Pitts at 70
G-BADZ resurrects the colours of the 1970s Rothmans Aerobatic Team, while G-BKDR is the mount of fly-in organiser Lauren Richardson.
Postwar general aviation blues were given a huge boost by the Florida, USA-based cropdusting pilot Curtis Pitts when he designed and built a miniscule, yet strong and manoeuvrable single-seat aerobatic biplane, the Pitts Special.
The prototype first flew in September 1944 with a 55hp Lycoming engine, soon replaced by an 85hp engine at the request of US aerobatic champion Betty Skelton for her Little Stinker Pitts Special. The type dominated competition aerobatics in the 1960s and 70s.
At Oaksey Park airfield, Gloucestershire, on 26 September, Pitts pilots and aficionados gathered for a celebration of all things Pitts and to celebrate 70 years of this world-changing aerobatic biplane.
The UK population of over 130 examples, both single- and two-seat versions, was represented by nine in attendance at Oaksey Park, plus a close relative, a Christen Eagle, and several rare vintage and classic aeroplanes.
The Pitts were a mix of factory-built examples—certificated in 1971 and built by Aero-Tek at Afton, Wyoming, and more recently by Aviat— and homebuilt examples. Currently 16 Pitts Specials of all types are registered in New Zealand.
Pride of place at Oaksey Park was a recently restored example (G-BADZ) in the colours of the Rothmans Aerobatic Team. The Rothmans tobacco sponsored team in the 1970s was the UK’s first wholesale exposure to the Pitts Special with its four-ship formation aerobatics team led by UK aerobatic luminaries including Neil Williams and James Black. The team flew the two-seat Pitts S-2A with a 200hp Lycoming engine and with improved airframe stressing.
The UK’s Marlboro tobacco company, Canada’s Carling Red Tops and Jordan’s Royal Falcons teams also flew Pitts in the 1970s and 80s, before the advent of more powerful monoplane aerobatic aircraft eclipsed the diminutive, iconic Pitts Specials. Trig Avionics still sponsors a two-ship Pitts S-1 aerobatic team in the UK (G-IIIP and G-PIII), performing regularly at many European airshows and other events.
The Oaksey Park event was organised by Pitts display pilot Lauren Richardson in association with Robert Wasey’s Stroud, Gloucestershire-based Hercules Propellers, used now on many of the UK fleet of operational Pitts and other homebuilt types.
A Pitts Special 70th anniversary fly-in is being held at Omaka during the weekend of 13–15 November.
- Report by Geoff Jones, photographs by Geoff Jones & Adrian Balch.
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