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Towing a Banner Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

Banner towing pilot max-performs the plane just to tow a banner.  It makes for a great show but looks dangerous.

You’ve seen them before; when you were at the beach, at a game, on the water, or just driving around running errands. Aerial banners have been observed from the ground for about 70 years. A pilot towing one of these banners needs to perform some precision maneuvers just to pick the banner up. Once the banner is in tow, the tow aircraft is flown very slowly to maximize the exposure of the banner message. As any pilot will tell you, slow flight requires a fine balance between aircraft power settings, wind direction and speed, AOA, and flap settings. And that’s all before the pilot drops the banner off at the end of the flight!

The aircraft in the video, a Piper PA-25 Pawnee, is an ideal platform for aerial banner towing. The Pawnee has plenty of power, good slow flight handling characteristics, excellent outward visibility for the pilot, and low stall speed. Also used for crop dusting and glider towing among other utilitarian tasks, the Pawnee is exceedingly not fast (VNE is 107 KIAS), but its low stall speed (53 KIAS) allows it to pick up aerial banners without damaging them and drop them off with relative precision.

Other aircraft used for towing aerial banners include Stearmans (in the old days anway), Cubs and Super Cubs, Citabrias, and Cessnas. While aerial banner advertising may not be as prevalent today as it was in the 20th century due to airspace restrictions and regulations, there are still plenty of companies ready and willing to pull your message across the sky behind an airplane.

In the video the pilot misses the first attempt at banner pickup but nails the second try. Flying in Europe out of Breda International (EHSE), there is a fairly strong crosswind component to deal with. The ground crew directs the approach to the pickup using paddles reminiscent of the type used by old-school US Navy landing signal officers.

The banner, advertising a local bookkeeping concern, is dropped off using similar signals from the ground. The pilot appears to have dropped the banner right on target. Notice how slowly the pilot is flying when the banner is dropped off! Once the tow pilot turns to enter the pattern, a Robin R2160D commences takeoff on the active.

The video was originally uploaded by Dez Rosswess.

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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