Under these circumstances, you’ll need an
extra thorough condition inspection, particularly of the undercarriage. Wheels should be
faultless and properly inflated; an under-inflated wheel can slide on its bead and shear
off the valve stem. Brakes get a workout, too,
so pads need plenty of material.
Know the weak points of your aircraft.
On his Cessna 180, Wes checks the inside
camber of the mains for cracks, corrosion,
and nicks. In Cubs, Jay looks for crinkled
paint on the top of the cabane and gear legs,
early signs they’re starting to bend. He also
outfits his Cubs with safety cables on the
gear, and students who bring their own
Cubs must install them, as well.
If you spend a lot of time backcountry,
learn how to fix things or at least determine
if the airplane can limp home, Jay says. If
something’s good and broken, a helicopter
recovery may cost up to $20,000.
Wes Erb brings his Cessna 180 in for a spot landing.
Short & Sweet
How to fly real-world STOL
BY GREG LASLO
THOSE VALDEZ STOL COMPETITION pilots are something else.
Indeed, many of them are among the best pilots in Alaska when it comes to
flying a small airplane into and out of tight spots. In fact, they’re so good they
score ridiculously short distances at the contest—takeoffs plus landings in less
than 200 feet.
But here’s the kicker: It’s a contest.
Turns out, there’s a big difference between that and the real world.
“Don’t expect those results at home,” says STOL (short takeoff and landing)
competitor Wes Erb. “It’s purely an act.” From the gear you’re hauling, to
the gas you’re carrying, to the surfaces you’re landing on, to the trees at the
end of your “runway,” you’re going to need some actual bush techniques if
you’re going to explore the backcountry. To get the skinny, we asked Wes
and his fellow Alaskan pilots Jay Baldwin and Bart Stone about flying into
Start with a preflight. Alaskan bush flying is hard-core. Your wheels take a beat-
ing, your landing gear gets clobbered, and the rest of your fuselage gets thumped
pretty hard. Wes plans for an extra couple hundred dollars on his annual inspec-
tion because of his off-field operations.
CAN I GO NOW?
First you should practice at a paved airport until you get the techniques down.
Accuracy is critical. Bart’s pilots must
put a wheel in a box that’s 50 feet long
by 3 feet wide 10 times—first with the
right, then the left—before they can
leave pavement. His best pilots can do it
in an area that’s 20-by- 3 in a normally
loaded airplane. That’s the control
you’re looking for.
Two different techniques will get you
there: The drag-it-in-low-under-high-power technique and the high approach.
The former is good for show, but you’ll
need a light airplane with a lot of power.
And in the real world, if your engine
burps, farts, or hiccups, you’re in trouble, Bart says. Plus, your angle of attack
(AOA) is too high to see where you’re
going, and your high deck angle may
cause your tail wheel to strike first. Bad,
bad, bad. Instead, each of our experts
uses a variation of the high-approach
Here’s how it works: Pick a touchdown
point and keep your eyes on it throughout
your approach. Keep it glued to the windscreen; if it moves up or down, you’re
coming up short or long.
Bart is a fan of a normal descent, and
he waits until the runway is made to add
full flaps. Once he does, he’s committed to