Their words fly in the face of beachgoers: such as the time a suitor proposed, "Marry me." The object of his desire replied, "No."
And everybody on Rehoboth Beach saw it.
As chief pilot for Garrison Aviation of Rehoboth Beach, Ray Creamer is in the business of delivering messages from on high. He is one of the pilots who spend hot summer days flying the planes towing advertising banners and individual messages over the tanned multitudes sunning on the beaches of the Delaware coast and Ocean City.
According to Creamer, people pay attention to his signs. "There is something about that airplane going by, that they can't not look. I don't know why it is, but they do that."
Creamer flies a 1957 vintage Cessna 172. While aloft he tows a rope about 200 feet long trailed by a banner as long as 100 feet and weighing between 25 and 30 pounds. The signs usually tout local restaurants, bars, pizza places and clothing shops in Dewey Beach and Rehoboth. Once a client wanted his sign flown upside down to attract more attention.
Each flight takes half an hour to run, with advertisers wanting their signs up during the peak beach hours, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The price for the service starts at about $130 and varies with the number of signs and flights scheduled, he says.
Garrison Aviation limits messages to 35 characters because, Creamer says, "If you don't set a limit . . . people are going to want to tow the Gettysburg Address." Next year the company may start flying logos for clients, he adds.
Last weekend Creamer demonstrated how he manages to get a huge banner into the air. After his plane takes off, he drops a rope with a grappling hook on one end out of the cockpit. The other end is fastened to the plane's tail. The plane then swoops down toward a pair of poles where the banner's tow rope is suspended in a loop only a few feet off the ground. The grappling hook snags the tow rope and the plane pulls up sharply, trailing the banner. One observer riding in the cockpit says it was more thrilling than anything a roller coaster has to offer. Creamer, a former member of a Navy flight crew, likens it to a carrier landing.
After the run, Creamer circles the field and releases the banner, allowing it to fall to the field. He lands to pick up a new tow hook.
The signs, made of nylon letters on a nylon cord frame held rigid by fiberglass rods, are constructed and stored in a building at the side of the airstrip (Rehoboth Airport is managed by Garrison Aviation). Inside the building the banners are rolled up, with tags attached to tell whose sign it is and when it is to be flown.
The banner-flying business is seasonal, with not much happening after Labor Day, Creamer said. But during the season, Garrison Aviation has 15 to 20 regular clients, some of whom have several banners towed each day.
Creamer said the biggest hazard he faces is other pilots who fly down the beach without paying enough attention to flying. However, he says, that is not a major problem.
A special waiver is required from the Federal Aviation Administration to tow banners and pilots must conform to air taxi regulations.
The secret of success in air-advertising is to be close to the audience and to have a nearby airstrip from which to work, Creamer says.
So for anybody who ever saw a sign in the heavens at the beach, it was probably Ray Creamer or a fellow pilot having a banner season.