The Pitts Special

The Pitts Special S1 is one of the most famous airplanes in history, and has probably performed at more airshows than any other type aerobatic aircraft. This distinctive, diminutive little biplane was created in 1945 by Curtis Pitts, a self-taught engineer with military aircraft inspection experience gained during World War Two.


By today’s standards, it seems incredible that the first Pitts Special flew on only 55 horsepower — or even the 90-hp Franklin engine it was soon upgraded to — but fly it did, and superbly. Without the myriad of instrumentation and electronics usually installed today, the original Special only weighed around 500 lbs. empty.

Click here to see the first flight of the Pitts Special courtesy of Steen Aero Labs.

The Pitts Special design itself was a major factor in the development of modern aerobatics. The design proved to be versatile enough to keep up as pilots explored new fire-breathing, eyeball-popping wild aerobatic maneouvers. Refinements were made, and the Pitts is still a competitive, serious aerobatic machine that regularly wins major contests and is perennially popular with aerobatic performers.

Just to put the design’s development into perspective, the “standard” engine for an S1-C or S1-SS now is a 180-hp Lycoming IO-360 – that is more than triple the power that the original Special flew with!

To this day, the Pitts Special S1 remains the benchmark by which all aerobatic airplanes planes are judged.




Pitts S-1S

Engine Lycoming 180 HP
Propeller Sensenich 76EM8-0-56
Gross Weight 1150 pounds
Empty Weight 850 ± pounds
Useful Load 300 ± pounds
Fuel Capacity 120 pounds (20 US gallons)
Oil Capacity 15 pounds (8 quarts)
Length 15 feet 6 inches
Wing Span 17 feet 4 inches
Wing Area 98.5 square feet
Seats 1
Top Speed 176 mph
Max Cruise 155 mph
Stall Speed 62 mph
Rate of Climb 2,600 fpm
Rate of Rolll 180 deg/sec
Range ± 300 miles