FLY SAFE & SMOOTH
FLY A PITTS!
What a great airplane! I have to claim that if you are a real Pilot and go through life without learning to Fly A Pitts you have not flown the ultimate airplane and
have missed the most thrill an airplane can give and the most challenge a Pilot could have! This article is about good Pilot technique to do just that.
Curtis Pitts was not a graduate from MIT nor an academic scholar but smart he was and one hell of a nice guy that loved airplanes and people. He was a real
Stick & Rudder type pilot (crop duster by trade) who had a head full of "Plane Sense" and lot of knowledge of airplanes and how they were put together. If you study
all the Pitts airplanes you will find that Curtis borrowed a lot of good sound ways to build an airplane from some really good airplanes. Take a look at a J3 landing
gear and a Pitts landing gear. Take a look at the elevator hinges on a Stagger Wing Beech and the Pitts hinges. Swept top wing for a zippy Snap Roll. Ever fly a
Great Lakes? Check out the angle of the flying and landing wires both laterally and along the longitudinal axis and compare to a Cessna wing strut.
Of course there has been many mods and improvements throughout the little Pitt's journey to becoming one of the best airplanes in the world! The latest version,
the Pitts S2C is a far cry from the original but it still has everything that makes a Pitts great and it is one really capable airplane. Box stock it can fly Advanced
Competition in the hands of the right pilot. It can be used to teach any and every aerobatic maneuver you can find in the Aresti catalog. It is "Bullet Proof" and very
durable and very, very safe! I could go on for a long time about the beloved Pitts and there are many that can keep raving about it's attributes long after I run out of
what I know so let's talk about flying one.
First before I get to details about how, let me say that it is flown just like any other tail wheel airplane and if you can fly a Piper J3 Cub properly you can fly a Pitts. It
has more control than a Cub and can land in a stronger cross wind than a Cub! The really big difference in the Pitts and many other tail wheel airplanes is that it is
not tolerant of sloppy / bad technique, nor mistakes and you can not see any runway in front of the airplane because the nose is in the way! It is a "Blind airplane". It
is sensitive and very responsive as it should be for aerobatic purposes so if you are "Ham Fisted" you might want to practice flying with one finger and thumb on the
stick and learn to feel the controls by applying pressure instead of movement prior to your first time in the Pitts. I tell my students that nobody ever wrecked a Pitts
due to lack of control, it is because of over controlling! Under knowledge and Skill, over control, look out!
I know I will be accused of being condescending or arrogant for my next statement but it is my honest opinion from my experience and observations for the last forty
five years. Can the average Pilot (non tail wheel qualified) fly a Pitts? NOPE! Can the average Tail Wheel pilot fly a Pitts? NOPE! I am sorry folks but it is sadly true,
the average tail wheel Pilot can't fly a Pitts.......Safely and Proficiently! Even some Pilots that own one can't!
I am pretty sure that is where all the horror stories and hangar tales come from about such a capable airplane. I have heard them all and every one of the tall
tales, horror stories come from pilots just repeating what they have heard or pilots that try to fly a Pitts without proper training or without the proper skills. Go ahead
and cuss me but I am being honest because I would like for every Pilot who so desires to have the thrill of flying a Pitts...SAFELY! Just about any pilot can fly one if
they are trained properly.
Can the average Tail wheel Pilot learn to fly a Pitts? Absolutely! Ah, so now let me tell you how! I will assume you have been properly trained in a tail wheel
airplane and are proficient in three point landings. There are more ways to "Skin a Cat" than one but I am going to tell you how I recommend you skin it so you get
the skin off completely every time without destroying the cat!
Five things that must be consistent for successful take offs and landings: On centerline, No crab, no drift, three point attitude or slightly tail first and your
Sight Picture. I guess it is time to talk about Sight Picture.
SIGHT PICTURE: “Sight picture," might be a term you have heard of or be familiar with if you fly a “blind” airplane like a biplane or other tail wheel type airplanes.
The sight picture is very important to successful taxing, take offs, approach and landings in any airplane but is paramount in a blind airplane like the Pitts. I am going
to talk about sight picture in a tail wheel type airplane for the purpose of taxing, take off, approach and landing for now and if I get it across well enough you will be
able to apply it to a nose wheel type airplane.
So what is it, how do you use it and why? Let’s say “Sight Picture” is what everything outside the airplane looks like in relation to the airplane as viewed by you
while in the cockpit. Not everything outside is important to see but there are some that are very important to identify and “Burn in” to your sight picture. Why? Well
remember we are in a tail wheel type airplane and most of them have limited if any forward visibility. There is no use to try to look where you can’t see! You don’t
need to see over the nose to fly an airplane. Charles Lindbergh went all the way across the big pond without being able to see straight ahead! But you do have to
learn were to look and how so you can “see” to taxi, take off, approach and land a blind airplane. Sight picture is used in all airplanes of every type when you fly.
What makes it different in a blind airplane is you can not look directly were you want to go (over the nose) so you have to use the peripheral vision capability of your
eyes to tell you what you need to know to get were you want to go! What a mouth full that was! Stay with me it gets better I promise!
Let’s just pretend to go around the pattern once and see how this works. First you strap in at a comfortable height in the cockpit. Always try to make it the same
height. Don’t sit too high so you can’t judge the attitude of the airplane well nor too low so as to cause you to tilt your head up and strain to see while taxing, taking
off or landing. Next time you get in your airplane, a different airplane or just a different seat (front or rear) take a little time and “burn in” a “Sight Picture” of what it
looks like. Get this picture “burned in” because you can use it for take off, climb out and of course landing. All three attitudes are really close to the same.
Crank up and get ready to taxi to the runway. Let’s burn in the horizon first. How far is the horizon below the upper wing or above the lower wing? Wherever it is it
should look the same during take off (tail low), during normal climb and at the moment you touch down in a three point attitude on landing. It will be a little lower in
relation to either wing if you touch tail wheel first (higher pitch attitude) or a little higher if you don’t have the airplane in the three point attitude for touch down and
you touch mains first.
Next, you taxi out to the runway and while doing so get it in the center of the taxiway and go straight for just a bit. How do you know you are in the center and going
straight? Remember you can’t see straight ahead! Hold your head and eyes physically straight ahead toward the prop spinner and with your peripheral vision (what
you see to each side without looking directly at the sides) you should see that the airplane is equal distance from the taxiway edges and each edge line is the same
length for as far in front of the airplane as you can see them. In other words you should be able to see the same distance along each edge toward the front of the
airplane. This picture will tell you that you are going straight or parallel to the center line and on it. Turn a little left and watch (with peripheral vision) the left side of
the taxiway move closer to the airplane, the right side farther away and the left edge of the taxiway get shorter the right longer! Play with that a little and it will
become second nature with practice. The taxiway will be just like landing on a narrow runway. It is good practice to get ready for landing on one.
Next, let’s taxi into position on the runway, stop just past the numbers with the airplane on and parallel to the centerline or center of the runway if no lines. How do
you know you are in the center? Same way you could tell on the taxiway except if the runway is wider than the taxiway the runway edges will be further from the
airplane and the edge lines are longer. Your head and eyes should be straight ahead, take a deep breath and “burn in” the picture you are looking at. You will use
this picture for take off, and landing and after lift off use the attitude for normal climb. All three attitudes are the same!
Where is the horizon in relation to a wing or some distinct part of the airplane? How far are the runway edges from the airplane and are they the same distance from
the airplane? Is each runway edge the same length in front of the airplane as far as you can see them? If so you are on the centerline or center of the runway were
you should always hope to be and parallel to it. This is what it should look like during take off with tail low and after lift off the horizon should be in the same place for
a normal climb and when you come back to land and are about to touch down three point on the center line and parallel to it, it will look the same. Knowing how far
the edges are from the airplane is how you are going to tell how high off the ground you are for the flair and touch down. You start your round out and flair when you
descend low enough so you can see both sides of the runway. The higher you are the closer the edges will be to the fuselage. As you get closer to the runway they
move out until they look like they did when you were sitting on the runway. If they are the same distance from the airplane and not changing you are in the center of
the runway with no drift. If both edges look the same length you are parallel to the runway and not crabbing. Remember that the tail wheel airplane will not tolerate
any drifting or crabbing at touch down and you should be in the center of the runway.
It really is simple, but there are some parts that are hard to adjust to or resist doing like only looking with your peripheral vision and resisting the temptation to
turn your head and look at the runway edge, or leaning your head side to side trying to get a better picture which will never happen. I promise you that if you turn
your head, look to the side with your eyes or lean your head the airplane will turn or drift in the opposite direction!
If you want to improve your overall taxing, take offs and landings practice on the taxiway a lot. Get with a tail wheel instructor or someone who is competent and you
trust to fly with you in a blind airplane. Get in the back seat of a Cub or Citabria with a broad shouldered person in the front seat or either seat of a two place Pitts or
biplane and practice until your sighting skills and sight pictures are “Burned in”!
ON CENTERLINE: You can not have a consistent sight picture (equal amounts of runway on each side) if you are not on centerline. Also, can you guess which way
the airplane will go if you have a problem? Give yourself and equal chance on both sides. In a blind airplane you must use the sides of the runway in your peripheral
vision to tell how high you are and if the airplane is on and aligned with the centerline of the runway and or drifting. So get on it and stay on it.
GOOD TAKE OFF: You can't land if you don't! Every time you sit in the cockpit refresh your sight picture. It is the attitude the airplane is in for take off, climb, and
landing! Check were the horizon is in relation to the upper wing on the biplane and lower wing on a monoplane. Sit the same height every time. How high? Just high
enough to sight along the top of fuselage without stretching or turning the chin up and no higher. Sitting too high you can't feel the airplane as well and you will not
be able to see the attitude of the airplane as well which is very important. When you taxi practice staying in the center except for S turns and keep it straight by the
angles of the taxiway sides in relation to the airplane. If you are turned to the right the left side of the taxi way will be longer than the right side and vice a versa. This
will come in real handy on the runway during take off and landing.
Getting ready for take off. Line up on and with the center line of the runway, both sides of the runway equidistant from center of airplane and the same angle in
relation to the heading of the airplane. Make sure the tail wheel is aligned by rolling straight a few feet. Burn in this sight picture with your nose (the one on your
face) and eyes pointed straight ahead so you are forced to use your peripheral vision. Refresh it every time! Sides and horizon. Don't try to look where you can't
see! You can move your eyes from side to side slightly but never stare at the side!
Ready to roll! Slide your heels back until just your toes are on the bottom bar of the rudder pedal so you don't get on the brakes during take off, a very common
mistake. Hold the stick aft of neutral, just enough to hold the tail on the ground or very close after it tries to rise. Forget about getting the tail up on take off or the
wheel landing right now, I will talk about that later so be patient and open minded for now.
When your ready to go just move the throttle forward smoothly and steady until it hits the stop. Now you have more control than you need so be easy on the rudder
and let it accelerate and fly off in the three point attitude or the tail up very little and after lift off just hold that attitude for climb and it will accelerate right to a very
good climb speed just by holding that same attitude. No airspeed check, no rotation, it will do it all by itself. Just keep it straight with the rudder and wings level with
the ailerons using just the finger tips. Do the least to the airplane as you can get by with to get it in the air where it likes to be! If it is a cross wind keep a little
pressure on the upwind wheel and wing with aileron and when it lifts off keep wings level with aileron and crab with rudder into the wind to stay on centerline. As soon
as airspeed is constant trim to hold the climb attitude, nose straight with rudder (P Factor) and wings level with aileron. Finger tip it!
Why tail low? A lot of good reasons. If you don't move the nose left or right or up and down with high take off power and RPM while at low speed you will have very
little gyroscopic effect and there is a lot of it if you get ham handed or fan the rudder or elevator. In that attitude it will lift off without a rotation so no gyroscopics and
will be in an attitude for climb at the right airspeed all without looking inside at the airspeed indicator. Your eyes are outside watching were they belong. The tail
wheel it self will help hold you straight if you will leave it on the ground with a little pressure on it until you have sufficient speed and full power to give the rudder all
the authority it needs then you can let the tail rise just a bit so the airplane flies off above minimum speed and smoothly. The tail wheel is designed with RAKE into it
so it doesn't want to move away from center therefore it enhances directional control by design. Any Pitts will fly off three point under any condition but it will lift off at
minimum speed for that attitude.
Your up, now prepare to land! A good landing has a much better chance if it starts with a good approach. I use a very simple technique that will work in any model
Pitts. Any airplane for that matter. Too simple to believe until you do it once.
There are only two attitudes you need to know. The first one is the attitude you were in while taxing. It will be the same attitude you will use for Take off, Climb and
Touch down. They are all the same! That is why I say, "Burn in the sight picture while on the ground, lined up on the runway centerline." The other is level flight
attitude, the attitude it takes to hold altitude at 2000 RPM (fixed pitch prop) or 14 inches MP (constant speed prop). Also your don't need an airspeed indicator for
your Pitts check out but I will let you refer to one occasionally just to prove to yourself you don't need it. My best students have flown their last lesson and never said
a word about airspeed even though I covered the Pitot Tube end with a plastic cap before take off! You need your eyes out of the cockpit for many reasons so if you
fly the right attitudes and power settings with some small adjustments you will be flying the right speeds.
The above paragraph procedure will work on any reciprocating / propeller driven airplane no matter if it has flaps or not or retract gear. It is easy and the resultant
airspeeds will be within 5 mph of what the POH recommends. Try it!
A little air work first! Fly around a little while and just feel the controls with your finger tips and just try to "think it" to get the airplane to maneuver. Apply pressure
to the controls, don't jerk or be "slam bam". Be smooth and you will make a lot less mistakes and learn quicker. A good Pilot flies by Sight, Sound, Feel, and Sense
and a very light touch, not with muscle.
Approach! First lets learn how to set up for the downwind and approach. In level flight gently bring the power to the setting for initial approach or downwind speed.
(2000 RPM for Fixed Pitch or 15 inches MP for constant speed prop) Let's call it "IA PWR". Hold altitude until airspeed is steady. It will be right at 110 MPH in the
Pitts. This will work for just about any propeller driven airplane. It will also be very close to flap extension speed for most airplanes.
Trim the airplane for hands off flight. So many pilots will not or don't know how to trim. Trim is a flight control just as much as ailerons or any other so use it and
use it every time you make a power or pitch change for a desired airspeed. Every time, all the time! If you take your hands off the stick the pitch should not move. If it
does you are not trimmed and are just making the airplane harder to fly and more work for yourself. Believe me it is going to be enough work for a while without
making more for yourself! TRIM, TRIM, TRIM and keep it Trimmed! After you are in level flight altitude with airspeed and altitude constant and trimmed, take note of
the pitch attitude. The S2B & C are about 2 to 3 degrees nose up depending on weight and correct power setting. The S2A and S1's are about level attitude. This
will be the attitude you use the rest of the way to the point on the runway where you align and flare. Forget about the airspeed indicator! You don't need it! The
speed will be right if you just concentrate on holding the pitch constant and adjust power to maintain angle of decent, along with varying the forward slip we use so
you can see the runway and centerline during approach, if you have it trimmed properly!
Enter down wind about mid field at IA PWR and trimmed for level flight altitude and note the atitude and airspeed (1000' and about 100mph) Fly down wind till
you are a 45 degree angle from the point you want to touch down. Give yourself a little room for error and plan touch down about 500 feet from the approach
end and less than 1000 feet (Fixed Distance Markers) from the approach end. Keep your down wind in tight and track parallel to the runway. No cross countries in
the traffic pattern! Check good for traffic especially to your right, ahead, underneath, and what might be on a long or low final. The Pitts has a lot of blind spots so
look good while you can. Midair collisions are generally fatal!
Turn Base. One smooth motion: Moderate bank turn to track base, reduce Power to (1500 RPM for Fixed Pitch) or (to below 10 inches MP and RPM to 1800 to
1900 for constant speed prop). There won't be enough power to govern Prop, so it is the same as a fixed pitch now. Hold the pitch attitude the same as you had on
down wind and trim to hold it there. Now you are going down and the airspeed will be about 95 MPH. 90 to 95 Mph is good and at a sink rate that should keep you
high until you turn final and line up on Extended Center Line. Rarely will you ever be too high in a Pitts because it will come down fast but never get low!
The Gremlins will show up if you do! You will get slow, loose perception of sink rate and sight of the runway and then you are set up for a calamity.
Line up on final: Fly a base leg Track to the extended center line and then turn on to the extended centerline, don't turn toward the runway end. Fly toward the
center line until the turn will put you on the extended centerline. Get on the extended centerline of the final leg! We want to spend a little time on final to establish
where we are descending to, find out what it takes to stay on center line, get the airplane in a stable descent to our touchdown point in a forward slip. Don't be
rushed, get it stable and trimmed. Fly a constant attitude in trim (controls speed) and correct your decent rate with small changes in power or increase or decrease
your forward slip but don't put the nose up or down. Why hold the nose attitude steady? With the pitch attitude held steady there will be a point somewhere on the
runway that will appear to be fixed. The runway beyond that point will appear to be rising in relation to you and the runway closer to you from that point will be sinking
in relation to you. That fixed point is where you are descending to. Stable speed keeps you from having to constantly change control inputs to hold a steady forward
slip. The slower you go the more effect the slip and the less bank you need, Keep the center line looking like it is intercepting your breast and you will be on the
center line. As you get closer to the ground don't get "Ground Shy" and start easing the nose up. Leave it where you had it on final and keep your speed and
descent rate until you are about 15 feet or less. If you have it trimmed properly you won't have to do much until it is time to take out the forward slip and land. It is
very important to hold a fixed attitude so you can tell where you are descending to and minimize control and attitude changes.
Time for touch down: Here is what you been preparing for and it will work out just fine. When we get low enough (under 15 feet) so that when we bring the nose
parallel to the center line and wings level (assuming no cross wind) we will be low enough to see both sides of the runway in our peripheral vision or with a quick
glance of the eyes only. It is very important to bring the nose straight and wings level at the same time so that you don't introduce drift or crab with the nose
(heading not parallel with centerline) or side slip with the wings (wings not level, causing side slip or drift) Now we just maintain equal distance from each side and
keep the airplane parallel to and on centerline by keeping the sides the same distance and angle to the airplane. A quick glance with the eyes is OK, but you must
resist the temptation to turn your head and look directly at the sides. If you do, say good by to the center line and everything else. Then just let it settle by reducing
the power gently and holding the same attitude until the sides are just about the same distance they were when we lined up for take off. Remember I said to "Burn
that image in", well now is when you need to remember it. When the sides are close to that distance just take the rest of the power off and pretend to do a stall while
holding that position in relation to the sides of the runway until it touches down in a three point attitude or just a little tail wheel first. Then just bring the stick straight
on back in your lap to "lock it on the runway." This is one of the most important moves you need to make. The stick has got to come back as far as you can get it to
hold the tail down, add drag, and put pressure on the tail wheel all of which will help hold you straight after touch down. Never ever push the stick forward at touch
down. Think "Stick Back, lock it on the runway." If you don't get it back I promise you won't stay on the runway very long! It takes a few times and some getting used
to believe and have confidence in your self to do it and know it will work. I honestly have had a couple of students that I just gave their tail wheel endorsement to in
the Cub or Citabria that have gotten in the Pitts and made a good landing the first try!
Your on, now what: Well it ant over yet but if you have made a good, straight, no drift, three point attitude touchdown and hold the stick back you won't have to do
very much to keep it straight and on center line. The main thing is to not fixate on any one point outside the airplane and don't dare look anywhere but outside!
Don't over control and keep that stick all the way back and continue to feed in any aileron used for any cross wind as the airplane slows down. Don't relax on the
elevator or aileron after touch down. The elevator and aileron help with directional control and keep the airplane in contact with the runway. If your tail wheel
steering chains are not too tight you should be able to control direction just fine with rudder until it slows down to around 35 MPH then as you feed in more rudder
and only rudder (stay off the brakes) the tail wheel steering will start to be used and you will be going slow enough that it won't be too quick or sensitive. Don't stop
flying it until it is stopped! If you decide to use brakes to decelerate just rock your foot forward by lifting your heals and that will apply toe pressure to the toe brake
part of the petal. Do it with very light pressure and increase to obtain the amount of braking you desire, don't be too quick or rough with the brakes. Fly it all the way
to the chocks!
Some common faults and mistakes that pilots make on Pitts take offs and landings are:
- Get lined up on the center line and straight first and then take a mental snap shot of what it looks like every time.
- Getting the tail up too quickly. You can let it come a little after about 35 mph or more but let it come up slow and just a little bit. You can't see any better over
the nose with the tail up and you don't need to. If you push it up too fast or too early in the take off roll you just cause yourself directional problems due to
- Steer it with you feet not the stick. Aileron for wind correction and to keep pressure on the upwind wing in a cross wind and rudder to keep ti straight.
- Keep your heels back and your toes on the bottom bar of the rudder petal. Don't touch the brakes on take off.
- Don't pull it off or rotate just let it fly off nice and smooth with no pitch change.
- Correct for P factor. The Pitts has a lot of P factor especially on take off roll and initial climb. Use the RUDDER! The one on the RIGHT!
- Use two fingers and a thumb. So many use a tight fist grip and it just doesn't let you feel the airplane and make pressure inputs to the controls instead of
moving them. Don't over control.
- Keep the airplane trimmed. If not trimmed to hold pitch you will let the pitch wonder from level and the airspeed will vary therefor you will constantly have to
change the controls to maintain a steady forward slip on final and your decent angle will vary.
- When you take out the forward slip to start the flair make sure you bring the nose to parallel the center line and the wings to level at the same time. Leaving a
wing down or not getting it level at the same time the nose comes straight will cause a side slip and off to the side you go then you don't have two runway
edges to judge your height for touch down. Be coordinated with aileron and rudder.
- Slip down low enough (depends on width of runway) so that when you take it out you can see both sides of the runway.
- Don't be "Ground Shy" Keep the nose attitude steady until you are centered and ready to start touch down.
- Don't over control, two fingers and a thumb with a light touch.
- Stick back when it touches down unless you bounce on the mains, then just relax it to stop the pitch up. Don't get in the habit of relaxing on the stick as you
slow down. Keep pressure on the tail wheel and it will help you.
- Keep the stick back and use the ailerons for wind correction and pressure on the up wind wing and landing gear until you are stopped.
- Keep the heels back, no brakes for steering except to correct for big excursions on the runway. Stay off the brakes and you will have less chance of one.
- Steer with your toes not the stick. Old habits die hard for those that haven't used rudder much in their flying career.
This article is for information and theory only!
Don't fly a Pitts without good training!
Fly Safe & Smooth and Have Fun
Author: Johnny White
FLY A PITTS!
LEARN HOW AT AVIATORS UNLIMITED
|Johnny in the front and Brett Pearce going
for his first lesson in a Pitts! Landed it the
|If he ant smiling he's asleep.
How can you not smile in a Pitts?