I walked out in the alley on Saturday near my home just north of Chicago and was surprised to see a bunch of kids all staring up at the azure-blue sky to the north. “Hey guys. What’s going on?” I asked. One small boy said nothing and only pointed up to the sky. That’s when I was treated to an aerial display I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years … a skywriter.
When I was a kid – yes, long before the 20 years so no smart aleck remarks – skywriting was a part of the integrated mix of marketing messages a company used to blast its message to thousands of people in a moment. I towed banners from a 7KCAB Citabria many years ago, but skywriting looks like way more fun than I ever had dragging rags.
A skywriting message can last up to 10 minutes before it disappears which is considerably more bang for the buck than a 30-second TV spot. Still brevity is a necessity when high-speed, upper-level winds – usually above 10,000 feet – are around, something Andy Stinis knew when he helped create the media for Pepsi Cola in 1931.
Few skywriters still exist today although the Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch had a chance to catch up with the pilot of the Chipmunk that produced the work I saw over Chicago the other day (Sorry for the ads, but the Tribune doesn’t do YouTube). Traditional skywriting pilots build the message from in their head as they fly from gut instincts about flying, as well as where to start and stop the smoke (wonder how you erase if you screw this up?). I started to imagine “Jetwhine.com” over major airports everywhere …
A little more digging showed me that while traditional a short-word airborne message is still a limited market, the demand for digital-like text is growing. It’s called skytyping and is produced with a fleet of airplanes flying in wing-to-wing formation, each turning on the bio-degradable smoke for just a fraction of a second. The result is a message that looks as if it were typed across the sky.
Now which one of you folks under 25 are going to ask what a typewriter was?
Added at the last minute is this look at the the Chipmunk pilot’s – Suzanne Asbury-Oliver – aerial advertising site.