As people all over our nation grapple with uncertainties and fears about the coronavirus pandemic, some aviators are finding ways to offer encouragement to their communities. One such creative combination of aviation and hope occurred over the skies of Los Angeles on April 3, as the Chino, California-based Skytypers took to the air with a message aimed at encouraging Californians to stick together through these difficult times.
“We will get through this together,” the aerial message read, its letters created by five Grumman Tigers flying in tight formation, laying down smoke oil to form skywriting visible throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Several other strong encouragements were offered to include, “Thank you, health care workers,” and the admonition to “stay strong, stay safe, stay home, save lives.”
Skytypers sales and marketing manager Shane Rogers said, “We were brainstorming ways to be positive and get out of the hangar for a bit. We wanted to bring positivity and help bring people together.”
Rogers also noted that the flight crews maintained careful adherence to social distancing and health safety protocols called for by the state of California during the pandemic. “There are not many more things you can do to stay isolated than to get in the cockpit and fly,” Rogers said, emphasizing that team members took special care to maintain isolation in the other aspects of getting to and from their aircraft and completing the mission safely.
The mission launched from Chino Airport and presented 25 messages over northern Los Angeles County, Hollywood, and southern Orange County, and were visible for more than two-dozen miles. A typical Skytypers message can occupy up to 33 million square feet in the sky, composed of individual characters that are up to 1,250 feet tall. Several local news organizations covered the event, and many residents posted images of the skywriting on social media.
The Skytypers and their digitally created messages are no stranger to the aviation community.
Skytypers founder Andy Stinis was hired in 1932 by Pepsi-Cola to promote the popular beverage through the innovative means of skywriting. It was a marketing technique that Pepsi would employ for the next 22 years. Stinis initially used a 1929 Travel Air D4D to promote the soft drink all over the United States. The aircraft is currently on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
In 1946, Stinis expanded his skywriting capabilities by utilizing multiple aircraft to build more complex aerial messages with better visibility that stayed intact much longer. He earned a patent in 1964 for computer-controlled skytyping, and in 1979, his son Greg took over the business, incorporating it as Skytypers Inc.
The business was a huge success with its fleet of North American SNJ–2 aircraft serving a wide range of well-known and iconic companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Co., Coors, Universal Pictures, the Walt Disney Co., Ford Motor Co., General Foods, Toyota Motor Corp., and many others in both East and West Coast markets. Today’s East Coast division of Skytypers is most commonly recognized as the Geico Skytypers, flying their Geico-branded aircraft in precision formations for airshows, demonstrations, and skytyping around the nation.
Andy’s grandson, Stephen, president of Skytypers, is the third generation of the Stinis family leading the company. The company website lists 45 major brand names served by its trademarked “Sky Billboards,” which create messages visible for up to 25 miles.
“We have a unique communication tool that allows us to capture the attention of millions of people,” said Stephen Stinis. “We would be doing a disservice to our community if we did not do our part to support the many people in the United States in any way we can during this unprecedented time. We hope that these messages will captivate the local population and encourage them to stay safe as COVID-19 continues to spread.”