Curtis H. Pitts, a crop duster who built the first aircraft specifically designed for aerobatics, died on June 10 of complications from a heart valve replacement. He was 89.
In 1943, the Homestead, Fla., resident set out to build himself an airplane. He drew up the plans for an aerobatic biplane that became known as the Pitts S-1 Special. The lightweight aircraft was small, agile and capable of flying equally well upside down as right-side up.
The oldest surviving Special — and the second one Pitts built — was called The Little Stinker. Constructed in 1946, it was used by aerobatic pilot Betty Skelton-Frankman when she won the Feminine International Aerobatic Championships in 1949 and 1950. The Little Stinker was donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 1985.
In the 1960s, fans of the plane’s design persuaded Pitts to create and sell its construction plans. Amateur pilots and experimental modelers were then able to buy the plane as a kit and assemble it themselves. The most popular homebuilt version was the model S-1C with two ailerons, M-6 airfoils and any engine from 85 hp to 180 hp. These planes were so adored that many pilots painted “Thanks Curtis!” on the tails.
Pitts was inducted into the International Council of Air Shows Foundation Hall of Fame in 2002. He is survived by his two daughters, Martha Holder and Mary Starbird, eight grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, 11 great great-grandchildren and more than 600 Pitts Specials.