Air & Space Airshow Spotter’s Guide

Fun facts about the airplanes you’ll see on the summer circuit.

Pitts Special

Pitts Special
(Illustrations by Harry Whitver)
How to recognize: Biplane; bungee landing gear; compact fuselage.

Claim to fame at airshows: Since 1949, when Betty Skelton performed in her Pitts Special Little Stinker, the Pitts has been a pilot’s favorite, flying more aerobatic displays than any other light piston aircraft. Jacquie Warda has picked up the baton in her red, white, and blue Pitts S-1T Red Eagle.

Claim to fame in service: The original Pitts Special S-1 introduced by Curtis Pitts in 1945 helped to enable the modern generation of piston-powered aerobatic airplanes, with its high maneuverability and simple instrumentation.

In 1949 and ’50, the Pitts Special Little Stinker was flown by Betty Skelton to win the Feminine International Aerobatic Championship. Her aircraft is now on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum.

Mission: Precise aerobatics in a small box of airspace for display or competition.

Performance and specifications: The S-1C is only 15.46 ft long, and its upper wing span just 17.33 ft. Empty weight is 650 pounds, and its gross takeoff weight is 1,150 pounds. With a 180-hp engine it can climb at 2,650 ft/minute and roll at 180 degrees per second.

Main variants: At least 10 variations to the S-1 tinker with the shape of its wings, such as the “flatwing” or “roundwing” models; the power of its engine up to 200 hp; and the placement and number of ailerons. The Pitts S1-SS has four ailerons, to allow high rates of roll with a light stick force, and good centering, and is often used in championship aerobatic contests. The S-2 series offers two seats.

Jacquie B Airshows

Betty Skelton and “Little Stinker”

“Little Stinker” Restoration

Steen Aero Lab

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