Depending on how you look at it, you can trace Steen Aero Lab's roots back either to the early 1970's when Lamar Steen was working on his Skybolt design, the 1940's when Curtis Pitts developed the Pitts Special - synonymous with aerobatics, or even to the late 1920's when Vernon Payne developed his hot-rod Knight Twister designs. But since the company that now supports all three of these design families really got its start with Lamar Steen and only later became officially associated with the other designs, let's start with him.
In the early 1970's near Denver, Lamar Steen designed the Skybolt, and the prototype aircraft was built by the high school shop class he taught. Designed to fit the need for a Pitts inspired 2-place aerobatic airplane for larger pilots, the Skybolt quickly became known regionally and then nationally as a fine aircraft, both for its spacious comfort and for its performance. Lamar founded Steen Aero Lab to offer plans and components. The Skybolt soon became the most-constructed two-place experimental aircraft of all time.
In the early 1990's, Hale Wallace bought Steen Aero and the rights to the Skybolt. In addition to offering plans and components for the Skybolt, Hale purchased the rights to the Pitts S1-C series. The fuselage plans were updated to the latest configuration, and a new symmetrical wing was designed using aerodynamically balanced technology from the Pitts S1-11B Super Stinker, which produced the Pitts S1-SS. To add to the growing list of biplanes that Steen supports, Hale then obtained rights to the Knight Twister series designed by Vernon Payne. Steen also became the North American distributor of Bruntons brace wires and Hoffmann propellers.
Hale kept Steen Aero a small, three-man operation and ran it as his retirement business. He was known for saying that he "ran off" two-thirds of the work offered him. Sadly, in 1999, Hale learned that he had terminal cancer.
Paul Goetsch and Jere Larson, two lifelong friends and aviation fanatics had been looking for a Skybolt for some time and Jere had gotten to know Hale quite well. They were developing CNC manufacturing capability and applying it to the manufacture of aircraft parts.
The relationship with Hale ultimately resulted in Paul and Jere taking on the mission of Steen Aero, and applying modern manufacturing technology including CNC and CAD/CAM to producing parts and kits for these fine aircraft.
Hale passed away long before the planned smooth transition could be accomplished, but after much hard work, Steen was moved to a modern 17,000 square foot facility in Palm Bay, FL, equipped with CNC routers, a waterjet cutter, and all the resources needed to make virtually any part of an aerobatic biplane.
Today, Steen is growing quickly and is providing many new innovations for their designs. They now have the rights to Mac MacKenzie's Firebolt variant of the Skybolt as well as the rights to the experimental version of the Great Lakes biplane. The Skybolt has now evolved into two exciting new models, the Skybolt Delta featuring a three-section wing and hydraulic landing gear, and the Skybolt Radial which was designed for the 9-cylinder M14P radial engine. These model enhancements were designed by Mr. Curtis Pitts as integrated systems.
The latest project is well underway, and represents the biggest news in the history of Steen Aero - the development of the innovative Pitts Model 14, a clean sheet design which we believe is the finest work Curtis has done to date.
Many new component products have been developed and include -
- Vacuum-formed, laminated plywood leading edges for Skybolt, Pitts and virtually any wood wing, which are completely superior to aluminum leading edges.
- Laminated wing spars and spar blanks, which are significantly stronger than a single-piece spar but weigh virtually the same.
- Pre-cut, all-inclusive wing kits and special CNC-produced rib jigs that allow building a complete rib at once in a single gluing cycle.
- Wing and fuselage hardware kits which provide very high-quality fittings and other items that are difficult to manufacture in a typical home shop.
The homebuilt aerobatic biplane certainly has undergone a lot of changes since Curtis Pitts first built his hot-rod little biplane and Lamar Steen borrowed the inspiration, built the first Skybolt, and took it on the airshow circuit.
We are looking forward to many exciting developments and announcements in the near future.
Steen Aero Lab