The Flying Reporter goes behind the scenes of a banner towing operation over Damyns Hall in Essex.
Simon Moores of AirAds has been towing banners for 12 years, and says he’s proposed to more women than any man alive! He currently operates a Cessna 172Q (180hp) based at Maypole in Kent, but he flies all over Britain. From birthday surprises and wedding proposals, to an advert targeting a crowd at the FA cup final, his messages in the skies can be seen by thousands.
For today’s flight, Simon is basing himself at Rochester Aerodrome in Kent. The relatively informal airstrip is perfect for Simon’s somewhat unconventional flying requirements. The aerodrome allows him to erect his banner poles and lay out his banner on a patch of grass beside one of the runways there.
The banner equipment is sourced from a supplier in Florida, the message constructed from a ‘scrabble kit’ of letters. Attached to the banner is 200 feet of nylon reinforced line. The end of the line is suspended 8 feet above the ground between two plastic poles that are positioned 12 feet apart. Simon has to fly his aircraft so that a hook, on the back of his aircraft, catches the line at exactly the right height.
The hook has a safety catch, that will allow the line to separate from the aircraft, in the unlikely event that the hook strikes the ground.
Simon makes a normal take off, then drops the hook, so it dangles from the back of the aeroplane. A normal circuit is flown, then Simon descends towards the banner poles at 70 knots. What happens next is the result of expert judgement and years of practise.
Once he’s passed just above the poles, Simon applies power and pulls up, hoping he’s caught the line. He says he rarely misses, and doesn’t disappoint this time!
Simon tows his banners with 10 degrees of flap extended, both because of the 70knot speed he has to maintain, but also to improve engine cooling – a major consideration.
CAA safety rules means that a minimum height of 1000ft must be maintained over crowds and congested areas of cities and towns. Simon adheres to this, while keeping a watchful eye for areas he can land safely in the event that the engine should fail. He comes and goes from the festival site at Damyns Hall, so his audience doesn’t become ‘habituated’.
After 60 minutes of going around in circles, we return to Rochester. Simon drops the banner where he picked it up, then comes back around to land.
Video: Banner towing over Essex