STOL Competitions: Should The FAA Get Involved?


I’m always a little trepidatious about recommending intervention by the FAA, but it’s probably long past time to have an official look at STOL competitions. By all means, tell me how wrong I am but be constructive and polite. And while you’re at it spare a thought for Tom Dafoe’s beautiful family as they ponder his utterly senseless loss at the MayDay STOL competition in Nebraska last weekend.

As we reported, Dafoe died after his Cessna 140 dove into the dirt at Wayne Municipal Airport/Stan Morris Field while he was taking part in an ad hoc landing and takeoff distance competition. The STOL drag race he’d traveled hundreds of miles to compete in had been postponed because of high winds.

It’s not clear what prompted Dafoe and a handful of others to hop in their planes for a little friendly competition. That they were able to put it together and get those aircraft into the air in an unsanctioned competition within the STOL Drag event in questionable conditions is puzzling, too.

The event itself had all the trappings of a well-organized aviation outing. AOPA was one of the sponsors and spectators were present. That implies that there were standards and procedures in place governing the conduct of the participants.

This is not meant to be a vilification of those taking part. Rather, the backcountry origins of the STOL competition phenomenon suggest some swagger is involved and the preconceptions involved may have been a factor.

Regardless of all that and the undeniable entertainment factor, this kind of flying is far from playful. It’s highly dangerous. The whole idea is to dance on the cliff edge of flight parameters our instructors taught us to avoid unless absolutely necessary.

Forget the argument that competition has always been a part of flying and risk is a natural extension. Once you start placing ads and inviting spectators there is a well-founded expectation that safety, for the competitors and the crowd, is a fundamental organizational priority.

So, what could the FAA do without just a blanket ban on such competitions? As with aerobatic displays, it could mandate that pilots be trained and checked out for competence. It could also require that an air boss or the equivalent be in charge of the field and that pilots comply with his or her direction. Maybe there should also be a standard set of rules. They seem to vary widely. The agency could also have a representative or two at each event to keep an eye on things.

Of course, the FAA’s involvement may be rendered moot by a much more powerful force. The insurance industry is undoubtedly all over this accident and you can watch for competition clauses in your next renewal if they aren’t already in there. If they’ll touch you at all in a STOL competition, you can bet it will cost plenty.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. These competitions certainly include an incentive to reduce speed to a minimum, including below those listed in the operating handbook. That is not conductive to safe flying and could be considered careless/reckless. Planes/lives lost due to operating beyond certified limits and the ensuing news will harm general aviation more than any proficiency gained by practising minimum ground roll operations. FAI sanctioned rallye sport competitions only judge “precision” landings AFAIK, i.e. touching down with minimum deviation from a “target” laid out across the runway. For take-offs, I have seen a mode where pilots choose the distance they start their take-off run from a detachable line mounted between two poles (like a banner pick-up) which they have to clear. The closer you go (handicapped for your plane’s book performance), the higher the points, and if you misjudge, mishandle all you have to endure is landing with a piece of line tangling from your gear. STOL competitions should mandate adherence to book speeds although that is hard to police and there is a strong incentive to drop a knot or two (or just not correct a last-minute gust…). I don’t think there should be regulations, but a kind of “sporting code” by AOPA/EAA would be a good idea.

    • Many / most of the participant’s aircraft are not ‘certified’ to begin with, so this is a non-starter.

    • Do you think the DMV should police the Indy 500? If it a sanctioned event they should stay out of it, like any racing event.

  2. Of course, the most pressing issueis unaddressed. Are STOL drag accidents running up insurance rates for the rest of us?

    There is a difference between taking incremental calculated risks during practice to improve proficiency: short fields, crosswind landings, glass water landings, etc. We all understand that.

    But the thrill of competition & the corner-cutting required to win STOL competitions is a problem. As far as pointless risk goes, STOL competition is right up there with scud running.

    If these competitions continue, we need to at least ensure that they are insured under separate special policies, like air racers are, and the aircraft & pilots removed from the general aviation risk pool.

        • Disregard. He’s just a tired old culture warrior who refuses to allow the rest of us the enjoyment of an aviation discussion without his politics.

          • THE point to be made is death rate on roads.

            Vote for more policing – instead of for defamers who tell vicious lies when someone stands up for policing in Sictoria BC.

  3. Leave the Federation to Abolish Aviation out of it…let the insurance industry control it through exclusion clauses for these types of events…

    • Totally agree!! We are already over regulated. Maybe we should go in the other direction for a few decades and give live and let live another try.

    • Many of my policies have included competition exclusions; they are actually universal in automobile policies, I expect that to become so with aircraft policies. Note that they often say “competition, or practice/training for competition”, so that will be hard to police.

  4. Well, maybe the issue is not the freedom to take risks or whether somebody else’s actions will drive up your insurance, but whether the FAA should exist at all. Since, like all Cabinet agencies, it exercises legislative (legislates and sets rules), judicial (runs its own courts) and executive (metes out punishment) authority and therefore violates the Separation of Powers prescribed in the Constitution, the FAA itself should be eliminated. Then, perhaps, the Congress could busy itself doing its job – making the laws – rather than spending its time focused on enriching its members. Just an idea.

      • The response is spot on, it just has nothing to do with the issue here. Insurance companies are the answer, not the FAA.

        • I tend to agree, but how would this accident have differed at all with someone who self-insures?

    • Chris reminds me of an interesting fact. I read James’ comment as quite educated and reasonable. The interesting fact is that two well intentioned folks can see the same thing and come up with completely different interpretations.

      • Spot on!

        James pointed out the failure of the FAA–certainly NOT “uneducated and nonsensical response.” MANY people have identified the FAA’s failures. Calling his response “uneducated and nonsensical” without an example of context is an ad hominem attack.

        James correctly points out that the insurance companies are far more effective than the FAA–he identifies the problem, and provides a possible solution.

        No need for even MORE ineffective and intrusive government regulation–it is a direct answer to the original question–“Should the FAA get involved?”

    • When I read a comment like this I am honestly confused if the writer is either aware or understands the ramifications of the statements made. Let’s for a moment step back from the constitutional concerns and focus on the salient point, get rid of the FAA.


      First question, who sets the standards for pilot training. Not the FAA any more so who? Schools themselves? Who certifies the pilot that they are qualified or capable of operating an aircraft with passengers and are we willing to accept the deaths from poor training from schools that care more about income the safety.

      Next question? Who controls the airspace. At the moment the FAA via ATC does this job so is the proposal to offer the services to private companies? At the moment tax payers pay for all those nice services that keep planes from hitting each other, but sure, let’s go private, but now…no tax dollars for the service. No FAA. So now pilots get to pay for every mile of controlled airspace they fly in. Every service is now a cost and maintenance of navigational aids is on the backs of air carriers, airplane owners and pilots. That will lower costs.

      One more, are we okay with allowing airline manufacturers the ability to self regulate? We had two crashes before it was discovered just how little Boeing cared about people and much they loved profit. With no regulations, how comfortable are we in getting on an airplane that has had no certification but the manufacturer saying, trust us…it’s safe.

      James wants to get rid of the FAA, but I don’t hear/read of what replaces it. In my years, those that scream the loudest about getting rid of agencies like the FAA, EPA, FDA are those that want to cheat the system for their own gain, good luck with the rest.

      The FAA has its flaws and some of it may be from political influences, but overall, the people that work for the FAA do want to keep people safe and alive. As I just read in an article, in aviation, regulations are many times written in blood, so…how much blood are we comfortable with today?

  5. Let each pilot decide for himself his own risk and comfort zone.

    If you want to risk your life, go ahead and do it. None of my business as long as measures are place to minimise risk to third parties (who are also free to make their own risk assessments of those measures.)

    Me? I wouldn’t go near a STOL competition as a flying participant.

  6. If the FAA gets involved, and you can actually find a pilot among them familiar with STOL flight, the very low accident rate would drop to zero – because they would kill the sport through over-regulation. Why is it that some people think the best solution is to get unelected bureaucrats involved? Look at their bungling over the Avgas debate, still no solution despite millions spent and all the while we have a great solution in ethanol-free Mogas. Reagan was right – government is not the solution to problems, government is the problem. Let free markets work this out. “Liberty implies the absence of government.” Mises

    • That is a truly frightening response. Unregulated free markets is a proven recipe for disaster.

      • Free markets naturally develop self regulation. Hang gliding developed a pretty refined set of airworthiness and training standards and is as safe as any other form of GA. The FAA never got involved – but it is not unregulated. STOL contest organizers should probably aim to do likewise and get out in front of this, before the FAA shuts it all down.

        • +1

          AOPA (McSpadden) already produced a list of improvements that could be made to the sport in their recent YouTube video about this crash. So, it’s already happening.

      • Chris, please name 5 actions you’ve performed in the last 5 months that did not involve some form of regulation, law or statute.

        You can’t.

        From the type toilet and light bulbs in your home, to the food you eat and the car you drive, every single aspect of your life is regulated.

        Am I saying all regulation is bad? No.

        But I am asking why is it that we believe that every facet of our lives require government oversight. Does every single aspect of our lives “been shown to harm humans”? How in the world did we survive the last ice age without government oversight.

        Such a disaster as I when I wish, in a free market, to purchase raw milk from my neighbor. I can’t purchase free range organic chickens from the farm next door. I have to purchase them from a government sanctioned and stamped with approval, big box store lest I keel over.

        • Robert O., the examples you refer to are very possibly the result of regulatory capture, i.e., businesses using the regulator to shut out lower-cost competition.
          In aviation, it’s not clear if that’s happening: I don’t think Cirrus or Garmin are exactly benefiting from the crushing cost of certifying new small airplanes or avionics. They might be bigger, richer companies with less-costly regulation and more customers. (But they might not – it isn’t clear. The record of LSA sales suggests that the market size gain from lower airplane prices is not large. So maybe shutting out competitors is the key.)
          It does appear that government aviation bureaucrats are incentivized only to prevent accidents – which they can do by preventing flying – but not to promote flying. These folks are partially countered by FAA personnel who genuinely like aviation – and by the fact that if you prevent ALL flying then you don’t have a job. The problem we small-GA types face is that the FAA jobs are mostly tied to bizjets and airliners; if we disappeared, almost no-one at FAA would miss us. This is why we’d be better off with industry regulation (like hang gliding) rather than FAA regulation: we need a regulator who would miss us.

          • “the examples you refer to are very possibly the result of regulatory capture”

            Agreed, however that isn’t a bug, that’s a feature.

            “In aviation, it’s not clear if that’s happening:”

            Anecdotal maybe, but 15-20 years ago, our local FBO owner was the de facto airport manager. Any new business that wanted to set up shop at our local airport was thwarted, sometimes even after moving in, setting up shop and spending major capital. The “airport manager” ensured that only one FBO/business was viable (his).

            That FBO/manger retired about 10 years ago, and it’s like a brand new airport. Literally dozens of new aviation related shops/businesses/flight schools/State projects have made our airport home. Significant taxiway/runway length improvements are in work(as in picks and shovels are actually being used, not just on paper).

            So yes, regulatory capture does happen. And again, a feature, not a bug.

    • Good point. It’s not frightening at all that Kent believes in power of the individual to control his own life as being a great way to run a society. We need more ideas like Kent’s.

    • Outstanding comment, Kent. Unfortunately, there are too many people like Chris A. who think politicians and bureaucrats have brains and are good people and will take care of everything.

    • Well, there is no universal solution in ethanol-free mogas, that just handles the low-compression planes, and not the working planes that eat most of the gas. But there are viable solutions for those, that have essentially been pushed aside.

  7. “That they were able to put it together and get those aircraft into the air in an unsanctioned competition within the STOL Drag event in questionable conditions is puzzling, too.”

    Do we know if this scenario was completely unsanctioned? Conditions didn’t allow the standard event but I have to wonder if somebody pitched something like “We have all these fans on the field who want to see some flying. What if we…?” Somebody set the parameters for what the pilots were to do, and somebody made a decision to proceed, and everybody involved agreed.

    Beyond establishing some guidelines, the FAA should have as little input as possible.

  8. Russ likely identified an important antecedent factor in this accident – “…the backcountry origins of the STOL competition phenomenon suggest some swagger is involved and the preconceptions involved may have been a factor.”
    That might have been the precursor that helped make the last-minute (ad hoc) alteration to the competition plan make sense to the participants. They might not have taken the time to fully assess conditions and define procedures (e.g., stage aircraft by slow flight speed, create an appropriate interval spacing, etc.).
    That’s where having a procedure that requires the approval of a plan (the regulator…in the U.S. – the FAA) seems like a good idea. Some groups will do an excellent job of setting procedures that keep the competition exciting (while also keeping risks in check), some groups won’t. Having an official body that sets a standard for approving aerial displays / competitions is a good idea.

    • Well said. The real problem here was the interval between each lane & the mix of older & underpowered stock aircraft & specialty STOL aircraft.

  9. Maybe, since this was a base to final stall and that seems to be the leading cause of accidents in the pattern, the FAA should look at abolishing the current traffic pattern and making all patterns a 45 degree base with an entrance to a 5 mile final and that will eliminate the issue.

    Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Unless you can find evidence of gross negligence on the part of the organizers or participants, this was just another base to final accident albeit with more spectators. As you said, I feel for the the family as well as anybody who witnessed it but this article is an overreaction.

      • Yeah, but similar. “S”ing to get a bit of separation at very low speed appears to be the culprit.

        • For a gentle S-turn to stall an aircraft it must be on the verge of stall already. And that’s not a happy place to be living if you are higher than you want to fall.

    • The base to final stall/spin scenario most often involves a pilot overshooting the extended runway centerline and then overcorrecting to get back lined up. The overcorrection that contributes to the eventual stall is typically either an accelerated stall, or a cross-controlled stall.
      In this case, those factors don’t appear to be present.

  10. There is absolutely no level of FAA involvement that would have prevented what happened. Keep them out.

  11. Someone tell me the difference between the planes stacked up on final – visible in the AOPA posted “Early Analysis” video and planes stacked up on final at a fly in or popular pancake breakfast at arrival time?

    I DO NOT want to second guess or Monday Morning Quarterback that particular incident. But I have a strong suspicion that in any busy pattern at a CTAF field with planes stacked up and someone flying slow or maneuvering for spacing the NTSB will opine: “Pilot’s failure to maintain control…….contributing factor……..Contest / Pancake Breakfast / Flour Bomb Contest / Free AvGas for the first 5 planes to arrive”

    • Probably a stol competitor’s reluctance to lose his place in line & on the scorecard. In these ad hoc competitions, order of take-off is notated (1,2,3, etc), not the N-number, & used as a placeholder for scoring the landing to combine the two.

      Hence, his attempt at an “s” turn for separation instead of going around or breaking left & circling to the back.

    • AOPA was incorrect.
      There was no S turn attempt. The aircraft was not crabbed into the wind coming from the left. The shaded right wing buffeted from an approaching stall of the right wing. NOTE – the stall indicator for a Cessna is on the LEFT wing. There may not have been a stall warning. The pilot attempted to correct the stall of the right wing, (bring the right wing back up) with ailerons exceeding the critical angle of attack for the right wing… perfect snap stall spin.

  12. I’m not too familiar with these aircraft or events. My impression is that some aircraft are modified to fly well beyond stall speed. Did the accident aircraft have any such modifications? If not, then perhaps look at guidance from STOL organizations to set standards for different types of aircraft. Those with mods and those without. Insurance should handle accordingly.

    Maybe it’s the case that pilots with ‘stock’ aircraft are trying to perform like the modified aircraft and getting too slow? Was the pilot not watching speed and coordination because his mind was in STOL mode? That is, falsely assuming a level of protection just by being part of a STOL event? We won’t know.

    Is there a STOL organizing body that could set standards? I don’t think it should be the FAA. That would be like the DMV having oversight of an antique car show.

    • Good question about modifications, which may improve or degrade stability.

  13. Sounds like a case for the ‘Just leave the fools alone to kill themselves.’ approach some commenters advocated in the case of the failed Red Bullbleep parachuting stupidity.

    Question is whether activities endanger outsiders, as the Red idiots stunt may have.

    Good point about insurance companies, families may also want to challenge participants.

    Into my conscious memory pops the pressure from Pacific Western Airlines on Hal Cope for flying a small old deHC airplane after he became a V-P. (He had been President of Transair Winnipeg which was absorbed by PW, not a competent person in my experience.)
    PW’s concern was losing him to a crash, misguided concern I thought.
    But on the streets of Calgary, a daughter of Rhys Eyton died when a long piece of chrome from a vehicle that sideswiped the family’s car pierced her body. (They survived skiing and the wintry drive to and from, only to be hurt on streets not far from home.)

  14. The devil in this case, is not in the details, but in specifying the exact problem we are trying to solve. This was a low-altitude stall. There are so many ways this can occur, from circling a friend’s house, to mismanaging a gusty crosswind, to a distraction in the cockpit on a dragged-in approach or max performance takeoff. (My father was killed in a departure stall trying to out-climb powerlines at a small grass strip.)

    Any attempt to “regulate out” this kind of accident will not only fail to cover all possible causes, but seriously impact normal operations. Mandated AOA indicators still don’t fly the airplane, five-point harnesses do little to mitigate blunt force trauma, and we all know how well the regulation-required BFR has pulled the accident curve down.

    While this accident was tragic, and tragically public, is it really any different from the crash of the PC-12 off the NC coast? Speculation now is that this was a VMC-to-marginal-IMC over open water with no visual landmarks. How you gonna fix that?

    After every tragic event, there is the inevitable cry that “Somebody should DO something so this can never happen again!” Almost invariably, such knee-jerk reactions make a lot of things worse without substantially mitigating the problem.

    Show of hands: Everyone who feels that there should be greater regulation of STOL events specifically and can provide sample text of a regulation that specifically targets this sort of accident, without impacting the holiday weekend fly-in I’m heading off to, please post your proposal.

    Unlike Kent “Animal Farm” M. I believe that there is a role for government regulation in activities that have been shown to harm humans. The number of innocent citizens killed in aircraft accidents pales into statistical insignificancy to those killed by under-regulated firearms.

    • This was a training issue… not a regulation issue.
      He caused a wing to stall, then reacted incorrectly.

    • Excellent points thankyou.

      Turning around in a blind canyon blundered into caused quite a few crashes in BC a few decades go.

  15. My view, FWIW, is that there are enough existing regulations, and that the FAA should stay out of it. A single tragic accident should not be the catalyst for hand-wringing, knee-jerk reactive regulation writing.

    But that accident should be an example for what not to do as an individual pilot, faced with having to space behind another aircraft on final—something that is relatively common not only at non-towered airports, or small back country strips, but also at towered airports—almost every place that airplanes can land. The whole idea of S-turns on final for spacing should be discouraged—by adequate instruction, not by regulation. Slowing below 1.3 Vso should be carefully analyzed by the pilot whether it’s safe to do so. And going around should be encouraged as the best means for safety.

    But none of that requires more regulation.

    • I agree with Cary A. in that S-turns on final should be avoided. Depending on proximity to the runway threshold, S-turns can be either steep or mild (closer = steeper), we should never forget that maneuvering can have a significant effect on stall speeds. Way back when I was flying, I was taught POH speeds or the equivalent of 1.3 Vso on final; however, on windy/gusty days, I was taught to add 5 kt. or a bit more as “insurance”. Executing a go around would most likely have prevented this accident, and I’m continually amazed at how many accidents (including those involving Part 121 operators) could have been avoided by simply “going around”.

    • This guy was NOT doing an S turn. I think AOPA threw this idea out there. There was no S turn or attempted S turn.
      The right wing was shaded from a left quartering wind. The stall warning on a Cessna is on the left wing. First indication of a right wing stall (buffet) may have been without warning. Because airflow over the left wing where the stall warning is located was good. When the stall buffet hit the right wing, he tried to correct with a turn of the ailerons to the left. This action caused the right wings cord to change exceeding the critical angle of attack, snap spinning the aircraft into the ground. (Yes, it looked slow, but at that speed, that spin was fast)
      1. Crabbing is important.
      2. Don’t ever shade a low wing, especially the wing without the stall warning located on it.
      3. Do not even think about correcting a stalled wing with aileron input. You will most likely exceed the critical angle of attack for the wing you are attempting to lift. The result will be a snap spin… into the ground if you are this low.

      • Good point about aileron deflection changing the aerodynamics of each wing.

  16. The comment at the top by Sigfried L. stating how operating below book numbers constitutes careless and reckless operation suggests a lack of understanding of the relationship between aircraft weight, lift, angle-of-attack (AoA), and airspeed. Book numbers are derived at max certificated gross weight. These STOL aircraft have been lightened substantially to the point where book numbers are pretty meaningless. His “careless and reckless” is very clearly situation-normal for these aircraft operated as they are. Heck, this the the same problem that most pilots have, landing their aircraft and wondering why they float 1000′ down the runway before touching down, or end up pogo-ing down the runway before taking out their prop and/or nose gear. You’ve got to adjust your speeds to match expected load on the wing.

    Regardless, there comes a point where the pilot pulls hard enough on the stick to exceed the critical AoA. This is not an airspeed problem but rather an AoA awareness problem. (Well, it is airspeed sort-of because airspeed determines how MUCH G you can pull before stalling.) Understanding the relationship between lift, AoA, airspeed, and G-loading is the key to staying away from the “Oh S–t!” part of the envelope. This is the real heart of the matter. We should solve the problem like the old joke says:

    Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this.
    Doctor: Then don’t do that.

    So, when someone suggests regulatory relief I always look closely and ask, “Will this really solve the problem?” We already have regs that say, “Don’t do stupid stuff.” We don’t need more. What we really need is for pilots to practice finding the limits of their aircraft at a safe altitude instead of finding them accidentally at low altitude. In the end, like most issues in aviation, this is an educational and proficiency problem, not a regulatory problem.

    But let’s, for just a moment, assume that there is some possible regulatory relief. Consider the fact that hardly anyone at the FAA flies or has any real understanding of aircraft. (I am sure someone there does but, boy, are they sure few and far between.) Given that, it is unlikely that the FAA would come up with anything that would actually impact the problem in a positive manner. Doing something for the sake of doing something rarely has a positive effect. Given that, my request to the FAA would be, “Thank you but PLEASE don’t ‘help’.”

    • Good idea to know the stall speed of your lightened and/or modified airplane.
      And to understand wing aerodynamics well.

      Years ago I found that some pilots for US majors did not have a good grasp of takeoff performance – most of those airlines went broke.

  17. STOL competition, Air racing, pumpkin dropping . . . All good stuff, but: Any non-standard, extended time, spent at the ragged edge . . . Each pilot needs to own it. Includes safety of observers and non-participants. Existing FAA rules are adequate. Perhaps insurance policies could include exclusionary verbiage?

  18. On the one hand, I’d hate to see additiona regulations when none are needed. But on the other hand, aerobatics are already regulated, and IMO, STOL competitions are just another form of aerobatic flying, exept very close to the ground. I would just say that STOL competitions should fall under the existing aerobatic regulations.

    But more than that is the insurance matter. There is no doubt that STOL competitions are higher-risk operations than normal operations (even compared to a busy fly-in). You can’t compete unless you’re flying near the edge of controllability. I don’t want pilots flying in these competitions to drive up the overall insurance risk pool, when the majority of pilots won’t be intentionally flying near the edge of the envelope and thus have a theoretical lower risk level.

  19. The FAA can’t “ban” something that doesn’t violate regulations. If it does violate regulations, they can issue an airshow waiver if appropriate mitigations are in place. Usually, landing an aircraft isn’t contrary to any regulation. Operating closer than 500′ when not necessary for landing may, key word being “necessary”, as in a STOL may not fit the definition of “necessary” and there may not be any distance issue anyway. Some of these events are well run and well regulated, as they involve other airshow aspects and are part of a bigger event that does include oversight and appropriate mitigations. I think it would be reaching though to assume that those mitigations are present in every case, these likely run the full spectrum with a full spectrum of pilot abilities to go hand in hand.

    • There is a thing called… ‘new regulation’… the FAA can ban anything aviation if the public demands it..

      • It is incredibly difficult to change regulations. There are huge cascading effects and they know this. That’s why the changes are so rare. You are correct, Congress can pass a law that requires the FAA to change regulations.

  20. Let them continue as they are.
    This accident took place in the jurisdiction of a local police force and I am sure they will investigate and prosecute if they think anyone was involved in a criminal conspiracy, such as not taking adequate safety measures or selling tickets/entry fees under false pretenses.
    If it was a cross state borders conspiracy the FBI will love to step in.
    Let the FAA concentrate on certifying Max, that is its job.

    • No, that’s more long the lines of civil liability and getting sued for negligence by family members, etc.

      • Our local police force, and to a larger extent the FBI, investigate crime.

        Rarely do they participate in civil litigation.

  21. I am surprised by the article and some responses by the aviation community here.
    First, Everyone including Russ are back seat flying here. You do not know the behinds scenes of this STOL comp. I have come from from a comp a few weeks ago and was involved as a volunteer on the field and can tell you there was an Air Boss and there several representatives from the FAA involved. I do not know or would I judge the circumstances of this comp from my computer screen like is being done here.
    Second, general aviation pilots asking for more FAA involvement in their lives, seriously? Yes, the FAA over it’s lifetime have made a difference but in the last few decades they are far from perfect and about as effective as congress both in making sense and doing it in a timely manner. Politics has taken over logic and safety.
    Third, would you rather have free agency as a pilot or mandates? None of us have a dying wish. As pilots we are very lucking to be responsible for our own actions and safety. I feel for any family that loses a loved one but that pilot made a decision to fly and for whatever reason he went down but it was was his decision. Not a lot different than decisions we make on every flight. We make the choice is the weather good enough, and I feeling up to it today, is my plane safe. Would you rather have to ask the FAA each time can I fly now. By asking for more and more from the government you are taking your agency as a pilot away. Come on people lets take accountability for our own actions and not ask the government or insurance to take it away from you.

    • I’m just coming from the perspective of not wanting STOL competitors and the increased risk they face from affecting my insurance rates. Insurance for aerobatics is handled differently, and so should STOL competitions.

  22. This article contradicts itself and is confusing to me….

    It starts off saying, “The STOL drag race he’d traveled hundreds of miles to compete in had been postponed because of high winds.” This shows the organizers were concerned about the winds and that’s why they postponed the competition.

    But then you go on to ask if the FAA should regulate these competitions. Tom’s tragic death occurred outside of the competition. If the FAA was regulating this competition would the outcome have been any different?

    • My understanding is that the “STOL Drag” competition was cancelled, but that they went with a standard-format STOL competition instead. Apparently there are different types of STOL competitions.

      • The article says, “That they were able to put it together and get those aircraft into the air in an unsanctioned competition within the STOL Drag event in questionable conditions is puzzling, too.”

        I read this as a few people standing around saying “hey the actual competition got cancelled, do you guys want to go do STOL?” opposed to the organizers of the event promoting a change from STOL drag to STOL.

  23. I saw a video on YouTube where the flight instructor recommended putting a sliver of tape on your airspeed indicator corresponding to Vso or Vs1 in a 30 degree or 45 degree level turn. He suggested this idea as a way to reduce maneuvering loss of control accidents.

    What do you guys think of the pros/cons of that idea? Especially as it pertains to STOL operations.

  24. The pilots understand the risks and accept them. Some may die, but they went into it with open eyes. The government doesn’t need to be involved in every risky decision people make when they are only risking their own lives. If so, pretty soon you won’t be able to drive your own car, you won’t be allowed to skydive, scuba dive,…. We have enough rules already.

  25. No need to read the article. If there is ever an opportunity to get the government involved the author will suggest it.

  26. These are competitions events and should be treated the same way that auto racing event are conducted. These STOL Competitions should have separate rules regulations and insurance from regular general aviation. The Indy 500 has no direct baring on my auto insurance or my or US DOT highway regulations.
    If you compare these events with auto racing our aircraft are about as safe as the race cars from the 60’s and early 70’s. Back in the early 70’s in Formula 1 it was a given that one or two drivers would die each year. The stigma was that if you don’t want to die just don’t make a mistake and crash. Then in the mid 70’s drivers band together and demanded that safety measures be undertaken.
    Now days drivers can walk away form crashes that in the past would of killed them on the spot. While the risk of of death in auto racing has not been eliminated it has be greatly reduced. And these improvements have made it into the rest of the auto industry.
    Implementing this kind of safety would increase the cost to these Stol competitions. Things like full cages and moving the pilot further back and lengthening the nose to increase crumple zones could be done to start with. Look at photos from this crash everything was crushed to just behind the cockpit.
    The FAA will only say fly safer, don’t make a mistake and don’t crash, and when a crash happens and someone gets hurt or dies instead of asking what can be done to make a crash servable they just say pilot error.
    Pilots are all ready implementing helmets, more can be done.

  27. I don’t believe in more regulation.


    Perhaps we ought to glorify the pilot who quit trying first – rather than the shortest landing. The pilot who quit trying first has the best respect for their limitation, the hazardous nature of the undertaking and respect for their lives and the audience’s mental well being. The pilot who quits trying first in these things IS the best pilot there. The current paradigm only encourages the type of pilot who would compete to push themselves beyond safety. Sure they get away with it most often, but the consequences for failure are too severe for any rational human to participate. If you need to “challenge” yourself get out of aviation. NOW.

  28. As we learn more about this accident it is clear the pilot had some experience @ 500 hours not as earlier said a one year old private pilot license. The STOL landing contest was impromptu, not sanctioned by the event organizers. The C-140 pilot got behind a very slow plane and didn’t allow for room need because of the speed differential. If you see the video the C-140 was very nose high and slow. He was on the ragged edge. It was gusty out which could have easily caused the plane to stall. He should have just gone around but the pressure of making the landing in the line probably clouded his judgement. Once it fell off on the wing he was done, nothing he could do to save it. Really sad.

  29. The FAA is involved… in all aviation. When someone gets killed, special attention is given. The non flying public demands it.
    This accident occurred because of no less than three problems. Normally, it only takes three to crash.
    1. The pilot was flying too close behind another slower aircraft.
    2. The pilot was flying at a lower than normal approach speed, close to stall speed.
    3. The pilot was not crabbed into the wind coming from the left, creating more lift on his left wing, shading the right wing. (The right wing was set up for a stall)
    4. The stall warning for a Cessna is located on the left wing, the left wing may not have stalled or even given an indication of a stall, so the right wings first indication was likely the stall buffet. (No stall horn)
    5. When the stall buffet hit the right wing, the ailerons were used to bank left, exceeding the right wings critical angle of attack… creating an almost snap stall spin.

    There are many things that can and should be learned from this accident. AOPA says the guy was doing an S turn, no, he wasn’t. These bad habits demonstrated in this accident are done regularly by pilots every day I watch pilots train. The accident does need to be studied especially by new pilots.
    1. Spacing should always be corrected prior to final.
    2. Crabbing matters… correct your heading with the rudder only when touching down.
    3. Don’t shade the airflow over a wing… especially the low wing.
    4. Remember you may stall a wing without a stall warning. (I’ve seen this at altitude)
    5. Avoid correcting a stall with ailerons… exceeding the critical angle of attack using allergens will snap spin you.

    Regulations will not fix these… training and education will.

  30. I am under the impression that the FAA does not sanction events, so lets dispel this notion now. If there is an umbrella organization that sanctions events then they should have insurance and work with the FAA on the event.
    For instance in powerboat racing there is a national umbrella organization. The local organization requests an sanction from them. At the same time they request an event waiver from the US Coast Guard or other agency that has jurisdiction over the waters.
    In the case of an aviation event it is necessary to seek a waiver from the FAA. The FAA can approve or deny the event based on the perimeters submitted ie where, how long, who would participate etc. The FAA does not sanction an event, just like the USCG doesn’t.
    If the particulars of the waiver were not followed then the FAA can take enforcement action to the organizer or whomever requested the waiver.
    It is put in place to ensure the safety of the spectators and others at the event and prevent possible accidents. In no way does the permitting agency provide insurance, or have rules to ensure participant safety. This is the domain of the organizing entity.
    To ensure future events there should be a National sanctioning body that provides the necessary rules, insurance and has a representative to ensure all participants follow the sanctioning bodies rules. If the rules are not followed then the sanction is suspended or revoked which would cause the FAA waiver to be revoked as well. End of event.
    Other than granting a waiver to allow the event, the FAA should not be involved. As long as any FAA mandated rules are followed, ie spectator set back, hours of operation etc.
    The sanctioning body, event organization and insurance companies should be the ones making the rules as to how the event is conducted.
    This would have the further benefit of isolating the general aviation public from any repercussions to insurance if there is an incident.
    If we want STOL events then the participants need to step up and professionalize, and hold the events in a safe and consistent matter.
    Finally if this was followed it would allow the maximum leeway as to the rules as it pertains to the participant. The FAA doesn’t need to get involved.

  31. I believe the FAA ought to stay out of it. They are not accountable to anyone, and always have a strong risk aversion. The STOL competitions are risky. I doubt if insurance companies would even write a policy if they were aware of a client doing STOL competitions. Where would the state of aviation be if it weren’t for the risk takers? I feel for DeVoe, but he knew what he was doing was risky. Keep the FAA out of it.

  32. HAS EVERYBODY GONE INSANE! How many people are injured or killed a year at these events?
    Does everything have to be so sterile that there is no risk? The gov. is trying to control our lives from cradle to grave now, and you want more regs. I fly the backcountry every year in Idaho, Montana, etc. Proper training and experience help mitigate the inherent danger, but accidents still happen. You want more FAA oversight, more regs. Airlines are safe, trains are safe, cars are safe but people die in all modes of transportation every year. Apparently you don’t think we are regulated enough, well, be careful what you ask for!

    • Come on, just another law and additional tax dollars and all will be well. Hell, we can apparently legislate away evil so surely we can legislate/regulate away plane accidents.

  33. I have competed in many organized STOL events over the years. They are very well organized with safety as the main concern. The Air Boss is a retired controller with extensive experience at both Oshkosh and the STOL event at Valdez. I don’t find flying in a STOL contest to be inherently difficult or dangerous. What I saw on the accident video was a faster airplane overtaking a slower one. In the contests I have been to faster airplanes in the same class are launched first. Pilots are good about providing spacing but the Air Boss will also call out an issue if he sees it.

    As far as the author’s comment about STOL Drag being cancelled and the pilots deciding to do a traditional STOL exhibition and wondering why one was ok and the other not, STOL Drag is landing and taking off in two directions so you would have a tailwind. The competition limit is 10 kts tailwind as I understand it. Traditional STOL is into the wind and we actually like the wind because it makes for slower ground speeds and shorter take-off and landing distances.

    Just two cents from someone who does this type of flying weekly.

    • Thank you for that information and this measured type of response makes sense. I have participated in ‘official’ STOL (not drag STOL) events over many years as Official, competitor and safety pilot. it was an eye opener for the broad levels of experience and competency (incompetency). I believe that it definitely needs some level of oversight, and this is best from organizing officials for sure. fatalities do not reflect well upon events such as this, and I’m glad something like this never happened on my watch.

    • In a way, I guess so. Seems like it’s something that needs discussion and I’m pretty happy with the way it’s being discussed.

  34. You cannot regulate away pilot error. And attempts to do so will needlessly restrict everyone.

  35. WOW!!! as very experienced pilot, flight instructor and aviation industry participant for half a century, Im simply amazed at the way many on here leap to the opinion that FAA should be completely uninvolved in aviation regulation, and that the expression of unfettered independent individual responsibility is the panacea. They clearly did not read, or comprehend the essence of the original article.

    The rapid, and vapid knee jerking overlooks the fundamental discussion point and leaps to mouth foaming, so-called ‘protection of rights’ issues. Close to their hearts perhaps, but nowhere close to a logical and respectful appreciation of the talking points raised. no-one was suggesting FAA intervention in these events, just some consideration for some guidance perhaps.

    If the Federal Regulator, you know, the one who issues your pilot certificate, specifies training and competency of skills that need to be demonstrated for the issuance of that certificate, provides the structure for the issue of airworthiness certifications for Air Transport Etc and who, amongst many other things is directly responsible for the protection of the general communities safety, in the air and on the ground.

    it it the height of ridiculosity to espouse total abolition of the regulator as a beneficial outcome when considering the manifold responsibilities that agency carries. The point of consideration is perhaps that the FAA should, or even could, assist the spectators, the participants and the organizers of such events to minimize the possibilities of outcomes such as we witnessed at this event, during an out of event, informal parade of ‘skill’ in this activity. Should the organizers, who postponed the competition due to conditions, have provided better guidance or advise to those who wished to continue in these conditions?. Should a safety pilot check ride have been a pre qualifier for participation, to ensure competency and appropriate control and understanding?

    As a CFI I try not to reprimand anyone for F*king things up in most conditions, but I do emphasize that ‘timely and appropriate corrections’ are applied immediately when the situation is recognized and it needs to be recognized and corrected before it is irremediable. In an event like this such corrections need to be innate, reflexive and positive in outcome. This is usually demonstrated as a benefit of training, guidance, practice and experience. Not everyone who was participating possessed all of these qualities in the required values. Recovery for potential stall/spin is critical at the earliest stages, and adequate training, and pre event checking or qualification as suggested in the article, may help. Artery bulging rants about the FAA, government intervention and individual ‘rights’ and ‘personal responsibility’ simply don’t help in that situation. Calm down and focus. As a test pilot for over 25 years this kept me alive on a few occasions where an attack of outrage would not have been of any helped.

    What was also raised, perhaps to subtly for some, was the consideration that the Uber regulator, the Insurance Industry, will take fatal outcomes into account and insert clauses into all airplane policies that will exclude ‘STOL’ events for the majority and leave it as the domain of the specialists, experimentalist (dare I say – professional) competitors who self insure and have a greater understanding of the roles and responsibilities of participation, and the days of anyone with a light airplane and a sense of adventurous fun lining up for a run at a regional STOL event will be dead and gone.

    Think carefully about the intent of the messaging, some basic guidance and a little pre event probity may prevent some future senseless fatalities and the resulting family grief, for a small investment. This does not need the Hammer of God, an FAA supervisor with armband peaked cap and luger, just an acceptance that with freedoms and privileges goes a modicum of responsibility, for others, as well as you and your family. Why not make these events an educational experience for some, highly competitive for others, but hopefully safer for all?

  36. Well … ya did it this time, Russ. Less than a day and already up to 76 comments. Wow. You’re entering PB territory here 🙂

    I think the AirBoss idea is good. If it was too windy for a drag competition then maybe the conditions were too windy for any competition where the flight conditions are that close to the edge. The airlines have to have multiple approvals before flight occurs … why not these sorts of events?

    • STOL Drag is taking off and landing in both directions. They don’t compete if there is a 10kt tailwind. I have never had an issue with 10 kts on the nose.

  37. I’ve been flying my Cessna 140 for over 25 years. They are not equipped with a stall warning system. Basic old school stick and rudder flying. A Cessna 140 is in no way a STOL type airplane. No way would I have mixed it up with any of those airplanes in a low and slow landing contest.

  38. Well written considering the sensitivity of the subject.

    I’m pretty disappointed with AOPA. They’ve recently taken to arm chair quarterbacking/speculating on accidents, and now this.

    The non-competition clause has wide ranging effects on well run GA competitions like NIFA SAFECON and Air Race Classic. FAA’s highest safety priorities include LOC. AOPA – “let’s put our name on a competition that’s flown at the edge of the envelope.” Really questioning the leadership team at AOPA.

  39. “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” ― Edmund Burke.

    Study the down fall of ‘Barnstorming’. The late 1920’s knee jerk reaction was to punish all because of a careless few.

    Nearly 100 years of Aviation later, the FAA, NTSB, major industries and individuals have created an answer. The answer is both an FAA regulation and the FAA ‘NOT’ regulating. We’ve discussed it here on AvWeb many times. The solution works for each and every pilot and event.

    Safety Management System (SMS). Every Pilot should have their own personal SMS and every event should have it’s own SMS Program. For the goldfish reading this. An SMS program is nothing more then “Documenting” (writing down) the rules you discovered that work and produce a productive and safe environment. Writing these rules of success down and “Sharing” them with the industry to add to their SMS. An official way of learning from each other.

    The Flying Circus’ and Barnstorming would still be around today promoting Aviation if each pilot and event manager would have presented the regulators with a written plan and precautions. The STOL Drags will end in an ugly death and so will Aviation if we repeat history with another knee jerk regulation.

    One example of an SMS in progress is the United States Constitution. A Documented set of rules to follow and live by. When these rules are followed people prosper when broken then failure. If you’re looking for another example: The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. Another is IKEA furniture assembly instructions… follow every step in the exact order or else.

  40. Having competed in many STOL contest including the one at Oshkosh I liken it to flying in to Oshkosh or some and fun, keeping your spacing and following the guy in front of you. The difference is at a STOL contest you are staged with faster aircraft in front and attend safety briefings before each flight unlike flying into Oshkosh and Sun & Fun where you rely on everyone to have read the NOTAM and be paying attention. This all coming from someone who survived a midair at Sun & Fun where my PA16 was overtaken by an RV6 that was on the wrong frequency and did not follow the arrival NOTAM.

  41. lots of comments all good thoughts . with the popularity of this type of flying, like acrobatics it probably needs some regulations and in order to compete the pilot needs to demonstrate some competency

    I am not for regulation but this situation seems ripe for some requirement of demonstrated competency in order to compete