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ABSTRACT:     Curtis Pitts honored at Pitts fly-in in Ozark, AL in November 2003. From the Dothan Eagle newspaper (Dothan, AL) 11/8/2003.
Flying High
Air show at Blackwell Field today to honor aerobatics design pioneer
 
(From Dothan Eagle (Alabama), 11/04/ 2003, Page 1B)
 
By Faith Ford
Photography by Mike Lewis

 
Curtis Pitts, designer of the Pitts Special and other aircraft, will be honored with an air show at Ozark's Blackwell Field today.
Curtis Pitts, designer of the Pitts Special and other aircraft, will be honored with an air show at Ozark's Blackwell Field today.

OZARK - In 1943, Curtis Pitts decided to build himself an airplane.

He didn't plan to build any more planes when the craft was completed.

"I only intended to build one airplane - for myself," the now 87-year-old Homestead, Fla., man clarified.

But despite his intentions, the Pitts Special caught on. Today, the aircraft Pitts designed 60 years ago is considered the most recognized and successful American-built aerobatic design. Pitts went on to design a number of variations to the original and is now working on the Pitts Model 14.

The aircraft pioneer will be honored today with an aerobatic fly-in and aircraft show at Ozark's Blackwell Field. Event organizer Marshall Collins said he wanted to host the event because of his love for Pitts himself, for the Pitts aircraft and for the Pitts people.

"I wanted to bring all the Pitts people here," he said.

Several different models of the Pitts biplane are lined up next to the runway in Ozark.
Several different models of the Pitts biplane are lined up next to the runway in Ozark.
As brightly painted planes sped across Blackwell Field and overhead Friday, it appeared that Collins had succeeded in his mission. Shiny Pitts models glistened in the sun, and their owners ambled around the crowded tarmac sharing stories and comparing their planes.

"It's kind of like a farmer going to a tractor pull," said Keith Phillips, of Daytona, Fla. "They talk about tractors, and we talk about aircraft."

Phillips and his son Michael Phillips flew to the event in their Pitts Model 12. Like many of the Pitts craft, the two-seater plane is an experimental model they built themselves.

Keith said it took three years to build the plane, but he feels the experimental models are better than the factory-made aircraft because they are home built.

The Phillips duo explained that the Pitts aircraft are great for aerobatics because their design makes them capable of flying equally well upside down as upright.

"When all your change falls out of your pocket - that's when you know you're upside down," Michael Phillips said.

Hazel Sig of Montezuma, Iowa, was sitting in a lawn chair watching the excitement around her as the sun began to set Friday. Now 81, Sig said she learned to fly an airplane before she learned to drive a car. She and her first husband started the world-renowned model airplane company -- Sig Manufacturing.

Sig's insurance company banned her from flying Pitts models after her first husband was killed in an accident at a Pitts show in 1980, but the spunky redhead said she still remembers the excitement of flying the small planes.

"It's a tremendous thrill flying a Pitts -- especially the single placement ones," she said. "You kind of put them on, and you think about what you want to do and it seems like you can do it."

Ten to 12 aerobatic acts are scheduled throughout the day Saturday. Among the acts is a formation flying show by a Canadian duo and a solo aerobatics show by Bill Finagin of Annapolis, Md.

Finagin - a Pitts dealer, dentist and retired Navy Admiral - said it takes a lot of practice at high altitudes to safely perform the aerobatics that will be featured in the show today.

"The plane will be going up, down, rolling and sometimes people might not be sure what the plane is doing," he said. "It's kind of like the P.T. Barnum of flying - make it look difficult but don't risk your life."

As the visiting pilots continued to file in at Blackwell Field Friday, Pitts sat inside a hangar visiting. Though he doesn't go to many shows anymore, Pitts said when he does go his main reason is to visit with the people. "I've seen the airplanes," he joked.

Well into his 80s, Pitts no longer pilots his planes but he is still designing them.

"It's better than watching TV," he said. "... I wanted to retire, but it seems like these people won't let me."

Eagle Staff Writer Faith Ford can be reached at fford@dothaneagle.com or 334-712-7969.

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