Flour Bombs Away!

A few Saturdays ago (I can’t remember just how many Saturdays ago, because my world has been delightfully turned upside-down since then, and time has been standing still in this blissful reverie of mine, except when that spell is broken by the wafting odor of Brian sitting next to me like he is now, post very-warm-day flight, smelling like dirtymanplane and, well, sweat.) Brian and I competed in a flour bombing competition at the local small airport that Brian flies out of.

we feel the need…the need to WIN. or something.

Flour bombing is where you have a brown paper bag filled with about 2 cups of white flour (we used whole wheat flour when we practiced, cuz we’re healthy like that) and then you fly a plane over this big bullseye painted on the ground, and you drop the flour bags and the ones that land (with a big white -or brown- *poof*) closest to the center of the target win.

Sound fun?!

It sure is!

Sound easy?

Oh hells no.

So, naturally, Brian geeked out on this and he spent days doing these calculations having to do with the weight of the flour bomb, the speed of the aircraft, the altitude of the aircraft, the drag on the bag as it falls, the wind speed and direction, and if a tree falls in the woods, will my cat still throw up on my rug?  Brian tried to walk me through his mathematical genius, but my eyes glazed over and then I left to go eat a donut.

What all these calculations did was give us the angle at which the bag had to be dropped when looking at the target from the air, and with this information, Brian fashioned a bombsight by taping an aviation plotter to a level.  Since Brian had to concentrate on flying the damn plane and not killing us, it was up to me to drop the bombs, so I was to hold the bombsight level with the horizon (hence the level) and then we taped a piece of straw onto the plotter that created the appropriate angle for me to use.  As we flew forward, I looked down the straw, and the moment I saw the target through the straw was when I was supposed to drop the bomb.

Practice flour bomb and bombsight

Now, this sounded all well and good to me on the ground.  Pretty easy, pretty straightforward.   We had it in the bag.

Being the nerds we are, we decided to practice before the actual competition.  So Brian got a plane the night before and we made five of our own flour bags (whole wheat with see-through ziplocks) and we set off.

At the airport, Brian plugged in the wind speed and everything and calculated the drop angle and we taped the straw onto the bombsight accordingly.  We made one flyover to determine what we’d use as a target, and we decided on the windsock which had a big round circle painted around it.   We were ready!

Yeah, I knew it would be windy up there, with me hanging out the window of a Cessna 152, but I guess I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be to simply hang onto the bombsight and the bag at the same time and not let them get ripped out of my hands while my eyes were watering and air was moving so fast past my nose that it was very hard to breathe.

Practice #4

Bomb #1 got ripped out of my hand so quickly that I couldn’t even see where it landed.  We never saw it again, may it rest in peace.  I hope the jackrabbits feast on your whole-wheaty goodness.

Bombs 2 and 3 I actually saw hit the ground because of their contrasting whiteness to the green/brown surroundings, but also because I remembered to look and didn’t get my very expensive headset ripped off.  #2 went off to the left, and so I told Brian to fly more to the right for #3, and then #3 fell right in line with the target, I just released it too late, and so it fell too south.

Being able to adjust for our mistakes made all the difference, because we rocked so hard on 4 and 5.  #4 landed 30 feet from the target and #5 landed frickin 15 feet from the target!!!!  By the time we got on the ground to go see, it was too dark for pictures, but man, WE WERE PUMPED.

Bag #5 and the practice target

I asked Brian if there was a prize for winning the competition, cuz by this point I was actually thinking we had a chance of winning this thing.

The prize?

One free hour of flying at the flight school (worth about $85).

Thanks a lot.  I’ll win anyway just to spite all the flight instructors who were also competing.  I’d planned to just turn around and sell that one hour for twice the price to an unsuspecting jackrabbit.  Suckers.

What sucks about the actual competition was that we didn’t know crucial details like the weight of the bags, the speed, and the altitude rules until the morning of.  I mean, we just entered them into the equation accordingly, but having actual experience at those heights and speeds really makes a difference.  Turned out that we needed to fly 100 feet higher (at 600 feet) and 10 mph faster (at 80 mph) than we had flown in practice.  Plus the bags were twice as heavy, and they were brown, which made them VERY hard to see while falling,  aaaaaand we only got two bags.

Competition bag

So I described flying at 500 feet at 70 mph.  It’s windy.  Now imagine being sucked up into an F5 tornado like in Twister.  Flying with my head out the window at 600 feet and at 80 mph was exactly the same as Twister, because my hair was all messed up, and I wasn’t at all hurt by any of the CG debris that should have severed a vital artery and made me bleed out in a matter of minutes.

I could barely hold the sight steady, let alone hold it at all.  My eyes were watering so I could barely see.  And once I dropped the bag and turned around to watch it fall, I almost lost my headset (ahem, Brian’s very expensive headset) to the angry gods of flight.  I also had no idea where the bag hit the ground, so I had no way of adjusting for my mistakes the way I was able to do in practice.


The competition was way more frustrating than our practice, and I was lucky I didn’t ralph out the window once we hit the ground.  I wonder if that would have counted if I had ralphed from 6oo feet?

Our best bag landed 85 feet away, boo.  We came in 7th out of 15…not too shabby.

the winner’s bag landed just outside the target…had we been competing the night before, WE WOULD HAVE WON.

There’s always next year!



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