Here we go again… in a great way, I hope. Returning to our Top 50 Video series, we come to Just Aircraft and their jaw-dropping SuperSTOL. At airshows in recent years, lots of pilots spoke with excitement about STOL competitions. Just’s SuperSTOL was often part of the conversation. Videos highlighted in our Top 50 series are the most popular 50 selections from a library of about 1,000 videos appearing on Dave Loveman’s Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer YouTube channel. They represent the “Best of Dave & Dan” videos as determined by your views. Just Aircraft has a long history of building close to 1,000 aircraft, the company said in early 2024. A large share of these, around 800, were SuperSTOL kits. The lines are a bit indistinct because SuperSTOL is at heart a Highlander kit hopped up on steroids (or the airplane equivalent). These days, Highlander remains a good seller for Walhalla, South Carolina-based Just Aircraft, said main man Gary Schmitt on a recent phone call.
Just Aircraft is… Anything but "Just"The company name sounds unassuming — "Aw, they're just aircraft…" — and the Walhalla team is indeed laid back as is common in their part of the U.S. However, they may be closer to a duck… all calm and relaxed-looking on the surface — while paddling vigorously under the water. Just Aircraft was founded in 2002. Keen to build his own airplane, Troy Woodland left his position at Flying K Enterprises, manufacturer of the Sky Raider kit. Gary Schmitt met Troy at an airshow and they discovered they both wanted a plane with the same features. With Gary's backing, he and aircraft designer Troy collaborated on the design of Escapade, their first model (full-length review). First came Escapade, a model still available, although "we've only sold one in the last year," Gary observed. However, this was the airplane that launched Just Aircraft. Escapade had features that distinguished it from other light aircraft of its day. It had wings you could fold in less than two minutes without having to disconnect any controls or control surfaces. Not only does this last aspect save time but it helps assure you won't make mistakes reassembling the aircraft. Escapade was side by side — as all Just designs have been since — and had dual controls that were not always standard back then. You could have Escapade in nose or tailwheel configurations. It was 44 inches wide, huge for the time. Escapade was spacious inside; you could haul gear or actually sleep in the cabin given its 30 cubic feet of baggage area. Escapade was light enough to perform satisfactorily with a 50-horsepower Rotax 503 and robust enough to handle a Rotax 912. Highlander was "the bush-plane version of Escapade. STOL was a thing then, of course, but it had not caught on as an attraction at airshows. A few years back, that changed. A desirable feature of STOL competitions at places like Sun 'n Fun's Paradise City strip and AirVenture's Fun Fly Zone strip is how close to the action you can get. Seeing STOL from 50 feet away is a different experience than watching a YouTube video. Then came Steve Henry with his 300-horsepower Yamaha Highlander. Yep, it was modified toward a SuperSTOL but it was not that model. Seeking to retain his top position, Gary Schmitt said Steve will return to shows in 2024 with a 400-horsepower edition. Try not to blink; it won't be on the ground long. The "more rugged" Highlander debuted at Arlington in 2004, "quickly emerged as a shining star for Just Aircraft." Highlander featured longer wings fitted with VGs, a large empennage, taller, heavier-duty gear, and tundra tires. Clearly, they sought the bush plane market. "In 2004, [we] relocated to Walhalla, South Carolina, into a large production facility with its own runway," remembered Just Aircraft. "This was a time of serious growth. By 2013, Highlander outsold Escapade by 10:1." Becoming recognized, "about one third of sales went outside the US," said Just. Then… SuperSTOL with superior short takeoff and landing performance Following the success of Highlander, "Troy went back to the drawing board," Just said, "and in 2013, SuperSTOL was released." The significantly changed model featured a completely new wing with automatic leading edge slats that deploy at the right speed without pilot input. Wing spoilers were integrated with ailerons and long extending flaps to counteract adverse yaw and help the wing work exceptionally hard, resulting in a stall speed of only 28 knots. Troy's redesigned airfoil went all-aluminum for the first time. Escapade and Highlander models use wood ribs following the tradition of other light aircraft of that time, notably Kitfox. SuperSTOL used an entirely new and very attention-getting main landing gear. Standing very tall atop huge Alaska tundra tires, the design features special shock suspension that boasted an amazing 12 inches of travel. The gear alone could absorb a 4g landing load, Just said. SuperSTOL allows take off and landing "without the need for a runway," said Just. One needs no better proof of SuperSTOL's crowd-pleasing performance that observing takeoff and landing at their factory strip. The Just Aircraft factory runway is very short and so steep that walking down it requires your attention. Pilots obviously always take off downslope and land upslope. Even the language is new to most pilots but I've seen them repeat this over and over… even if my attention was riveted by the pond at the bottom of the short, steep runway. Don't land in the water, I told myself. No chance. SuperSTOL blasts off like a SpaceX rocket with room to spare. Imagine how it might work using a more conventional runway. "Such freedom opens up endless possibilities for adventure and off-airport fun, or even your own backyard," said Just Aircraft. That pretty much defines SuperSTOL.
- Just Aircraft — All contact info and all Just Aircraft content, on this website
- 2024 Kit prices for Escapade (base: $31,900)
- 2024 Kit prices for Highlander (base $37,890)
- 2024 Kit prices for SuperSTOL (base $47,985)
- 2024 Kit prices for SuperSTOL XL (base $50,975)
Deliveries were approximately 26 months out at posting; contact Just Aircraft for a precise quote.SuperSTOL lit up YouTube with this video that quickly zoomed past 200,000 views. https://youtu.be/3ofaH8VhXiw?si=ne0r6LOs7ekyhQuO A few years later, Just introduced the SuperSTOL XL, resulting in another popular video. https://youtu.be/Qz3NO9Paigw?si=OuQGxVPEPsjkBRa9 Although its future remains less certain Just's Solo 103 attracted an even bigger crowd, far exceeding 300,000 views. https://youtu.be/luSHaN_BGPY?si=cOanFbdQTzY-23Up