Pitts Special S-1C

Display Status:

This object is on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

Collection Item Summary:

The oldest surviving Pitts Special, Little Stinker was the second aircraft constructed by Curtis Pitts. Pitts introduced the S-1 in 1945, the first of a famous line that dominated aerobatic competition throughout the 1960s and 1970s because of their small size, light weight, short wingspan, and extreme agility. Subsequent models still fly in all aerobatic categories and are standard aircraft for advanced aerobatic training.

Betty Skelton bought this airplane in 1948, and with it she won the 1949 and '50 International Feminine Aerobatic Championships. Her impressive flying skill and public relations ability heightened awareness of both aerobatics and the Pitts design. Skelton sold Little Stinker in 1951, but she and her husband later reacquired it and donated it to the Smithsonian. A volunteer crew restored it from 1996 to 2001.

Collection Item Long Description:

Pitts Special S-1C Little Stinker

The Pitts S-1C was the second Pitts Special constructed by Curtis Pitts and it gained national and international recognition with aerobatic pilot Betty Skelton. It is the oldest surviving Pitts-designed aircraft and the smallest Pitts Special in existence. When constructed in 1946, it was also the smallest aerobatic airplane in the world.

In 1945 Curtis Pitts built the S-1, the first of a line of aircraft that was to dominate unlimited aerobatic competition throughout the 1960s and 1970s; later models are still flown in several categories today. 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 S-1 was revolutionary because of its small size, light weight, short wingspan, and extreme agility. The prototype S-1 was wrecked several years after its first flight.

Pitts next built the S-1C with a slightly longer wing and fuselage and a Continental C-85-8FJ engine, in 1946. It received experimental registration number NX86401. Phil Quigley, Curtis Pitts' friend and test pilot, flew the bright red Pitts S-1C at airshows for a year. Quigley and the airplane made such a good impression that Jess Bristow bought the airplane and hired Quigley to fly it in his World Air Shows. He removed the original Continental C-85 engine and installed a C-90.

In August 1948, without having flown the aircraft, a young woman named Betty Skelton bought the Pitts Special for $3,000 and named it Little Stinker Too. The name Little Stinker was initially applied to her 1929 Great Lakes 2TlA biplane (NX2O2K) that she had flown since 1946 and in which in 1948 she won her first Feminine International Aerobatic Championship. Skelton made several changes to the Pitts Special incuding having her father construct a small plexiglas canopy for cross country flight that was easily removed for aerobatics. She replaced the original Aeromatic propeller with a fixed-pitch McCauley. She also mounted a ball-bank indicator upside down in the instrument panel, for control coordination in inverted flight, just above the one used for normal flight.

With NX86401 Skelton won the 1949 Feminine International Aerobatic Championship held at the Miami All American Air Maneuvers and she performed at the International Air Pageant in London, and the Royal Air Force Pageant in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Because the registration number was so long and the Pitts was so small, Skelton asked the Civil Aeronautics Administraiton for a smaller number and was assigned N22E. Later in 1949, she had the aircraft repainted with a brilliant red and white scheme and her usual skunk decoration. The "too" in the name was deleted since it confused those who did not remember the namesake Great Lakes. In 1950, Skelton again won the Feminine International Aerobatic Championship.

Skelton flew aerobatics in Little Stinker at the Cleveland Air Races and was a staple at air shows throughout the southeastern United States where she often doubled as the peach or magnolia queen. Skelton also wrote articles for aviation magazines and even had her own radio show. In the Pitts she became the first woman to perform an inverted ribbon cut with friends Steve Wittman and Bill Brennan holding the poles. During her first attempt her engine quit and she barely righted the aircraft in time. Still she went right up again, rolled to inverted and cut the ribbon.

A few Pitts Specials were built by Curtis Pitts himself and others in the 1950s, some for other female aerobatic pilots, including Caro Bayley, who won the Feminine title in 1952. But the airplane remained fairly elusive until the early 1960s when interested amateurs, who remembered Skelton's remarkable aerobatic flying, convinced Pitts to produce a set of construction drawings (at $125 per set). The popular homebuilt version of the airplane was the model S-1C, with two ailerons, M-6 airfoils, and any engine from 85 hp up to 180 hp, the most popular being 125-150-hp Lycomings.

While most Pitts Specials were flown in the United States, their international reputation grew quickly. In 1966, Bob Herendeen became U.S. National Aerobatic Champion in his S-1C Pitts and then competed in the World Championships in Moscow arousing considerable interest. The diminutive Pitts soon became the most successful and recognized American-built aerobatic design and, in 1972, Americans won the world championship in a subsequent model. It remains part of an advanced aerobatic training regimen .

In 1951, Betty Skelton retired from aerobatic competition and air shows and sold Little Stinker to Bob Davis. She went on to automobile racing including setting Feminine Land Speed records. Subsequently George Young, Paul Lehman, and Drexell Scott owned the aircraft until Skelton repurchased it in 1967. In 1976, Betty and her husband Don Frankman lent the aircraft for display (in a new paint scheme) to the Florida Sports Hall of Fame at Cypress Gardens, Florida. Then, in 1985, they donated Little Stinker to the National Air and Space Museum. In 2001, a volunteer crew at the Garber Facility completed a six-year restoration of the aircraft and it was suspended in the entrance of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in 2003. Betty Skelton was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2005.

Wingspan: 4.9 m (16 ft 10 in)

Length: 4.4 m (14 ft 6 in)

Height: 1.7 m (5 ft 6 in)

Weight: 257 kg (568 lb)

Engine: Continental C85-8FJ 63 kW (85 hp)