The Pitts biplanes, designed and originally built in 1944 by Curtis Pitts, dominated all world aerobatic competition in the 1960s and 1970s and, even today, remain a potent competition aircraft in the lower categories.
Curtis Pitts began the design of a single-seat aerobatic biplane in 1943. The design has been refined continuously since the prototype first flew in September 1944; however, the current Pitts S2 still remains quite close to the original in concept and in design.
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".
Certified versions of the Pitts are now produced by Aviat Aircraft in Afton, Wyoming. They are available as the S1 single-seater with an up to 200 hp flat-4 Lycoming engine and a 5.28 m wingspan, or as the S2 two-seater variant featuring a 260 hp flat-6 Lycoming and a 6.1 m wingspan. Pitts Specials have been equipped with engines of up to 450 hp.
Plans for the single-seat Pitts S1-S are also available from Aviat Aircraft. The S1-C and derivative S1-SS plans and kits are supplied by Steen Aero Lab in Palm Bay, Florida. Many hundreds of homebuilders have successfully completed and flown the Pitts since plans became available in 1960.
Pitts produced limited numbers of aircraft during the 1940s and 1950s. The Pitts Special became the standard by which all other aerobatic aircraft were judged. After a number of homebuilt aircraft were produced from rough hand-drawn plans produced by Pitts, more professionally drawn plans went on sale in 1962.
While many homebuilt aircraft were built in the 1960s, earning the S1 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 were joined in production by the single-seat S-1S in 1973.
In 1972, the US Aerobatic Team won the World Championships flying only Pitts biplanes.
In 1977 Curtis Pitts sold his interests in the Pitts S1 & S2 to Doyle Child. Child later sold the rights in 1981 to Frank Christensen, who continued production at the Afton plant under the guise of Christen Industries.The rights for homebuilt versions of the Pitts were sold in 1994 to Steen Aero Lab, 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 hp Vedeneyev M14P radial engine.
Pitts Model 14
The current inverted flat spin world record is 98 set on March 20, 2016 by air show performer Spencer Suderman over Yuma, Arizona. Suderman flew the Sunbird S-1x, a Lycoming IO-540-powered experimental variant of the Pitts S1. The maneuver began from 24,500' over the Yuma Proving Grounds and was recovered at 2,000' AGL. The previous world record for the number of consecutive turns in a flat spin was 81 also set by Spencer Suderman on March 13, 2014 in a Pitts S2-B from 23,000 ft altitude over the Naval Air Facility El Centro.
Currently in addition to many privately owned Pitts S-1 and S-2’s South Africa also has two well-known Pitts aerobatic teams, The Goodyear Eagles and Team Torre. Many of the top aerobatic pilots in the country have cut their aerobatic teeth on these machines and still fly them from time to time on the airshow circuit around Southern Africa.
Many variants of these Magnificent Machines have been built over the last 73 years.
Single Seat Variants
Basic single-seat Pitts aerobatic biplane with a flat M6 aerofoil section and lower wing ailerons only, fitted with a variety of engines. Two were built, the first named Special and the second Li'l Stinker.
Amateur-built S-1 single-seat aircraft, flat bottom wing with ailerons on lower wing only, designed for 100–180 hp engines. First flown in 1960, the S-1C is currently available as a plans-built aircraft from Steen Aero Lab.
Amateur-built S-1C with ailerons on all four wings, generally similar to S-1S.
Amateur-built S-1C using factory-produced kits. Uses symmetrical airfoil.
Aerotek-built certified S-1C for competition aerobatics, round airfoil section, four ailerons, and powered by a 180 hp Lycoming AEIO-360-B4A; 61 built. This model is also available from Aviat Aircraft as a plans-built aircraft.
Similar to the certified S1-S "Roundwing". 180–200+ hp, single-seat, homebuilt, symmetrical wing, four symmetrical "Super-Stinker" style ailerons, 300 degree/s roll rate, fixed-pitch propeller. This model is available in plans and components form from Steen Aero Lab.
Aerotek-built S-1C with a 200 hp Lycoming AEIO-360-A1E and minor changes; 64 built. Four-aileron, single-seat, factory-built, symmetrical wing, symmetrical ailerons, constant speed two- or three-blade Hartzell propeller. The top wing was moved forward compared to the S-1S for weight and balance. This model was in production in 2008 from Aviat Aircraft as an "on-demand" manufacture product.
Known as Model 11 "Super Stinker", 300+ hp Lycoming, four-aileron, single-seat, experimental-plans or factory-built and factory component parts, symmetrical airfoil, three-blade constant speed prop, rolls better than 300 degree/s, climbs better than 3,000 ft/min .
Dual Seat Variants
Scaled up S-1 with tandem two-seat fuselage and powered by a 200 hp Lycoming AEIO-360-B4A piston engine.
Aerotek-built S-2A with a 200 hp Lycoming AEIO-360-A1A or -A1E piston engine, constant speed propeller, later builds have a longer landing gear and a 51 mm front cockpit; 259 built.
Aerotek-built S-2A with a 260 hp Lycoming AEIO-540-D4A5 engine, upper wing auxiliary fuel tank, the landing gear and upper wings were moved forward six inches; 196 built. The aircraft is out of production but is supported by Aviat Aircraft.
Four aileron, two-seat, factory-built, symmetric airfoil, 260 hp Lycoming driving constant speed three-blade propeller, current production model. This was an evolution of the S-2B model, with improved ailerons and rudder, flat bottom fuselage, lower profile bungee gear, better inverted handling, and certified for +6 -5g. It is in production in 2008 by Aviat Aircraft.
Amateur-built S-2A from factory-produced kits.
Aerotek-built S-2B with a single cockpit and a twin tank fuel system. The fuselage is shortened by 14 inches (35 cm) forward of the cockpit to allow the installation of the heavier 260 hp (194 kW) Lycoming AEIO-540-D4A5. The wingspan is 6.10 m; 17 built. This model is currently out of production, but supported by Aviat Aircraft.
Amateur-built S-2S from factory-produced kits.