Ban­ner Tow­ing

Ban­ner tow­ing for ‘hire or re­ward’ means you need a com­mer­cial li­cence but you can also have fun and touch many lives

Pilot - - GO COMMERCIAL - Words Nick Bloom & Ju­dith Austin Pho­tos Philip White­man

There are many ways to earn a liv­ing as a com­mer­cial pi­lot aside from the ob­vi­ous ones of car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers or freight. Some airline pi­lots sup­ple­ment their in­come and add in­ter­est to their fly­ing ca­reer by fly­ing war­bird or aer­o­batic dis­plays. Younger pi­lots who have re­cently qual­i­fied and are per­haps find­ing it dif­fi­cult to land a job with an airline or char­ter com­pany might find their way into para­chute drop­ping, which can make an ex­cel­lent fly­ing ca­reer.

Richard Par­rott, who is 48, has spent most of his com­mer­cial fly­ing ca­reer at Head­corn Para­chute Club. His con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence at fly­ing twin-en­gined air­craft in un­usual op­er­a­tions has led re­cently to an­other branch of com­mer­cial pilot­ing; ban­ner tow­ing. “The re­ally big au­di­ences for ban­ners are in Lon­don,” he ex­plains, “where only twin-en­gined air­craft are al­lowed to tow. So when my boss, David Parker, was asked if he could sup­ply our Is­lan­der for the ‘Re­main’ cam­paign, he asked if I would fly it, work­ing with Zen­tel­li­gence (Ai­rads) Ltd Di­rec­tor Si­mon Moores. Si­mon has loads of ex­pe­ri­ence ban­ner tow­ing in sin­gles.” The tow took place over two days and was judged a suc­cess (al­though not for Re­main!) Now Richard ex­pects ban­ner tow­ing to be an­other reg­u­lar earner for him, com­ple­ment­ing the para­chute drops.

One of the first in­stances of ban­ner tow­ing in the UK was at Han­worth Air Park in July 1930, in the same month that a di­ri­gi­ble in­scribed ‘Ad­ver­tise by Air­ship’ flew over Lon­don. The RAF had been tow­ing gun­nery sleeves for some years; the break­through was the use of a par­a­vane, en­abling the tow­ing of a long ban­ner steadily and safely. For £100 an hour it was claimed that the mes­sage could be read eight miles away (ban­ner at 3,000ft). As ban­ner tow­ing be­came more com­mon there were com­plaints about im­per­ti­nence on Derby Day and fly­ing low over Lon­don Zoo, jeop­ar­dis­ing chil­dren be­ing given rides on the ele­phants. One pi­lot was even car­peted for fly­ing over Buck­ing­ham Palace.

Ban­ner tow­ing has be­come more reg­u­lated over the years. For a while it al­most dis­ap­peared, but in re­cent times it has grown in pop­u­lar­ity. Ban­ner tow­ing is classed as ‘ae­rial work’ so, whether a sin­gle- or twin-en­gined aero­plane is used, it must be a qual­i­fied com­mer­cial pi­lot at the con­trols when work­ing for ‘hire or re­ward’.

Good­wood Avi­a­tion in­vested in a ban­ner-tow­ing rig to ad­ver­tise both Good­wood’s own busi­ness di­vi­sions – such as the Good­wood Race­course – and to un­der­take ex­ter­nal com­mis­sions. They use a mod­i­fied 1954 Su­per Cub and have in­stalled a 150hp Ly­coming 0-320. The ban­ner equip­ment was pur­chased from the USA with black let­ters and char­ac­ters 2.1m high and they also have a huge red heart used for mar­riage pro­pos­als, an­niver­saries and so on. The Cub is able to tow up to 32 char­ac­ters, with wind and tem­per­a­ture lim­i­ta­tions of 15kt max and ISA+15ºC. While mak­ing up the ban­ner is rel­a­tively straight­for­ward, the hard work comes in lay­ing it out and co­or­di­nat­ing the pick-up.

Ban­ners read from left to right and so

Richard ex­pects ban­ner tow­ing to be an­other reg­u­lar earner for him...

care­ful po­si­tion­ing with re­spect to the cus­tomer or site is im­por­tant. Trim tabs can be fit­ted to the ac­tual ban­ner or, if none are avail­able, a gen­tle left turn will en­sure that it presents at a slight an­gle to the de­sired on­look­ers. Ban­ner tow­ing has helped to cre­ate a real team within Good­wood Avi­a­tion, who say they have

de­vel­oped a very dif­fer­ent skillset than they would have had with­out this op­por­tu­nity.

Good­wood is well si­t­u­ated to fly ban­ners ei­ther along the coast or in­land. Avi­a­tion Gen­eral Man­ager Rob Wilde­boer tends to fly at 800-1,000 feet off the coast and 1,200-1,500 feet agl else­where — un­less ground fea­tures dic­tate oth­er­wise. An ideal run is from Portsmouth to Wor­thing, which avoids hav­ing to bother Shore­ham and takes in a huge amount of tourist coast for max­i­mum ex­po­sure. Good­wood makes cour­tesy calls to other ATC units — even if they are op­er­at­ing out­side their zones.

Amer­i­can pi­lot Rudy Jakma is now re­tired, but flew more than 3,700 hours fly­ing ad­ver­tis­ing ban­ners be­fore be­com­ing an airline pi­lot and has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on the sub­ject. He mainly used a Cessna 172 or Su­per Cub. He writes, ‘The method of pick­ing up [with the Cessna 172] is by sling­ing a grap­nel — which is at­tached to a quick re­lease at the rear of the air­craft — into a loop, usu­ally on two forked poles to keep it above the ground. This loop in turn is at­tached to the ban­ner. If the ban­ner drags over the ground, not only will it get dam­aged but the air­plane will not be able to lift it aloft at all, it will stall and ‘mush’ into the ground. The grap­nel in a C172 is at­tached to an­other quick re­lease un­der the air­craft belly. Once air­borne, the pi­lot will re­lease this, the grap­nel will now trail be­hind the air­craft and the pick-up can com­mence.’

He re­calls that ‘it was a bor­ing job’, fly­ing mainly over beaches and other recre­ational ar­eas. ‘An aver­age day meant eight hours in the air, a quick toi­let stop in be­tween, sand­wich stand­ing on a wheel, re­fu­elling the air­craft for the next sor­tie. We could get a day off only if the weather was too bad for fly­ing. Which was not very of­ten be­cause our def­i­ni­tion of VMC was any weather con­di­tion in which we could find our way back to the aero­drome.

‘In those days, we reg­u­larly flew forty hours a week and av­er­aged 120 a month. Al­though there was lit­tle or no fly­ing dur­ing the au­tumn and win­ter, af­ter the first year I had al­ready logged over a thou­sand hours.’

Air-ads, based at Black­pool Air­port, is a fairly typ­i­cal UK ban­ner tow­ing op­er­a­tion. The owner is Alan El­liot, Bob Stinger is the chief pi­lot and the third mem­ber of the team is Andy Ni­cholls who flies tran­sit and looks af­ter the ad­min side of things. Air-ads’ activities have in­cluded tow­ing a ban­ner at a tele­vised ‘Match of the Day’ for a Nescafé ad­vert. The pro­ce­dure is to let­ter the ban­ner in the hangar, pack it up, and then fly to an air­field near the dis­play site where the ban­ner can be laid out for pick-up.

Air-ads have a lot of com­mis­sions like fu­neral ban­ners and mar­riage pro­pos­als, where tim­ing is crit­i­cal. While they op­er­ate within the rules, they some­times feel that Con­trollers can be of­fi­cious, hold­ing them to the let­ter of the rules when a more flex­i­ble ap­proach would still meet sen­si­ble safety re­quire­ments. How­ever, Alan, Bob and Andy say they love ban­ner tow­ing and it’s pretty clear they con­sider it a great way of earn­ing money while hav­ing fun as a com­mer­cial pi­lot.

A great way of earn­ing money while hav­ing fun as a com­mer­cial pi­lot

Top right: Is­lan­der pi­lot Richard Par­rott com­pletes the tricky task of se­cur­ing the grap­ple and its line with just enough tape to make sure it re­mains stowed un­til re­lease — but not so much that it hangs up

Above: Si­mon Moores pre­pares the Re­main cam­paign’s ban­ner for pick up at Den­ham, in­sert­ing the weighted car­bon fi­bre pole that keeps the ban­ner square and up­right. On the ground, the main ‘Vote Re­main’ panel re­mains furled, se­cured by tape that parts...

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