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PALM LATITUDES

CLOSE-UP : Against the Wind

April 11, 1993|Diane Bailey

For pilot Doug Stavoe, skytyping is almost an insult to tradition. Sure, most skywriters have gone over to the newer method. And, yeah, it's faster to have five planes make letters by blasting out computer-timed dots of smoke. But Stavoe is the old-fashioned sort, one of a very few skywriters still making words with long, graceful plumes of smoke.

Short words, though. The old-fashioned way takes a lot longer and the wind waits for no word. That may explain why many of his clients have short names: Xerox, Gold's (as in Gym) and Columbia Records. Well, for them he spelled out "Marx" (as in Richard).

Stavoe, owner of the Newport Beach-based aerial-advertising company Pacific Drifters, makes the smoke by dropping carefully measured amounts of an environmentally friendly oil on his exhaust pipe. Making words requires a mastery of spatial relations: Because he flies above the letters, he must print them upside-down and backward so they look right from the ground.

Stavoe used to be an accountant. "There are so many things people don't care about. Accounting is one of them," he says. "It's so cool to be part of someone's memory. It's a traditional aviation art form. It's nice keeping it alive."

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