Not so long ago, at a nearby airport, an epic battle on land and in the air took place – STOL Wars.
Independence State Airport hosted the STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) Wars competition on August 13, featuring experimental type aircraft. The competition takes place in two parts. The first is the shortest takeoff and the second is the fastest landing, with a full stop. Planes and pilots are judged on their take-off and landing skills and not so much on their performance in the air.
The event was originally scheduled for June, but due to unprecedented rains which created dangerous conditions, the event was pushed back to August.
The competition featured five distinct classes. Certified at 1,320 gross weight and under, Experimental at 1,320 gross weight and under, Certified over 1,320 gross weight, Experimental at 1,320 gross weight, and a passenger aircraft designed with four seats.
The event kicked off with a pancake dinner at the Experimental Aircraft Association spaces at the state airport. Several static planes were displayed on the tarmac, with marked off areas to direct spectators away from danger zones. The viewing area provided a great view of the track with a black and white checkered flag and road cones. The flag marked the landing zone and the cones marked the distances to measure the space needed for the aircraft to take off and land.
The impressive sound of circling engines can be heard throughout the audience as a member of the security team. One aircraft was fitted with a spare snowmobile engine, not intended for flight.
Competition officials guided the pilots, giving hand signals informing the pilot when to power up and release pauses to get the plane off the ground in the shortest possible distance, on landing, scoring officials rushed towards the plane to measure the distance it took for the plane to land.
Weight has a lot to do with aircraft performance. This can be manipulated by the amount of fuel and airframe components such as doors, which some aircraft have removed.
“I don’t even think he’s wearing a shirt,” the announcer joked as a blue and yellow plane taxied.
Sure enough, as the plane taxied close to the public, the pilot had no shirt on, which could easily be seen through the removed doors. The announcement also stated that the plane needed minimal fuel for the flight in order to have as little weight in the air as possible to increase the performance of the plane.
Steve Henry is a pilot who flies the Highlander aircraft from Nampa, Idaho, and is the owner/dealer of Wild West Aircraft.
“I’ve always wanted to fly; my wife made me want to do it. I’ve always raced something, so for me competition is normal, I’ve always raced motorcycles or cars,” Henry said. “The main thing we do is sell planes for Wild West Aircraft as kits. They come in crates and can be shipped anywhere.
According to the Wild West Aircraft website, Henry flew the Highlander, which costs between $70,000 and $100,000 depending on build, and boasts of being a versatile aircraft with excellent performance. The plane has adjustable seats, with cargo space to carry everything you need for a hunting, fishing, or cross-country adventure. The aircraft belongs to the category of light sports.
The competition lasted about four hours and ended at noon when the Boy Scouts prepared burgers for the event guests, and the pilots stayed for a meet and greet with the public.