The Pitts S-1S Special biplane reigned as the ultimate competition aerobatic aircraft in the early 1970s. The U.S. Aerobatic Teams of 1970 and 1972 won the world team championships flying the Pitts S-1S almost exclusively. It remains one of the world's most popular aircraft for basic to advanced category competition, aerobatic training, and sport flying.
In 1960 Curtis Pitts introduced the homebuilt Pitts S-1S as a more competitive version of the S-1C Pitts Special, a small but highly maneuverable aerobatic biplane. The agile S-1S has four ailerons to boost the roll rate, and its symmetrical airfoils allow it to perform maneuvers in any orientation. The S-1S went into factory production in 1972. J. Dawson Ransome built this airplane in 1969 and donated it to the Museum in 1973.
Gift of J. Dawson Ransome
NIIDR. Single-place diminutive aerobatic biplane; red & white.
The S-1S version of the original Pitts S-1C aerobatic airplane was designed to meet the needs of aerobatic competition in the United States and abroad, and it was so successful that it dominated the Unlimited category in competitions from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s. Most members of the 1972 U.S. Aerobatic team, which won the World Team title, and the two Individual World Champions, Charlie Hillard and Mary Gaffaney, flew S-1S Pitts Specials. Between the late 1960s and 1974, almost all U.S. national men or women champions flew an S-1S or S-1C. The Pitts continues to be competitive at all levels except unlimited and it is a popular sport plane.
In 1945 Curtis Pitts built the first of a line of aircraft that was to dominate aerobatic competition throughout the 1960s and 1970s and continues in most categories today-the Pitts Special S-1. Pitts began with an idea for an aerobatic aircraft that would defy gravity and be crisp on the controls. Rather than the larger pre-war biplanes, Pitts wanted something smaller that would climb, roll, and change attitude much more quickly. Instead of a large radial engine, Pitts built his aircraft around the new smaller and lighter horizontally-opposed engines. The swept wing allowed for access and center of gravity (CG) factors and made snap rolls snap more sharply. The resulting Pitts Special was revolutionary because of its small size, light weight, short wingspan, and extreme agility.
The prototype, S-1, was wrecked about two years after its first flight. Number 2, S-1C, with a slightly longer wing and fuselage and a Continental C-85-F5 engine, was built in 1946 and was given the experimental registration number NX86401. Aerobatic pilot Betty Skelton purchased this aircraft and gave it a new registration number, N22E, and a name, The Little Stinker. It is also in the NASM collection. Skelton and Caro Bayley both flew Pitts Specials to win women's championship titles in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Pitts later drew up plans for homebuilders.
The Pitts design continued to draw interest from aerobatic pilots but Curtis Pitts realized that he needed to modify the S-1C to make it competitive on the international scene. The result was the S-1S in 1960. Pitts built the first models for Bob Herendeen, Mary Gaffaney, Gene Soucy, Tom Poberezny, and a friend built one for Charlie Hillard.
The S-1S competition version has four ailerons (to boost the roll rate), symmetrical airfoils (allowing the aircraft to perform maneuvers from any attitude) and generally, a 180-hp Lycoming engine for more power. The S-1S gave U.S. aerobatic pilots the equipment they needed to compete successfully in international contests. Five members of the winning 1972 U.S. Aerobatic Team flew the S-1S and two flew the Pitts S-2A. In addition, two pilots on the British team flew S-1S Pitts in the 1972 World Championships, and the Canadian team was equipped with S-1S and S-2A Pitts when it entered world competition for the first time in 1974.
In 1972, the S-1S was granted an Approved Type Certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration and the first production S-1S was built at the Pitts factory in Afton, Wyoming. Preceding it in production was the two-seat S-2A, the first truly competitive aerobatic machine commercially produced in the United States. Several Pitts aircraft designs are now sold by Aviat, Inc. of Afton. The Pitts remains the standard for advanced aerobatic training. Curtis Pitts' classic design is a recognized symbol of excellence in sport aviation.
J. Dawson Ransome, an aerobatic pilot and judge, built this S-1S from Pitts plans and the aircraft was declared airworthy in July 1969. Ransome was president of the commuter service Ransome Airlines and was a member of the U.S. official delegation to the World Championships in 1972. He lent his aircraft in 1973 to a Smithsonian exhibit in the Arts and Industries Building to commemorate the winning team. He then donated it to the National Air and Space Museum as a lasting national tribute to the team and to exhibition flight.