ERAU: Winning the Pro-Am Spot Landing Competition

In Anecdotes by Steve Sliwa

There was a Pro-Am spot-landing competition between the ERAU Flight Team and professional airline pilots who were alums.  The kids on the flight team practice 2 or 3 times a week and are pretty focused on pilotage of these small planes.  The alums knew this to be a formidable challenge.  Several of these airline pilots had even rented airplanes of the type that were going to be used to practice prior to the competition against the kids on the flight team.  Afterall, getting the flare and touchdown just right is a bit different between the small planes and their ‘heavy’ iron.

I was invited to attend and somehow they tricked me into entering the competition.  I told them I wasn’t current and hadn’t flown that type of plane in about 10 years, etc.  etc. They persisted and I relented.

In the competition, you’re allowed one practice landing and then you make two spot landings and they add up the total of your misses for your cumulative score.  A perfect score is 0 + 0.  If the weather is good during the Nationals a winning score might be about 10 feet or two single digit landings.

During the practice, I landed in front of the front boundary, basically out of bounds, or a practice score of 200+ feet.  Everyone hooted and laughed, or so I was told.  But actually, I thought that front boundary was the landing mark.  My safety pilot told me my error, so on the next landing, I got fairly close with a score of 17 feet, which was an excellent landing score.  Everyone smiled and basically joked about how lucky I was, I must have closed my eyes, did the safety pilot do it, ya-da ya-da ya-da.  Clearly, I was likely to be out of bounds again for the 2nd and final landing.

Mainly they were amazed but the leading student had a cumulative score of 19 feet and the best alum had a cumulative score of 20 feet.  So although they were amazed at my luck, they relaxed because they believed their cumulative scores to be safely out of reach.

They didn’t realize that growing up as a sailplane pilot, I am fairly comfortable with spot landings.  I was just getting in the so-called ‘groove’.  At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  So the next time around I got a sore of 1′ (just missed the perfect score mark).  Everyone was silent.  They couldn’t believe it.  I had bested the top scores.  The kids were crestfallen as they were prepping for nationals and thought for sure they were going to teach the oldsters a thing or two.

I do get teased by a couple of the other pros from the competition who basically ‘want a rematch.’  So far I have decided not to defend my title. 🙂  My friend, airline captain John Mazur (Spruce Creek) still gives me kudos when we get together for pulling off the upset, ‘demonstrating leadership from the cockpit,’ and, most importantly, making sure that old and experienced beat out young and practiced.

Newpaper Proof: Pro-Am Spot Landing Competition

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