You know those sky-writers? Those little planes? What the heck do they DO?

I’ve seen a lot of sky-writers in my day, but it occurred to me a little bit ago that I’ve never actually see one write anything in the sky. Not once. No Eat at Joe’s…no nothin’. They just fly in a straight line, doing…whatever it is they do.
So. What DO they do up there? Any ideas?

Okay, you lost me.

You have seen a lot of sky-writers in your day, but you have never seen one write anything in the sky? How did you know they were sky-writers, then?

If you meant you often see airplanes trailing smoke but not writing anything, there are several possibilities:

  1. It was an aerobatic airplane.
  2. It was someone who simply installed a smoke system for the heck of it. They are pretty simple devices.
  3. It was on fire.

Or, if we’re talking about jets, you could be seeing contrails.

Yeah, more information please. An aeroplane trailing smoke/vapour does not a sky writer make!

WAG: These days I’m sure the use a computer to tell the pilot when to release rectangular blocks of smoke at the required interval, while the plane flies a kind of grid pattern. I would imagine you plug in to the software what you want to write, then a light comes on to tell you when to release the smoke, or its done automatically. GPS comes into it somewhere I’m sure.

Like I say, just guessing from having seen a shot of a plane skywriting - that appeared to be what he was doing anyway.

Um… nope.

While I don’t doubt someone somewhere is thinking about such a solution, that’s not how it’s been done or is being done at present.

The pilot goes up and, after much practice, flies the plane in a particular pattern for each letter, turning the smoke on and off manually as needed. No software, just “wetware” (that’s brain cells)

The airplanes used for things like sky-writing and its cousin banner towing are typically rather old and frequently have no electrical system - meaning there’s nothing to run a computer/software on, unless you bring a battery with you. And then you have the problem of where you would put a computer - the cockpits are small and very cozy. While you could install a computer on such a plane, it would require much paperwork and permission from the FAA, not to mention money. Having the pilot learn to sky-write the old fashioned way is probably much simpler (once she or he gets the hang of it) and certainly cheaper than using a computer.

The smoke, by the way, is a type of oil released through the exhaust pipe so it’s not smoke so much as an opaque mist. Or so I was told by a recent article on the subject.

By the way - the only pilot in the US (and possibly the world) who makes a full-time living from sky-writing happens to be female. Just thought I’d throw that in for trivia.

Is some skywriting made by a series of planes flying in formation. Each letting off a puff a smoke for a vertical line and a continous puff for a vertical. I have seen skywriting in the form:

****             **          ******     
*            **  **          **
****          ******         **
*           **    **         **
****          **    **         **                  (at Joe's)

I’m almost sure I saw such letters being formed, maybe it was one plane with a long smoke bar, I have never seen the plane fly the patterns of the letter.

I suppose it could be planes flying in formation…

“one long smoke bar” can present problems from the viewpoint of aircraft stability and steering. After all, the “bar” would have to be quite long in order for it to make a legible pattern from the ground.

Since I haven’t seen it done the way you describe, it’s hard to say for sure. The only skywriting I’ve seen is an airplane drawing the letters against the sky.

Here’s an example of the other style - just writing with the plane and leaving a trail.

I’ve seen that formation writing too, or what appears to be formation writing as kanicbird describes. I’m pretty sure it wasnt formed with a ‘long smoke bar’, but the view was such that the plane(s) were not visible, just the writing appearing.

one of the Imponderables books covers this. The process is known as sky typing. The smoke release system is automated. All the pilots have to do is fly in a straight line.

I’d give a cite/quote. But, I’m at a relative’s place and my library is at home.

I think you may be confusing ‘sky writing’ with environment tracking. Near my city, we have a weather station that send up planes that release a single trail across the sky of this mist/smoke stuff. Meterologists on the ground track the different behaviours of the mist/smoke to determine things going on in the upper atmosphere.

Skywriting: A single aircraft generates smoke and draws out the letters. Often winds ruin the first letters before the message is finished.

Skytyping: Several aircraft fly in line-abreast formation and a computer releases the smoke at the right time, making a “dot-matrix” message. Since it’s quicker than a single plane drawing out the words, the whole message is more likely to be read before the winds get to it.

I usually see skytyping at events with large crowds, such as the beach, and they are advertising a product. When I see skywriting it seems that it’s usually a more personal message (such as a big heart with someone’s name).

It’s the skytyping I was thinking of then, the one with the computers…

Also have a look at:

Sorry it took so long for me to get back. But it sounds like I was misinformed as to what those planes actually were. I’ve always heard that they were skywriters, but what NoGoodNamesLeft said makes sense.

It’s for sure not a plane flying in formation, because I always see one at a time. Also, it’s not a plane with engine trouble, because I could probably see one a day, if I look for em. Also, they fly really, really high. A LOT higher than typical passanger planes. (Or maybe they’re just incredibally small…or both)

It’s called Corvus oil, and is used on concrete forms as a release agent. It sprays into the hot exhaust and gets vaporized rather than burned. We use the same thing to produce the “smoke” in our wind tunnel.

It’s nasty, and it gets all over everything.

I think that what you are seeing is contrails from jet planes. Or, as my daughter calls them, “airplane lines” :).

Tamex…Could be, though the lines I see look like white clouds, whereas the ones on that picture look far darker.

Ok, do the lines look more like these ?


Ignore the fact that one of them looks rather odd (it’s a ‘donut-on-a-rope’ contrail)