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August 19, 2013 12:33 PM   Subscribe

How airplanes pulling banners take off. (With wonderful MSPaint style illustrations.) Short video showing how it's done. You can hire companies to fly most any banner, of course. The pickup move is risky, so some types of banners can be directly taken off with, because of wheels (that from Wikipedia).
posted by skynxnex (24 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Huh! Interesting! I had no idea the banners were picked up by an already aloft plane... I guess I assumed they were unfurled somehow from aboard the craft while airborn...

Reminds me a bit of the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system...
posted by stenseng at 12:40 PM on August 19, 2013


Wow, that's... somehow less expensive than I'd assumed. Like, if you got a few buddies together it falls firmly within "hilarious prank" levels of affordability...

...

Hmm....
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:41 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's worth noting that banner towing is some fairly dangerous flying. The planes fly as slow as possible, both to save fuel and to stay in one spot for longer. And then you have this big awkward thing dragging behind you. It's not as dangerous or demanding as crop dusting, but it takes some skill. And you can't afford to ever get bored and sloppy.

San Francisco is currently trying to ban banner tows over despite the city having no jurisdiction to do so. The ordinance is specifically targeted at the America's Cup. Disney Corp has managed to ban banner tows over Disneyland and Disneyworld by convincing FAA to issue a temporary flight restriction, supposedly for "security" but in reality for protection of a specific commercial interest.
posted by Nelson at 1:13 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Local businesses have been advertising by plane along Old Orchard Beach in Maine for decades, and although my inner five year old still finds them quite novel, I don't think I ever considered how they get the banner aloft. That's kind of crazy! Definitely one of those highly specific and dangerous skills that I don't know how you even begin to learn, because so many things could go wrong while still in total newbie mode. (See also: ski jumping, cliff diving, etc.)
posted by usonian at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2013


Fantastic post--I had never even thought of the question of take-off before, either.

That said, I have always thought that this is a somewhat silly advertising medium.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:24 PM on August 19, 2013


I always assumed that they took off by having the plane start off on a treadmill.

So they could just hook the banner to the plane while it was standing still.
posted by Curious Artificer at 1:26 PM on August 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


The banners are not as light-weight as they look. They are made of chain and are extremely heavy. The pilot drops it to the field before coming around to land, as the friction of the chain hitting the ground will tear the tail off the plane.

My sister flew tours out of a small airport in a touristy area where banner planes were based. She tells a story of one pilot whose banner would not disengage. He flew in circles for a while, being relatively certain that he would die when his fuel ran out. As I recall, the story had a happy ending, and I wish I could remember it.
posted by rlk at 1:49 PM on August 19, 2013


Holy crap, that is so cool! I just assumed they dragged it behind them but this makes a lot more sense.
posted by shelleycat at 1:49 PM on August 19, 2013


Disney Corp has managed to ban banner tows over Disneyland and Disneyworld by convincing FAA to issue a temporary flight restriction, supposedly for "security" but in reality for protection of a specific commercial interest.

If this was the case, it failed badly -- it's only good to 3000' AGL. The small letter guys like this would be affected, but you already have to fly a minimum of 1000' up over a city, and often much higher -- the FAA requires you to flying 1000' over the tallest object within one nautical mile, unless expressly cleared on a takeoff or landing approach. There are plenty of banners visible from that altitude.

And, as anyone who has been in Disney World on a Sunday with clear skies knows, there's ways to fly much higher and create messages.
posted by eriko at 1:54 PM on August 19, 2013


Possibly better video

And another.
posted by yoink at 2:05 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


These companies rely on, and exploit, young pilots who are desperate to build up flying hours so they can get real jobs. My son, now a pilot for a major airline, was almost killed doing this work as a young man. The banner is picked up by a hook on the end of a tow line. As the plane comes in to pick up the banner, the pilot has to toss the hook out the window to catch the banner. So he/she is flying the plane with one hand, and tossing the hook out the window at the precise moment with the other, at about 20 feet above the ground. If you miss, you haul in the line and try again. In my son’s incident, the tow rope became entangled with the rudder mechanism and jammed it. The plane was stuck in a slow right turn. He managed to bring it down in a nearby golf course, going between two trees to trim off the wings. Pilot walked away shaken, but unharmed.
posted by charlesminus at 2:20 PM on August 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


I always thought they started the plane on a conveyor belt.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:05 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


...And that's why the real pros choose skywriting.
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:30 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought they started the plane on a conveyor belt.

Don't be silly. If physics tells us anything it is that if you started the plane on a conveyor belt the sign would take off first and hoist the plane into the air by the tail.
posted by yoink at 3:40 PM on August 19, 2013


San Francisco is currently trying to ban banner tows over despite the city having no jurisdiction to do so. The ordinance is specifically targeted at the America's Cup.

Austin, the new home of the US Grand Prix, is trying to do the same.
posted by clorox at 4:26 PM on August 19, 2013


Wow. It's viscerally obvious after seeing those videos (and reading the explanation) how dangerous this is, but I never would have thought of it just seeing a banner in the sky. It's crazy that it's worth that for an advert, but I can't help admire the pilots.
posted by lucidium at 4:53 PM on August 19, 2013


For all my life I have wondered how this was done. Thank you for this post.
posted by 4ster at 5:00 PM on August 19, 2013


I love Metafilter. This is one of those things I never thought about but it is awesome.
posted by johnpowell at 5:17 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Neat!

Wow, that's... somehow less expensive than I'd assumed.

My wife had one fly an apology over my office one day after she messed up bad.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:39 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


We had some local news involving banners a few years ago. The flights were discontinued after the FAA conveniently grounded the plane for "mechanical problems", a decision that the well-connected folks at the Augusta National reportedly had nothing to do with.
posted by TedW at 4:34 AM on August 20, 2013


I was in Chicago a few days ago (here's a picture of me getting ready to land at Midway, woohoo) and saw the Skytypers (obnoxious music warning) practicing over our friends' house before the weekend airshow. Pretty cool.

Immediately after take-off, the pilot throws the hook out the window, so that it trails behind the towplane ... It's really quite scary to behold. I know this because some burly construction workers told me they ran for cover when they saw it coming.

I wonder what they'd do if they saw a helicopter brush trimmer.
posted by exogenous at 10:14 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, speaking of poorly-paid jobs doing low-level flying, borderpilot.com has a bunch of interesting stories of crop dusting.
posted by exogenous at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2013


My wife had one fly an apology over my office one day after she messed up bad.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:39 PM on August 19 [1 favorite +] [!]


Oh come one! Story?
posted by stenseng at 10:42 AM on August 20, 2013


Oh come one! Story?

Not the kind of thing one talks about. However, the stream of people coming by asking me if she did something my car was entertaining.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:34 PM on August 20, 2013


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