Banner towing aircraft in action
Camarillo Airport- July 29, 2007

Many of you have seen them. The airplanes towing banners through the sky at the beach, or at sporting events, or just about anywhere. I remember years ago seeing a framework with red letter that was towed behind small airplanes. Things have changed a bit and the banners have gotten much larger and more flashy than ever before. It's a great was to advertise your product, television show, movie or what have you to a large audience.

I was at Camarillo Airport yesterday for a couple of hours, practicing my shooting and experimenting with some settings. The fun part about "practice days" is that you never know what you may find. This is true especially at Camarillo.

I took up my usual shooting position near the flightline and didn't have to wait long for my first subject, a 1957 Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub. I knew the color scheme and the cowl off configuration of the aircraft meant that this was a banner towing aircraft. I have seen them around Camarillo a number of times coming and going from banner towing flights.

It is quite something to watch them perform a "banner snatch" operation. It is reminiscent of the way the C-47s would snatch a glider during WWII. The aircraft dives down with a hook that grabs a line run across the runway that has the banner attached to it. Once the hook has been made, the Piper climbs slowly while heading to it's destination.

It sounds simple enough, but it does take skill and timing on the part of the pilot to hook it. If it is missed, the pilot goes around again for another attempt. I have witness this several times at Camarillo, but have never watched them bring one back. I wondered how they brought them back and disconnected them before landing. Again, some timing and skill are involved. The pilot lines up along the area where the banner was originally grabbed to release it from the connecting point on the airplane. He has to do this while also dealing with other air traffic in the pattern, as well as winds.

A second airplane soon came into view that was on the way back from a promotional flight. In this sequence, we see a 1963 Piper PA-18 Super Cub with a similar paint scheme and configuration as the previous aircraft.

After that, the pilot turns to the downwind leg for landing. Here is the second aircraft taxiing by after dropping the banner. Both of these aircraft are registered to Van Wagner Aerial Media LLC. Van Wagner Aerial Media is the largest company doing aerial media in the United States.

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