Hangar Talk

The story behind the story

January 1, 2012

HangarThe Pitts Special, like its free-thinking, self-educated designer, Curtis Pitts, is an American original. The iconic biplane epitomizes the independent, resourceful, and outlandish nature of its creator—and its uncompromising, exhilarating,and totally impractical design exudes raw energy and attitude. “As a child attending my first-ever airshow,a Pitts Special imprinted itself in my malleable mind,and I’ve regarded the stubby Pitts as the definitive aerobat ever since,” says Senior Editor Dave Hirschman, who has owned a variety of single-seat models beginning in the early 1990s (“ Budget Buy: Affordable Aerobat ”). Now that they are no longer competitive in top-tier aerobatic contests, however, the demanding little airplanes are being adopted by pilots who prize their stellar performance, hyper-responsive handling—and affordability. “I can’t think of another airplane that provides as much challenge or excitement for the price,” Hirschman says. “These airplanes have earned a unique place in U.S. aviation history—and they’re an absolute rush to fly.”

Rick DurdenOn an IFR morning, long time AOPA Pilot contributor Rick Durden joined Swearingen SX300 owner Stan Musick in Atlanta, Georgia. The two blasted into the clouds at 2,000 fpm to initiate a two-day adventure in which they flew the 240-knot single across half the country. After dealing with a mix of weather, an ILS to near minimums, and flying an aerobatics session in the stunningly efficient speedster, Durden concluded that, of the more than 200 types of airplanes he’s flown, the Swearingen’s handling characteristics and cruise speed are best compared to the North American P–51D Mustang. Turn to page 58, strap in, grab the stick and a fistful of throttle, and have some “ Serious Fun .”

HangarYou’ve been missing out. That’s a safe statement for 99 percent of us who didn’t know you can score steaks, wine, candy, cheesecake, and trinkets at FBOs. It pays to know where to go, and Senior Editor Al Marsh tries to help out by naming the FBOs that cough up the goodies in “ FBO Freebies.” You don’t always have to make a big fuel purchase either. Add to his list by providing names of other generous FBOs in a special “ Reporting Points” blog on aopa.org—it’s on the lower right side of the home page. But Marsh didn’t stop there. He also found what is probably the best light sport aircraft for the least money—the Aerotrek (“ Half Price, Full Featured”). “That’s not to say you have $78,000 lying around for an impulse buy,” says Marsh, “But the Slovakian-built two-seater comes closest to the promise of 2004 that light sport aircraft would cost $20,000 to $60,000. If the lower number could only have come true.” Maybe you need to hit it big in Las Vegas—Marsh traveled to south Las Vegas to Henderson Executive Airport where Monach Sky/Sky Combat Ace/Monarch Air can teach you to fly or dogfight the guy in the next aircraft (“ Tour the Strip, Fight a Friend ”). Extra aerobatic aircraft that roll 360 degrees a second are used. Or, just take a nice calm tour of the Grand Canyon, both in the air and on the ground. There are four new companies in two buildings owned by a nice family and actual fighter pilots trained by the U.S. Air Force. Another kind of warrior, Joe Hurston is fighting poverty and starvation in Haiti by flying his Cessna Skymaster there twice a month with donated food, medical supplies, and water purification pumps he manufactures (“ Air Mobile Joe ”). Hurston was the winner of ABC’s Extreme Makeover television show after his house was destroyed by a water leak—and his friends funded another makeover for his airplane that corrected safety problems in the process.