I no longer fly banners. I cannot
arrange one for you nor can I put you in touch with a company that
does. I leave this page up because people still ask me about the job.
A banner is composed of up to 35 letters, numbers and spaces. Each
letter is about five feet high and proportionately wide. The bright red
are strung together with white straps and towed with a white rope. The
becomes invisible against the sky, so that people see your message
The company I used to fly for has aircraft in Toronto and Montreal.
The same banner can be displayed in multiple locations within a city on
Some of the best venues for banner towing include:
Wedding proposals work very well at a beach or a high overlook.
- an open air concert or sports event
- a parade in an area away from tall buildings
- before dark as crowds assemble for a public fireworks
- along a major road leading into or out of the city
Federal laws restrict the pilot to fly at least a thousand feet above
tops of city buildings or over the heads of a crowd within two thousand
feet. In a non-built up area the airplane can get down to five hundred
above the ground. Tows in close proximity to major airports, near
prisons or other areas where aircraft flight is restricted may be
These prices are from the 2004 schedule for a company that used to
operate in Vancouver, just to give you an idea. A short-duration
one-time banner such as a wedding proposal or congratulations
message costs $450, including the time to assemble the banner, transit
for the airplane from the airport to a location in the greater
area of the city, up to twenty minutes circling your target and return
the banner to the airport.
|1-4 flights - same
|5-15 flights -
|16-24 flights -
How do you get the banner on the
You don't need to know about this to commission a banner, but people
Once the banner has been assembled, a mastpole with a weighted base is
to the beginning of the string of letters. A long rope with a
in the end attaches to a bridle on the mastpole, and the whole assembly
laid out on the grass next to the runway, as shown in the diagram
At this point, the pilot will double check to ensure that the
on the banner is correct, and the banner is the right side up.
At one end of the long rope is the banner, but at the other end is a
loop. The loop is arranged to hang vertically between two poles,
of like the diagram below, but often with more mud and grass stains.
tape and balance play roles here. Too much reliance on balance and the
may come off prematurely. Too much reliance on masking tape and the
may not come off at all.
The towplane is an ordinary blue and white Cessna 172 airplane, with a
catch under the tail. Before the flight, the pilot attaches a cable to
catch. At the other end of the cable is a three-pronged grappling
It looks like something pirates would use to help them storm the decks
their victims. The pilot takes the hook forward, in through the window
the airplane, and coils up the excess cable so it doesn't drag on the
during the taxi. So during take-off, one end of the cable is securely
to the catch at the back of the airplane, while the other end, with the
hook attached, is inside the airplane with the pilot.
Immediately after take-off, the pilot throws the hook out the window,
that it trails behind the towplane, as in the badly drawn picture below.
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
The pilot then swoops down beside the runway, low enough that the hook
grab the towline rope from between the\poles, but not so low that the
will catch on the ground, taxiway signs or other aircraft. She makes an
to the runway, and flies over the poles. As soon as she passes
the pilot pulls up hard, fast and full power, zooming into the sky. The
is that the grappling hook will grab the loop, pull it off the poles,
then the rope, and eventually the banner will follow the airplane into
sky. The airplane should be high enough by this point to avoid dragging
banner on the ground.
The rest of the operation is in slow flight, manoevering carefully with
banner attached. On the back side of the banner, the letters
reversed, so the pilot must fly the right way to make the banner
At the end of the flight, the pilot overflies a drop zone, and pulls a
in the cockpit which opens the clip on the tail. The banner,
grappling hook and cable all fall away, to be cleaned up after landing.
Pilots may be interested in this FAA document on banner
safety,which includes some photographs.
Here is another
banner towing, in a Citabria.
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This page written 24 October 2002 by Robyn
Stewart. Last revised 03 January 2005.