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ArkanSTOL is a timed competition where a plane/pilot has to takeoff and land at 4 grass runways (turning around after each landing to depart in the same direction) in the backcountry terrain and obstacles of the lower Ozark mountains.
The STOL Bandits is a flying group made up of over a dozen amazing back-country pilots who fly together regularly around the foothills of the Southern Appalachian mountains, based near Chattanooga, TN.
For me, it seemed like the kind of terrain that I enjoy, my kind of flying, and also an opportunity for some STOL operations that the Zenith 701 and ULPower engine would be really well suited for, so I was intrigued from the beginning.
I am a farmer from SE Tennessee and was in the field harvesting corn until dark the day before we left for ArkanSTOL. We left just after daylight the following morning and headed out as a group. 7 of our STOL Bandits made the trip out to ArkanSTOL with 4 of us participating in the competition.
The journey to ArkanSTOL was an incredible amount of fun in itself. We traveled 7hrs and over 550 miles (one-way) to the event, stopping at several river sand bars and back-country strips along the way.
I am still a low-time pilot (with less than 500 hrs logged), so every one of these cross country/back country trips (such as Lonestar STOL and ArkanSTOL) give me an opportunity to learn new things about aviation as well as improve my personal capabilities with the Zenith 701 airplane.
We took camping gear to the event, where we got a chance to visit with fellow aviators and share numerous amazing stories. A few of us made some additional fly-out adventures where we explored and experienced several other local back-country/grass strips.
Back at ArkanSTOL, hosted by Byrd’s Adventure Center, there is a restaurant, store, and shower facilities on-site and the staff were all incredibly helpful and friendly. Byrd’s a beautiful outdoors destination along the Mulberry River in Arkansas. They have 4x4 trails, kayaking, and many other fun outdoor activities to do with the family.
Something that made the ArkanSTOL competition special for me was the privilege of being able to demonstrate just how capable the Zenith aircraft designs really are. When I was building my 701, I never thought about or considered using it in competitions. My objective was to build an aircraft that would work well to keep on our farm and be able to comfortably go sight-seeing locally while taking along a passenger to witness the amazing beauty of our area from the unique perspective that is only achievable from an aircraft. I built a comfortable, but heavy 701 with extra bracing, full upholstery, and a full glass instrument panel that could be easily capable of making IFR cross-country trips, if I so desired in the future. I really never dreamed of or planned on using my stock Zenith 701 with a stock ULPower engine to compete, so being able to fly it cross-country, compete with some of the best pilots in the world that were using highly modified/lightweight competition-built airplanes, and come in 4th place overall was an incredible feeling. I truly believe that it shows just how capable these all-metal Zenith STOL airplanes are in real-world back country terrain and situations.
The Super701 completed the takeoffs/landings with the 4 runway course in just 2 min 50 sec.
Two of the runways cross each other in the ArkanSTOL circuit and require a teardrop “impossible turn”. On this particular portion of the contest, the Super701 was 6 seconds faster than any other aircraft!
The Zenith 701 is a lightweight, quick, and easy-handling aircraft that is so capable of STOL operations, and making tight turns, that it draws the attention of spectators, other pilots, and the event officials. Even to the extent of causing an extra pilot briefing with a rule change to the ArkanSTOL race.
I believe that one of the key factors to being a good STOL pilot is getting to know your airplane well enough that you can listen to it and understand what it is telling you. A good STOL pilot has to develop a feel for the airplane’s controls and behavior, and be able to respond without having to depend on instrumentation inside the cockpit.
(Do not try some of the things you see without proper training and/or experience. Some of the extreme STOL flying and aircraft attitudes are not for everyone. Be aware and respect the limits of your own comfort zone.)
You can check out a teaser video with some raw, compiled footage here:
After the ArkanSTOL event, our group of STOL Bandits flew home. I then worked a long week on our farm, trying to get caught up enough to sneak away the following weekend for another flying adventure, the 29th Annual Zenith Homecoming in Mexico, Missouri.
Stay tuned for that blog!
Also, check out the Super701 pages and be sure to Like/Follow to keep up with our current adventures!