Aerial Banners

site  logo

I no longer fly banners. I cannot arrange one for you nor can I put you in touch with a company that does. I leave this page up because people still ask me about the job.

Text Banners

A banner is composed of up to 35 letters, numbers and spaces. Each reusable letter is about five feet high and proportionately wide. The bright red letters are strung together with white straps and towed with a white rope. The white becomes invisible against the sky, so that people see your message clearly.

Towing Locations

The company I used to fly for has aircraft in Toronto and Montreal.

The same banner can be displayed in multiple locations within a city on the same flight.  

Some of the best venues for banner towing include:
  • an open air concert or sports event
  • a parade in an area away from tall buildings
  • before dark as crowds assemble for a public fireworks display
  • along a major road leading into or out of the city
Wedding proposals work very well at a beach or a high overlook.

Federal laws restrict the pilot to fly at least a thousand feet above the tops of city buildings or over the heads of a crowd within two thousand feet. In a non-built up area the airplane can get down to five hundred feet above the ground. Tows in close proximity to major airports, near prisons or other areas where aircraft flight is restricted may be difficult to arrange.


These prices are from the 2004 schedule for a company that used to operate in Vancouver, just to give you an idea. A short-duration one-time banner such as a wedding proposal or congratulations message costs $450, including the time to assemble the banner, transit time for the airplane from the airport to a location in the greater metropolitan area of the city, up to twenty minutes circling your target and return of the banner to the airport.  

1-4 flights - same text
5-15 flights - same text
16-24 flights - same text
30 minutes
60 minutes

How do you get the banner on the airplane?

You don't need to know about this to commission a banner, but people keep asking.  

banner with mastpole and towrope attached
Once the banner has been assembled, a mastpole with a weighted base is attached to the beginning of the string of letters.  A long rope with a loop in the end attaches to a bridle on the mastpole, and the whole assembly is laid out on the grass next to the runway, as shown in the diagram below.  At this point, the pilot will double check to ensure that the wording on the banner is correct, and the banner is the right side up.

banner beside runway
At one end of the long rope is the banner, but at the other end is a large loop.  The loop is arranged to hang vertically between two poles, kind of like the diagram below, but often with more mud and grass stains. Masking tape and balance play roles here. Too much reliance on balance and the loop may come off prematurely. Too much reliance on masking tape and the loop may not come off at all.

poles with banner loop between them

The towplane is an ordinary blue and white Cessna 172 airplane, with a small catch under the tail. Before the flight, the pilot attaches a cable to the catch.  At the other end of the cable is a three-pronged grappling hook. It looks like something pirates would use to help them storm the decks of their victims. The pilot takes the hook forward, in through the window of the airplane, and coils up the excess cable so it doesn't drag on the ground during the taxi. So during take-off, one end of the cable is securely attached to the catch at the back of the airplane, while the other end, with the grappling hook attached, is inside the airplane with the pilot.

Immediately after take-off, the pilot throws the hook out the window, so that it trails behind the towplane, as in the badly drawn picture below.
hook trailing behind towplane

It's really quite scary to behold. I know this because some burly construction workers told me they ran for cover when they saw it coming.

The pilot then swoops down beside the runway, low enough that the hook will grab the towline rope from between the\poles, but not so low that the hook will catch on the ground, taxiway signs or other aircraft. She makes an approach to the runway, and flies over the poles.  As soon as she passes the poles, the pilot pulls up hard, fast and full power, zooming into the sky. The theory is that the grappling hook will grab the loop, pull it off the poles, and then the rope, and eventually the banner will follow the airplane into the sky. The airplane should be high enough by this point to avoid dragging the banner on the ground.

banner coming off ground at the end of the towrope

The rest of the operation is in slow flight, manoevering carefully with the banner attached.  On the back side of the banner, the letters appear reversed, so the pilot must fly the right way to make the banner readable.  

At the end of the flight, the pilot overflies a drop zone, and pulls a lever in the cockpit which opens the clip on the tail.  The banner, towrope, grappling hook and cable all fall away, to be cleaned up after landing.

Pilots may be interested in this FAA document on banner tow safety,which includes some photographs.

Here is another account of banner towing, in a Citabria.

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This page written 24 October 2002 by Robyn Stewart.  Last revised 03 January 2005.