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.
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
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
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
"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