Short Field Landings
Pilots fly a standard pattern (box) around the runway, 800 or 1000 feet above the ground. When abeam the touchdown point, or shack line, the pilot must reduce engine power to a defined level. The pilot may add flaps or reduce power, but may not increase power without incurring a penalty. The pilot must fly standard base and final legs, and then attempt to touch down with the main landing gear as close to the shack line as possible. To execute a clean landing with with no penalties, the pilot must touch down at the minimum controllable airspeed, must not bounce, and must land with full flaps extended. The distance from the shack line at which the main gear touches down becomes the pilot's score. Pilots typically execute two landings, and the final score is the sum of both landings.
Power Off Landings
Similar to the Short Field Landings, but the pilot must reduce engine power to idle when abeam the touchdown point, and may not add sustained power without incurring a penalty. However, the pilot may land with any flap setting, and need not land at minimum controllable airspeed, so long as the main gear touches first.
Often deemed the most fun of the flying events, the goal of message drop is to release a message container from the aircraft so that the container hits a fixed target on the ground. One crew member flies the aircraft, while the other leans out the window wearing goggles and holding the container. The crew must work as a team to position the aircraft, release at the correct time, and account for wind. The aircraft is flown 200 feet above the ground at cruise speed. Crews drop on two targets in the same pass, and the team with the lowest combined distance from the target wins.
The navigation event consists of precision flight planning and execution. The pilot has 30 minutes to plan the flight. Then a team consisting of the pilot and one safety observer work together to complete the flight in the time they planned, based on reference objects on the ground. They also search for secret bonus points as they fly over. The route is scored based on the how many seconds difference exist between the team's flight plan and the actual flight. They can also be penalized for being more than 1/10th of a gallon off of their planned fuel burn. The winning team most accurately follows their flight plan and finds the most bonus points.
Click for a complete description of events and official NIFA rulebook.