Atascadero’s mystery skywriter, Paul Kendrick

Friday afternoon, while most of the county was locked away in their houses like a teenager that has been grounded, one North SLO County man broke free of his shelter-at-home shackles and took to the skies leaving all us stuck on the ground a friendly reminder etched in the heavens.

If you were in Atascadero on Friday afternoon or logged onto Facebook, you more than likely saw the two-mile-wide happy face smiling down upon you. Starting around 1 p.m., the Atascadero native opened his masterpiece with one giant circle that began to catch the attention of excited onlookers across town, and the questions started pouring in.

Video after video popped up on timelines as onlookers gave their best guess at what the mystery pilot could be drawing. It soon became apparent as he made his final pass, exposing a gargantuan grin greeting us all.

It was not the first time that we have seen skywriting in North County. A few weeks back, a giant “805” also made an appearance but did not cause the social media storm like the smile did on Friday.

2020 Paul Kendrick Skywriter 3
Kendrick’s 805

After months of anonymity, the Atascadero News finally found the “805” mystery artist (thanks to a few friends on the internet) who says this will not be the last time he takes to the air with a machine full of smoke and images to create.

“I started flying when I was 14, that is when I started taking flight lessons,” Atascadero resident Paul Kendrick said. “I flew an airplane by myself before I drove a car by myself, which was right after I turned 16, that’s the youngest you can fly.”

The 38-year-old Atascadero native grew up in the air and takes to it whenever he can as a means to clear his mind and adventure.

As a young man in his late teens and early twenties, while most kids spent their days at the beach or playing video games, he spent his time in the air, often taking off for hours of flying high above California or wherever the wind took him.

Now, as an adult, and more importantly, a dad, his time for long flights has disappeared, but just as he did, his nine year-old-son Xander, loves the air and when he can’t come along for a ride he sometimes leaves a message etched into the clouds.

2020 Paul Kendrick Skywriter 1
Xander and Paul Kendrick

“This is only the third time that I have done skywriting. I did a smiley face and then wrote ‘805’ and then did the one Friday,” Kendrick said. “But I’ll be honest with you, I had plans to do something more ambitious, but it’s kind of a hard thing to do, skywriting.”

Not only is Kendrick a certified flight instructor but also a pretty advanced mechanic. The plane he flies is a Vans Aircraft RV-7 he built his garage.

“What I am doing wouldn’t really be possible from a practical sense any other way. The nature of it being a home built airplane means it is registered with the FAA as an experimental aircraft,” Kendrick explained. “There are 10,000 of this particular model airplane out there and flying in the world, so maybe experimental might be a bit of a misnomer, but by being experimental, it allows me a lot more options when it comes to maintenance and modifications, like a smoke system for example.”

It would be nearly impossible for a pilot to add a smoke machine to a production built airplane that comes from a factory, but with a “experimental aircraft,” Kendrick can make all the necessary modifications to create his illustrations.

Now with three runs under his belt, our previously anonymous skywriter is ready to get a bit more ambitious, the only problem is that there is no way to practice without the entire county as your audience.

2020 Paul Kendrick Skywriter 4
Smile from the Top

“One of the things that makes me really nervous about trying something more complicated is, as soon as I screw it up, there is no backspace,” Kendrick said. “My practice is in front of everyone who is outside and has a camera and happens to post it on social media, so I only get one shot at doing it right.”

With both feet planted on the ground, it seems easy enough, but to Kendrick, nearly 17,000 feet above us, the image is mirrored and flipped upside down. Smiley faces are simple enough, but Kendrick has told the Atascadero News his plans for his next trip, and while we won’t spoil the fun, we can report that next time he might leave us all a message rather than a sun sized emoji.

“It definitely makes me smile seeing all the posts,” he said. “I am glad that I can go out and do something like that, and it gets a positive reaction.”

What also makes skywriting difficult is that the canvas is at the mercy of mother nature. Kendrick can only write on days that he has off of work when it’s also clear, sunny and relatively still. The windier the day, the quicker the image disappears, and if there are clouds behind his creations, then it will be lost and hard to see.

However, next time it looks like a beautiful day, step outside and take a peek at the clouds because you never know what message could be waiting to give you hope or make you smile.