Ever sat at the beach or an outdoor event and watched a plane
writing in the sky? It was captivating, wasn’t it? You try
and guess what they are going to say, waiting for the plane to
be finished. The advertiser has gotten your attention longer than
if you whizzed past a billboard or glanced at a newspaper page.
And it probably made a more lasting impression.
That was the thinking of the Pepsi-Cola Corporation, one of the
first companies to use skywriting for an advertising campaign.
One of the first skywriters, Andy Stinis, flew for Pepsi-Cola from
Skywriting is done by one plane that can generally write up to
six characters, with a skilled pilot at times maneuvering upside
down as they decide when smoke is needed for the letters. Five
to seven planes are needed for longer messages (up to thirty characters)
so that the entire message is visible at once.
Skytyping is a technique whereby the smoke is emitted in a series
of bursts, like dots. A computer generates the master plan and
electronic signals control the smoke output. The blurring of the
smoke makes the desired end effect.
Night skywriting is the use of searchlights or lasers on the ground
to project an image on clouds (also called cloud writing).
- Most sources attribute the development of skywriting (1922)
to John C. Savage, an Englishman. In that year, Captain Cyril
Turner wrote "Daily
Mail" over England and "Hello USA" over New York.
The American Tobacco Co. then picked up the technique for their
Lucky Strike cigarettes.
- The first skywriting for advertising was in 1922.
- April 8,
1924, Savage received a patent for “Method of producing
advertising signs of smoke in the air” (US Patent 1,489,717).
letter can be as high as one mile and take 60-90 seconds to create.
message can stretch up to fifteen miles.
- The best conditions
of course are few clouds, little or no wind, and cooler temperatures.
Then the letters may be seen for 30 miles
in any direction and can last 20 minutes.
- Writing occurs usually
at altitudes from 7,000-17,000 ft.
- The paraffin oil vaporizes
at 1500° in the heat of the plane’s
exhaust and is environmentally safe.
- The skywriting that appeared
in the movie, “Wizard of Oz,” was
done by special effects in a tank with an oil and water mixture.
company in New York “writes” more than 50 marriage
proposals a year in the sky.
Michael. Look, up in the sky: brands! Brandweek,
v. 45, Sept. 13, 2004: 42.
Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Select Committee
on sky-writing. Report from the Select Committee
on Sky-writing together with the Proceedings of the Committee,
of evidence, appendices and index. London, H. M. Stationery
Office, 1932. 213 p.
Lane. Sky writer. Christian science monitor, v. 92, Jan.
25, 2000: 22.
Joseph Creighton. Skywriting and skywriting equipment.
Athens, OH, The Aircraft Directory, c1937. 63 p.
Mark. Smoke signals. Air progress, v. 46, April
Nick. Written on the wind: the sky as billboard. New
York Times; v. 146, July 13, 1997: F9.
references to articles about skywriting from 1923-1962
can be found in the Aeronautics Card Catalog in the Library
of Congress, Technical Reports and Standards Division.
patents on skywriting and skytyping may be found by searching
more print resources...
Search on "Skywriting"
in the Library of Congress Online
from Callback ASRS, the NASA Aviation Safety Bulletin.
Air show. Photo
from the Web site of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Fly-In
Convention (EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.)
Skywriting. Photo: Prints & Photographs Division, Library
over New York City. Courtesy of Dr. John H. Lienhard.