Posted by: tomkingaerial | July 6, 2010

Ocean City’s beach-buzzing airplanes are flown by the “seat of the pants”

Banner pilot Jake Thibeault, 24, banked the little 1978 Bellanca Scout around the soybean fields north of Berlin, Md.

He cut his altitude and lined the plane up with the two white poles, about 8 feet apart, just to the left of his employer’s grass landing strip. Skimming maybe 15 feet above the beans, the Scout raced toward the poles at 80 mph. When he’d cleared them, Thibeault yanked back on the stick and gunned it. The grappling hook dangling from the plane’s tail snagged a nylon rope strung between the tops of the poles, peeling a long advertising banner off the ground and into the air. The Scout clawed for the sky.

Thibeault knew right away something was wrong.The Ocean Aerial pilot had been flying the plane all morning, towing advertising banners up and down the beaches at Ocean City . Then he’d fly back to Bob Bunting’s farm, drop the old banner, roar over the poles to snag the next one, then head back to the beach.

But this was different. The two-seat Scout had lost power — not completely, but he could tell it wasn’t climbing well. And it didn’t sound right. He turned and hoped he could make it back.

But this tail-dragger was not behaving. Did he do something wrong? Should he drop the banner to lighten the load on the engine? Can the Scout even make it back?  Click here to get the answer!

“There isn’t any media on the beach that grabs the attention of the masses as well as the airplane,” Bunting said.

Bunting, 53,  owns Ocean Aerial, which flies all the planes whose buzzing engine noise makes beach vacationers on the sand look up from their books. “There’s still that fascination. When they hear that airplane, they look up and read the banner. “From “three ratty airplanes” and 20 or 30 banners a day in 1983, he now has eight pilots in the air and “close to 100 banners … on a busy, busy day.”

The pilots come each summer from all parts of the country. They’re weird,” Bunting said, with a twinkle. “They’re unique individuals. This kind of flying is not your really normal flying. This is seat-of-the-pants, like in the ’20s and ’30s. They say this is the most fun they’ve had flying.”

Read the full story by Frank D. Roylance, The Baltimore Sun, 12:29 a.m. EDT, July 3, 2010

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