Short Final: Location, Location, Location


Many years ago, I was on a midsummer drive in the country when I spotted a few Cubs, Champs and other vintage light airplanes in the distance flying in circles at low altitude. It looked like they were dropping something. Sensing something fun going on, I headed in that direction and was able to locate the small grass-strip airport they were flying over.

I could see there was a friendly gathering in progress, and there were a couple of official-looking guys with clipboards standing by a vintage military vehicle parked at the edge of the runway next to the windsock. I wandered over and asked them what was happening.

“We’re in the middle of a flour-bombing contest.” Sure enough, I could see a half-dozen or so well-dispersed stains of white powder scattered up and down the runway. “What are they aiming for?” I asked. One of them casually gestured his clipboard toward the vehicle we were all standing right next to. A little surprised, I started to move away as I saw an Aeronca Champ lining up to start its Pillsbury bomb run. The other guy said, “I wouldn’t be too worried. This is probably the safest spot on the whole airport.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. I participated in one of those about 50 years ago. If only Cessna had equipped their planes with bombsights, I could have won. Nobody hit the Arizona National Guard tank, not with flour, anyway. My bombadier may have hit it with his eyeglasses, however. We’ll never know.

  2. At about the same time @kpschroer was making his bombing run, I was invited to make a run at the local flying club. Never having dropped anything out of an airplane, it didn’t dawn on me that the thrust of an O-470 could blow a bag of flour a half a mile or more. The second run was much better…idle thrust and at least it landed in the airport boundary.

  3. It’s doable. In an ultralight at 50 mph and 50 ft I could reasonably hit a 4×8 plywood.


  4. That’s something you don’t see all that often anymore or at least I’ve not. Years ago in the 80’s I had a Cub and these events would pop off every now and then. They had old car tires painted white. Had to fly not less that 50 feet AGL and drop a flour bag. Closest to the tire won…bragging rights, no prize. Was always fun and a challenge.

  5. What’s the Statute of Limitation on admitting to something like the imaginary flour bombing of something resembling an Interstate highway to see the patterns the flour makes after an equally imaginary semi-truck rolls over the spot? 🤔 #Fiction #NeverActuallyHappened #AnyResemblenceIsPurelyCoincidental

  6. One factor in this contest is probably flour-bag aerodynamic accuracy. A solution might be to put the flour in a ballistically shaped container with stabilizing fins. I agree that development of such an improvement is not a high priority program in aviation design!

  7. What’s with all the past tense verbs? We do flour bombing, spot landing, and usually balloon-bust (depending on the breeze) contests every year at our annual fly-in down here in NC. Doesn’t everyone?

  8. Hi. Im from the FAA and “Here to Help”. Name, rank and serial number please. You have a right to ……….

  9. As a 15,000+ hour jet pilot I thought that flying a C-150 in a four bombing contest at a local grass strip would be a piece of cake. It was almost the end of me. On a hot day, with too much fuel, and my heavy set nephew as bombardier I made the huge mistake of lowering full flaps in order to make the slowest lowest descending run on the target as possible. After “bomb” release, applying full power did not arrest our descent and there was not enough runway to land on as the tree line at the end of the runway quickly approached. I retracted some flaps, dove toward the ground, gained some speed, and was able to zoom climb over the trees thankfully making it around for a landing. Never again!

    • A C-150 with full flaps is a very dangerous thing. When Cessna came out with the C-152, they corrected the 2 worst things about the 150. Under powered and too much flap.

      • I failed my first check ride in a C-150 because I tried to go around with full flaps deployed. It was a 92-degree summer day just to make things even more absurd.

  10. Years ago my friend and I participated in one of these in PA using a V tail Bonanza. He just pitched the bag thru the little window on the pilots side and won . The prize was a 25# bag of dog food……neither of us owned a dog !

    • When we started GPS enhanced/guided airdrop, I took the wife and dogs to the DZ aux field, grabbed the hack humvee and parked at the Orange target (PI) and had 6/6 within 25 yards of us from 10000′.

      Bubbas landed, picked me up for my turn, landed, home to start writing procedures.

      Same joke, the target is never hit.

  11. hmmm…it seems to me, and I’ve never done this, but attaching the flour bomb onto the bottom of the aircraft, with a latch string running to the attachment point, then using a bit of math to determine the release point, theoretically should result in the flour striking close to the target.

  12. We were participating in flower bombing at a small rural Texas airport 40 years ago.

    The spotter was on a four-wheeler and apparently wasn’t paying much attention when someone nailed him accidentally I might add with a bag of flour.

    Which fortunately for him was a portion of a bag. It knocked him right off the 4 wheeler

    Event continued but spotter changed his location.

    Closer to the target probably would have been safer.

  13. It’s pretty hard to do it accurately. I’ve done it a few times in my Maule MX-7-180 with my wife being the bombardier. Position, speed and wind all act on the dropped paper flour bag. If you are even slightly off on position, you can’t make a big change near the target. The paper bag has a large profile subject to the wind of flight and ambient wind. Slower airspeed works best but as was noted above, you need to consider obstacles and aircraft performance in the go-around as well as wind and density altitude. In my Maule I use 60 mph with 40 degrees flaps for the approach speed. I know that I can recover in a go-around with that configuration. The bombardier needs to drop the bag at just the right point before reaching the target. Altitude and airspeed are the big variables here. I use 50 feet above the target and 60 mph with target drop 2 seconds before reaching the target.