What is STOL Flying?

Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) aircraft are aircraft built to get in and out of an area in the shortest amount of time possible. Some aircraft are designed from the ground up to be a STOL airplanes, and others have just been modified to make them more capable as STOL aircraft. They can operate on and off airport, on grass, snow, ice or any other runway in harsh conditions. They can also operate off prepared strips.

There is no set size requirement for a STOL aircraft. They can be one seat, two seat (like an Aviat Husky) or many seats, like the de Havilland Dash-7. So put aside all your prejudices towards what you think a STOL aircraft is.

A brief history

With the goal of getting in and out of the back country in the shortest distance possible, Alaskan STOL flying developed into a necessity. But, it wasn’t here where STOL flight was created. Much like many other technologies, STOL aircraft owe their heritage to a diverse history in the military. Military commanders wanted the ability to get aircraft on and off aircraft decks and runways around World War 1. That’s 7 years after the Wright Brothers made the first airplane in 1903. However, these aircraft were clumsy and couldn’t carry much load.

In an effort to improve this, aircraft designers added features to increase wing lift while increasing the capable load of the aircraft. Special adaptations such as leading edge slats came to be around 1919.

As time passed, engineers took this ability and molded it into more modern aircraft, like the Piper J-3 cub, first built in 1938. It was designed as a light aircraft with excellent short field performance and low speed handling. A side effect of it’s light weight, it was excellent in short field operations.

Time constantly brought new technologies, stronger engines and new wing designs. In 1985, Christen Industries developed the Aviat Husky, a purposebuilt STOL aircraft with a high wing, tandem seating, and a great engine. This aircraft naturally lent itself to observation duties, pipeline inspection and other utilities. Notably, the Husky has a stall speed of 53 mph, which allows it to slowly approach an area it wants to land, and then roll out in a very small area.

Other developers continually tweaked the designs from the venerable J-3 cub or other early designs, to make their own special STOL designs, in a natural competition of “mine can carry more than yours and land in a short distance.”

Why are you holding a competition? Why is it fun?

Imagine being able to land an aircraft in 10 feet, 5 inches. Now takeoff in 14 feet, 7 inches. That is exactly what Frank Knapp did in his 1939 (slightly custom, and significantly modified) Piper Cub. That means that if this was your airplane, you could almost land in any postage stamp of runway, in the back country.

But it’s not all the aircraft, part of this is definitely the skill of the pilot. Pilots practice for months and years to get the exact approach that will lend itself to the shortest distance. These competitions let them demonstrate their STOL abilities, as well as other pilotage skills, such as landing on a set point, and hitting a target (or series of targets).

Alaskans made this into a competition in the early 1980s, and their competitive spirit continues today in Valdez, Alaska, yearly. We believe that we can put a Texas twist on this event, and make it a great experience for the whole family to enjoy.


This year, competitors will enter to win a record breaking cash purse and prices, with the exact amount to be announced soon! Even if you don’t compete, you can enter to win some great prizes in our raffle!