(Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a two-part series originally appearing in the May 1973 issue of EAA Sport Aviation.)
Late in March, I had the opportunity to attend an EAA Chapter Council Meeting at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. At the evening banquet, I showed the film, We Came To Win, which is a documentary on the United States victory at the 7th World Aerobatic Championships in Salon de Provence, France.
As many of you know, the U.S. Team had the good fortune of winning the lion’s share of gold medals in addition to the team and individual championships. I can attest to the fact that the U.S. Team practiced hard and was well-prepared to defend its world title. But while watching the film, I couldn’t help but think that the United States had two additional weapons on its side. One was a tiny biplane capable of performing aerobatic maneuvers better than any other airplane of its type in existence. The other was a slow-talking, easygoing gentleman with the wit and common sense of a Will Rogers and the tenacity of a bulldog.
Throughout the film, you could see the tiny Pitts Specials and Pitts S-2A climbing, diving, and twisting through the air…demonstrating the maneuvers that earned them championship grades. Midway through the film a taped interview with their famous designer went something like this:
“It’s an old-fashioned airplane, using the engineering knowledge that we’ve had since back in the mid-’20s. We’ve tried to keep it light, and in doing this we’ve tried to keep it small. We’ve tried to keep a good horsepower-to-weight ratio. We’ve tried to keep it clean enough to where it didn’t completely poop out on the uplines. And that’s just about the substance of making a good aerobatic airplane.”
Aviation has been an integral part of the history of Americus, Georgia, for it was the home of a primary training base in both World War I and World War II. Also, famous aviator Charles Lindbergh bought his first Jenny in Americus. But possibly its greatest claim to aviation fame is that it is the home of one of the most famous aircraft designers in the world today…Curtis Pitts.
Curtis, whose international recognition has grown by leaps and bounds, built his first airplane back in 1932. Guided by an old flying manual, he designed and built a parasol that was powered by a Model T Ford engine, but unfortunately, he never got to fly his first creation. (One reason was that he didn’t have a pilot certificate!) While taxiing it on a gusty day, the wind caught the wing and caused it to cartwheel. After this incident, he sold the airplane for $6: “Cheapest plane sale I ever made, I reckon…”
After his “big sale” Curtis left Americus for Ocala, Florida, where he took a job as a railroad carpenter. It was here that he learned to fly, soloing an E-2 Cub in 1933.
From Ocala, Curtis shifted over to Jacksonville, Florida, where he worked for the railroad for eight years. Jacksonville holds special memories for Curtis for two reasons. One was that it was in Jacksonville that he built his second airplane. It was another parasol, built from some old Heath parts he had collected. Powered by a three-cylinder Szekely, it was “built up enough to make it fly.”
Secondly, and most important of all, it was in Jacksonville that Curtis met his wife, Willie Mae. “Ma” Pitts has been the true driving force behind Curtis in his quest to design one of the world’s finest aerobatic aircraft. When times were rough, she provided that extra “something” needed to make it through to brighter days. The saying goes, “Behind every successful man there is a good woman.” How true that is in Curtis’ case.
To read the rest of this story, become an IAC member and get a copy of the July 2015 issue of Sport Aerobatics magazine.