Plane & Pilot
Thursday, September 1, 2005

Remembering Curtis Pitts

Some losses are extremely hard to accept

I had always lusted after Pitts Specials, but it wasn’t until 1968, when I graduated from college, that I took it upon myself to do something about it. I arrived at his shop door unannounced, walked in and introduced myself as a wannabe Pitts pilot. Looking back at it, I now know hundreds, probably thousands, did exactly the same thing over the years. And I know that they received the same open-armed welcome I did. I wanted to know about biplanes, aerobatics and life in general. And Curtis was instantly ready to share what he knew, which was considerable. He was the most accessible human being that I’ve ever known. As busy as he was, he always found time for anyone who walked in the door and had a question or a comment.

Six months later, I sent him an order for plans to build his little airplane. I received the plans, but my payment check was also in the envelope. An attached note read, “Friends don’t sell other friends paper.” I had spent a total of maybe two hours with him, and he had already bestowed the title “friend” on me. We became closer, and my proudest lifetime achievement is having been called “friend” by Curtis.

To most folks outside of the Pitts community, those of us who fly his little biplanes appear to be just another group of enthusiasts who like a specific kind of flying machine. But it’s more than that. Once you learn to make love to that sometimes-cantankerous, little flying machine, you inevitably find that it’s more than a machine. It’s a semi-animate being that becomes a living part of your life. The boundary between man and machine, between mechanical interest and lifestyle, blurs, and you find yourself part of a community of kindred souls, all of whom have the same father—Curtis Pitts. You’re part of a brotherhood because of that. There’s a feeling of family and belonging that’s hard to explain, and at the heart of it all is the love of a smiling, slow-talking gent from Homestead, Fla.

I remember clearly the last time I sat in a hangar and cried that hard. It was when my brother died at the age of 41. Curtis’ passing didn’t seem possible, and although at his age, his death was obviously inevitable, it wasn’t any more palatable than my brother’s death.

After I got myself together, I did something I hadn’t done in at least four years: I removed the front windscreen and camloced the pit cover in place, converting my airplane to single-place, rock-and-roll mode. I saddled up and asked the tower for an early turn-out, which my little red machine interpreted as a clawing, upward lunge right off the deck heading north to the practice area. This was the first time in over 1,000 hours that I stripped down the airplane to pure acro mode and flew it for myself. Except, I was really flying it for someone else. A 2,000-mile-away Curtis hadn’t cooled 10 degrees, and I was taking some of his warmth up where it belonged.


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