, hopefully, landing in a large safety net.

It’s estimated that out of the 50 people who have ever fired themselves out of a barrel, only 32 have lived to tell the tale. And those who do survive often suffer extensive injuries.

So who are these fearless stunt people? And what drives them to do such a dangerous and surreal feat for a living? Human Cannonballs aims to find out.

The quest takes us across America to meet the masters of human cannonballing—Ermes Zamperla and Elvin Bale, both of whom have experienced a shot that went horribly wrong.

It was a miracle Ermes survived his fateful shot, but just nine months later he was once again being blasted into thin air. Elvin wasn’t as lucky; he is left wheelchair bound and has now reinvented himself as a circus manager and cannonball trainer. Inside Elvin’s big top tent, we meet cannonball student Zarina and share her anxiety as she undergoes cannonball training before attempting her first ever shot in front of a circus audience.

And then there’s the Smith family. Dave Smith Snr is the world record holder and both his son and daughter are also professionals. The family and their cannons are the subjects of the first ever scientific study into human cannonballing, carried out by US Airforce scientists. Using cutting-edge accelerometer technology they reveal the extent of the immense forces impacting on a cannonball’s body.

Human Cannonballs is a fascinating insight into the bizarre lives of these extreme performers. It lifts the lid on a secretive and surreal world, and gives viewers a close-up look at the most legendary and dangerous circus act of all.

Related Episodes

China’s Secret Lands: Tibet

1 hour / 2018

China’s Secret Lands: Yunnan

1 hour / 2018

Fiordland

1 hour / 2016

Chatham Islands

1 hour / 2016

Banks Peninsula: Mountains Meet the Sea

1 hour / 2016