AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2012 - 57
A hand-painted emblem on the vertical stabilizer shows pride in the designer (lower left). The Pitts is an airplane the pilot “wears,” and the cockpit (left) with a parachute and five-point harness is extremely confining. Four ailerons and a short wingspan give the Pitts a quick roll rate, and oversized control surfaces make it extremely maneuverable in every axis. The starburst paint scheme (above) matches the brash design.
but the rotation in this particular airplane is noticeably faster to the right. Recovery from fully developed spins, both left and right, takes place with opposite rudder and forward stick in less than two turns. Returning to the airport, it’s time for the most notable portions of any Pitts flight: approach and landing. Trim for 100 mph on downwind, then reduce the power and pitch for 90 mph on base and 85 mph on final. A curving approach keeps the runway in sight until the flare, and then the runway almost totally disappears from view. Maintain your alignment using peripheral vision and keep working the stick aft for a full-stall landing. The tailwheel touches down an instant before the mains. Although still light on its feet, the airplane sticks and the main wheels
carry progressively more weight. As the airplane decelerates through about 30 mph, it tends to dart left and right, and quick taps on the rudder pedals (not the brakes!) are required to keep it straight. Once clear of the runway, sliding the canopy full open brings a welcome rush of fresh air. No matter how many times you’ve done it before, every Pitts landing is exciting, and they all require a pilot’s full attention. In the early 1990s when I had just begun flying a Pitts, I was practicing touch-and-go landings at my home field (General Dewitt Spain Airport in Memphis, Tennessee) one still morning. When I put the airplane away after about a dozen trips around the pattern, a veteran Pitts pilot took me aside and warned me against the practice. “Don’t do any more landings in a Pitts than you absolutely have to,” he said. “No one ever completely masters them, so touch and goes only tempt fate.” (I regarded that piece of advice as overly fatalistic then, but I’ve since come around to the old sage’s way of thinking.) Curtis Pitts, who died in 2005 at age 89, famously said that there was “no such thing as a twitchy airplane—only twitchy pilots.” By that he meant that his airplane’s extreme responsiveness instantly results
in the airplane doing exactly what the pilot commands it to do. And there lies the problem: Most pilots tend to overcontrol. It can be hard to find an existing Pitts aircraft that hasn’t been damaged in a ground mishap, and high insurance rates for hull coverage are a direct reflection of the inherent hazards. Many Pitts owners and pilots express a certain ambivalence about their airplanes. They are the first to point out that the straight-back seats are job security for chiropractors (a dose of Advil should be part of every preflight ritual); the cockpits get hot in the summer and freezing cold in winter; and the engines are crammed so tightly under the cowl that they can be very difficult to work on. But they absolutely adore the way their airplanes respond instantly and energetically to every command, and they treasure the excitement that each flight brings. Davisson, the veteran Pitts instructor and aviation writer who has produced volumes on the distinctive airplanes, describes them in hyperbolic terms. “There are Pitts Specials and there are other airplanes,” he says, “and the two shouldn’t be confused.” Email the author at dave.hirschman@ aopa.org.
AOPA PILOT • 57 • JANUARY 2012