AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2012 - 52
Now that their glory days are over, however, stubby Pitts single-seaters are being discovered by sport flying enthusiasts who prize their lively handling, mechanical simplicity, unique place in aviation history, and affordability. Two-aileron Pitts S–1Cs are available on the used market with prices beginning in the low $20,000s, and four-aileron S–1D, S–1E, and S–1S models can be purchased in the low to mid $30s. That seems a bargain for airplanes so iconic that one—formerly owned and flown by the late aerobatic champion and airshow performer Betty Skelton—hangs over the entrance to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, and three more (the former Red Devils) are enshrined at the EAA Museum. Aside from the purchase price, however, there are other hurdles that aspiring Pitts pilots must overcome to enjoy these diminutive, demanding aircraft. Insurance companies typically require pilots get at least 10 hours of dual instruction in a two-seat Pitts before providing coverage for singleseat models. (Bill Finagin in Maryland and Budd Davisson in Arizona have specialized for years in providing Pitts transition training.) This specialized instruction helps pilots become accustomed to the Pitts hallmarks of rapid acceleration and deceleration, short coupling, light control forces, and a near total lack of forward visibility in the landing attitude.
Tailwheel proficiency is a must, and it should come in airplanes that are similarly blind on the ground. Skills acquired in Champs or Citabrias with unobstructed forward views don’t count unless the pilot flies from the back seat (preferably with a tall, broad-shouldered companion wearing a sombrero in front to block the view ahead). The Pitts has long been a rite of passage for aerobatic pilots, and the standard by which other aerobatic airplanes are measured. Flying a single-seat model for the first time brings sweaty palms, cotton mouth, and tingling anticipation akin to a student pilot’s initial solo. Pilots recount their first Pitts flights vividly and in great detail many years afterward. Former EAA Chairman Tom Poberezny, a member of the world champion 1972 U.S. Aerobatic Team, says his first flight in a Pitts S–1S was an awakening that altered the course of his life. He and his father later built a Pitts in which he competed with great success and flew for years with the Red Devils aerobatic team. “That flight opened a whole new world for me,” he said at the time his former Red Devil airplane joined those of fellow team members Gene Soucy and
Baggage space is minimal (below) with just enough room for a change of clothes, toothbrush, and a credit card. Cockpit instrumentation is bare bones, too. The clear sight gauge on the right shows fuel quantity.
AOPA PILOT •
52 • JANUARY 2012