How Skywriting Works!

The Digital Art: Skytyping

Pi in the sky (over Austin, March 2014). You can tell by looking at all the dots forming the numbers that this message was executed with skytyping.
© Jim Bennett/Corbis

It sounds pretty newfangled, but digital skywriting, or skytyping, has been around since the 1940s [source: Skytypers]. There are similarities between skytyping and skywriting. They both start at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). They’re dependent on weather conditions. They generate a similar finished product, though a skytyped message looks a bit neater (think “handwritten” vs. “typed”). And they use the same smoke-producing fluid and machinery. But in the case of skytyping, a computer program triggers the injection of fluid into the exhaust, not the pilot.

The writing processes are quite different. For one thing, skytyping uses multiple planes, typically at least five [source:]. And there are no aerial acrobatics. The only fancy flying involved is formation flying: The planes fly side by side, equidistant and at the same altitude, for the entire time it takes to write the message.

The letters are made up of individual dots that blend together at a distance. Emitting the dots is entirely automated. A message is loaded into a computer that controls the smoke-emitting machinery in each plane. The program tracks the locations of every plane as they fly. Whenever a plane reaches a point where a dot should be placed, the computer triggers a burst of smoke from that plane.

The entire formation flies a predetermined distance, shifts position and then makes another pass to lay the next line of smoke dots. The passes continue until the message is complete.

Though digital skywriting requires less piloting finesse than manual skywriting, it’s more expensive [source: Domi]. Gassing up five planes costs more than gassing up one. It does allow for more characters, though – often up to 30 — since more planes means more paraffin oil [source:].

Skywriting is experiencing a comeback in the 21st century. “Businesses are seeing the advantages there are with skytyping,” says Cristina Domi. It’s more flexible than “longhand,” allowing for a more immediate, integrated experience. Since it’s all centrally controlled, a message can be written or changed on the fly. Imagine skywriting the names of Oscar winners as soon as the envelopes are opened, or writing hashtags as the social-media response to a new iPhone unfolds.

But perhaps the best explanation for the surge in popularity is simpler: Skywriting offers more exposure than it used to. Now, physical visibility is moot. A skywritten message can be texted, tweeted or Instagrammed around the world immediately. And because it has novelty value, it typically is. Like TV ads, skywriting is now in people’s homes. Or at least in their phones.

Social media’s got it hands on the lost art. It’s a wonder there are any skywriting secrets left to keep.

Author’s Note: How Skywriting Works

Not all of today’s skywriters are intent on keeping the lost art’s secrets. Some pilots and contractors seem to share pretty openly. Still, there appears to be something to Steve Oliver’s comments about secrecy. I had a hard time finding detailed information on the smoke-producing “machinery” and the exact composition of the “paraffin-based fluid.” And it’s worth noting that Oliver gave a warning about the information that is out there: In the past, he said, skywriting pilots were known to provide false information to throw off their competitors. I believe I got it right. But if Oliver is to be believed, who knows. Or maybe Oliver is providing false information about providing false information …



Please remember we all have different opinions, Think Before You Speak or Write Something that is cruel to Others. After all, We are only Humans. Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes. To share your experiences or just leave a comment there is a area below. Read or listen.

We are the change the world has been waiting for!

Have you witnessed an unidentified flying object?

Whether you think UFOs are black projects, extraterrestrial craft, something else altogether, or just don’t know.

Unconditional love. The road we all get to walk. Unconditional love is like the sun.


Love and Regards,

Thank You,

Nancy Thames





Julia Layton



  • Almendrala, Anna. “‘How Do I Land’ Skywriting Prank Brought To You By Kurt Braunohler, Kickstarter.” The Huffington Post. May 15, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2014)
  • Clark, Patrick. “#Skywriting: A Small Firm’s Pitch to Put Hashtags in the Sky.” Bloomberg Business Week. July 28, 2014. (Aug. 16, 2014)
  • Domi, Cristina ( Email interview. Aug. 22, 2014.
  • Ellen TV. “Ellen and Portia’s Anniversary Skywriting Through the Years.” Oct. 19, 2012. (Aug. 25, 2014)
  • “skywriting.” From: The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2013. (Aug. 3, 2014)
  • Grimes, Stephanie. “Skywriting urges Las Vegas to ‘Forgive your enemies.'” Las Vegas Review-Journal. March 8, 2014. (Aug. 16, 2014)
  • Hartill, Lane. “Sky Writer.” The Christian Science Monitor. Jan. 25, 2000. (Aug. 14, 2014)
  • Kelly, Robert A. “Skytyping.” Popular Mechanics. February 1962. Vol. 117, No. 2, p. 100-1. (Aug. 20, 2014) Available from:
  • LaFrance, Adrienne. “What Happened to Skywriting?” The Atlantic. April 16, 2014. (Aug. 5, 2014)
  • Library of Congress: Everyday Mysteries. “How does skywriting and skytyping work?” Aug. 23, 2010. (Aug. 5, 2014)
  • The New York Times. “…Repeats His ‘Sky Writing’: Flier Again Attracts Crowds by ‘Smoke Casting’ From Plane.” Nov. 30, 1922. (Aug. 26, 2014)
  • Olivers Flying Circus. “The Pepsi Skywriter.” (Aug. 3, 2014)
  • Olivers, Steve and Suzanne Asbury-Oliver (Olivers Flying Circus). Email interview. Aug. 22, 2014.
  • Popular Mechanics. “Skywriting.” April 1925. Vol. 43, No. 4, p. 641-3. (Aug. 21, 2014) Available from:
  • Skytypers. “History.” (Aug. 29, 2014)
  • Aerial Advertising. “Skywriting FAQs.” (Aug. 3, 2014)
  • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “Travel Air D4D.” (Aug. 26, 2014)
  • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “Women in Aviation and Space History: Suzanne Asbury Oliver.” (Aug. 29, 2014)
  • Spitznagel, Eric. “Odd Jobs: Skywriting is Just as Hard as You Think It Is.” BusinessWeek. Aug. 14, 2012. (Aug. 29, 2014)
  • Things We Speak About. “Relevant and contextual advertising… at its worst.” Sept. 6, 2009. (Aug. 29, 2014)
  • TMZ. “Shia LaBeouf: Latest Skywriting Stunt Cost $25,000.” Jan. 11, 2014. (Aug. 16, 2014)
  • Vosough, Monika. “The High-Tech Magic Behind Skywriting.” The Wall Street Journal. July 27, 2011. (Aug. 5, 2014)!6E3B1371-B49D-4886-AF89-2C94018CC879 (VIDEO)
  • Wilson, Tom. “Artist displays digits of ‘Pi’ in skywriting over NYC.” The New York Post. July 13, 2014. (Aug. 16, 2014)
Listen to this post

Leave a Comment