May is nearly here, which means it's time for the Valdez Fly-In and Air Show -- and the jaw-dropping display of short takeoff and landing skills for which the event has become famous nationally.
Participants flying aircraft from Piper Super Cubs to Cessna 180s to all manner of experimentals compete in multiple classes and take advantage of the airport's sea level location and steady light breeze to tease out extreme levels of performance. Last year's Light Sport Class winner Frank Knapp of Palmer, took off in 21 feet and landed in 40.
The Alaska event is so popular in general aviation circles that in 2014, the Experimental Aircraft Association held its first "Valdez" STOL competition at AirVenture OshKosh in Wisconsin, the world's largest annual fly-in with some 500,000 visitors.
Adding a STOL competition and exhibition was an obvious choice, EAA spokesman Dick Knapinkski said.
"It was an easy decision to tie-in with the Valdez competition," explained Knapinski in a recent phone conversation. "A number of Valdez participants are EAA members and we had been hearing about their activities up there and at Oshkosh we wanted to recognize with the name where the primary event is held."
"Alaska," he continued, "is the epicenter of STOL activity and we wanted to share some of that with our audience."
The EAA Valdez competition is a crowd-pleaser, Knapinski says, as are the exhibition flights STOL pilots conduct on the nearby ultralight strip. "Those Alaska pilots draw 5-6,000 pilots when they takeoff and land on the grass strip," said Knapinkski, "people love to watch them."
He was not immune to the draw himself and recalled watching one Alaskn pilot land in less than 25 feet. "Everyone went wild when we saw that," he said, "it was really something." (The pilot was later identified as Frank Knapp.)
None of this surprises Valdez Fly-In President Joe Prax who has traveled to Oshkosh to serve as the competition announcer. "There were hundreds of thousands of people watching the STOL competition down there," he recalled recently. "They have never seen anything like it and really loved seeing what these planes and pilots can do."
While the Outside acclaim is richly deserved, Prax is quick to stress that the Valdez Fly-In and Air Show is much more about the opportunity for the aviation community to get together and socialize. "We're all done with winter and people want to fly," he explains. "The fly-in is a chance for folks to get together and visit as well as do some fun events."
The biggest attraction for Valdez is actually the social aspects, he stresses. "It's the stories," says Prax, "that's what people come to share. We all love to get together and this is an event where a lot of folks who love aviation can catch-up while also watching some outstanding flying."
"We are very grateful to EAA for giving us a chance to share what Alaskan pilots can do with a bigger audience," he continues, "and also for letting us share our stories about flying up here with so many folks Outside."
The 13th annual Valdez Fly-In and Air Show is scheduled for May 6-8. The 2016 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is scheduled for July 25-31 and the Valdez STOL competition will return again this year.
Contact Colleen Mondor at firstname.lastname@example.org or @chasingray.