STOL Enthusiasts Flock to EAA AirVenture’s Twilight Flight Fest

The daring pilots don’t fail to disappoint at Oshkosh demonstrations.

Joe ‘Pops’ Dory plugs his ears as Jason Busat prepares to launch. [Anitra Goddard]

The STOL (short takeoff and landing) demonstration at EAA AirVenture Twilight Flight Fest, hosted at the Ultralight Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in late July, saw fans lining up along the fences hours before the event to secure their spots. Thousands of STOL enthusiasts gathered to witness their favorite backcountry pilots showcase the remarkable capabilities of their aircraft.

Frank Knapp, an Alaskan STOL pilot and current holder of the Valdez STOL record distance, and his wife, Kris, have been coordinating the STOL demonstration at AirVenture since its inception in 2014. Along with the Knapps, the elite of the STOL community were present to help put on a spectacular show.

Among the notables on the field were Russ Keith, founder of the ever-growing nonprofit organization  Airplanes & Coffee, and national STOL series founder Doug Jackson. 

STOL trailblazer Joe "Pops" Dory and STOL ”Queen” Anitra Goddard could be seen at the spot landing line, signaling to the fans if the landings were good or a scratch. 

The recognizable voices of Cory Robin and SuperAero Live YouTube host Ryan Dembroski, who announced for the series this season, could be heard over the loudspeakers engaging the crowd and narrating the piloting skills shown in each takeoff and landing.

The impressive lineup of demo pilots that the crowd was there to see flew in from everywhere to showcase their skills and aircraft. A majority of them jump between the growing STOL events that include STOL Drag, National STOL and ArkanSTOL. Eight of the 12 competitors flew in formation to Oshkosh from the national Sodbusters STOL competition that took place a short flight away in Hartford, Wisconsin, just days before the start of AirVenture.

  • Amir Bayani, STOL Bandits—(100) Carbon Cub EX-2
  • Austin Clemens—(62) "The Dog" Aviat Husky A-1C
  • Brian Steck—(221) "Scooter" American Legend Cub MOAC 
  • Harold "Hal" Stockman—(3) "The Lawnmower III" RANS S-7S
  • Jason Busat—(12) "Full Send" 2023 RANS S-20
  • Jeff Pohl—(00) "The Dirty Bird" Cessna 170B
  • Joe Dory—(53) "Wicked Pacer" Experimental Pacer
  • John Young—(127) "Stickers" Aviat Husky A-1B
  • Kyle Bushman—Backcountry Super Cub Rev 3
  • Richard Ness and Nick Smith—Experimental PA18 L21 Yooper Super Cub
  • Steve Henry—(44) "Yeehaw 8" Wild West Aircraft, Just Aircraft Highlander XL
  • Tony Terrell—1954 Piper L-21B

The crowd cheered and celebrated as pilots hit the line and shared in the disappointment if there was a scratch. Unlike previous years, this year's demonstration was a purist's delight as no measurements were taken, giving the event the feel of a spot landing contest where the pilots had freedom to have little fun with it.  

Austin Clemens could be seen showing off his reversible pitch prop capabilities as he  “accidentally” pulled too far over the start/finish line. Steve Henry ran on his big tires most of the week, eventually switching to his now popular knobby tire setup, as requested by fans who visited his vendor booth throughout the week in Oshkosh. Jason Busat flew in from Alberta, Canada, and was excited to debut his new 2023 Rans S-20 in the demonstration. 

View highlights here at the National STOL Series YouTube Channel and here at the Wild West Aircraft YouTube Channel

“The most exciting part of co-announcing the STOL Demo at Osh this year was seeing all of the passion the audience had and being able to tell the story of safety and proficiency that permeates the STOL community,” said Dembroski. “Cory [Robin] and I had lots of amazing interactions with kids of all ages at the fence line, and if we inspired even one young boy or girl to pursue flight or STOL, we’ve done our jobs.”

The weather usually makes headlines during AirVenture, and this year was no different as the event experienced record-setting, sweltering hot days and powerful evening thunderstorms that turned the grounds into what has affectionately been dubbed "Sloshkosh." The storms brought strong wind gusts that took out some tents, vendor booths, and a few ultralights.

The STOL demonstrations were originally scheduled to take place on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, but because of the adverse weather conditions, the Friday event had to be canceled. The STOL pilots didn't disappoint the unwavering crowd and made up for it with an engaging Q&A session moderated by Robin and Dembroski, where they passed out stickers and autographed posters.

Josh Richling is a crew chief in the National STOL Series. He covers STOL competitions for FLYING.

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