Ralph Wentz Field (KPNA) is situated in the rustic town of Pinedale, Wyoming, with the Wind River mountain range serving as a picturesque backdrop for the second annual Rocky Mountain STOL competition hosted by Emblem Aviation.
The event, sanctioned by the National STOL Series, experienced remarkable growth this year, with the number of spectators doubling and pilot participation tripling. It featured a full field of competitors across the various classes, including not only local participants but also those from Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Minnesota, and even Alaska. Angela Douglas, co-owner/founder of Rocky Mountain STOL, said “of the 850 people who attended, 268 visitors from 30 different states were in attendance, according to our gate survey.”
National STOL owning partner Tom Wolf also expressed his enthusiasm about the event’s reception.”Our second year in Pinedale was an overwhelming success,” Wolf said. “The town of Pinedale and both John and Angela Douglas could not have been more gracious hosts. We had a great event and look forward to returning next year.”
Rocky Mountain STOL founders the Douglases along with Micah Olson, did well in their inaugural year to establish the event as a favorite among pilots.
The festivities kicked off Thursday evening for early arrivals, who were treated to a delightful dinner at Half Moon Lake Lodge. The attendees enjoyed a steak dinner with all the fixings and dessert.
STOL practice commenced early Friday to avoid the expected afternoon winds that the area is known for. Wind is not the only weather challenge faced by the small airport as it also boasts the highest elevation among events on the National STOL Series circuit at 7,084 feet msl. Following practice sessions, pilots scattered throughout the town to immerse themselves in the local culture. They filled restaurants, enjoyed the annual park concert, and embarked on a sunset horseback riding excursion on Half Moon Lake.
On competition day, “wind” and “DA” (density altitude) became the buzzwords as the measured distances for this event were nearly doubled compared to others.
“Despite challenging high altitude conditions, we had a phenomenal experience in Pinedale,” said Eric Farewell, National STOL Series owning partner. “Our competitors brought fierce fights to the runway with exceptional performances narrowly taking their victories. As always, it was a pleasure to share our love for aviation with both the local audience and the millions who enjoy our videos around the world.”
Brandon Corn (No. 30), the current leader in the National STOL Series standings in the Touring Class, achieved a best combined distance of 629 feet flying his 1963 Cessna 205. Corn had recorded his previous best combined distance of 496 feet just three weeks earlier at the Sodbusters STOL competition in Hartford, Wisconsin, at an elevation of 1,037 feet msl.
Touring Class Winners:
2. Matt Schantz (No. R52), 1958 Cessna 180B, shortest combined distance: 639 feet
3. Kurt Leaders (No. R58), 1965 Cessna 185, shortest combined distance: 661 feet
The Backcountry Class was undoubtedly the most anticipated to watch, given the hometown rivalry between Micah Lindstrom and Jeff Pohl as they have battled throughout the season for the first place in the points standings. Pohl currently sits second and both he and Austin Clemens (third) have established a longstanding friendly rivalry. Both Clemens and Lindstrom made surprise last-minute arrivals to the event.
Backcountry Class Winners:
1. Micah Lindstrom (No. 99), 1955 Cessna 170B, shortest combined distance: 364 feet
2. Jeff Pohl (No. 00), The Dirty Bird, a 1955 Cessna 170B, shortest combined distance: 382 feet
The score differential between Clemens and Lindstrom/Pohl was because of the way the class was stacked, leading to its division into two heats for safety. Unfortunately, Clemens was allocated to the first heat, which was subject to a slight tailwind. In the second heat, Lindstrom and Pohl gained the advantage of a headwind.
“Always respect your airplane, of course, but especially in this density altitude—the airplane just does not feel like it flies the same,” Clemens said.
The Adventure Class featured an exciting array of new faces and airplanes, reflecting the rapid growth of STOL competitions and purpose-built aircraft. Brian Shirley, a familiar figure in STOL events often seen setting up or judging the field, made his competitive debut with his brand new 2023 American Legend Cub MOAC with a 95-foot takeoff.
Well-known Alaskan bush pilot Keith Lange added to the excitement by making the journey from Wasilla in his Piper Cub to join the fun.
Adventure Class Winners:
1. Brian Shirley (No. 81), 2023 American Legend Cub MOAC, shortest combined distance: 226 feet
2. Jody Card (No. W92), 2011 Kitfox 7, shortest combined distance: 252 feet
3. Keith Lange (No. W12), 1953 Piper PA18-125, shortest combined distance: 262 feet’
Along with Collin “Evel” Caneva and Rick Boardman, well-known veterans of traditional STOL and STOL Drag events, the Sport Class also saw new faces joining the competition. Boardman faced a challenging start, scratching during his first round but managed to secure the class win with an impressive combined distance of just 139 feet, outpacing second-place Joel Milloway by 29 feet.
Despite finishing third, Caneva received the new “Fan Favorite” award as spectators were invited to vote for their favorite pilot. Caneva earned the honor with 19 percent of the vote, per the National STOL website.
“The people of Pinedale, Wyoming, really made the event even more special than it already was,” said Caneva. “Coupled with everyone that watched online and [is] connected to me through social media, I was nominated for the viewers choice award. How cool is that!? I am so grateful for the event, the event organizers, and everyone that cheers us pilots on.”
Sport Class Winners:
2. Joel Milloway (No. R22), 1996 Rans S-7S, shortest combined distance: 168 feet
The Rookie Class
John Douglas decided to compete in the Rookie Class alongside three other newcomers to the STOL scene and clinched third place at his own event.
Rookie Class Winners:
1. William Mechan (No. R49), 2022 Rans S-7S, shortest combined distance: 614 feet
2. Jamie Burgess (No. R99), 1969 Cessna 182, shortest combined distance: 985 feet
3. John Douglas (No. 307), 1964 Cessna 182, shortest combined distance: 1,132 feet
The Unlimited Class
The Unlimited Class, always a fan favorite, had only two registered pilots: Steve Henry and Hal Stockman. This class was the final one to compete, and the temperature and density altitude were at their peak, measuring over 9,500 feet.
However, both STOL legends managed to overcome the challenging conditions and achieve impressive takeoff-and-landing distances. Henry achieved a best takeoff distance of just 12 feet in his famous Wild West Aircraft–Just Aircraft Highlander XL Yeehaw 8,” securing victory with a combined score of only 76 feet. Stockman, piloting his renowned Lawnmower III, a Rans S-7S, achieved a best takeoff distance of 43 feet.
Unlimited Class Winners:
1. Steve Henry (No. 44), Yeehaw 8, a 2022 Wild West Aircraft-Just Aircraft Highlander XL, shortest combined distance: 76 feet
2. Hal Stockman (No. 3), Lawnmower III, a 2018 Rans S-7S, shortest combined distance: 134 feet
Watch the Wild West Aircraft event recap