Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Pitts Special is 70 years old.

This diminutive biplane, originally designed by Curtis Pitts as a home-built single seat aerobatic machine, is 70 years old this year. Over the years many variations of Pitts Specials have been manufactured, some home built and some factory built machines. The basic designation is Pitts S1 for the single seat variant, and S2 for the tandem 2-seat aeroplane.

Pitts S1-T at Sleap today. This factory built variant is a single seater with symmetrical wing profiles and 4 ailerons. Built by Aerotek it has a 200hp Lycoming engine and the top wing is moved forward compared to the classic S1 for weight and balance reasons (to compensate for the heavier-than-standard engine).

Pitts Specials initially enjoyed great success in aerobatic competitions, having a high power to weight ratio for the time, and being extremely maneuverable. The drawback was, and still is, that the aeroplane's diminutive dimensions make it difficult for competition judges to accurate mark maneuvers as it's quite difficult to see exactly whether a vertical really is vertical, a roll properly axial etc, compared to larger aerobatic aircraft.

Aerobatic competitions are today dominated by bigger monoplane designs such as German-made Extras, Russian Sukhois and Yaks, and French CAPs. The little Pitts is a bit outclassed these days, but still competitive at Standard level.

The British Aerobatic Association this weekend hosted a Pitts Special aerobatic competition and fly-in at the Shropshire Aero Club's Sleap airfield, near Wem in Shropshire, and I rode down on the mighty Griso to have a look.

The view from the control tower balcony over the airfield 

My big Moto Guzzi Griso 1,200 parked behind the control tower 

 Three visiting Pitts Specials on Sleap's grass apron

It was good to meet some old faces today I knew from flying. In particular Bob, the proprietor of Sherlowe strip which was a regular destination for me in our Chipmunk. Bob is now the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) at Sleap. 

Another blast from the past was Steve, who used to be in our Chipmunk group many years ago at Barton but who now judges aerobatic competitions for the British Aerobatic Association. Steve wasn't judging today but was giving a commentary on the ongoing aerobatic competition.

There was a barbecue with hog roast offering light lunches, so I bought a hog roast bap and settled down in the sunshine to watch a few competitors run through their sequences before heading the mighty Griso homewards.


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