UNIVERSITY PARK — A small silver plane circled around Penn State’s campus Tuesday for about two hours, towing a banner with a blunt message about the image of Joe Paterno standing beside Beaver Stadium.
“Take the statue down or we will.”
The message didn’t sit well with some people, including university employee Diane Farley.
“It was the threatening nature of it that made me feel people were invading our home,” said Farley, who saw it from inside her office in the Ford Building and during her lunchtime walk to Rec Hall.
“That’s not helpful.”
It’s not known who paid an Ohio advertising company to fly the message, nor was it revealed to whom the “we” refers. And the plane didn’t make attempts to take down the statue, as the message implied.
But what it did do was cause quite a stir.
The statue that became a makeshift memorial to Paterno when he died in January is now at the center of the debate over any lasting legacy he should have here after the Freeh report accused him and three other top-level administrators of concealing sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky.
Federal Aviation Administration records show the plane, a single-engine Cessna 150M, is registered to Air America Aerial Ads, out of Genoa, Ohio, which is near Toledo. The plane’s tail number was N66637.
The pilot flew in from Toledo to the Ridge Soaring Gliderport in Julian on Tuesday morning, took off again and made several circuits of the area around Beaver Stadium. It landed again shortly before 1 p.m.
The pilot, a silver-haired man, would only say he was from Toledo and wouldn’t give his name or who he worked for.
James Miller, the owner of Air America, refused to say Tuesday who paid for the banner, instead saying in a phone interview “I’m in advertising” and “I believe in freedom of speech.”
The FAA grounded a plane from Air America in 2010 after it towed banners that taunted Tiger Woods during the 2010 Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.
Penn State was well-aware of the stunt, said spokeswoman Lisa Powers.
But there wasn’t anything they could do about “this expression of opinion,” she said, as any restrictions would have to come from the FAA.
A spokeswoman for the FAA said Tuesday that the administration doesn’t regulate “any advertisement of message placed on banners that are towed by aircraft.”
As the heat is turned up on the university to address the issue over the permanence of the Paterno statue, Powers said the university is “taking additional precautions” regarding security. But she didn’t elaborate on what those measures would be.
Tom Knauff, who runs the gliderport off U.S. Route 220 Alternate between Julian and Unionville, said he had no idea what the message said. It’s common for banner-towing aircraft to use the facility, such as for messages during Penn State football games.
From her office on campus in the Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory, university employee Donna Maurer saw the plane flying over after her boss alerted her and her co-workers about it.
For her, what was most upsetting was that “someone would have the nerve to do it.”
“We’ve all suffered enough already,” she said.
“It’s just putting such a bad, negative light on the university,” Maurer said.
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT