Skywriting is the process of using a small aircraft, able to expel special smoke during flight, to fly in certain patterns to create writing readable by someone on the ground. The message can be a frivolous or generally meaningless greeting or phrase, an advertisement aimed at everyone in the vicinity, a general public display of celebration or goodwill, or a personal message, such as a marriage proposal or birthday wish.
The typical smoke generator consists of a pressurized container holding a low viscosity oil, such as Chevron/Texaco "Canopus 13", formerly "Corvus Oil". The oil is injected into the hot exhaust manifold, causing it to vaporize into a huge volume of dense, white smoke.
Wind and dispersal of the smoke cause the writing to blur, usually within a few minutes. However special "skytyping" techniques have been developed to write in the sky in a dot-matrix fashion, and are legible for longer despite the inevitable blurring effect caused by wind.
In a 1926 letter to The New York Times one Albert T. Reid wrote:
- A newspaper paragraph says skywriting was perfected in England in 1919 and used in the United States the next year. Art Smith, who succeeded Beachey in flying exhibitions at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, after the latter had been killed, did skywriting, always ending his breathtaking stunts by writing "Good night." This was not a trial exhibition, but a part of every flight, and was always witnessed by thousands.
Major Jack Savage, former RAF pilot and writer for Flight magazine, had a successful skywriting fleet of Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 aircraft in England. He flew throughout the 1920s and 1930s, bringing the practice to America as well. The first use of skywriting for advertising purposes was on November 28, 1922 over New York City.
Commercial skywriting in the United States was developed in the early 1930s by pilot and entrepreneur Andy Stinis who created the Skywriting Corporation of America in 1932. One of Andy's first major clients at the time was Pepsi-Cola. Pepsi-Cola became the first major brand to utilize skywriting as a medium that could deliver mass market reach. In the decade before television became widespread, thousands of flights were undertaken for Pepsi-Cola, driving huge brand growth into the mid-1940s and a relationship with Skywriting Corporation of America that lasted over 60 years. In 1945 having flown over 3000 commercial flights, Andy (who had become the leading skywriter in America) looked to create a way of coordinating multiple planes in a fleet that could deliver clear textual messages in the sky. Working alongside his son Greg, they spent almost 15 years perfecting and patenting the process of synchronized fleet-based skywriting, and in 1965, were granted a patent for the technology that would revolutionize the skywriting industry and form the basis of modern day skywriting.
In the late 1960s the Stinis family had become the world's foremost commercial skywriting company, with at that time over 30 years of experience of putting messages in the sky. The re-christened company Skytypers allowed brands all over the world to put crystal clear messages into the sky at 10,000 feet altitude up to 10 miles long. Brands including Pepsi, Miller, Ford and Disney used the system and the aerial display team all across America flying thousands of missions and reaching millions of people. One of the most famous skywriting activations ever attempted was the showpiece welcome for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984. Greg Stinis led two planes which created the Olympic rings directly above the Olympic stadium while being watch by over 2.5 billion. It instantly became the most watched piece of skywriting in history.
More recently, the new digital form of skywriting created by Andy Stinis has been used in advertising right across America, Canada and Japan. 2012 saw the first time that skywriting was linked in real time to Twitter with a team of skywriters activating pro-European messages directly over the Ryder Cup for Paddy Power. 
Also known as digital skywriting and dot matrix skywriting, skytyping is the process of using five planes in formation and advanced computing to choreograph puffs of smoke being released from each plane. When viewed from below, messages can be seen very clearly being written in the sky by the squadron of skywriters. The messages, written at 10,000 foot altitude, can be up to 1250 feet tall and over five miles long. Skytyping allows planes to put any message into the sky, in any color, without having to perform advanced and aerobatic flying maneuvers.
- "Skywriting in 1915," The New York Times, October 9th, 1926, p. 16
- Air Trails: 48. Winter 1971.
- obituary Flight 1945
- Harriet Veitch (2006-12-02). "How big are skywriting letters?". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
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