Three generations of General Aviation and American business ingenuity from the Stinis family
I had the pleasure of interviewing and flying with Greg and Stephen Stinis and the rest of the West Coast Skytypers crew at Chino airport in California. Within minutes of landing, I had a call from Greg Stinis asking about my plans for dinner. After meeting them, and realizing that they are a Greek family, I knew I was in for a ripping good time. We headed out for Mexican food and felt like I had known them for ten years instead of ten minutes. Skytypers is a great General Aviation based business that not only supports their local airport and highlights aviation, but it inspires the love of flight to those on the ground looking skyward. The team feels like a family, and they all have a lot of fun. Skytypers have both and East and West Coast presence flying with their patented system using multiple on-board computers.
According to Greg, his father Andy Stinis’ history is rich in innovation and aviation. From 1931 to 1953, Andy Stinis performed skywriting for Pepsi-Cola, “Across the US during those years, skywriting with smoke was a premier form of advertising. The original 1929 TravelAir Pepsi Skywriter my Dad flew hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum,” says Greg.
Always an entrepreneur in 1946, Andy developed a method of “skytyping” using multiple aircraft to create complex sky displays and messages. His patented skytyping method provided a high-quality message that was more clearly readable at large distances and stayed intact longer. The patent for computer-controlled skytyping between multiple aircraft was awarded to Andy in 1964. Andy flew west at age 83 after having amassed over 30,000 flying hours.
Greg says that aviation was always a central part of his life. When his father would “babysit” him, they would go to the airport and hit the skies. He learned to fly in an AT-6 and has been a sky writer since he was 18 years old. In 1979, Greg formed Skytypers, Inc. holding the patents and continuing his father’s business legacy.
The Stinis family: a study of commitment to a General Aviation business, innovation, perseverance and fun.
Having both the East and West coast bases, the Skytypers have worked for a variety of clients. Among them Anheuser–Busch, Miller Brewing Company, Coors, Pepsi-Cola, Universal Pictures, Toyota Motors, Disneyland, Coppertone, Solarcaine, Miller Brewing Company, Ford, General Foods, and Geico.
As well they have brought their own type of magic to a variety of prestigious and historic events: The 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California, Superbowl games, Macy’s parades and 4th of July celebrations in New York and over the White House. While a successful business, with world-famous clients, I can’t help but wonder about the countless people that they have touched and lit a spark for aviation. All the pilots I talked to said that they get a lot of questions and comments from airshow attendees and the like. The way that the typed letters magically appear in the sky is a head-turner for sure.
In 1989, Greg took the California business to Japan becoming the first US WWII civilian aircraft team to fly and tour Japan. Since then, Skytypers has created several joint ventures throughout the world: South Africa, France, Spain, UAE and the United Kingdom.
Stephen Stinis began formal participation in company operations in 1996, thus making Skytypers an enterprise spanning three generations. In 2004, Stephen and his cousin Curtiss Stinis developed and patented a new digital Skytyping system using multiple computers on a wireless network. The system has the capability to type messages in color, in different languages and some graphics/logos. Stephen received his pilot’s license when he was seventeen years old while working for Skytypers. According to Stephen, “The goals of Skytypers are to help private and public organizations inform and educate people about product and service offerings as well as charity projects and public service measures.”
General Aviation businesses such as Skytypers are a true economic engine for our airports. They have a squadron of AT6 in New York and previous to Chino the West Coast unit was based in Long Beach for thirty-seven years. Not do only aviation businesses pay rent, but they increase tourism, purchase fuel, and are ambassadors for the airport.
The flight of five Grumman Tigers departed Chino on a clear Saturday afternoon. Greg and Stephen Stinis were in Skytyper #1. I flew right seat in #2 with longtime professional pilot Torrey Ward. The other members of the squad were #3 Jim Wilkins, #4 Zackary Bryson, and #5 Tom Sather. I was impressed; start to finish with the pre-flight briefing, pre-flight, run up, communications and in-flight formation from these gentlemen. I had never flown in an airplane with a clear canopy the visibility was awesome. I decided to use my Lightspeed Tango wireless headset and was impressed by its capabilities once again.
We climbed to 11,000 feet and the Skytypers began their work. Our mission took us over downtown San Diego, Sea World, and Coronado. Returning to Orange County we flew up the coast to Huntington Beach over Long Beach, Orange County Airport and back to Chino. The mission lasted a little over two and a half hours. I was thrilled to be able to fly some of the formation from the right seat. Each letter created by the five airplanes is 1250 feet tall, meaning that people in a twenty-mile radius viewed the skywriting. It is amazing to consider upwards of two million people saw the skytyping.
After a fun formation landing we climbed out of the Tigers and de-briefed. A quick scan of Instagram and Twitter yielded not only photos but also video of the Skytypers at work. It is easy to see now that the ideas that Andy Stinis had in the early 40s were brilliant. Add to that the technology available now makes the flights safer and adds greater choices.
From master on to master off the Skytypers acted like professional pilots, yet the amount of fun they had was infectious. It is clear that they have found the golden ticket; their passion is in line with their vocation. The result is art, sky art.
On a personal note I would like to thank the Stinis family and all the Skytypers for the hospitality. I really very much enjoyed being able to fly some of the formation from the right seat. That taste has inspired me to begin my formation training with the Mooney Caravan and will flying the mass arrival to Oshkosh in a few weeks.
Each of the Skytypers asked me what I thought about flying the mission. My answer was the same. “My face hurts from smiling for two and a half hours straight!” Business innovation, ingenuity, perseverance through challenging economic times, inspiring the love of flight, and generating awe with puffs of smoke, the sky is only the beginning for the Skytypers.