Approximately 200 airplanes and more than 2,500 people descended on Pioneer Field in Valdez, Alaska, May 12-14, 2017, for the 14th Valdez Fly-In and Air Show.
The 2017 event featured spectacular STOL flying, aerobatics by Scott Sexton and Gary Ward, a demonstration of a World War II era C-46 cargo plane, and a world record in the world famous STOL contest.
“The event was perhaps the best we have ever had,” noted organizers.
Frank Knapp of Palmer took advantage of perfect conditions for STOL flying to set a new world record. Saturday of the contest featured cool temperatures and consistent 13-15 kt westerly sea breeze right down the runway. On his second attempt Knapp made a 14 foot, 7 inch takeoff and an equally impressive 10 foot, 5 inch landing, both records and for a combined score of 25 feet.
The crowd cheered as his plane landed just past the line and a video shows the wheels only making one revolution before coming to a stop.
Knapp’s yellow light sport Lil’ Cub started life as a J-3 that Frank and his wife Kris built and then rebuilt with numerous modifications. This year the plane featured a 180-hp Lycoming 0-320 and special flaps that Knapp designed.
Just as important as the plane is the amount of practice Knapp put in. Organizers report he was at Valdez two weeks early making numerous hops down the runway.
All classes witnessed impressive flying. In the Bush Class the top five planes were only separated by 9 total feet in the semi-final.This year the top five planes flew in a final heat where Chris Wyekoff of Wasilla had a takeoff of 59 feet and a landing of 80 feet, for a total score of 139 feet for the win. Wyekoff won a set of 31-inch Alaskan Bushwheels from Airframes Alaska for his excellent flying.
Tim Hudzinski of Wasilla won the Alternate Bush class in his Backcountry SQ-2 with a takeoff of 47 feet and a landing of 28 feet. Tom’s performance earned him a set of Acme Aero Fab Bush Shocks.
The heavy Touring Class was won by perennial contestant Wes Erb of Big Lake in his Cessna 180 with a takeoff of 90 feet and a landing of 135 feet, for a total score of only 225 feet for the Sky Wagon. Erb’s efforts won him a Spidertracks tracking unit.
Mark Hasner of Fairbanks took home a Tanis Engine heater for winning the Light Touring Class in his Cessna 170B with a take off of 75 feet and landing of 83 feet for a combined score of 158. These numbers would have made him competitive in the Bush Class, organizers noted.
The crowd favorite was Lydia Jacobs of Corinth Maine in her Cessna 150. The 19 year old sold most of her belongings, including her car, for the gas money needed to fly to Alaska to start her career in aviation. She loaded the remainder of her belongings into her 150 and spent almost 60 hours flying to Alaska. Jacobs had always wanted to compete in Valdez and hopes to be a professional bush pilot.
Her takeoff of 126 feet and 151 foot landing showed her ability to get all the performance of her 150 that she could. While Jacobs was flying the crowd donated money to offset her gas bill for the trip north. She collected more than $800 and the award for the longest traveled contestant.
While the STOL competition is the signature event for Valdez, competitors also participated in a flour bombing competition and a balloon bust event.
There were numerous demonstrations, including Paul Claus demonstrating his mastery of the Turbine Otter with a takeoff under 100 feet and several demonstrations by Everts Air Fuel in their 1945 C-46 Hot Stuff. The 35,000 pound freighter had an approximately 500-foot takeoff as the rumble of the twin radial engines drowned out all other sound.
Scott Sexton performed aerobatics in his Citabria, as well as lead a missing man formation for long-time fly-in participant and supporter Marc Paine, who died in an accident at an air show last summer.
Gary Ward flew his MX-2 up from Georgia for the chance to perform in Valdez and amazed the crowd. Ward had never seen such a spectacular venue for aerobatics and used the mountain behind the airport as a canvas for his aerial artistry. The sounds of his plane reverberated as he climbed up one ridge and down the next.
The reach of the Valdez-Fly In was demonstrated when the contest started streaming live on Facebook. More than 20,000 people from around the world watched, contributing enthusiastic comments about the performances. Interest has continued with video of Frank Knapp’s performance with more than 1 million views.
While the flying provides the entertainment, having a chance to meet and socialize with fellow pilots is what keeps many coming back, organizers noted. Pilots camped with their planes and more who drove in surrounded the airfield as well. Pilots lingered and swapped stories and tips as well. Event organizers said they are already working on the 2018 event.