It’s hard to count the ways that the year 2020 has come up short. Aviation will briefly turn that vice into a virtue in Lakeland, Florida, on December 4 and 5 when up to 125 pilots flying five classes of aircraft compete to achieve the best short takeoff and landing (STOL) performances, with $12,500 in cash prizes and a chance to achieve a national ranking on the line.
The Central Florida Classic Short Takeoff and Landing Competition, one of several events to be announced for the National STOL Series, will take place on the Sun 'n Fun Expo Campus at Lakeland Linder International Airport as a major attraction of the first annual Sun 'n Fun Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show.
STOL flying can always be counted on to put one of general aviation’s most challenging skills and one of its most popular spectator sports on display, and the flying will be livestreamed online and broadcast on Live Airshow TV, said Sun ‘n Fun Chief Marketing Officer and Air Operations Director Greg Gibson.
“We are very excited to partner with National STOL to bring this competition to Lakeland,” he said. “The fun and energy this sort of flying brings is unique, and we can’t wait for the audience at this brand-new event on our campus to see it. It’s a great headliner for our weekend.”
Jackson is not short of tenure in the event promotion field, having previously created Ultra4 road racing. In 2017 he also was the driving force (no pun intended) behind the formation of Operation Airdrop, a relief organization that came together quickly after Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast.
In creating National STOL, he adapted the same “simple concept” as Ultra4—a series of events culminating in national finals—for aviation. The finals will be September 25 and 26, 2021, in Gainesville, Texas, where Jackson’s initial Lonestar STOL event took place in March 2020.
As Jackson explained in this AOPA Live® interview, pilots compete against others in their class for the lowest score consisting of the combined distance in feet of a takeoff and a landing. After several rounds—two tries are guaranteed—the six best performers in their class, based on their two shortest paired results, will compete in a final round for class honors. Some of the aircraft will have cockpit-mounted cameras aboard, giving spectators a pilot’s-eye view of the action.
The dates and locations of upcoming 2021 National STOL events have yet to be announced, Jackson said, before the best of the best face off in the year’s final competition in Gainesville. National rankings will be at stake for any pilot who has competed in at least two of the year’s STOL events—but any pilot, in short, can drop in to compete.