Some Pilots Are Using Their Flight Paths to Draw in the Sky

It has to be some of the largest artwork ever created.

The laces section of this sneaker-shaped flight path were probably pretty fun to fly. Chad Davis/CloudAhoy

In general, the sky isn't a great medium for creativity. Your options are limited to a banner pulled behind a plane, or using special smoke to write giant letters that will get swept away by the wind—maybe before you reach the end of the message. But there's another way that pilots express themselves, though it's not immediately apparent to the ground-bound. Using a flight tracking program called CloudAhoy, pilots around the country have been drawing some intricate designs in the sky for a contest to see who can most effectively merge their skills in the air with their creative flair.

The contest, called the Wild Blue Doodle and put on by aviation company Lightspeed, challenged pilots to "create a work of art in the sky" with their flight paths, as tracked by the software, for a chance to win a new headset (worth $850). Pilots around the country took advantage of the chance to show off. The large-scale designs include a sneaker, Snoopy in his "World War I Flying Ace" guise, a howling wolf, and even a self-portrait of sorts—one pilot flew his DA40 plane in the shape of a DA40.

A DA40, drawn by a DA40. Brian Danza/CloudAhoy

Creating these images took some careful planning. Brian Danza, the pilot of the DA40, told Flying magazine that he used Photoshop to create the outline of the plane, then traced that outline in Google Maps to get the coordinates of all the turns he'd need to make after taking off from Leesburg, Virginia. He then uploaded those coordinates to his aircraft's GPS system, which guided him through the 80-mile-wide image.

This howling wolf flight path took just over two hours to fly. Carl Helquist/CloudAhoy
Snoopy, piloting his doghouse. Michael Karrels/CloudAhoy

After judges pick the top 10, based on artistry and challenge, other users of the software will then vote to see who gets that high-end headset, or one of the fancy leather flight bags for second and third place.