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PITTS S-1, S-1S SPECIALS “Red Devils” – N442X, N9J, N58J

The Red Devils aircraft are Pitts Special biplanes designed by Curtis Pitts. In a two-part article in SPORT AVIATION, May 1973, Tom Poberezny wrote about this aircraft and Curtis Pitts.

In the article, there is mention of a film, “We Came to Win.” This was a documentary done on the U.S. victory at the 7th World Aerobatic Championships. In the film there is a taped interview with Curtis Pitts. Read what he had to say about his design.

“It’s an old fashioned airplane, using the engineering knowledge that we’ve had since back in the mid-20’s. We’ve tried to keep it light, and in doing this we’ve tried to keep it small. We’ve tried to keep a good horse-power-to-weight ratio. We’ve tried to keep it clean enough to where it didn’t completely poop-out on the up-lines. And that’s just about the substance of making a good aerobatic airplane.”

The original design of the Pitts Special was actually started in 1942 with the intent of building a good performing, low-powered aircraft, for use in aerobatics exclusively. Powered by a 55-hp Lycoming engine, the original Pitts Special made its maiden flight in 1945 with Curtis at the controls. The airplane, weighing less than 500 pounds, flew well with the little Lycoming power plant. Shortly thereafter, the Lycoming was replaced with a 90-hp Franklin engine that had a “home-brewed” inverted system. There were many problems with the inverted system and the aircraft was eventually lost in an accident.

After building and selling a second Pitts Special “Li’l Stinker” to Jess Bristow who sold it to Betty Skelton, Curtis built a third Pitts Special “Black Magic” for Caro Bayley who worked for Jess Bristow. This third Pitts was the first equipped with a 125-hp engine and a “new-old” injection system reworked from an old Excello system to fit the Lycoming. The wings and forward portion of the fuselage were re-engineered to compensate for the increased power and gross weight. Curtis was not the only one building his design at that time. Billy Williams from OK stopped by for a visit and left with the shop plans for the little biplane. Williams never completed the project and it ended up in the hands of Dean Case of KS. He finished the plane, called it “Joy’s Toy,” and his daughter Joyce Case flew it at numerous air shows. Dean also built five other Pitts in that period. Another Pitts was built by Jim Meeks and modified to use a 170-hp Lycoming. He called the plane “Mr. Muscles.” The building of these aircraft took place from 1945 to 1959.

In the mid-50s, the Pitts family moved to Gainesville, FL and still operated their crop dusting business, but there were folks who were pestering Curtis to make plans for his design available. Through the prodding of Pat Ledford, the old shop drawings were redrawn by a professional draftsman and N8L was built to prove construction of the new plans. The major change to the design was the symmetrical wing. Various aerobatic pilots tested the new wings and their comments were invaluable in making the necessary modifications. The first set of symmetrical wings had only a single set of ailerons on the lower wings. It wasn’t until 1967 that the 4-aileron, symmetrical wing was built. The plans were made available in 1962 and by 1973, more than 300 Pitts Specials were completed.

The original Red Devils team was Gene Soucy, Marion Cole, and Bob Heuer. They all flew red and white Pitts Specials and first appeared at the 1969 EAA Fly-In and Convention at Rockford, IL. Later, Marion Cole and Bob Heuer left the team and then Tom Poberezny and Charlie Hillard joined with Gene to continue the act. Red Devil N58J, Tom Poberezny’s aircraft was built by Tom, his Dad Paul and a few other friends. Red Devil N442X, Charlie Hillard’s aircraft was built by Bob Heuer, the first IAC President. N9J, Gene Soucy’s aircraft was built by the Pitts factory. All three aircraft are on display in the Grand Lobby of the EAA AirVenture Museum along with the three Eagles aircraft that were used after the Pitts Specials were retired.

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