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Banner Tow Pilot Killed In Fiery Crash

Aug 15, 2023Aug 15, 2023

A pilot was killed when his banner tow plane crashed in Hollywood, Florida, on Wednesday. Video shows the Piper Pawnee flying slowly and at low altitude while still towing the large banner over the city. It appeared to be losing altitude before dropping a wing and diving to the ground at about 12:30 p.m.

The aircraft left North Perry Airport and was headed to a nearby beach when the pilot reported power problems to air traffic control. "Yeah, I’m gonna have to drop this banner. I’m not climbing," he is quoted as saying. The plane crashed on a street and caught fire immediately. Bystanders tried to pull the pilot to safety but the fire was too intense. The aircraft was owned by Aerial Banners Inc. The name of the pilot has not been released. The NTSB is sending an investigative team to the site.

Yea, over a minute too late in dropping the banner and flying the plane to safety.

Yep, looks like he dropped it as he started to stall.

Also seemed to be mushing along for quite a while. How many stall-spin accidents are preceded by the pilot pulling the nose up when the aircraft is mushing along at Cl-max?! (Rhetorical – it's essentially all of them). Better to fly the aircraft all the way into the crash, than to depart controlled flight.

My assumption was that he couldn't get rid of the banner – stuck release, perhaps? – and as I watched I was thinking, "once that banner snags, the resulting pull on the cable will stall the airplane even if the cable breaks". In fact, the banner drops and the airplane immediately departs controlled flight, which at first suggested to me that it snagged on something we can't see in the footage, maybe an antenna or a powerline?

Looking more closely, it does look like he dropped the banner, because it doesn't stop suddenly and doesn't show any sign of being caught on anything. The airplane immediately rolled to the right. I wonder… could the banner have been pulling on the tail in such a way that, with high deck angle and what power he had, he needed a lot of right rudder and up elevator? Releasing the banner could then have resulted in a pitch up and a yaw to the right and, with such low airspeed, a stalled right wingtip. He recovered the yaw with opposite rudder but didn't get the nose down enough and/or quickly enough, and by the time we see the airplane in a level attitude just before going behind the buildings it is descending very rapidly, the AOA is probably still above the critical AOA and the airplane is starting to depart to the left.

This was tragic and must have been terrifying.

Behind the power curve and mushing the whole way behind a huge draggy banner, to my eyes.

He reported loss of power. By the way, what is the "power curve"?

A point at which more power is required to maintain a slower airspeed. And at some point, you have no "more power" to give.

Also known as the "region of reverse command".

At the 52 second mark of the video, looks like the banner caught on something immediately resulting in the crash.

Looks like it released, as it did continue forward a short distance.

An unfortunate example illustrated by the line in movie Maverick, "You told me not to think." Whether it be an ejection handle in a military jet, BRS handle, parachute handle, or tow release for banner or glider, these are procedures critically needed to be ingrained with muscle memory to become instinctive. Allen Silver of Silver Parachutes has been lecturing this need for decades at EAA and FAA events. He encourages a dry run of those emergency procedures each time entering and leaving the aircraft to develop the muscle memory to make them instinctive in the moment of crisis. "Don't Think, Do"

My guess (which is what all the rest are at this point) is that there was a problem releasing the banner. If it snagged on something that pulled it free, that could have slowed the tow plane like a tailhook and caused a stall. He reported a power issue, so with all that drag from the banner, slow flight was all he was going to get which = the nose high attitude. He was probably doing everything he could. Hard to watch.

Tragic. I’m left wondering why he didn't (or couldn't) release the banner sooner. The wings appeared to be rocking for some time before the stall, he was right on the edge. I believe this plane was operated by the same company that lost one in FTL beach a few years ago, the one that hit a building.

It looks to me like the aircraft was probably stalled and ready to spin but the banner was preventing the spin. Notice in the video that as soon as the banner releases the aircraft enters the spin. I flew these large banners for a summer and I remember the more experienced pilots saying that they would strongly consider not releasing the banner in the event of a forced landing for this reason. You can get slower and not lose directional control but you won't have much energy for a flare and will probably suffer spine compression fractures, if not worse.

Is there additional responsibility of releasing a banner over populated areas that may explain a possible delay in this release before this crash?

I was wondering the same – I was especially thinking of what could happen if the banner came down over a windshield.

And I noticed that he told ATC that he HAD to drop the banner, not that he was doing so by choice.

Worse than having a banner come down over your windshield is having an aircraft come down on your windshield.

Your first sentence sums it up and you are absolutely right, the drag of the banner kept him going straight longer than he would have without it. I towed banners for years "back in the days". The combination of a low time pilot who cannot maintain altitude due to engine issues, and not dropping the banner because he fears for the repercussions of doing so. Instead of releasing the banner as soon as he started losing power he continues and mushes to his demise. If he had enough power to slowly lose altitude with the banner, he almost certainly would’ve had enough power to make it back to the airport or the beach, had he dropped the banner. Sad ending.

If he was stalled, the wing would have dipped…aerodynamics don't work like you are describing. More drag increases his stall speed and essentially causes him to stall sooner, at which point, whichever wing stalls first dips and the nose follows. He was losing altitude steadily instead of stalling. Appears he pitched up after disconnecting the banner and exceeded critical AoA. What the banner May have been doing was allowing him to not use his rudder and when it disconnected, he didn't feed in the rudder to counteract his impending stall. L = Cl.5p V2 S…. Increased load factor pulling out of that ‘dive’ also could have caused the stall.

"If he was stalled, the wing would have dipped" you can deep stall many light singles wings level with a lot of footwork, the Pawnee being one of those. Drag decreases his stall speed as long as he has power, which he had. But yes, technically you’re right, he wasn't stalled on the way down. He had a lot of up elevator and when the banner released he unfortunately didn't push forward. As for the rudder, he already was holding a lot of right rudder, more than needed without the banner. So effectively he was on his way into a snap roll the moment the banner released. I towed large banners for many seasons.

Aircraft: I can't fly this way…. Pilot: Just a little more… Aircraft: I can't fly this way… Pilot: Just a little more… Aircraft: I can't fly this way…. Pilot: Just a little more… Well….

All pilots should receive spin training and avoidance. Very sad.

Released the banner way to late. If you are going to have a controlled crash in a plane the PA-25 is about as good as it gets for survival. He/she could have glided down and taking his lumps in the street. But nose down in a stall or incipient spin he/she didn't have a chance. I just hope the crash and not the fire was the cause of death.

So sad seeing videos like this. Looks to me like he was already in trouble when the video first started.

I don't want to talk at all about what this particular pilot may have been going through, and her or his decision making process. Every time there is a loss of life in an accident, it is sad to me, and I know its up to the PIC to deal with each emergency, and I don't like to second guess them at all. I would like to speak to help educate some of the commenters who may be a little uninformed.

The FAA requires Banner Tow pilots to go through training and that training does include emergency procedures. Immediately releasing the banner is not what I was taught, though I have not kept up with the latest training recommendation.

There are a couple reasons not to just release the banner. 1) In the FAA's guidance on banner tow operations (FAA/FS-I-8700-1), they specifically state: "in the event of emergency release of the banner and/or tow line, it will not cause undue hazard to persons or property on the surface" (I admit, weak reason) At a higher altitude, its difficult to predict where the banner will blow or how many children are in the school bus it lands on.

2) The banner provides significant stability and drag that is helpful post "forced landing" and may dissipate energy and prevent the aircraft from flipping over.

In my banner tow training, I was taught that in the event of a power loss, to pitch down, head and head for the water adjacent the beach or a field or road if over land. Do this while still towing the banner. I practiced this on multiple occasions over the water (from 1200′ to 200′). When near the ground, the pilot decides to keep the banner to help stabilize the plane or ditch it due to hazard or assured landing (field or road) or obstacles. Most pilots I’ve talked to always say they’d hang onto the banner in the event of a water landing (see I know one person who lost power , but held onto the banner (per the training) and ditched it at a lower altitude then landed on a road unharmed. I once did had to go through this decision making process, when I lost power and descended from 1500′ to 200′ (over water) and I had all but given up and was ready to ditch in the water (while keeping the banner). Finally, I was able find a right combination of knobs to nurse enough power out of a violently shaking engine to climb from 200′ to about 1100′ over about 10 minutes. I made it to an airport, ditched the banner on the runway and landed on the remaining portion. I decided that day, to leave banner towing to others who might have better risk tolerance.

Thanks for a great comment!

Thank you for the very informative comment. Way better than people saying what she/ he did wrong.

Hanging onto the banner isn't going to help you if you’re not pointing the nose at the ground and still flying. Even at that, the snag thing still could’ve happened with the plane higher up than you want to pancake in from.

Nose-up and descending the whole way. Very hard thing to point the nose down toward a congested area. I would think in such a predicament, getting rid of that thing would be one of the first survival instinct actions to kick in. But maybe not if you’re trained otherwise…

Absolutely agree 100% with releasing the banner. I’ve done it myself although in my case it was a no-brainer since I was in very hot OAT's and oil temp reached red line with rpm decreasing as a piston started to weld itself to the cylinder wall. I was also fortunate that I could pickle it over a relatively sparse area with few people on the ground. 10 seconds after losing the banner the oil temp dropped and I regained power.

Hanging onto the banner is only an option over water and only if you have time to dump the nose and maintain flying speed. At lower altitude I would get rid of the banner immediately, no doubt about it. It also depends on what you’re towing. A 20 letter banner is one thing but a huge billboard is a lot of drag.

Then there is the real possibility of the tow rope breaking as the banner hits water or an object just when you’re about to ditch or land. I wouldn't want to deal with that configuration change at low altitude.

As published by Aerial Banners Inc. of Hollywood, Florida (same company as owner of this Piper PA-25 Pawnee involved in this tragic mishap).

"The FAA would like to thank everyone who participated in the development of this publication, especially the support provided by Aerial Sign Company, Inc., of Hollywood, Florida."

I don't know anything about banner towing although it seems the one being towed in this tragic accident was excessively large for the aircraft. He/she was probably hanging on the edge from takeoff with the poor engine struggling to keep both afloat.

Always sad when we lose a fellow aviator. RIP.

Towing banners and gliders can be risky since the speeds flown are never much faster than 70 mph and likely 60 with many planes. Combine the drag of sign with the slow airspeed and constant low altitude, and it wouldn't take much for things to go out of hand. It's a bit like that period of tiome a plane lifts of the runway but hasn't accelerated toa an established climb speed. I can't say as I miss the banner towing. I did like towing gliders.

Dropping the banner won't likely damage things much. It just stoops going forward and falls lazily downward. Most banners I used were easily picked up and laid out due their light weight. I don't know if it's still done but we used banners that were individual characters clipped together into words. There was a number of character limit but I don't remember.

I can say this, if there's time, let the banner go. The video of the plane setting down near the beach has still in control when it hit the water. It was stopped almost instantly but the pilot survived. The poor pilot in the Piper wasn't so lucky.

Bob Hoover said, "fly the plane as far into the crash as you can" or words to that effect. I hope for that same strength.

Good comments. Thanks to all.

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