Wednesday, February 1, 2006
The Complete Corkscrew Pilot
Here’s the drill: Drill hundreds of students to fly a Pitts, drill on teeth for a living, then drill holes in the sky for the weekend...in a Pitts S2C!
| “I imagine that it’s something like taking drugs,” says Bill Finagin, Pitts Special Pilote Incroyable. The affable, energetic 68-year-old (who looks and acts 15 years younger) is talking about mounting up in his favorite aerial steed—the Pitts S2C. “It’s a difficult relationship to tell somebody about,” he says with a chuckle, “but when I get into that airplane, I’m that kid in the big candy store for the first time. I’ve never had a flight in a Pitts I haven’t loved.”|
It didn’t hurt that one brother, 12 years his senior, flew combat in the Pacific Theater during World War II, chalking up aerial kills in such immortal fighters as the F4F Hellcat and the F4U Corsair. Another brother was an aviation mechanic on the USS Lexington. “I knew every airplane in the sky. I could have been a spotter for the FBI,” says Finagin.
The imprinting took. In 1955, at age 17, he got his flying license at a local FBO. So how many hours since then, Bill? “I’ve logged probably 10,000 hours,” he answers.
Mighty impressive—but wait, there’s more! “No,” he says, “I mean 10,000 hours as an instructor in the Pitts. I’d estimate total hours at around 18,000 hours.”
Wait, 10,000 hours as a Pitts instructor? Shouldn’t there be a 12-step program for that? “Hi, I’m Bill, and I’m an acroholic.”
Even over a 50-year span, that’s a ton of flying. During that time, Finagin has owned and flown many other types besides the Pitts. But his heart pumps Pitts-red blood, make no mistake about it. “There’s just something about the mystique and nostalgia of flying a biplane, I guess,” he quips.
Finagin bought his first Pitts Special, a used model, in 1981 and, forgive the cliché, it was truly love at first flight. He recalls, “It felt like an extension of my body. I started flying competition, then bought a new S1T with a constant-speed propeller in 1986. That made it possible to go faster.”
Faster is always better to any corkscrew pilot. “There was a practical reason, too. I bought it to fly to contests in less time,” he justifies.
He limited his trophy-hunting grounds to east of the Mississippi, “from New England all the way down to Florida.” After all, a dentist has patients to care for. “I’ve flown at the Sebring Aerobatics Championship since 1982. It’s a great life. You create great relationships with people.”
A dealer and instructor in the nimble bipes for more than two decades, his current ride is the Pitts S2C. A quick scan of the manufacturer’s Website (www.aviataircraft.com) tells you that this latest iteration of Curtis Pitts’ 1943 acromite has come a long way. “It’s just a better airplane all around,” says Finagin.
Computerized design and manufacturing brought lighter, stiffer, stronger wings. The look of the new acro bird changed, too. Wings and tail surfaces are squared off. The old guppy-gut fuselage bottom is leaned up and now transparent. The forward canopy also got a makeover to a leaner, meaner visual and drag profile. But the real uptick is in the performance.
“All the control surfaces were modified for more efficiency and effectiveness at lower and higher speeds,” says Finagin, “so it’s easier to fly aerobatic patterns because it has a wider performance envelope.”