Flying Tails: ‘STOL’ Flying

Flying Tails

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Tonight’s Flying Tails focuses on a different kind of flying that a lot of people don’t know about.

It’s the kind of flying you usually find in remote areas that don’t have paved runways but it’s happening here in the East Bay hills.

Just 20 miles east of San Francisco in the rolling Hayward Hills is some pretty incredible flying.

These light and nimble planes are dancing in the sky taking off and landing on small patches of dry grass and dirt on the ground that often isn’t even level.

It’s called “STOL” flying, S-T-O-L, which stands for short take off and landing.

Most pilots simply call it backcountry flying but this is hardly the kind of backcountry most people think of.

“We’re here in the middle of nine million people. There’s San Francisco and Palo Alto and Stanford University. How do we do this?” Bob Simmons said.

Well, it helps when you own the land. Bob Simmons has a hundred-plus acres in the Hayward Hills and he’s turned it into a combination aviation playground and obstacle course.

The goal is to be so precise you can touch down and stop in an area smaller than a tennis court.

“The fun part of it is keeping getting better. It’s like golf. You keep score when you play golf and so here we train to like a 12 by 12 touchdown marker. Twelve feet? Twelve feet. That’s kind of the target we try to land in to judge ourselves by being consistently in that 12 by 12 box,” Simmons said.

The landing zone, or LZ, is only part of the challenge.

There are power lines, trees, and other obstacles to consider, as well as the weather, especially the wind.

“As the wind kind of rolls over these hills, it completely changes that flight environment so you need to be prepared for evolving and changing environment,” Simmons said.

Simmons has cleared 26 different landing zones on his property.

He says there are only four pilots who use the property and after thousands of take-offs and landings there hasn’t been a single incident.

He wants to keep it that way.

“You can call it a sport. I guess it is a sport. You definitely work up a sweat flying around like this. I mean you’re doing 50-60 landings an hour and you start to 620 you’re working your entire body. You’re not maybe really physically hard but the whole environment, you gotta be on your game. Every landing, you gotta be on your game so it forces you to be better, at what you do and it’s fun to have a way you can measure that improvement instead of doing something,” Simmons said.

“Well, my airplane costs less than a high end pick up truck. I don’t feel bad about that. I drive an old car and a newer airplane.  It’s a kit-built airplane. They’re not that expensive.  I flew around all morning probably did 60 landings, 60 takeoffs and I burned 15 gallons worth of gas. Pump gas,” Simmons continued. 

Simmons says he tries to be a good neighbor by not flying over nearby houses and respecting other’s privacy.

“A lot of them we know and a lot of times they’ll call us on Sunday morning and say hey what time are you so I can bring my buddies over to watch you guys fly,” Simmons said.

It’s certainly a show.

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