STOL Drag: Making good pilots better.
A new training program has made history, receiving accreditation from the FAA to create new race pilots.
STOL Drag, which got its start about eight years ago at the High Sierra Fly-In in Nevada and made its debut at the Reno Air Races in 2019, now has the green light from the FAA to travel around the country, offering two-day training sessions in everything a pilot needs to be a STOL Drag race pilot.
Once a pilot successfully completes the training, which focuses on power and energy management, directional control, and more, they earn a two-year certification as a race pilot, according to Kevin Quinn, creator of STOL Drag.
What is STOL Drag?
STOL stands for Short TakeOff/Landing and a STOL Drag race is when two aircraft fly side-by-side as fast as they can down a 2,000-foot straightaway, land, turn around, and race back to land at the finish line.
Since its debut at the High Sierra Fly-In — which now hosts the STOL Drag World Championships — STOL Drag has continued to make history, becoming the first new class at the Reno Air Races in 2019, more than 20 years after the jet class was added to the races.
And with the new approval from the FAA, STOL Drag is the only class at the Reno Air Races to carry its own national accreditation, according to Quinn.
In 2020, when aviation events were grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the folks behind STOL Drag took the time to complete “mountains of paperwork — the size of Mount Everest” and showcase STOL Drag and its training program to the FAA, Quinn explains. FAA officials granted the accreditation, which gives STOL Drag a waiver to offer its training program throughout the United States.
The training sessions are held just before STOL events, like the one in May 2021 in Wayne, Nebraska, at the Mayday STOL Drag Air Race.
At the first training session, 50 pilots showed up. Less than half — just 21 — earned the certification.
“But all 50 left a better pilot,” Quinn says, noting that’s what led to the organization’s new motto: “We’re making good pilots better!”
The two days of training, which cost $500, include two hours of ground school and five to eight hours of actual flight instruction, according to Quinn.
It also includes video analysis of each pilot in the session.
“Everybody gets to heckle one another,” Quinn says with a laugh. “We all know pilots have an ego, but videos don’t lie. They help us get very real with ourselves about where we are good and where we need some help.”
At the end of the training, pilots who earn certification are eligible to compete in STOL Drag events around the country. Certification is good for two years. Each time you compete, the clock on certification begins again.
Upcoming training sessions will be offered during the Reno Air Races Sept. 14-17, 2021, the Snake River STOL Drags in Ontario, Oregon, Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, and the World Championships at the High Sierra Fly-In Oct. 14-17.
Of course, the chances of a brand new race pilot competing at any of the event — especially Reno — are slim.
“There is room for only 24 people to race at Reno,” Quinn says.
That means you’d have to beat the likes of Mike Patey and his newest creation, “Scrappy,”which boasts a 700-hp engine or Steve Henry in his 400-hp Highlander.
But it helps those new pilots to know that there are three classes of racing:
- Gold: Just eight racers with planes that sport at least 300-hp engines. They usually complete the course in less than a minute, according to Quinn.
- Silver: Planes sporting engines with at least 180 hp, which can complete the course in about a minute and eight seconds.
- Bronze: The other guys, who are flying Cubs, Cessnas, Maules, and other GA aircraft.
“Fans love it because the race planes are the planes they fly — 172s, Pacers, Clippers, Aviat Huskys, Legend Cubs,” Quinn reports. “When you go to an airshow, you see someone performing and only 2% of pilots can do that. But 95% of pilots can do this. It is attainable.”
Quinn anticipates the number of competitors will grow as the number of events grows, with “massive interest” in STOL Drag not just from pilots, but also from fans. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a one-hour TV show that will be shot at this year’s Reno to help spread the word about the races.
And next year expect to see more training sessions and more STOL Drag events across the country.
“Everybody can compete now,” Quinn says. “It all comes down to pilot skill.”