Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free trial today! Click here

Can't get enough STOL

Alaska-style competitions pop up around the country

Short takeoff and landing (STOL) competitions and demonstrations have gained such popularity that events are popping up across the country to show off pilot skills and aircraft performance that was once common mainly in Alaska.

Here are some of the popular events to join and show off your airplane’s STOL capability or watch and judge performances with fellow spectators.

Valdez Fly-In: This Alaska event is the granddaddy of STOL competitions, where pilots make their highly modified bushplanes take off and land in unbelievably short distances—9.5 feet for landing and 11 feet for lifting off. The annual competition takes place in early May, and is set for May 10 to 12 this year. If you want to see some impressive flying in person, plan your future bucket-list trip to Alaska to coincide with the event! Get a taste of the excitement in this video and AOPA Pilot feature.

Competitors in the Valdez Fly-In have impressively short takeoffs and landings. Photo by Mike Collins.

AOPA Fly-Ins: All three of AOPA’s Fly-Ins in 2019 will feature a STOL Invitational and teach STOL and backcountry flying in free seminars. Watch everything from single-engine bushplanes to turbine-powered heavy touring aircraft demonstrate just how short they can take off and land. AOPA Fly-Ins are scheduled for Frederick, Maryland, May 10 and 11; Livermore, California, June 21 and 22; and Tullahoma, Tennessee, Sept. 13 and 14.

Aircraft wrangler Jimmy Gist orchestrates a short takeoff and landing demonstration with an Aviat Husky during an AOPA Fly-In. This year, AOPA Fly-Ins will feature a STOL Invitational during its Flightline Cookouts on Friday evenings! Photo by Mike Fizer.

EAA STOL Invitational: EAA AirVenture, July 22 to 28, also showcases the prowess of modified bushplanes during each evening of its Twilight Flight Fest in the Fun Fly Zone. The invitational is billed as pilots’ “opportunity to witness the incredible short takeoff and landing skills so aptly demonstrated in wilderness environments like river sandbars in remote Alaska.” If you haven’t watched a STOL competition and are planning to attend AirVenture, be sure to add this to your list. In past years, pilots who participated in Valdez made their way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to fly in the STOL event.

Joe Dory IV performs in his first STOL competition at EAA AirVenture in 2015. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

Sod Buster STOL Competition: This start-up event in Milaca, Minnesota, will host its first competition on Aug. 3 in hopes of attracting pilots on their way home from EAA AirVenture. Competition classes are for heavy touring, light touring, bush, and light sport/experimental aircraft.

The inaugural Sod Buster STOL Competition will kick off Aug. 3. AOPA file photo.

High Sierra Fly-In: This fly-in at Dead Dow Lakebed in Reno, Nevada, Oct. 17 to 20 takes STOL competitions “to the next level” by adding drag racing. In STOL drag racing, pilots fly their bushplanes “3/4 mile straightaway down and back in a drag racing format side by side.” If you fly in, be prepared to thoroughly detail your airplane afterward because of all the dust from the dry lakebed. Watch the race in action in this video and article—and you'll see just how dusty it is!

An aircraft is inches above the ground as judges inspect a landing at the turn-around during the 2018 High Sierra Fly-In STOL Drag Race. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Texas STOL Roundup: The annual competition started in 2014 and is typically hosted in Hondo, Texas, but Texas STOL Roundup is changing things up for 2019. The event, now dubbed Rocktober STOL, will be hosted in conjunction with Byrd’s Adventure Center in Ozark, Arkansas, Oct. 24 to 27. The event features a traditional STOL competition, a flour bombing contest, and camping near the runway so that spectators get an up-close look at the action. AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman takes you inside the event.

There's never a dull moment around Jimmy Gist—air boss of the Texas STOL Roundup. Photo by Mike Collins.
Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Senior Director of Media, Digital Media
AOPA Senior Director of Media, Digital Media, Alyssa J. Cobb began working at AOPA in 2004, is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: Events, Fly-in, Airshow

Related Articles