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Monday, 03 March 2014 15:43

The Pitts, Part III Featured

Written by  Snap&Roll
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Mr. Muscles, the first Pitts wiht a 170 hp engineDuring the 1950s, when airshow activity was increasingly stagnant, Curtis decided to temporarily leave Pitts airplane construction and center his efforts on his business and on creating Pitts designs and blueprints. 

It was during this time that Curtis had the idea to develop a completely new Pitts design: a two-seater plane. While spending his summers in Mississippi and fumigating the cotton fields, Curtis got down to work and began to make his first sketches for a two-seater plane. He was only drawing them, not building them.

Although Curtis did not build one plane during the 1950s, a couple of Pitts Specials were constructed.

One day, Billy Williams asked Curtis for the layout of the Pitts he had designed. He started construction but could not finish. It was completed by Dean Case, who baptized the plane as "Joy's Toy," since his daughter, Joyce, would be flying it in airshows.

At the same time, Curtis' friend, Jim Meeks, began another Pitts construction project. Motivated by Phil Quigley, he was responsible for building Mr. Muscles.

Phil Quigley flying the Pitts N8L from Pat Ledford
Phil Quigley flying the Pitts N8L from Pat Ledford

With a 170 hp engine, Mr. Muscles ( N37J ) had the most powerful engine of all the Pitts thus far. The plane was the older brother to Betty Skelton's famous Pitts, "Little Stinker." Weighing just 689 lbs, this plane set a benchmark for Pitts planes of the future.

After being in Gainesville for 10 years, Curtis relocated to Homestead, Florida in 1955. There, he began to get pressure to start designing Pitts planes again. As a result of this pressure, he and Phil Quigley drew up plans for the birth of another Pitts in 1962. It was identical to the latest versions and registered as the N8L, and was flown by Pat Ledford for several years. This Pitts was the guinea pig for the rebirth of the Pitts Special.

Nowadays, more than 300 amateur Pitts have been built from these plans; but at that time, no one could imagine the impact these "drawings" would have on aviation, US aerobatics, and the world.

Today, competition aerobatics is an exact science with practically no room for error. The quality of flights improves year after year, and the sequences get increasingly difficult and complex. There is more of a presence of negative maneuvers, requiring that planes have excellent characteristics for upside down flight. This means that a plane with a symmetric profile is not just an obligation these days, but a necessity.

The Pitts S-2A "Big Stinker"
The Pitts S-2A "Big Stinker"

In 1948, Curtis had already planned to use a symmetric wing profile for his designs. Curtis and Phil had discussed it at the beginning of the 1940s, but aeronautic engineers at the University of Florida told them it was too dangerous.

At that time, competition aerobatics was very different than it is today. The complexity of aerobatic maneuvers looked nothing like a current sequence.  Even so, they believed that a symmetric profile would make life much easier for pilots and would help airshow pilots greatly. Motivated by that idea, they put their plans into action.

Between 1960 and 1961, driven by the need to improve the performance of his Pitts, Curtis began to work with the concept and design of symmetric wing. He worked hard on his design and improvements for days, performing several tests and readjustments until he finally had perfectly symmetric wings.  The first plane he attached symmetric wings to was the Pitts N8L, and he asked several aerobatic pilots to fly it. After a few small modifications, they were impressed with its performance.

The first symmetric wings only had ailerons on the lower wings. It took years of investigation, tests and more tests, and reconstructing and modifying to incorporate the upper ailerons. It wasn't until 1967 that they incorporated the 2 upper ailerons like in the Pitts that we know today.  The plane that had the first 4 ailerons was a Pitts that Curtis designed; Bob Herendeen was the first pilot that flew this Pitts with asymmetric wings in a competition.

Bob was one of the pilots who brought more popularity to the Pitts, along with Betty Skelton with her "Little Stinker," due to participating in numerous airshows and national and international competitions.

With the popularity of the Pitts in the clouds, in 1964 Curtis decided to design and sell planes on a larger scale. His aerial works business went on to be called Pitts Aero Service, and then after it was sold several months later, it became Pitts Aviation Enterprises.

In July of 1967, Pitts Aviation relocated to its current business center in Homestead, Florida. There, in less than a year, with minimal infrastructure and with the planes that he had previously designed in Mississippi, Curtis built the first two-seater Pitts and baptized it as "Big Stinker" (Pitts S2-A). Big Stinker didn't incorporate many changes in comparison to the latest Pitts Special models, except those necessary to comply with the certification: symmetric wing, 4 ailerons, and a 200 hp engine which caused an increase in the rudder limiter area, a modification in weight and balance due to the "extra" weight of the engine.

Curtis wanted to produce the Pitts two-seater in Homestead, but one day Herb Anderson made him change his mind. Herb was a businessman specialized in building production lines for Piper and Mooney, and he invited Curtis to go and see his facilities in Afton.  Initially, Curtis did not like the idea, but Herb offered to cover his travel costs. Finally, Curtis flew to Afton and what he saw surprised him. He saw that he could have mind-blowing facilities with a young staff, highly trained and skilled in steel tubes. Curtis was convinced, and Afton became the future home of Pitts Aviation Enterprises.

They began all the preparations for the production line. Although the tests and certification for the Pitts S2-A were done in Homestead, they had to prepare the whole plant for line production. The first Pitts S2-A that left the Afton plant was for Marion Cole in the summer of 1971. After that, they were able to produce at a speed of two Pitts each month. On May 1, 1973, they had already produced 48 S2-A Pitts, and they sold all the models before leaving the plant on June 13, 1974.

As we can see, the response from pilots was immediate and excellent. Their motives were clear: the Pitts S2-A offered FAA certification with a performance that exceeded every other certified plane in the market; a two-seater training plane that could be used to train from sport to unlimited; an excellent plane for airshows; and a very fun biplane to fly.

These factors, along with others, led many clients to the doors of Pitts Aviation Enterprises.  For example, Manx Kelly, leader of the British aerobatics Rothman Team, requested 5 Pitts planes after visiting the Afton factor and trying the plane. The plane's reputation extended across all borders, and he gained an excellent reputation at the international level, in part, thanks to them.

Rothmans Team with Pitts S-2A
Rothmans Team with Pitts S-2A

As only one certified plane was not enough for Curtis, he began to work so that the Pitts Special would be too, and it earned its certification on February 6th of the same year. The basic plane did not have the "extras," like the electric system or radios. All this, of course, in order to not penalize its performance.

The first Pitts Special model left the production line on August 8th, with 15 planes already requested. And although the single-seater model would not sell as quickly as the two-seater, victory after victory in national and international championships due to this model's excellent performance produced an upward spiral in sales.

Bob Herendeen brought more popularity to the Pitts, along with Betty Skelton.

Bob Herendeen brought more popularity to the Pitts,

along with Betty Skelton.

At that moment, Curtis built 4 planes a month: 2 S2-A Pitts and 2 Pitts Specials. Although he could have increased his production line and reduced his customers' wait time, Curtis did not do this because he believed limiting production prevented the market from becoming saturated with Pitts planes, allowed the plane to retain its value, and prevented competition by minimizing the number of planes that would be available for resale.

Curtis made 2 Pitts kits per month available for those who wanted to build their own Pitts, with an instruction manual, plans, flight manual, and test flight forms. These kits were not exactly the same as the certified models.

According to the FAA, accessories, the motor mounting, and instruments that were not included in the kit had to be procured from Curtis' company.

For many years, the Pitts Special was situated in the highest part of the boxes at the majority of aerobatic competitions. Being the benchmark, new plane designs are always threatening to take its place, but Curtis is not afraid of this, saying:

"I feel that if any plane is going to have an advantage over the planes I build, it will be because the rules of the game have changed. As long as the rules and the box don't change, we have a great advantage above the rest. High-performance planes will not make you win a championship. The pilot that flies the plane and his hands will cause him to be proclaimed world champion."

Without a doubt, Curtis Pitts developed a vital plane for the United States and for aerobatics in general. He built a plane that set a benchmark in the industry, allowing the United States team to win the world championships in 1970 and 1972. Despite currently only being competitive in lesser categories, its flight form, design, and history make many aerobatic pilots want to dance in the sky with a Pitts.

It is true what they say...If you are a Pitts pilots, you create a stir wherever you go.

Thank you very much, Mr. Pitts! 

Read 26799 times Last modified on Friday, 04 July 2014 13:52
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