We are pleased to present an instructional guide on how to successfully compete in the next STOL competition in Microsoft Flight Simulator in collaboration with eSTOL and National STOL. eSTOL, as Burstix and his team called it, is done in close collaboration with National STOL, which organizes the actual STOL competition in the real world.
If you want to understand more about the competition and how Burstix from eSTOL and Tom Wolf from National STOL came together to collaborate on a project like this, you can watch their interviews below:
Table of Contents
STOL or Short Take Off & Landing is an acronym given to any airplane that can get in and out of grass
strips, short runways, remote locations, or land and take off at a shorter distance than similar planes.
The STOL characteristic is defined for each category of airplane. But in the STOL competitions, we talk
about general aviation (GA) aircraft with one person flying and an absurd low and slow approach to
land. It is so absurd that it defies gravity and common sense. STOL competitions test the flying skills of
the pilots and award them on best performance. Let’s call it “Extreme STOL” as these pilots take their
aircraft to the limits.
There is a danger to STOL competitions. Flying aircraft on dangerous approaches and dropping them
onto the measured field looks abnormal, both in the airplane’s attitude and speed. They seem to hover,
then drop like a rock and stay there. It’s not your usual landing configuration.
All pilots are trained at short-field and soft-field landing techniques. They typically use full flaps to
reduce the stall speed and, hence, a sharper nose-down angle toward the runway. The idea is to flare
and stop in the shortest time and distance possible. So, the slower you can go and the sharper the
approach angle matters. The risk, of course, is not to get too slow or you fall out of the sky. All planes
have a stall speed listed for each type of plane and each model of each type of plane. The Pilot’s
Operating Handbook (POH), or simply, flying manual, states the “stall speed” of the airplane they are
flying. It is the slowest speed it can fly without a wing stall, typically 1.3 times the stall speed listed. A
wing stall means that the wing can no longer sustain lift. It doesn’t have enough smooth airflow over
and under the wings to keep you flying. This stall speed, or Vso, is typically configured with full flaps and
a very low speed on your airspeed indicator, even though you are using high rpms to stay there. This is
an exaggerated version of “slow flight” taught in flying schools to all pilots.
You are flying close to dying.
You will notice the slower velocity (knots) is your airspeed. You have the stall speed near the back or
lower end of the curve. Now, use flaps and lots of power to stay there and not stall out of the sky. This is
the lower limit of the “slow flight” envelope—a dangerous place to be.
No pilot in their right mind would fly this slow or tease with danger this close to falling out of the sky.
But STOL pilots do, and they use this technique to their competitive advantage. They configure their
airplane for landing, then get even slower. Pilots are aware of the “power curve” in their flying manual,
and STOL competitive flying takes you way behind the power curve, as shown by this POH diagram for a
conventional GA airplane. The idea is that you are the slowest you can be, so your landing roll is the
shortest. This results in a higher rpm and higher nose attitude all the way to the ground. There is no
flare, little roundout, and as much braking power as you can add without going nose-over-toes on your
This is the skill you must master, and it requires you to unlearn years of ingrained habits.
The second method is more conventional for new pilots or those playing it safer. They approach the
scoring field from way off in the distance. They are already low and slow, and they are using pure power
to run that airplane, usually already in ground effect, a few feet off the ground, and all the way into the
landing zone. Then they cut power, let it drop, and use brakes to stop. It sounds easier, but the
disadvantage is the nose-high attitude, blocking their view of the runway ahead. Pilots will practice both
methods and determine what they can consistently handle long before the competition. During
competitions, your takeoff, circuit, and landing are considered one “run.”
Tom Wolf, co-founder of National STOL, shares one strategy with us: “Do your first run (out of 3) on the
safe side. Lay down a good takeoff, come back around, and don’t scratch. After the first safe run, you
can go harder, and for your second and third, you can aim right for the line.”
Burstix tells us, “With both landing techniques, pilots will dump from full flaps-get the tires on the
ground with the most continual contact and weight for a better stop.”
Short Take Off
In conventional short-field landing training for all pilots, we learn to check the distance of the runway
before we go there and land. We also check the density altitude. The higher the elevation of the runway,
the thinner the air. The temperature of the air and the altitude of the runway affect the performance of
the airplane. Pilots determine the appropriate landing distance and takeoff distance using performance
charts in the POH. Once that is determined, they make a decision if their plane can do that. No sense in
landing at a grass-strip runway with trees all around, if you can’t fly back out afterwards. That’s the
difference with STOL competitions. Take as long as you want to get off the ground. The shorter the
distance the better and that requires special techniques that bush pilots have known for years.
In STOL competitions, your shortest take-off requires you to get the main wheels off the ground in the
shortest distance possible. This doesn’t mean a high angle of attack. This doesn’t mean you will fly over
50 trees at the end of the runway. It means your main wheels left the ground and didn’t touch back
down. This is good to know as you only have to get those wheels off the ground. You can stay in “ground
effect” until you pick up more speed and climb higher. This is key to competing during take-off.
- Toe brakes while you apply full power.
- Start the roll, and when you think you can pull the wheels off, pull back on the yoke or stick.
- Pull back just enough to get those main wheels off the ground, then level flight to pick up more
- Many pilots add one more notch of flaps on liftoff to give them a “jump.”
- Stay in ground-effect, a few feet off the ground, until your speed increases.
Burstix offers a full, more detailed explanation, “On take-off, most pilots will start into the wind if
applicable, no flaps, toe brakes full down, trim nose down rpm up, let off the brakes, stick forward, get
the tail up, and even nose down attitude where the prop is inches from the ground. Once they get flying
speed, pullback on the stick and drop full flaps simultaneously. That gets them into the rotation; then
they can go flaps zero and nose over to level flight and complete the circuit.”
Competitive STOL aircraft are typically equipped with vortex generators, leading edge slats, and other
high-lift devices that aid in the STOL performance needed for high-lift and slow speeds. They will use the
solid flying technique of pitch (yoke or stick) to control airspeed, and power (throttle) to control descent
speed. These are the basics of normal flying but taken to extremes. The aircraft used for STOL
competitions fall under seven classes of airplanes, typically determined by their type and weight.
All of them are single-engine aircraft with one to four seats. This covers a very wide range of airplanes
that can compete. They typically have great landing shock absorption from spring steel gear or shock
absorbers on the wheels. They also employ bigger tires that can be under-inflated to cushion the big
shock of landing hard and staying there. Some examples of airplanes you can use in Microsoft Flight
Simulator are any tail-draggers and any of the standard, light aircraft. The Cessna 152 or 172 are good
choices. The 208 Grand Caravan, the Club Crafters X Cub, the Zlin Aviation Savage Cub, and if you have
the Premium Edition of MSFS, then the Zlin Aviation Shock Ultra will be a favorite. For those who
purchase additional airplanes, the STOL favorite is the Zenith CH701. There are plenty more tail-draggers
and even tricycle gear airplanes that can compete, given the class they are in.
The National STOL competitions, held numerous times each year, have seven classes of airplanes, and
your airplane would fall into one of the classes.
Competition classes are defined by airplane make, model, certification type, and weight. Gliders,
unmanned aerial vehicles, rotorcraft, powered parachutes, weight-shift, and lighter-than-air craft may
- Exhibition Class
- Touring Class
- Bush Class
- Adventure Class
- Sport Class
- Unlimited Class
- Rookie Class
No prizes or season standings. Any FAA certified single engine aircraft models as determined by gross
weight over 3,600 lbs, twin-engine aircraft, or other aircraft that are not covered by the classes below.
- C-180, C-185, C-182, C-206, C-210, Maule M-4, M-5, M-6, M-7, M-9, C-150, C-152
- If not listed: FAA certificated ASEL models as determined by gross weight from 2,301 lbs to 3,600 lbs.
- Citabria; Huskies; Scout; Stinson 105, Stinson 108-2; T-Craft (over 1,320 lbs); Swamp Monster; Cessna 170, C-172, C-175, C-177
- If not listed: other FAA certificated ASEL models as determined by gross weight from 1,321 to 2,300 lbs.
- Mackey SQ-2; Bearhawk Patrol; Carbon Cub EX, Carbon Cub FX,; Dakota Super 18; Legend (EAB); Savage Outback Shock; Super Cruiser; Murphy Moose; Backcountry BOSS; Bearhawk, PA-12, 14, 18, and PA-22, Top Cub; Tern X Cub
- If not listed: other FAA certificated ASEL as Experimental with a gross weight above 1,320 lbs.
- CSport Cub S2; Rans S-7LS; Super Legend; T-Craft (1,320 lbs); Bearhawk LSA; Carbon Cub SS; Dakota Super 18-LT; Legend (ELSA); Rans (ELSA); Just Aircraft Highlander & SuperSTOL, PA-11 / J3, AL-3.
- If not listed: other FAA certificated ASEL as determined by a maximum gross weight up to 1,320 lbs.
- New in 2023 is the creation of an Unlimited Class, an open class for any pilot and any airframe to join.
- The class is scored in feet (distance) and follows traditional scoring.
- Each aircraft gets at least 3 runs to score the shortest total distance.
- Tires must be marked with a yellow line, such as tape, no less than 3 inches long, perpendicular to the edge of the tire.
- The Unlimited Class is the premier Class for prizes and awards. There is usually a guaranteed cash purse for this class. The cash prizes are in addition to any other sponsored prize or trophy.
The Rookie class is an optional, relaxed class for all aircraft models and types (as long as they fit
into a traditional standard class, i.e., no helicopters or twins) for new competitors. Rules in the
Rookie class are relaxed and if time allows, pilots in this class may have a separate practice
session ahead of the competition. Competitors may continue to participate in the Rookie class
until they place first in the class. The Rookie class has no prizes and no season points.
The goal of the Rookie class is to educate newcomers to the series and encourage them to grow
as pilots. While pilots should be experienced aviators in their aircraft type, this will help them
learn the National STOL competition format and standards in a fun, low-stress environment.
In each class, there must be at least two aircraft for the class to compete.
All pilots know how to set up their plane for a short field landing. Steeper approach, full flaps, engine
power to get to the threshold, power off, and brake. Then, they must be able to get back out again
without hitting trees or falling off the cliff of the runway. These are the skills being tested during STOL
competitions. It comes naturally to some pilots who have been flying STOL techniques for years in their
flying years. But it becomes a lifelong challenge for those who have never had to plunk and airplane
down with such dramatic force onto a field and not even rollout smoothly nor grease the runway, as
they say. Put it down, and stay down.
National STOL Event Guidelines and Scoring
- All persons flying in the competition must attend a pre-flight safety briefing for each
event. If you miss the safety briefing, you will not be allowed to fly/compete. Heat and competitor assignments (example: “Heat
B – Number 3”) will be posted and announced at the Safety Briefing.
- Each competitor will fly in a set number of rounds (at least 3) during the competition. A
round is defined as a takeoff, pattern, and landing. Further details can be found below.
- Scoring will be based on the combined distance of the takeoff and landing of the best
round. Takeoffs and landings from different rounds cannot be combined for scoring. All
measurements will be taken from the main gear axle.
- A disqualification (DQ) on landing will eliminate the score from that entire round. If a competitor DQs
on all rounds, he or she will not have a valid score for event or series placements.
- Pilots must call ground control in time to join the staging for their heat. Failure to call on
time is grounds for a DQ.
- No aircraft may practice or compete unless under observation by a National STOL
STOL Competition “Round”
Each “round” consists of the Take Off, Pattern, and Landing.
- Taxi into position as directed by line judge, with main gear stopped on the
- Begin take-off roll after the airboss instructs, “Bravo 1 – go.” Once the aircraft
starts its departure roll, the next aircraft will start their taxi towards the
- Take-off distance will be measured from the reference line to where the furthest
main wheel leaves the ground for the last time.
- NO MAX RATE CLIMBS-Any climb over 10 degrees is subject to immediate
- Pattern altitude will vary by event, but is typically 500 ft AGL.
- Follow the person in front of you. Airbosses will give advice and suggestions, but
you are ultimately responsible for your aircraft.
- No steep climbs, steep turns, low passes, or abrupt maneuvers
- Main gear must land on or beyond the reference line. Main gear touchdown
prior to the reference line is disqualifying. Tailwheel touchdown prior to the
reference line is NOT disqualifying.
- Aircraft must come to a full stop, straight ahead, and remain stopped until judges
have had a chance to measure the distance and wave the aircraft clear of the
runway. Do not move until cleared ahead by the judge.
- Landing distance will be measured from the reference line to the main gear axle.
- “Go Arounds” are common real-world safety decisions. If conditions deteriorate
on short approach and you are too close to the edge of the safe flight envelope,
GO AROUND. For the STOL competition, a “Go Around” is encouraged and
expected. If no contact of any landing gear has been made, the pilot can circle
around for a second landing attempt and still be scored. The Competition
Director has the sole discretion to determine if the pilot is abusing this rule and
may DQ a pilot for that round.
- Each competition class will have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners (pending sufficient
registration) at each event.
- Winners will be based on the lowest combined ROUND (combination of take-off and
- Prizes may vary from class to class and event to event.
- Only the Unlimited Class has a guaranteed cash prize.
- The Rookie class has no prizes and no tracking of season standings.
This is a challenge for all pilots. A real test of skill in handling an airplane so close to its flying boundaries.
Some compete for the adrenaline rush, others for the fame. But the bottom line is the respect you get
as you skillfully guide your plane to a score that others envy. This can be enjoyed in real planes at
physical locations or in the safety of your home cockpit in simulator sessions.
Burstix adds a strategy while attempting this in MSFS, “The other method take-off would be a plane-like
Steve Henry’s with a ton of extra horsepower. They would start with toe brakes (Steve even uses parking
brakes sometimes), flaps fully dropped, stick full back, trim back (dependent on plane and pilot how
much), and then rpm up. They will essentially hover off the ground. This particular one works great with
the Gravel with nitrous on in sim!”
There will be National STOL events throughout the year, typically ending in the fall. National STOL is
working with Microsoft Flight Simulator streamers to bring the events to flight simulator enthusiasts,
complete with custom scenery and similar rules. BurstixTV, a popular streamer, and ForderLearnToFly,
who teaching flying in the sim with real flight lessons. Both streamers entertain with STOL competitions
and techniques, using the National STOL guidelines. Tom Wolf, of National STOL, contributed some of the
content of this guide and he broadcasts National STOL events on popular social media. BurstixTV will
stream his competition in Flight Simulator on Twitch, October 7th, 2023.