The Liberty Gazette
August 6, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: When the international signal of distress - SOS - appeared in the sky as if magically streaming across an unseen aerial electronic billboard some may have wondered, is it an alien trying to communicate? It was only an advertisement, but quite an effective one.
As Universal Studios Hollywood began promoting their two new 3D rides, Jurassic Park and Transformers, calling it the Summer Of Survival, the signal from above caused more than 10,000 hits on Twitter in just a couple hours. People stood mesmerized as the message appeared.
The company that today can plaster dot-matrix style messages across the sky is called Skytypers. The original one-man sky billboard company started out sky writing (not typing) in Ohio in 1932 when a then unknown beverage company hired Andy Stinis to "write" Pepsi Cola with his 1929 Travelair biplane in skies all over the United States. Later, in 1946, Andy developed sky typing by having several North American SNJs (also known as T-6’s) flying in a straight wing-tip to wing-tip line formation each putting out puffs of smoke forming a dot-matrix printed letter in the sky. He patented this delivery system of signs in 1964.
Andy continued posting messages in the sky on behalf of Pepsi Cola for more than 22 years. When his son Greg took over the company there was such a demand for their creative marketing tool that requests were juggled from coast to coast. To meet the demand they opened a second base on the west coast, based in Long Beach, California, becoming known as the Miller Squadron, after their sponsor, the Miller Brewing Company. To reduce fuel costs, now in some areas the fine work of art is executed by five Grumman Cheetahs like our Elyminator, only these are painted blue, nearly invisible against the sky, and flying so high they cannot be heard.
They’ve come a long way since 1932, and can now type out messages in any language, and have done so over many a friendly foreign sky, employing fleets of North American SNJs and Grummans to post their signs 10,000 feet up in the air, each letter up to ¼ mile tall; a typical 20-character message reaching five miles long.
The Grummans carry two smoke systems capable of spewing white or colored smoke puffs, controlled through a laptop computer carried in Skytyper #1. Taking off in a tight five-ship "V" formation, as they approach their altitude and begin their "message run" they spread out using white bracket marks on their wings to hold their distance and alignment, making the smoke letters look uniform from the ground. During one advertising gig they printed out the first 10,000 numbers of the character Pi’s infinite sequence across the skies over San Francisco – it took more than an hour to complete.
My friend Jim Wilkins flies a Grumman as Skytyper #3, the plane that flies in the far right position of the five-plane formation. He retired from flying jump planes (meaning he let people with parachutes jump out of a perfectly good airplane) and Grand Canyon tours. Now sky typing has become his "retirement" job, typing out messages over county fairs and special events. Jim has a lot of fun typing in the sky, and enjoys the benefits: a way to keep his flying skills current and get paid to travel.