Poll: What Do You Think Of STOL Drag Racing?


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  1. It is not a good idea to operate aircraft at the edge of their performance envelope when trespassing that edge may result in a crash. On the long run that damages the reputation of all of light GA

  2. It’s a good way to KNOW where the edge is…., I’d rather be a passenger in a plane with a pilot who regularly participated in these events during a real life emergency, than one who just flew straight and level and by the numbers all the time. Same with one who does off airport a lot, it’s good to know what the plane can really do when pushed to the max as it may save your bacon some day.

  3. Straight STOL is useful–and fun–getting to know the airplane–its capabilities–its “warning signs”–being able to “read” the landing site–and the weather that particular day–knowing these items have value. A “competition”–where pilots push CLOSER to the edge (and often go OVER THE EDGE!) has no value in everyday operations.

    STOL drag has something in common with air show aerobatics–a good pilot will get everything out of their aircraft ON A PARTICULAR DAY–they will tiptoe up to the line, but never CROSS that line. Watch the “big name” airshow performers–or the people that do STOL flying for a living–they will BACK OFF from their normal operations if warranted–if the wind is wrong–if the day is too hot–if there isn’t a good approach and exit from their flight line. I “pro” knows that this is essential–and that’s what separates them from the amateurs and “wanna-be’s.”

    Like “stock car racing”–“STOL-DRAG” is a manufactured SPECTATOR sport–and like stock car racing, it has little in common with everyday operations. Like stock car racing, it is a VOYEUR sport–stock cars have little in common with the everyday cars that people drive–and “STOL-drag” has little in common with everyday STOL flight activities.

    • If the competition is leading to better knowledge that can benefit us through improved methods and equipment, then it’s worth doing.

      • Have you ever actually WATCHED “STOL-drag?” Here’s how it’s done: “STOL Drag is a race between backcountry airplanes. Two aircraft fly down a 2,000-foot course with 1,000-foot overruns on each side. You start on a line, take-off, and fly 1,000 feet before putting the plane into a slip to slow the aircraft down. The pilot has to land on or beyond the line on the opposite side of the course. Once they get on the ground, they dissipate the airspeed using mechanical braking, come to a full stop on heading, turn 180 degrees, take off, and fly back down the course. The first aircraft to fly past the starting line and come to a complete stop, wins.”

        Note that it really isn’t about Short Takeoff and Landing–and it doesn’t involve takeoffs from a short strip–or over obstacles–or soft fields. It’s all about high power-to-weight aircraft–fast acceleration for 1/2 mile–slow to landing–quick turn-around–and fly the course in reverse. Most of the time, it isn’t even conducted on airports–as it involves two aircraft flying side by side.

        Do you see anything “STOL” in this “competition”?

          • Please explain the “STOL” portion of the contest. There are no points for short takeoff or landing–only the time (speed) of racing to the turnaround point and back.

            Some think it makes a better short field pilot out of the competition–that’s not the case–where would you USE that experience in racing down the runway and returning?

            Yes, the airplanes take off short, but that’s a product of the power to weight ratio–not the airfoil, and not the pilot technique. I don’t think this will be a component of FAA flight checks or pilot curriculums for a rating, as the case would be IF there was a useful purpose to the technique. Can you name a useful purpose for it?

        • I’d suggest what you mean is you don’t see it being worth it because the competition emphasizes power to weight ratio over all other aspects?
          I don’t really have the knowledge to say you are necessarily wrong, but I would think slowing the plane had something to do with the methods and design. On race cars, braking and downforce are huge factors.
          Perhaps it might be better if they all used the same HP engines and the planes were weight normalized?

          • You make some good points:

            Yes, having the ability to stop quickly is a part of being competitive in STOL drag–that not only means good tires and brakes, but keeping weight to a minimum.

            I like your ideas of same HP engines and “weight normalized”–in MOST vehicle racing, there are “categories” for competition.

            I can’t see the reason for having two airplanes in close proximity at the same time–if the winning time is scored by TIME–there should be no need to risk a collision or hitting the wake of the other aircraft–just “you against the clock.”

            While some people might enjoy watching this activity, I’d put it in the category of stock car racing–it’s hard on the vehicle, dents and dings are inevitable–and people watch for the “voyeur effect” (“I SEEN ‘EM CRASH!”) I don’t see a practical side to this–it doesn’t help pilot technique, because of the “turn around at the end and take off” design–it’s a built in artifice–I can’t think why that would ever be useful in real life. For TRUE STOL operations, most people would be looking to take off into the wind.

            STOL Contests (“who can take off or land the shortest”) are fine, and develop useful pilot skills. “Stop-drag”?–NOT SO MUCH.

  4. Racing tends to expand a person’s skills at operating machines – cars, motorcycles, airplanes, even running shoes – but it is the school of hard knocks. I road raced motorcycles in the ’70s and it was a wild ride with unforgiving brutality at times, but I survived my lumps and developed a fine sense of riding at the limits of my bike’s power, suspension, brakes and tires that gave me intuitive abilities when riding motorcycles throughout my life. But after a half-dozen years of it, I came to the conclusion racing was too risky and switched to skis, preferring to cartwheel on soft snow at 20 mph instead of on firm asphalt at 100+ mph. That said, I am proud of my racing history and continue to cheer on the pros as they battle it out on the world’s iconic racetracks.

    When I was a boy, my dad took me to the Reno air races and it was an overwhelming spectacle. As I matured, I began to question the wisdom of radically modifying a national treasure like a P-51 then pushing it to its new limits only a hundred feet above a hostile desert landscape. I also noticed that a disturbing number of great aerobatic pilots I had watched as a kid later died in crashes.

    Today, society’s attitude toward risk appears off-kilter the other direction – with unrealistic delusions of eliminating all risk. There is a balance for pilots to find for themselves somewhere between taking too much risk vs trying to fly risk-free.

    The STOL drag racing scene seems less risky than most motorsport competitions, but that risk varies with the pilots’ judgement, ability and self-control, as well as the organizer’s. I read that the recent fatality occurred after the sanctioned race was cancelled because of the conditions and an “ad-hoc” competition was begun. That’s a red flag. It took me about 50 years to learn to ask the most important risk management question before trying something novel or risky – “What could go wrong?”

    STOL drag racing may not build the same flying skills as maneuvering within the aerobatic box or pylon racing, but it would certainly teach valuable lessons in situational awareness, concentration, physics, cause & effect, self-discipline, flying under pressure, stall awareness, hand/foot-eye coordination, 3-D motion, slipping, braking, short-field take-offs, airplane repair, and a sense of what the airplane could and couldn’t do. I bet most of the pilots who enter those races spend a lot of time training for those skills in more ways than simply practicing the course.

    Whether or not to participate in a STOL drag racing reminds me of the debate about whether a student pilot should take spin training. It’s up to the individual pilot since spin training is no longer required. My dad’s advice to me was: 1. Start learning to fly in a tail wheel airplane. 2. Learn how to spin and recover. I took the risks and followed his advice. I’m glad I did. I feel more confident about controlling my airplane than if I had not learned those skills.

    I’m not too motivated to compete in much of anything at this point in life. Plus, I’m not willing to put my cream-puff Aeronca Champ in harm’s way. A Highlander with a 400 hp turbo Yamaha engine? Maybe, but I’d need a sponsor.