From Washington to Michigan, STOL pilots converging on Llano for fly-in April 11-13


LLANO — While most residents might not be aware of the jewel that lies just off Texas 16 north of Llano, hundreds, if not thousands, of pilots across Texas and the United States know exactly how great the Llano Municipal Airport is.

And, a bunch of them are flying in April 11-13 for the 2014 Texas STOL Roundup. One of the biggest selling points of getting the event, which attracts short-take-off-landing specialists and their aircrafts from California, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and numerous other states to Llano, is the airport itself.

“The airport in Llano is a big draw for this, mainly because of the grass strip,” said Jimmy Gist, the air boss for the STOL event. “Llano is really a showcase airport, not just for Texas but the whole nation. Pilots around the country know about this airport and talk about it.”

The airport has garnered attention in several national aviation publications. Gist said a lot of the accolades should go to Llano city leaders along with state officials. The two groups worked together with funding opportunities to make significant upgrades to the Llano Airport the past six years.

Pilots and the public can experience all the airport offers during the STOL Roundup.

While STOL flying isn’t anything new, especially for the military, Gist said it’s growing as an aviation class. He pointed out pilots in remote areas of the country such as the Rocky Mountains, the wooded Midwest and Alaska rely on the short-take-off-landing planes to get in and out of rugged spots. The aircraft are built rugged to handle the back country and short landing areas.

“It’s the aviation equivalent of four-wheeling,” Gist said. “They put tundra tires on the planes, and they pretty much go rock hopping.”

During the STOL event, pilots will have some friendly competition in five different classes. But there’s no prize money involved.

“It’s all for bragging rights,” Gist said.

Gist couldn’t put a number on the amount of planes and pilots that will participate, but, based on the words bouncing around the flying forums, he expects a significant total.

While some of the pilots will bunk down in the local hotels and motels, Gist said many will camp out on the strip right by their airplanes. And that’s part of the fun of these fly-ins, he explained. Everybody gets together, shares stories, gets in some flying and has a good time.

The event has drawn plenty of attention. Four of the main manufacturers of STOL airplanes will be on hand. And one of the largest aviation parts suppliers in the country, A.E.R.O. of Granite City, Ill., is sponsoring the event.

“It looks like it’s going to be a huge turnout,” Gist said.

While this isn’t an air show, Gist said he hope locals will check out the event and, particularly, the airport.

“We want to generate interest in aviation, in general, especially among young people,” he said.

People should be aware this is a working airport, and planes are moving about. There will be some guidance to help spectators see the aircraft and speak with pilots.

At noon April 12, there will be a ribbon cutting for the grand opening of several new hangars.

The airport is located about two miles northeast of Llano just off Texas 16 at 100 Evelyn Gould Drive. Call (325) 247-5635 for more information.