The Pitts Special is a light aerobatic biplane designed by Curtis Pitts. It has accumulated many competition wins since its first flight in 1944. The Pitts Special dominated world aerobatic competition in the 1960s and 1970s and, even today, remains a potent competition aircraft in the lower categories.
Design and development
Curtis Pitts began the design of a single-seat aerobatic biplane in 1943–1944. The design has been refined continuously since the prototype's first flight in September 1944, however, the current Pitts Specials still remain quite close to the original in concept and in design.
Pitts also built several monoplane racing planes in the 1940s–1950s, the most famous of which was the low-winged "Pellet" of 1947 and the mid-winged "Lil' Monster" of 1951. Among other one-off projects, he also built a two-seat sport monoplane called the "Big Hickey".
Several of the aircraft that Curtis Pitts built had a picture of a skunk on them and were called "Stinkers". After she bought it, aerobatic performer Betty Skelton called the second aircraft that Curtis built, "Lil' Stinker". The prototype S-2, which was the first two-seat Pitts, was "Big Stinker", the prototype Model 11 (later called S1-11B) was "Super Stinker", and the prototype Model 12 was the "Macho Stinker".
In 1962 Curtis Pitts set up Pitts Enterprises to sell plans of the S-1C to homebuilders.
All single-seat (S-1) and two-seat (S-2) Pitts Specials are variations on the basic design from 1944.
Pitts produced limited numbers of aircraft during the 1940s and 1950s. It is widely accepted that the Pitts Special is the standard by which all other aerobatic aircraft are judged. After a number of home-built aircraft were produced from rough hand-drawn plans produced by Pitts, more professionally drawn plans went on sale in 1962. While many home-built aircraft were built in the 1960s, earning the Special a reputation as an excellent aerobatic aircraft, Pitts worked on the design of a two-seat aerobatic trainer version, the S-2, which first flew in 1967 and gained its type certificate in 1971. Factory-built aircraft produced by the Aerotek company at Afton, Wyoming were joined in production by the single-seat S-1S in 1973.
In 1972, the US National Aerobatic Team won the World Championships flying only Pitts Specials.
In 1977 Curtis Pitts sold his interests in the Pitts Special to Doyle Child. Child later sold the rights in 1981 to Frank Christenson, who continued production at the Afton plant under the guise of Christen Industries. The rights for home-built versions of the Pitts were sold in 1994 to Steen Aero Lab in 1994, with the Afton factory and production rights being transferred to Aviat.
Curtis Pitts died in 2005 at age 89. At the time of his death, he was working with Steen on the prototype of the new Pitts Model 14, a brand-new, two-seat biplane designed for unlimited aerobatics powered by the 400 horsepower Vedeneyev M14P radial engine. The rights to the Pitts name is currently owned by Aviat which also owns the similar model to the Pitts in the Christen Eagle.
Certified versions of the compact Pitts Special are now produced by Aviat in Afton, Wyoming. It is available as an S1 single-seater with up to 200 hp (150 kW) flat-4 Lycoming engine and a 17 ft 4 in (5.28 m) wingspan, or as an S2 two-seater variant featuring a 260 hp (194 kW) flat-6 Lycoming and a 20 ft (6.1 m) wingspan. Pitts Specials have been equipped with engines of up to 450 hp (338 kW).
The Pitts Special held sway over the aerobatic world championships until the rise of the monoplane, though it remains very competitive in all levels of competition and remains a favorite of air show performers worldwide. The first monoplane to topple the Pitts from the top of unlimited aerobatic competition was the Russian- built and designed Yak-50.
Today, the single-seat Pitts Special S1-S plans are available from Aviat Aircraft. The S1-C and derivative S1-SS plans and kits are supplied by Steen Aero Lab in Palm Bay, Florida. The S1 continues to provide extremely high performance at a relatively low cost. Many hundreds of homebuilders have successfully completed and flown the Pitts since plans became available in 1960.
Data from Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1988-89
Published in July 2009.
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